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Hike Back in Time
Fairbank, Arizona, is now a ghost town. It wasn’t always like that. Founded in 1881 when the railroad came through there and continued until 1970, when the last residents left, along with the Post Office(est. 1883) closing. Fairbank is located on the San Pedro River and was the Grand Central Mill site that processed the ore from Tombstone. There is quite a bit of history here, including a train robbery and Wyatt Earp getting on the train here in 1882 on his way to Los Angeles. Wyatt was with his brother Virgil with the body of his other brother Morgan who was killed at the OK corral.
This area is open to the public, with some of the buildings being open for viewing (when I was there, the buildings were closed). The loop trail heads out on the West side of town and follows along the San Pedro River's east bank to Willow Wash, where it loops back to Fairbank just below the hills to the east of the river. Some of the sites along the way are the train bridge over the River built in 1927 and now abandon, the old Grand Central Mill ruins, and the town cemetery. If you are looking for a short hike while in the area, this is a must stop, assuming you aren’t here in the summer.
This guide is for a CCW loop starting on the north side of the parking area. This loop can also be started on the north side of the town of Fairbank. No need for any route-finding skills on this hike. The trail is well marked and appears to be heavily used, although when I visited the area, no one was to be seen(except the groundskeeper), truly a ghost town. The trail follows along the east side of the San Pedro flood plain just below the desert hills to the east. This trail is located in the strange boundary between the desert on the hills to the east and the riparian area. The riparian area in the floodplain is mainly large mesquite trees.
At about 0.5 miles in is the signed junction for the Town Cemetery, well worth the 0.3-mile round trip. This cemetery is up on a hill above the riparian zone. The cemetery is in bad shape, and vandals or time has done its damage. Back on the loop trail again, it is 1 mile to the Ruins of the Grand Central Mill. Only the rock wall along the hill behind it remains. From the photo on a sign along the trail, it was quite a building. A short distance later is an open mine shaft with a fence around it. It is possible to see a little bit down into the shaft from the south side without crossing the fence. Further down the trail, a couple hundred feet are the remains of another structure probably related to the Mill. Continuing down the trail another 0.5 miles, there is another signed junction. 0.6 miles to Presidio Santa Cruz De Terrenate and 2 miles to Contention City and Mill. I did not go all the way to the Presidio, but I did take the trail down to the San Pedro and across to the site of a dam probably also used in conjunction with the mill.
Continuing on the main trail, it turns to the south and follows along the San Pedro River's upper banks. The river is lined with huge Cottonwood trees. There are great views of the river from about 20 feet above it. At 1.4 miles from the signed junction is where the railroad bridge crosses the San Pedro River. Climb up the berm and go across the bridge, very neat. After the bridge, it is 0.6 miles to the platform where the train depot was, and Highway 82 is looming overhead. It is now just 100 yards or so to the town of Fairbanks.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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