The Coronado Trail – Clifton to Springerville on Route 191


We left Owl Creek Campground at sunrise on Friday May 4th and rode a quick 8 miles into Clifton. There was a steep descent down to town that was a surprise and certainly welcomed. We stopped at small park for a snack and then slowly meandered through town. We caught movement of the railroad operated by the Morenci Mine and watched it at the train station. We stopped at a little thrift store next to what used to be the Clifton Cliff Jail. Would hate to be a prisoner in there.

Old Safford bridge at sunrise

Debi climbing up out of the Gila river valley

Bryan climbing in the cool morning

Downtown Clifton near train station

Old narrow gauge locomotive on display

Clifton Cliff Jail

Now, a little background on the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway. It’s a 120 mile journey that roughly follows Coronado’s path as he searched for the “Seven Cities of Cibola” about 450 years ago. The trail ascends 5000 feet in elevation in 60 miles from Clifton and Morenci heading north. In the entire route we would climb over 10,000 vertical feet- whew! Along the way the route travels through many “life zones”, referring to the variety of vegetation types that correspond to changes in climate, soil, moisture, and elevation. The life zones that exist on this byway are the same as one would see on a trip from Mexico to Canada! 

The route took us up and over the Mogollon Rim and on to the Colorado Plateau. We’ve officially left the desert.

From Clifton we immediately started climbing for about 4 miles to Morenci. This is one of the last “company” towns in America, it’s unincorporated and it’s there only because of the mine. In fact the first Morenci town was movved back in the 60s to make way for mine expansion. It was hot in Morenci so we stocked up on groceries and found a shady spot under a tree in the center of town and relaxed for a bit. We organized our gear and stocked up on water-as it would be our last water source for 77 miles. We had 18 liters, enough to get us 77 miles to Hannagen Meadow-mostly uphill.

Beginning the climb to Morenci – Already in the mine

For the 8 miles leaving Morenci we pedaled up through the mine. It was completely surreal. This is the largest copper mining operation in the Northern Hemisphere. So as you log on today to read this blog post, morer than likely the copper in your computer or handheld device came from this mine.

Just getting started

Gaining some elevation

Riding under active conveyor belts dumping rock in massive piles

Tunnels too

Looking back at some of our switchbacks up the through the mine – note previous tunnel in photo center

At one point, we passed a repair area for the super heavy duty dump trucks that were crawling all over the mine like ants. Note tires in foreground of next photo and size of dump body in relation normal sizes trucks and people.

Dump body repair area

Close up

Waiting for a dynamite blast above

The blast

Unimaginable scale

More of the mine from a pull off at the top

Debi riding out the northern reaches of the mine

Just on the outer edge of the mine we spotted a big horn sheep. No photos as it was too far away. A woman at the thrift store in Clifton said the sheep are like pets up in the mine. While we were checking out the sheep a couple pulled up in their truck, they couldn’t believe we were biking this road. We chatted for a while and before they left us they gave us 2 ice cold v8 juices and some trail mix, wishing us lots of luck. We continued climbing and reached the first National Forest Campground on the route-Granville. It was completely in the woods, lush and cool. It felt lovely and refreshing after being in the hot sun for the last few days. We set up camp and feel asleep to the quiet of the woods.

Looking south on the Coronado Trail (mine is just out of view)

Ribbons of low traffic asphalt

Finally getting into the forest

We got a leisurely start the next morning, knowing that it would just be more climbing with some amazing downhill in between. It was low traffic all day with the majority being motorcycles. This is a popular motorcycle route due to the extreme number of curves-something over 350 turns in total. We rode almost over the summit of Rose Peak situated at 8200 feet. On the descent Bryan had such speed that he ran over a small squirrel!

Debi riding out of Granville campground

Finally, some downhill!

An easy grade

Little purple cactus blossoms

In and out of the forest at 7,000′

Looking south from close to the summit of Rose peak – elevation 8,200′

We finally made it, just barely to another National Forest Campground called Strayhorse, 6 miles below the Mogollon Rim. We had the place to ourselves. We cooked dinner, and let our bodies recover from all the uphill.

We got an early start the next morning on Sunday May 6th. We immediately started climbing. We took a long break at Blue Vista Viewpoint-the highpoint on the route at 9,300′. It felt just spectacular to think we had gotten up there by our our strength.

Tree riddled with arrows

View from Blue Vista – elevation 9,300′

After the break we went down through burned area that was loaded with wildflowers. The Wallow Fire burned last year at the same time the Horseshoe 2 fire burned at Chiricahua. The Wallow Fire burned over half a million acres, the largest in Arizona history. We found the burned landscape here to be quite different from Horseshoe 2 fire in the Chiricahua Mountains.

A few miles later we made it to Hannagen Meadow Lodge-our first water source in 77 miles and a great place to have a meal after riding like we did. We had pork and beans for lunch, yummy! We pedaled back just a little to stay at the National Forest Campground at Hanngen Meadow. We spent the rest of the day doing our laundry, reading and enjoying the Alpine Forest. We went for a short hike in the Blue Range Primitive Area in the evening and slept soundly in the cool temperatures.

Hannagan Meadow

Free national forest campground at Hannagan Meadow

Hannagan meadow at dusk

Our first water and BBQ source in 77 miles

Elk rack

The next day we left Hannagan Meadow and began our long descent into Alpine, AZ. We rode through miles of burned forest. This fire, the Wallow fire, burned 500,000 acres all started from an unattended campfire. This was the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history.

Burn damage with flowers on the forest floor

Bryan coasts in

Burned on one side of the road with some initial logging

Some parts of the forest were untouched

Other parts were not so lucky

500,000 acres burned – caused by an unattended campfire

Beginning our descent into Alpine, AZ

In Alpine, we found a small grocery store with a laundromat. We hung out on their picnic table and ate some chips and salsa. The town was quiet with low traffic. There were a couple of restaurant/bars open and a small cafe that sold fresh fudge. Super yummy! We still had one more small climb up to Alpine divide where we were to camp. Once we arrived at the campground we noticed that this one was managed by a local group and supplied water in a large portable tank. Normally, this would be great but since we just hauled a bunch of water up and the price tag was ten dollars we decided to push on and forgo the picnic table and pit toilet. We wound up disperse camping a half mile form the campground in a nice sunny spot far from the road.

The next morning we descended into Nutrioso which roughly translates into Beaver-Bear.  After breakfast on some sunny church steps we made our way into the towns of Eagar and Springerville where we found a brand new library and a Basha’s grocery store. We were now officially finished with the Coronado Trail and alive and well on the Colorado Plateau.


Up next: Crossing into New Mexico


4 Responses to “The Coronado Trail – Clifton to Springerville on Route 191”

  1. 1 Kate Cross

    Squirrel road kill and a tree targeted by arrows? Totally worth a small donation! Take care you two. Missed you at Mark’s wedding!

  2. 3 Dad

    Hey Oh Great Killer of Tree Rats, great pics as usual! That is a neat little 0-4-0T!

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