Located halfway up Mt. Graham in a small flat area just off the highway is the former site of Cluff Dairy, and its predecessor, the Jacobson Sawmill. In 1894, entrepreneur Peter Jacobson constructed a sawmill in the bottom of Twilight Canyon, just below Turkey Flat. After a wagon road had been constructed to the site, Mr. Jacobson and his son began hauling lumber down to their lumber yard in Safford. Vestiges of this wagon road are still visible today, where the current Swift Trail highway parallels it. The sawmill was sold and subsequently removed in the mid 1930's, at which time Alfred Cluff obtained a lease for the site from the forest service. The Cluff family constructed a home on the flat area, where the Jacobson logging camp had once existed. They planted a large orchard and vegetable garden, in addition to running a small dairy here. The Cluff's sold their produce to nearby residents, and in the Gila Valley below, until the 1960's when their lease expired and the forest service evicted them.
Today, scattered fruit trees and concrete foundations can be found at the old Cluff Dairy site, while a few rusted relics mark the location of the Jacobson Sawmill a short distance away.
The forest service claims that this area is quite popular with black bears (as I discovered first hand), so be prepared for a possible encounter (read the HAZ Article Bear Encounters ).
The actual hike into Cluff Dairy is easy, as it follows a dirt road, and no route finding is necessary. The hike beyond the Cluff Dairy site to the Jacobson Sawmill is along a washed out, overgrown wagon trail, and is more difficult to follow.
From the wide pull-off area near milepost 126 on the Swift Trail (AZ highway 366), begin hiking down the dirt road on the south side of the highway. The road is soon blocked by a locked, chain-link gate, which functions as a vehicle barrier. Walk around the gate, and continue down the dirt road. This is the original 1894 wagon road constructed by the Jacobsons. The pines soon give way to large silver oak and Arizona madrone trees. At 0.25 miles, the road arrives at a three way fork. The left fork follows an old fence, and soon dead ends among pine and apple trees. The right fork basically parallels the middle fork. Take the middle fork, and you will soon arrive at the Cluff Dairy site, marked by a flat, open area. The whole flat is covered in some of the largest bracken ferns I've ever seen, and amply shaded by pines, silver oaks, and some large douglas fir trees. Roam around and check out the numerous old foundations among the various fruit trees. A few rusty artifacts and pieces of broken china can be found among the ruins. There are a couple of dilapidated picnic tables under some enormous silver oak trees, where you can relax and enjoy the view of the Gila Valley in the distance, some 4000 feet below.
To continue on to the Jacobson Sawmill site, head south along the dirt road to the far south end of the little flat. Just past the concrete walls of an old water tank built into a large boulder, there will be a couple of faint trails that parallel each other downhill into the trees. Take the lower trail, and follow the small, black plastic water pipe down into Twilight Canyon. There are several short washouts along the way, where the trail appears to end; just pick your way across the washout on the steep mountainside, and you'll find the trail again. After a short walk down the old trail, you will arrive at the bottom of Twilight Canyon. Head upstream along the canyon floor, and you will soon come to an old, rusted boiler lying on its side. Welcome to the Jacobson Sawmill site. This may be the boiler that exploded due to lack of attention, during the sawmill's early days. A few other items of interest can be seen here, including rock foundations for long vanished buildings, a pulley, and metal cables used for pulling logs down to the sawmill. This area makes a nice spot to take a break, under the dense canopy of tall fir and maple trees.
When you have had your fill of Mt. Graham history, head back the way you came, and keep an eye out for bears!
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.