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Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13, AZ

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Guide 13 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4.1 of 5 by 8
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 15.7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,772 feet
Elevation Gain 1,327 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,637 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 24.49
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
20  2015-12-05
Bonita Creek
20  2015-12-05
Bonita Creek
30  2015-12-05
Bonita Creek
20  2015-12-05
Bonita Creek
9  2015-10-17 friendofThunderg
8  2014-03-13 JuanJaimeiii
29  2014-03-13 azdesertfather
39  2014-02-08
Bonita Creek
Page 1,  2
Author blisterfree
author avatar Guides 24
Routes 37
Photos 5
Trips 0 map ( 0 miles )
Age 47 Male Gender
Location lithosphere
Associated Areas
list map done
Gila - Safford BLM
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, May
Seasons   Autumn
Sun  6:03am - 6:24pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby

GET Segment 13 overview

This segment follows the historic Old Safford-Morenci Trail in its entirety. The BLM's Safford Field Office website offers the following description of the trail:

"Pioneer ranchers and farmers in the Gila Valley built this trail about 1874 to haul their products to the booming mines of the Clifton-Morenci area. After the advent of the automobile in the early 1900s, new roads were constructed along other routes. One was the Safford-Clifton Road (now called the Black Hills Back Country Byway). Decreasing use of the Safford-Morenci Trail resulted in little maintenance, and it became more difficult to follow. Today, the Safford-Morenci Trail is managed by the BLM as a recreation trail for non-motorized uses. Although the trail was originally used as a pack trail for supplying mining camps in and around Morenci it is now impassable in places for horseback riders.

"Hikers can enjoy a variety of desert and riparian environments along the trail. Bonita Creek, part of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, is crossed about midway and makes a good primitive camping spot. Javelina, black bear, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions inhabit this area. Numerous birds, including raptors such as golden eagles and peregrine falcons, may also be seen. Riparian areas are especially good for colorful neotropical migratory birds. Hikers can encounter prehistoric cliff dwellings, remnants of early homesteads, majestic rock outcrops, and sweeping views of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, the Gila Mountains, and the high points beyond."

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the BLM in Safford, the Old Safford-Morenci Trail is now well on its way to becoming one of southeast Arizona's premier longer-distance desert trails. Several miles of reconstructed and expanded trail make for easier, more enjoyable passage than was once the case, and more work may be planned for coming seasons. The Old Safford-Morenci Trail follows a combination of foot trail, 4WD tracks, and cross-county drainages, and features occasional brown and (older) green metal signs marked "TRAIL," as well as carsonite posts and cairns.

With the exception of perennial Bonita Creek, only a spring in South Smith Canyon near the end of this segment should be considered generally reliable in drier times. Where the route follows drainages, expect an exceedingly rocky go of it at times, but also a wonderful sense of solitude and even the occasional section of scenic slot canyon to explore.

Please note that the "official" total mileage listed for this segment is only an estimate. The route may be up to a mile longer than the stated 15 miles, although the rough terrain in places can make it feel several miles longer still. Budget your time and energy accordingly.

A detailed, mile-by-mile description of this segment is available in the official GET guidebook. See

This segment of the GET forms part of a longer trip option between resupply locations, as described below:

GET Segments 12 - 14, Safford to Morenci & Clifton

The Old Safford-Morenci Trail follows a former trade route between the two towns from which it finds its name. The GET follows quiet, viewful dirt roads and washes north of Safford to join this BLM-administered historic trail in the high desert Gila Mountains of Arizona, where developed singletrack trail, old roads, and cairned drainage courses make for interesting, remote, and highly varied trekking. Colorful box canyons lead into and out of the secluded riparian corridor of Bonita Creek about half way along, and beyond the route climbs to Bellmeyer Saddle, a scenic grassy expanse at 6000 feet in elevation. Descending to Eagle Creek in its rugged, winding gorge - prime bighorn sheep country - an alternate route soon climbs away, while the main GET turns north, following Eagle Creek's canyon upstream, with numerous (though generally mild) fords. White-nosed coati are often seen cavorting among sycamores and cottonwoods in the creekside riparian forest. At length the Painted Bluff Trail leads us east away from the river, along the way offering glimpses of ancient petroglyphs in a high-desert mountain landscape rich with solitude. Views at last open toward the vast open-pit of the Morenci copper mine as our route descends to cross the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, a famously serpentine paved auto route with potential opportunities for a ride into Morenci village. Historic Clifton, another resupply option, lies several miles farther downhill, a virtual living history museum to the region's early mining days.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2013-08-25 blisterfree

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Taco Bell! :y:

    We decided to Head for the Border™ on our way out for the weekend, and it was quite an experience. After waiting 31 minutes :o to receive our taco order, all patience was lost. Unfortunately, I was tasked with driving, so I put 9L to work for me doing the requisite research via cellphone. Before we got to Safford, YUM! had lead us from Louisville to Irvine, I unleashed a tweetstorm and an annual report netted us the name I wanted. After a couple of snapchats with the daughter of the Director of Marketing, I finally got the man himself to answer the phone. While he wasn't thrilled I interrupted a holiday party he was attending, he agreed that 31 minutes for a fast food taco order was wholly unacceptable and rewarded me with a year's supply of tacos! :DANCE: (limit 2 per day).

