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 www.GrandEnchantmentTrail.org
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.
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.