Deep canyon views and uranium mining history
Highlights of this hike include stunning views of the Sierra Ancha including Aztec Peak, an old split rail corral on the plateau above the canyon, access to a seldom visited deep and rugged canyon, and the site of the abandoned Donna Lee uranium mine. After a short (0.7 mile) hike on the easy to follow Deep Creek Trail #128, you will start the off trail section to a long abandoned mining road which enters upper Deep Creek canyon from a side draw about 1.5 miles upstream from where Deep Creek enters Bull Canyon. Upon entering the canyon the road turns down canyon and is carved out of the rock for approximately 0.5 miles along the west wall of the canyon about half way up from the canyon bottom. A side trail provides easy access to the creek bed below. The road leads to two abandoned mine shafts (adits) which were originally claimed in 1954 by the Miami Copper Co. According to the 1985 US Bureau of Mines report, "Mineral Investigation of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness and Salome Study Area, Gila County, AZ",12 tons of ore were shipped from the mine in 1959. In 1978 the property was being explored by a joint venture between the Wyoming Minerals Corp. and the B and B Mining Company but the report makes no mention of additional ore removal other than that reported in 1959. The north mine shaft (adit) extended 90 feet into the canyon wall with a 52 foot long crosscut. The south adit extended 85 feet. These adits remain open but enter at your own risk. I chose to play it safe and did not enter them.
The hike starts at the Bull Canyon Trail head at the blocked end of FR 203A on the boundary of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. The drive up FR203A provides awesome views of the south side of the Sierra Ancha Mountains as well as distant views to both the east and west. This trail head is the starting point for Deep Creek Trail #128 which you will follow north for 0.7 miles before turning east off-trail and passing through a barbed wire fence at an open gate (waypoint "Gate 1"). If you miss this gate there is another one (WP "Gate 2") about 100 yds further up the trail. After passing through the gate, follow the gps track across a somewhat level plateau which consists of relatively open grasslands with huge alligator junipers, patches of manzanita, some thorn bushes and the random ground hugging prickly pear cactus. The first destination is the large earthen Mesa Tank which on this trip was filled to the top with muddy water. Route finding due to the openness of this area could be done just by heading cross country to the tank waypoint with short detours around trees and brush patches or just heading due east from the "Gate 2" waypoint.
From the tank turn approximately north-east and head towards the old corral which should soon become visible since it is only 125 yds from the tank. The corral was built in the split rail style but in this case was built largely from whole lengths of juniper tree branches since juniper doesn't split well in long lengths. Of course juniper tree branches aren't all that straight which makes it quite picturesque. The route heads north-east from the corral continuing on level terrain. At this point it becomes critical to follow the official gps track to avoid bushwacking through large dense patches of brush and to find the old mine road. At the time of this hike there was an open trail through this brush which due to its straightness appears to be man made and heavily used by elk, deer, cattle and the occasional horse. I found this "trail" as well as the old mining road using Google Earth which resulted in an almost brush free path except for a few small patches of brush along the old mining road bed. Caution: With time these open paths could close with brush growth so be prepared for thrashing through some brush mostly without thorns although there appeared to be a small amount of the dreaded cats claw on the plateau.
About 0.3 miles north-east of the corral the track turns north-west heading for an opening in the brush which leads to the start of a visible road grade at a barbed wire fence. There is a gate in the fence at this location but do not pass through it. Turn north following the remains of the old road bed which traverses the side of a draw as it makes a long arc turning to the east leading to Deep Creek . The road bed soon becomes readily visible and you can put the gps away except for finding the location of the path for a side trip to the creek bottom. The road bed appears crude but some serious dynamite action must have been used to carve it out of the rock cliff walls - a very expensive and labor intensive effort for the small amount of uranium extracted from these mines. The first adit is a short distance down the canyon and the second one is 0.3 miles further. The route along the old road provides fantastic views of the canyon walls and some tantalizing peeks into the canyon bottom. Although I did not see any dry water falls there most likely are a few to make hiking down the bottom an interesting adventure. Evidently canyoneering folks frequent the lower section of Deep Creek from where it enters Bull Canyon down to Cherry Creek. I ran into a group preparing to do this route on my drive out of the area.
The path to the creek bottom is a short distance down the old road bed from it's entry point into the canyon. The path leads off the road at an angle and could be mistaken for the road so checking the gps track is recommended. I took this path, a couple of short steep switchbacks, to the creek on my return. The creek bottom down stream from the path is on a slab of slick bed rock for about 200 ft with small vertical steps and a trickle of flowing water forming shallow pools of water. Since it had just rained the day before I assume this creek bed would be dry most of the time except during periods of rain and snow. After the slick rock section the stream bed is strewn with rocks up to 3 feet in diameter as far as I could see making it more difficult to proceed so that was my stopping point.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
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.