    What might have otherwise derailed our entire weekend turned into a point of humor and enjoyment as we all continually referenced the fiasco and the resulting reward while happily frolicking around camp together and while enjoying our hikes over the next two days! :FG:

    Oh yeah. And Bonita Creek still rocks. Great to see the last group to camp there was ... me! Two years ago. I'll never understand it, but I surely don't mind. This place is magical. I still need to plan at least two nights here sometime. There is so much more I want to explore. I think barking Lily and the big group helped prevent us from seeing any coati this time. There are tons of beaver dams, but I think somebody has been in and trapped them because I didn't see any new tree cuts. I'd like to check it out in spring once the trees green up again.

    Until then, I'll be at Taco Bell. :pk:

    Well past prime at the GET crossing. Many more leaves still on the trees heading downstream.
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This area came on my radar a couple of years ago after separate triplogs by Chumley and FOTG. Chumley put this trip together and I was along for the ride. We drove up on Friday night and car camped at our trailhead. We then spent an overnighter exploring this wonderful area and returned to Phx on Sunday evening.

    We left on Friday night and drove to Safford with the longest stop ever at Taco Bell in Globe. It took nearly 30 minutes to get our food! We arrived at our trailhead to meet Karl and Kyle who left about an hour before us. We camped and enjoyed a campfire and stayed up late. The weather was chilly but pleasant overall. We woke Saturday and broke down camp and then started our hike. The first few miles were along a road and very easy going. We made good time and connected onto the Safford Morenci Trail. This section was very enjoyable and there is a solid trail the whole way. Sections follow the rocky creek but it’s not a big deal. At one point we were chasing a herd of cattle down canyon. Luckily they all left the canyon right before the walls narrowed up. From here you follow a section of narrows that is very cool!

    We arrived at our camp a little after noon and set up camp near the creek. After that we day hiked up canyon to the Old Lady Gay Cabin. It was restored in 2003 and is in excellent condition. From there we returned to camp and then hiked east about a mile on the Safford Morenci trail up Midnight Canyon. This is another sweet section with narrows. Afterward we returned to camp and settled in for the night with a nice campfire and good food. I brought brats and grilled them over the fire. So yum!

    The next day we woke and took our time breaking down camp. The others went to check out the ruins while Kyle and I stayed in camp. From there we made our way down Bonita Creek which was a real treat! The going is very easy as you cross back and forth across the creek. This is a really beautiful canyon that all of us enjoyed. The fall colors were past prime but still enjoyable. After a few miles we reached the road and took our lunch. From there we made the climb up to the mesa and then had a few more miles on road back to the vehicles.

    Another wonderful trip to an amazing area of Arizona! This state is so diverse it’s impossible to see it all. Thanks Chumley for putting this together and thanks to both Chumley and Karl for driving.
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Dave summed this up well. Really great hike with awesome views all day and highlights including narrow canyons, awesome desert mountain scenery, Bonita Creek, Midnight Canyon and the big climb up to Bellmeyer Saddle.

    Loved this segment :y:
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    After a few months off, we were back on the GET today. Incredible day! This segment is one that every Arizonan should do, whether hiking the GET or not!

    Nick and I started out on the western end at 8:35am after doing a car swap in Safford with JJ. Never saw anyone else (other than JJ) out there all day, and saw virtually no wildlife...pretty much birds and lizards, and a garter snake. But the views are gorgeous. We did a little over 1,000 ft of gradual descent over 7 or so miles, going from desert with juniper and pine and then some nice canyon (almost slot canyon-like) before making our way to a BEA-U-tiful area around Bonita Creek, which in most places is less than knee deep and flowing well. There's and old abandoned rock building just before the creek, one wall is gone but the other three are still standing (not sure this history of it). Signs of lots of busy beavers are everywhere, with small trees chewed up at the base and fallen down into the creek.

