This gravel back road winds over Montezuma Pass, through Montezuma Canyon, and past the Coronado National Memorial and forest. This was a spectacular, scenic drive connecting Coronado National Memorial on the southeast end to highway 83 leading to Sonoita on the northwest end. We drove the road up over the pass from east to west.
Montezuma Pass stands at an elevation of 6,575 ft, the Memorial is at 5,300 ft, and the San Pedro Valley is off in the distance (slide 2 above) at 4,375 feet (per information at the Memorial). From the pass, Coronodo Peak Trail can be taken for more spectacular views. Bicycles and pets are not allowed on the trail, which is .4 miles in length. See slide 3 above for the view from the trail.
Stop in at the Coronado Memorial and Visitor's Center (east end of the journey) for maps and information regarding road conditions. The center is home to a museum featuring the life of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.
Artifacts and reproductions are on exhibit. Per museum information, Coronado's expedition of 1540 - 1542 took him up through Mexico to the Grand Canyon in what is now Arizona and as far north and east as present day Salina, Kansas.
He was in search of the seven cities of gold, which were never found.
If you have time, take the .75 mile Cave Trail that is just outside the museum. Bring a flashlight and good walking shoes if you plan to crawl back into the cave.
If you wish to see this area, but are not quite up to the full trip, climb to Montezuma Pass from the Coronado Memorial, and then return to the memorial. To see the other end, drive the mostly paved highway 83 from Sonoita to Parker Lake (a distance of 24 miles one way). The area between Parker Lake and the pass is the most difficult, especially if there
is any water over the road. We made the trip in a Hyundai Sonata, but we did have some rather difficult areas to get through and I would not recommend taking the trip unless in a 4x4 vehicle. The road had very sharp turns and sheer drop offs.
On the west side of the pass, areas of the road had been damaged by recent rains. We made the trip in September 2007, and heavy monsoon rains came just as we came up to Sonoita. A guardian angel had led us through.
The scenery was spectacular leading up to the pass, with views of the switch backs we had just traveled. As the elevation dropped to the west, the terrain turned to beautiful grasslands and flowering meadows.
Follow Montezuma Canyon Road west from the Visitor's center. The first 1.5 miles from the visitor's center is paved. The road then turns to gravel and climbs quickly for the next 2 miles to the pass (elevation 6,575 ft). Various hikes can be taken from the pass.
From the pass, take Forest Road # 61 to Parker Canyon Lake. Highway 83 to Sonoita starts just after the lake. The east boundary of the Coronado National Forest is just west of the pass. The entire drive from the visitor's center to Sonoita took approximately 2.5 hours. We had traveled 47 miles.
FLASH FLOOD WARNING: If you are caught in a flash flood area when there is water in the washes (dips in the road) DO NOT CROSS flooded areas. Stay in a high area and wait until the water subsides.
DO NOT take this trip without a good, detailed map of the area.
BRING WATER Extra food is a good idea as well.
BORDER DANGER WARNING Smuggling and/or illegal entry is common in this area due to the proximity
of the international border. Please be aware of your surroundings at all times and do not travel alone in remote areas.
Click here for National Park Service safety information.
Fabulous reviews of nearby places:
San Pedro Valley
Patagonia Sonoita Preserve