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Morenci Southern Railroad, AZ

no permit
30 3 0
Guide 3 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
3 of 5 by 2
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 3.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,734 feet
Elevation Gain -294 feet
Accumulated Gain 405 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.53
Interest Ruins, Historic & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
15  2012-10-16 SkyIslander18
15  2008-02-01 PrestonSands
Author PrestonSands
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 149
Photos 5,534
Trips 1,317 map ( 6,690 miles )
Age 42 Male Gender
Location Oro Valley, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Mar, Feb, Jan → Any
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:05am - 6:14pm
0 Alternative
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Go prepared! - Caving Checklist
copper country corkscrew
by PrestonSands

This hike follows a portion of a historic railroad grade, from the San Francisco River to a point just south of modern day Morenci, Arizona, which was relocated after the original town succumbed to open-pit mining. Interesting features along this hike include a railroad tunnel, relics, and ruins. Mileage for this hike will vary, depending on how much of the railroad grade you end up traveling.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Phelps-Dodge Mining Company's predecessor, the Detroit Copper Company, needed a more efficient form of transportation for its mines at Morenci. A railroad was the obvious answer, but the landscape it would traverse would be challenging. The Detroit Copper Company chose to construct a narrow gauge railroad from its mines at Morenci to the town of Guthrie, where it would connect with an existing railroad. A narrow gauge railroad was better suited for overcoming the topographic obstacles. Three tunnels and five 360 degree loops were necessary to complete the line into Morenci. The little 18 mile line, known as the Morenci Southern Railway, served the area from 1900 until 1922, when it was dismantled.

Plantsite Recreation Road (4 wheel drive) leads down to the San Francisco River, and travels near the railroad's only loop to escape burial in mine waste. This hike begins on that road, 0.2 miles after it turns to dirt, and just before the beginning of the steep, 4 wheel drive portion. Park at the top of the hill, and walk down the rocky road.

At a flat spot on the road at 0.15 miles, the old railroad grade will be to your left, just below the road. You can start following it downhill here, or continue down the 4 wheel drive road.

At around the 0.4 mile point, the railroad grade crosses the road (33.01195 N, 109.31356 W). If you are still on the road, turn right onto the railroad grade, which begins curving east while descending into a small canyon.

Where the little canyon comes to an end, it enters a narrow cut in the Gila Conglomerate rock, at the end of which is the railroad tunnel. Proceed into the tunnel. Light from the other portal is not visible until you reach the halfway point of this fully intact, 420 foot railroad tunnel. After exiting the east end of the tunnel, the grade begins descending a hillside overlooking the San Francisco River.

At around mile 1.2, the railroad grade arrives on a large bench just above the river. It rejoins the 4 wheel drive road here, and seems to disappear. The Morenci Southern made a 180 degree curve next to a corral a few hundred yards to the west, where the grade is still visible as an elevated dirt mound. It then turned south to cross a now vanished bridge over the San Francisco River. Only the abutments remain, but the grade can be seen ascending the canyon wall across the river.

The bench is the former location of a railroad stop known as Frisco. Numerous foundations of crumbling rock can be seen among the mesquite trees on the east end of the bench, near the railroad grade. Whether they are the remains of Frisco or Native American ruins, I do not know. Artifacts of all sorts, ranging from rusted railroad spikes to prehistorically flaked rock, are scattered across the bench. Leave them where you find them. There is access to the San Francisco River on the west end of the bench, however the cliffs along the south bank will likely prevent access to the southern portion of the Morenci Southern railroad grade.

For a faster and more direct return hike, consider taking the 4 wheel drive road back to your vehicle.

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2008-02-05 PrestonSands
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Morenci Southern Railroad
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Very fun trail (RR grade) that I have always wanted to do, but have put off for years!
    Did this one a little different than the description and drove in on the northern Black Hills Back Country Byway entrance and started from where the railroad grade crosses under the byway. Took the grade east for about 3 miles turning around at the 2nd big tressel just before Guthrie. I then took a side trip down to the Gila river for a short swim before heading back. The cottonwoods along the river are just starting to turn yellow on top. Very cool hike and this one will now be put on the annual repeat list!
    Morenci Southern Railroad
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    A third visit to check out the ruins on the bench. Some of them were just boulder piles, but there were a few unusually long rock walls, as well as a couple of true structure ruins (only squares of rocks left). I was unable to determine anything else about them. Looked for and found many more artifacts, including colored glass, handmade (blacksmithed) nails, broken china, and rusted bolts from the San Francisco River bridge. The San Francisco River was flowing strong. Looks like a good place for swimming.
    Morenci Southern Railroad
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    This was my second hike on the Morenci Southern grade. Saw quite an assortment of historical artifacts. I didn't have time to check out the ruins on this trip. I'll post some pictures of them soon. Railroads Of Arizona Vol. 3 by David Myrick is devoted entirely to the railroads of the Clifton-Morenci area, and makes for interesting reading.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    From Safford, head east on Highway 70/191. 10 miles from Safford, the highway splits, turn left onto Highway 191 and follow it for another 23.75 miles to a highway junction known as 3-Way (old drive-in movie theater and store). Turn left to remain on Highway 191. From the 3-Way junction, head north on highway 191 for approximately 12.75 miles to the split in the highway. You will need to stay in the left lane. Turn left at the Conoco Gas station, onto Mountain View Road. After 0.1 miles, it forks into 3 roads. Take the center fork, this is Mountain Avenue. After about 0.5 miles, Mountain Ave becomes Reservation Road, as it passes Cochise Street. Continue 0.4 miles (past Cochise Street) on Reservation Road, to another fork. Turn left at this fork onto Plansite Rec Road. Follow the paved Plantsite Rec Road for 1.7 miles, past the horse stables, to where it turns to dirt. Continue 0.2 miles on the dirt road to the top of a steep hill. There is a turn-around area here, and places to park along the road. This is the trailhead for this hike (see hike description).
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