    After having read about Old Lady Gay's cabin that is located less than a half mile up Bonita Creek, it was something I had to see. Nick and I dropped our packs and jogged up there, and it was totally worth the trip. This cabin is well over a century old, and was restored by the BLM in 2006. A great big sign out there explains the history of the cabin and the area, going back to the days when the Morenci mine opened in 1873 and even before.

    After having lunch back at the creek, we started making our way up the incline that started out gradual but ended up more steep at the end, a 3,000 ft incline over 4 1/2 miles. The first part on the other side of the creek, in Midnight Canyon, tremendous. even better canyon views than on the west side of the creek. In a couple of places, humongous chockstones rested overhead in the canyon the size of vehicles.

    Once we left Midnight Canyon and started really ascending on 4WD road, there was a lot more exposure and it got toasty. A bit of a slog up that last couple of miles as the trail grew steeper, nice to get to the saddle and know you were downhill from there! Once you reach the top of the saddle, the next 1/2 mile is on San Carlos Reservation land before going back onto public lands. With good clouds overhead, a nice breeze, and downhill, the last few miles couldn't have been nicer.

    We hit the eastern TH at 3:15pm and started driving out, driving by the gargantuan Morenci mine. Thankfully we didn't see it on this segment, but it will be unavoidable at the beginning of segment 14. The drive out just amazed us as we saw how MASSIVE this thing is. Morenci and Clifton is just other-worldly out there, I tell you.

    Thanks guys for a great day back on the GET. Can't wait for the next installment!
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    After December trips to Aravaipa for the last two years, it was time for something new this year. Timing colors in a new area is a challenge, and as with everything else on this trip, there was great diversity, from peak color to it-might-as-well-have-been-winter barren. The cold front that came through Thursday provided nights in the low to mid 20s. Luckily the beavers had cut down plenty of firewood and with a couple of overnight rekindles, I was able to keep the fires burning from 3pm to 10am for total warmth and comfort.

    This place has to be the healthiest ecosystem I've seen in Arizona. We saw 4 separate bands of female white-nosed coatimundi, each 20+ strong, as well as a solitary male. At least 3 great blue heron and a surprising number of duck share the stream with the countless beavers. I spooked a small herd of javelina. Additionally we saw coues deer, squirrel, raccoon, a few hawks, and countless other birds.

    With high temps just in the 40s, and nearly 10-miles of stream hiking, it was nice to get some fireside time and warm up. It was strange to be decked out in a down coat, hat, and gloves, while hiking in shorts, knee-deep in an icy creek, navigating undergrowth and countless beaver dams while observing the amazing fauna, flora, historical, and geologic wonders of the area.

    Needless to say, not only did we not see another person, we didn't even see a sign of anybody having been there. No trash, no fire rings, not even any boot prints in the sand. Surprise and discovery, amazement and wonder: emotions met with every few steps along the way. A true remote wonder and somewhere I will definitely return to!
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail - GET #13
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    As a backpack heading from the east trailhead westward. This hike is very diverse and a real pleasure. Route-finding is sometimes required and I would certainly steer clear of May thru August. It is unlikely that you will see another bi-ped on this trip. Highly recommended!

    If possible, avoid doing a shuttle - it's +/- 2 hours each way.

    "Crack!" went the GPS on the ground as we were making our final preparations to leave the east trailhead of the Safford-Morenci Trail. Not a good omen on a trail that has little to no trail markers. Luckily, only a portion of the screen remained black, so we could at least establish our position and compare it to our topographic maps when necessary.

    After a missed turn when locating the trailhead on the drive in (don't be deceived; just past the Eagle Creek Pump Station you want to make the turn to the right that appears to lead into private property), we were a bit behind schedule, and were ready to hit the trail. We had decided to hike this trail east to west, and, in retrospect, were glad that we did.

