Safford is in the southeastern portion of the state on the
south bank of the Gila River. The foothills of the Pinaleno
Mountains begin about five miles southeast of the city. Mount
Graham, the highest peak in the mountain range, and its companion
peaks have a marked effect on the local climate by
reducing winter precipitation. Safford, the county seat of Graham
County, was established in 1874 and almost immediately became an
agricultural area. Water is drawn from the Gila River to create 40,000
acres of irrigated agriculture.
Agriculture has been the mainstay of the Safford and Graham
County economy, with cotton the principal commodity. The
remaining acres are used for hay and small grains. A recently
opened 20-acre greenhouse produces tomatoes grown under
glass. Ranching also plays an important role in the economy of
the Safford area.
Two major construction projects are under way: a $200 million
astrophysical site at Steward Observatory on Mount Graham
and a 160-acre, excellent tourist attraction at Discovery Park.
The first phase, the Governor Aker Observatory, opened in
November 1995. These projects, added to the tourism efforts
already in place, will have a significant impact on the local economy.
Phelps Dodge Corp., owner of one copper mine in Graham
county, has just recently purchased a second. Construction of
the two sites will establish copper mining as an important element
of Graham County’s economy.
Retail trade and services continue to play a significant role in the
economy of the area. Safford serves as a trade center for 55,000
to 60,000 people in a wide area of eastern Arizona and western
Safford is approximately 10 miles north of the Coronado
National Forest, an area that provides many recreational facilities.
The most popular spots are the 10,720-foot Mount Graham
and the Pinaleno Mountains. Swift Trail, a 36-mile tour and one
of many scenic drives in the area, provides a route to the summit
and features many picnicking and camping sites. Riggs Flat Lake
has facilities for fishing, boating and other water-oriented
Scenic U.S. 70 connects Safford with the recreation areas at San
Carlos Lake and Coolidge Dam, the frontier fortifications of Fort
Thomas and Geronimo, the trading post at Bylas and the historic
cattle shipping point of Calva. West of Safford is Klondyke and a
designated primitive area, Aravaipa Canyon. Roper Lake State Park
is just south of Safford. Formerly a private facility, it has been
developed by the state as a recreation park for the natural mineral
water hot springs that flow through the area.
The 11th Territorial Legislature established Graham County in 1881. The county was formed by the removal of parts of Apache and Pima Counties. The Legislature made an unusual decision when naming the county. Instead of naming it after a local Indian tribe, as many of the counties had been, they chose to name it after a mountain peak. Mount Graham is situated in Graham County and is the highest peak in the area reaching 10,516 feet. There is a discrepancy as to how the peak’s name was chosen. Some feel it was named after Lieutenant Colonel James Duncan Graham, who was a senior officer in General Stephen Kearny’s United States Corps of Topographical Engineers.
The county has changed its county seat several times. Safford was named as the first county seat. Two years later, Solomonville was given the honor. An election was held in July 1915 and the seat was returned to Safford where it remains today. The county covers 4,630 square miles.
Graham County is a rich land. The Gila River flows through its center creating green fertile farming lands and the majestic Gila Mountains rises to the north of the river. Beautiful forests can be found in the Coronado National Forest in the southwest section of the county.
There are several attractions found in Graham County. Mount Graham is a popular recreational spot. You can access it by taking the Swift Trail, just outside of Safford and continuing on up to the summit. The drive is a scenic route traveling through the Coronado National Forest.
Camping, hiking and fishing at Riggs Lake are just some of the activities that can be found along the way. The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is a terrific place to enjoy the Gila River. Many travel to this area to see wildlife or to float down the river.
Those who visit Graham County will experience the beauty of land.