Monday, April 30, 2012

Black Hills Scenic Byway

Saturday we toured the Black Hills. No, Mike and Pat, not your Black Hills in South Dakota, the Black Hills in Southeastern Arizona. We followed a 21 mile gravel road first built by prisoners between 1914 and 1920, then the only road between the agricultural area of Safford and the mining community of Clifton, Arizona.

Today it is a scenic back road, the Black Hills Scenic Byway, with unnecessary warnings about being suitable for high clearance 4WD vehicles.  Those might be necessary on some of the side road explorations, but not where we drove. Come with us, explore Arizona's Black Hills!

We chose to start from the southern end nearer to Safford, if only because the pamphlet's descriptive comments started there. And that's where the really intense scenery grabbed us.

Reading our leaflet gave us the usual information: the first known inhabitants, the Mogollon people, farmed, hunted and gathered; the Chiricahua Apaches were here, and Coronado passed through the area in 1540, and Kit Carson guided the army though here in the 1820s. Pioneers and farmers settled the land; copper was discovered nearby.

But we passed by here in 2012, and liked what we saw.

The Twin C Ranch (above) was one of the early ranches in the area. Cipriano and Matilde Cueto started the ranch in 1929; today it is a successful ranch, contributing to the culture and the economy of southeast Arizona.

We passed evidence of volcanic action centuries, perhaps millennia ago. This is the remnant of a cinder mine worked in the 1940s; the light colored rock was formed by ash from nearby volcanoes.

Just beyond we came to this newer cinder pit. It looked as if it has recently been in operation.

Watching the cuts along the side of the road we saw all sorts of erosion activity.

Here erosion of volcanic material came in the form of concentric curved shells; the people who know these things call that exfoliation.

Golly, I'm putting in far more pictures than I intended to! Hope you can hang on till the end!

Ranching is still a factor here. Here's some evidence.

As we drove the road, I suddenly hit the brakes, not a good idea on a gravel road, by the way. What did I see?

There were cactus and other flowers in bloom along the road. More pictures can be found in our web album 2012 Black Hills Scenic Byway

This tower is part of the Federal Aviation Administration remote communications network.

During FDR's administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps provided major services in creating or upgrading recreation and conservation facilities. In these Black Hills, they built this rock bridge in 1936..

To help stop top soil loss due to overgrazing and other causes, the CCC built hundreds of "spreader dikes." Today's conservationists still agree that they did it right!

The CCC didn't build this bridge.

It was originally designed to be a steel structure, but steel wasn't available during World War I. It was built of concrete instead, spanning the Gila River. The Gila is fairly quiet this time of year.

So much more to say, so many more photos to show! More pictures are available in our web album.
In a later post we'll show you the huge copper mine in Morenci as seen from this road, and seen closer up. For today, however, we'll tell you again about the prisoners who built this road nearly a century ago.

The prisoners were housed in tents behind sturdy fences on land that currently is part of the Mendes Ranch.
Entry gate for the Mendes Ranch
All that's left of the prison camp today is this shower house ...
Keeping the prisoners clean after a day of hard work!

And an oven.

As Elmer Fudd would say, "That's all, folks" for this visit to ... Our Life on Wheels.


  1. As usual, I enjoyed reading your blog and seeing your pictures. We are planning on going to the "other" Black Hills this summer. ;)

  2. Ha! You fooled me. I thought maybe it was a porcupine. :)

  3. Thanks for the great history travel lesson...I really love knowing the history of any region we tour....

  4. Sure liked the looks of them thar Black Hills alright. I can see we will have to set aside some time in the future for scruffling around out there in that area. Always love to go new places & see new things. And, there is sooooooo much to see & do in Arizona:))

  5. Thanks for the additional information about the sites along the Black Hills Byway. I did that road last month (link below) and really enjoyed it, but didn't have a chance to research what I was looking at so I appreciate the info!

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  7. Wide open spaces with not a single house in sight. I hope it stays that way.
    Thanks for sharing the beauty you see.


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