    (Mile 0) The trail starts out up an abandoned 4x4/wagon road in making its way gradually uphill to Smith Spring, which is on the site of an old homestead, best we could tell. The spring (mile .7 +/-) was flowing quite well with sweet water bubbling forth from the small tank. From there the "road" walking continues uphill on a gradual slope, all the time in the wash. The fist to small football-sized rocks made for a bit of tedious hiking, but the abundant tree cover made it a beautiful hike nonetheless. Eventually, the "road" peters out and a trail forms. Through this area you should encounter some small signs with "trail" marked on them, as well as occasional orange flagging tape. This trail, wonderfully earthy and mossy smelling, follows next to the wash, crossing it numerous times. After about three miles, the trail will begin to steepen, and it is sometimes VERY steep. Not to worry, though, as this signals your approach to Bellmeyer Saddle. In this steep section (remember this is March) we found a flowing spring about 10 minutes below the saddle. As you reach the saddle (Mile 4+/-) and catch your breath, prepare to have it taken away as you take in the views of lower Midnight Canyon, upper Bonita Creek, the Gila Mountains, and beyond, floating like a mirage on the horizon, the high crest of the Pinaleno Range. As we made our way off the saddle, we descended into Midnight Canyon, starting on a tight zigzag down brittle volcanic cliffs. We decided to make a detour to Toppy's Spring, which is shown on the topographic map. The spring pours over a cliff, allowing us a well-earned shower. The area near the falls is lush, with almost tropical-looking plants. Back on the trail after our side-trip, it is mostly road walking now, and although the views are outstanding, the road walking was less than. The road switchbacks on two separate occasions and after the second, the trail will veer into the wash and the road climbs up and out of the wash to the left. This, for us, was a great spot for a rest, as there is a gigantic juniper at this point (Mile 7.2+/-). As we resumed hiking, now in the creek-bed, we noticed chalk-like bands of soft rock within the normal sediment, and we commented that we had not seen that before. The hike continues down Midnight Canyon through a series of slot narrows that are awe-inspiring. With the creek running under-foot and the serpentine narrows, it was as if we were on another planet. Red walls reaching skyward were close enough on each side that by straddling the creek you could touch both walls. Look up and watch for the single boulder that lies precariously across the canyon. After about a mile from where we diverged from the road, the canyon widens, signaling Midnight's junction with Bonita Creek. We had arranged to meet a few friends at Bonita who had hiked in from the west trailhead and spotted them straight-away. After a round of "hey, guess what we saw...", we proceeded with our sundry chores.

    After a night of campfire tales and s'mores, carried in by one of our group, we had a fitful night's sleep. The weather, overcast and cool in the morning, had heated up throughout the day to about 78, but still remained at about 60 at 9PM.. You may want to make the side trip up Bonita Creek to the Old Lady Gay Cabin, about a mile upstream. At the Midnight-Bonita confluence, there is also a granary high up on the south-facing cliff.

    Well, dawn brought a bright, sunny day for our remaining hike west. After a morning of coffee and cards we set out, briefly bidding adieu to our friends. We crossed Bonita Creek (following orange flagging tape) at the beaver dam. Safely across the creek after filling our bottles, we headed up Johnny Creek, our early morning feet objecting slightly to the cobbles. After about 7/10 of a mile, there will be a trail that climbs steeply out of the drainage to your right (creek left). This trail climbs up to bypass a series of pour-offs and boulder jams. If you miss this trail turn-off you will be turned back by the boulder jam and can re-trace your steps about 1/4 mile to the trail. While on this "high-trail", take a moment to edge over and check out the canyon that you are bypassing. When we were here the creek was running quite well and was showing off its series of falls... nice.

    After bypassing these impediments, the trail drops back in the creek-bed and it is cobble hiking again. If it is running like when WE were there, do not bother trying to keep your shoes dry. You'll save time and energy by just admitting defeat and stepping into the creek. To a degree, this hiking is tedious, but this canyon holds many awesome sights; it gets prettier by the mile. The cobbles are often broken up by roads of bedrock. The hike leaves the creek-bed after about 3 miles, switch-backing up an old road to the left (creek right). The road climbs up out of the creek and makes its way over undulating hills for about two miles where it intersects a gulch. As you climb up this gulch you will crisscross it numerous times. As you check your back-trail, remember to look out over what you have just hiked... this is beautiful, wild country. You will begin to see that the trail is rock-lined at this point, and you will continue to see this, intermittently, all the way to the west trailhead. As you reach the head of this gulch you will have reached the last high spot, and it's all downhill from here all the way to the west trailhead.

    Permit $$
    AZ State Land Recreational Permits are available for an individual ($15.00), or a family limited to two adults and children under the age of 18 ($20.00).

    Land Parcel Map

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail west trailhead:
    From US 70 (Thatcher Blvd) at 8th Ave in Safford, head north on 8th Ave. In 1.5 mi. bear right at the fork onto Airport Rd. and follow it 4 miles to Aviation Way. Turn left here, then immediately left again onto (unsigned) Solomon Pass Rd (which becomes graded dirt) and continue 8 miles to the Solomon Pass-Salt Trap Road junction. Bear left onto Salt Trap Road and follow it 1.8 miles. Turn left (if you reached Salt Trap tank and corral you missed this turn) and continue ~4 miles to the signed trailhead, a dirt turnout with ample parking. A 4WD high-clearance vehicle may be needed for sections of the last 6 miles.
    page created by HAZ_Hikebot on Aug 25 2013 6:56 pm
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