This is my sixth year living in Arizona. Every time it feels like it’s time to pack up and experience something new, Arizona whispers in my ear, “don’t go yet, there’s still a lot to see.” A random and spontaneous road trip last week proved to be no exception. We discovered a ghost town on the border, a historic one-room schoolhouse, and lots of beautiful wide-open land in the San Rafael Valley. Unfortunately, as I write this a devastating wildfire is raging through the grasslands of this beautiful and isolated land.

Getting There

This unexpected jaunt to the border ghost town of Lochiel starts in Patagonia, Arizona. Patagonia is a beautiful scenic town that deserves  and will one day get its own blog post.  Illegal activity is common in this area. Do not leave your car running or unlocked, even for a short period of time. Also, fill up on gas and food before you get to Patagonia (Sonoita is a good place to stop). There are no restrooms, food or gas along this entire route.

Once you get to Patagonia (about 60 miles south of Tuscon), turn left in front of the high school on Taylor Rd, go one block and then turn left on Harshaw Rd.  Keep right on Harshaw Rd. The first stop is the old Harshaw cemetery and an adobe building. These are both on private property, but still accessible to visitors. Please be respectful. Depending on how many times you stop, it takes  about another forty-five minutes to reach Lochiel and the cute one-room red schoolhouse. For the return trip, you can keep driving past Lochiel and the San Rafael Ranch to complete a loop, or turn around and go back the way you came. There are several Forest Service areas along the way that make a good place for a hike or picnic.

Harshaw adobe ruins
Old adobe structure in Harshaw

History- Harshaw

In 1880, Harshaw was one of the leading producers of silver ore in Arizona. Before the silver miners moved in, this was the land on the Apache, Yaqui and Hohokam people. During the age of European colonization, Friar Marcos de Niza, and Eusebio Kino explored the area. Eusebio  Kino founded many of the missions in the Pimera Alta.  After the Gadsden Purchase, Harshaw was home to hundreds of people and contained well over two-hundred buildings. Today, only a cemetery and a few weathered foundations remain. Most of what remains of the town of Harshaw today is on the private Hale Ranch.  

One-room schoolhouse in Lochiel founded in 1882


Lochiel is located in the San Rafael Valley in Santa Cruz County. Mexican settlers referred to Lochiel as La Noria (wheel-drawn well). This place was also called Luttrell before being renamed Lochiel by Scottish settlers. Why Scottish settlers picked this place to begin with is a whole different story worth exploring. One reasons for the settlements along this road: mineral & metal resources. The drive down Harshaw road is littered with mines. In 2018, Hermosa & South32, a huge mining corporation based in Australia (with offices in Tucson), acquired a historic mining claim and began mining operations. The area is heavy with activity and “no photos, “no cell phones, “no videos” signs are everywhere. Fortunately this new mine is sandwiched between protected Forest Service land so hopefully it won’t end up looking like the Lavender Pit in Bisbee.

Lochiel is a branch of Clan Cameron in Scotland. The name is pronounced Low-Keel. The San Rafael Ranch was established in 1884 about a mile from Lochiel. Colin Cameron had the town renamed after his homeland back in Scotland. In 1999 The Nature Conservancy purchased 20,000 acres that includes the historic ranch. They promptly closed the land and the ranch to the public to, “protect the fragile grasslands.” My gut tells me there is more to this story and more going on in this area than is advertised. Perhaps there are historic ruins that are kept hidden from the public, or something else. Anyway, you can only see the ranch from the road. Even though the AZ State park system owns part of the land, it is still closed to the public

One site that is still accessible in Lochiel is is the red one-room schoolhouse. This schoolhouse is maintained by the Patagonia museum and there’s a push to recognize it as a national historic site. The schoolhouse was founded in 1882. The building itself is locked, but you can walk around the grounds. The rest of Lochiel is now private property and fenced off from the public. You can see the old Lochiel church up on a hill through a fence. The old customs house is also visible. You can see the border wall running directly behind the church.

This area was one town, all in Mexico until the Gadsen purchase in 1853 split the town into two. Can you imagine waking up one day and you’re suddenly living in the United States. Here are some really cool photos of when Lochiel was a one-woman fully functioning border crossing in the 1960’s & 1970’s.

Lochiel church, now on private property. Notice the border wall running along the property in the upper right corner.
Monument to Friar Marcos de Niza who entered Arizona through this San Rafael Valley in 1539

Arizona has hundreds of ghost towns. There are dozens in San Rafael Valley alone. We only explored a few during our drive. We didn’t get to Duqusne, Washington Camp, or Mowry, all along this same road. Who knows what else is out there?

Coming Soon: posts about Gleeson, Reef Townsite, Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate (the remains of an old Spanish fort), Fairbank, and Millville.