Hiking the Border: The Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate Historic Site

Living history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas

Cochise County, in Southeastern Arizona, has been the crossroads for many different people over the centuries. From mammoth hunting Paleoindians 13,000 years ago to our modern day border cultures, each of these passing groups left a mark on the history of the area. Sometimes those marks have been physical, sometimes cultural, and sometimes both, as with the Spanish colonization of the southwest.

Just west of Tombstone, the cowboy capital of Cochise County, lie the slowly eroding remains of a long-ago military fort on a low bluff overlooking the San Pedro River. This is the Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate.

Established in 1775, Terrenate was one of three military outposts in what is now southern Arizona. The outposts were built as part of a larger series of territorial defenses stretching from Louisiana to Alta California to protect the frontier of New Spain.

Terrenate, built on an unforgiving patch of bleak desert to begin with, quickly became the focus of continual harassment from bands of Apaches looking to steal horses, and attacking anyone leaving the fort to farm or collect water. On July 7, 1776, the First Battle of Terrenate commenced along the San Pedro River near the fort. More than half of the 56 men in the garrison died, along with their commander. The next several years were an unending series of attacks, poor crops, and supply problems until the fort was finally abandoned in 1780.

A little over 200 hundred years later, a few of the adobe walls that made up the fort still stand and make for a great short hike for anyone interested in the history of the southwest. It only takes a few steps from the trailhead to grasp the enormous hardships faced by those troops, stationed on the lonesome and desolate Spanish frontier.

How to get there:

From Tombstone: Drive 13 miles west of Tombstone on Arizona State Route 82, go about a mile past the San Pedro river crossing at Fairbank and look for In Balance Ranch Road on your right(North Kellar Road on most maps). Follow the dirt road (fine for two wheel drive vehicles) for a mile until you see a large trailhead on your right.

Follow the marked trail until you come to an old railway rock bed. Follow it to the right for ¼ mile, until you see a bathroom. Interpretive signs will lead you on the tour from there.

The trail winds through the scrub.
The trail winds through the scrub.

It is roughly 3 ¼ mile round trip, but with easy access down to the San Pedro River bottom there are ample opportunities to wander around all day.

No shade and no water are available. The hike is short but it is likely to be pretty warm on a sunny day, so plan accordingly.

More information:

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