Essence of Tranquility
Published September/October 2013

Soak Up the Sights

A drive through southeastern Arizona’s hot springs brings a new meaning to ‘rest stops’

BYJackie Dishner
Bubbling below the surface of Safford and Willcox are naturally heated mineral baths perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation. This geothermal activity, which the Arizona Geological Survey has monitored for more than 100 years, produces water that reaches a tension-releasing 98 degrees.
 
If you’re seeking a soak — whether at an indoor spa or rustic outdoor spring — begin your road trip in Safford, where you’ll find a trio of hot springs just six miles south of downtown.
 
Embracing Nature
Depart Safford via U.S. 191 heading south and, in less than five miles, turn right on Lebanon Road. Then turn left on Lebanon Loop Road to find Essence of Tranquility. Upon your arrival, you’ll see the office and the gift shop.  Pay here for tub access — the cost is $5 for a one-hour soak or $10 for day use — but bring exact change or a check, because if the office is closed you can just slip the fee into the mail slot.
 
Here, hot mineral water is piped from the nearby springs into five private, clothing-optional tubs — one is shaped like a heart and another has a rock waterfall — and one communal, clothing-required tub. Although this outdoor destination is a more nature-oriented place to soak, you can still customize your experience by making an appointment for a massage, reflexology, or other therapeutic service in advance, or by reserving a campsite or casita on the property.
 
Spa Day
To get to the next stop, less than a mile away, continue down Lebanon Loop Road and turn left onto Cactus Road. If you’re looking for an indoor hot spring experience, Kachina Mineral Springs Spa offers Roman-style tubs filled with mineral waters of artesian wells.
 
But, be sure to make reservations in advance for spa treatments such as foot reflexology, massages, and sweat wraps. “Replace the tension within us with a holy relaxation,” says the prayer posted on the wall, and this holy relaxation starts at $10 per person for a 30-minute soak.
 
Before continuing on to your next hot spot, head six miles north on U.S. 191, to the corner of First Avenue and Fifth Street, for lunch at Casa Mañana. This restaurant is known for its crispy Chalaca — fresh corn masa shaped like a bowl and deep-fried, then filled with red or green chile pork and served with beans, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. Instead of dining in, take it to go and enjoy a picnic at your next stop: Roper Lake State Park.
 
A Tub with a View 
To get to the park, head back down U.S. 191, turn left on to Roper Lake Road, and you’ll see the park entrance on the right. Once inside the park, drive past the cabins and campsites, and follow the signs to the hot tub, which was built by park rangers out of concrete and rock. 
 
With picturesque views of Mount Graham — the tallest peak in southern Arizona and the main attraction in the Pinaleño Mountain Range — this hot spring is perfect after a hike along the park’s nature trail or a dip in the lake. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and hot tub use is included with the $7-per-vehicle park admission at the gate. 
 
Local Flavor
Nothing completes a full day of soaking and relaxing quite like a hearty meal, and in an area surrounded by farmland and cattle ranches, steak is what’s for dinner. Return to Safford on U.S. 191 and take U.S. 70 one mile east to Copper Steer Steak House, a regional delight.
 
After dinner return on U.S. 70 to U.S. 191, then a right turn on 11th Street and a left on Central Avenue will land you at the historic Olney House, now Cottage Bed and Breakfast. Stay the night in the one- or two-bedroom cottage and guesthouse rentals, where breakfast is delivered to your room in the morning. 
 
Wilderness Wonderland
Get an early start for your final stop on the tour: Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area. Follow U.S. 191 50 miles southwest from Safford and take exit 336. Making a right on Taylor Road will take you north to Airport Road (also called Cascabel Road). Turn left and continue for 13 miles. Make a slight right on to Muleshoe Ranch Road, which you’ll follow along a floodplain, through ranch land, and past cattle crossings, before arriving at the ranch.
 
Owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, this 49,120-acre ranch makes a great day trip; however, to experience these hot springs visitors must stay two nights at one of the five casitas (available by reservation September through May).
 
The hot tubs, filled with mineral water from the adjacent springs, are just one of many attractions here. Although these accommodations are fully furnished, guests must bring their own food and drink (besides water) to this remote location, where cell and Internet service are unreliable (which only adds to the relaxation factor).
JACKIE DISHNER, author of Backroads & Byways of Arizona, writes from Phoenix.
For More Information
Call your local AAA Travel professional at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.

View Southeastern Arizona Hot Springs in a larger map>

Roper Lake State Park
Roper Lake State Park
If You Go
Stock your vehicle with extra bottled water, swimsuits, and towels, before heading out to enjoy one of Arizona’s most relaxing treasures.
 
6074 S. Lebanon Loop Road
Safford, Ariz.
928-428-9312
 
1155 Cactus Road
Safford, Ariz. 
928-428-7212
 
502 S. First Ave.
Safford, Ariz.
928-428-3170
 
101 E. Roper Lake Road
Safford, Ariz.
928-428-6760
 
1206 U.S. 70
Safford, Ariz. ‎
928-348-8400 
 
Cottage Bed and Breakfast 
1104 S. Central Ave.
Safford, Ariz.
928-428-5118
 
Muleshoe Ranch Preserve
6502 N. Muleshoe Ranch Road
Willcox, Ariz.
520-507-5229
or 520-212-4295
 
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