GET Segment 14 overview
The past and present merge with a certain canniness in this segment. Initially the G.E.T. follows a continuation of the historic trade route which ran from Safford to Morenci (beyond the current BLM-designated Old Safford-Morenci recreation trail). We then join the canyon of perennial Eagle Creek en route to the Apache National Forest. At length we climb away on the rugged Painted Bluff Trail, where ancient Anasazi pictographs adorn secluded mountain cliffs. Finally our tour tops out above the modern-day mining colossus of Morenci, affording competing perspectives of southeastern Arizona's so-called Copper Belt, one toward its natural and prehistoric wonders, the other its present-day material resources.
In the late 1800's, when the Old Safford-Morenci Trail (Segment 13) was an active trade route, it reached the boomtowns of Morenci and Clifton via Eagle Creek and Gold Gulch, following a route which modern roads have since rendered obsolete. Nor has this portion of the old route been reclaimed as a recreation trail; it is NOT part of the reconstructed Safford-Morenci Trail, but its history is still very much alive and on display. A burro trail, pick-axed from the sheer walls of Gold Gulch, still grants passage around an impressive slot canyon here, and old metal pitons that once served those ambitious trailbuilders yet remain in place. Gold Gulch is accessible as part of an alternate route that offers foot access to the Coronado Trail (US 191) outside Morenci, from which hikers can attempt a hitch into town in order to resupply (or else continue on to the end of Segment 14 where the main route crosses US 191 and hitchhike from there). This alternate route option can also be used to bypass most of the 50+ creek fords of Eagle Creek along the main route, but with the disadvantage of either an extended paved roadwalk directly past the Morenci Mine, or a hitchhike and missed miles, in order to rejoin the main route at segment's end. As such, we normally advise against using the alternate for avoidance's sake except whenever Eagle Creek is in flood.
In the old days, the vast mineral deposits of Morenci spelled paydirt. And for those who make a living from this remote and rugged country today, the dirt still pays - big time. Purchased by the Phelps-Dodge Corporation in 1881 (more recently by Freeport McMoRan) and first developed as an underground copper mine, the lands around Morenci have continued to yield ore ever since. At a depth of nearly 1000 feet and bredth of several miles, the Morenci mine is now one of the largest open-pit mines in the world and is North America's largest producer of copper cathode, the stuff that keeps us "wired" in our modern, high-tech world. A side trip to Morenci village winds past the mine, within plain sight of its towering equipment and massive haul trucks, all the while telling the story of a land whose many and varied chapters are little-read by the outside world.
Morenci village and its sister town of Clifton are potential resupply points for thru travelers. Clifton is a virtual living history museum to the old mining days before Morenci stole the reigns. In fact, the celebrated Apache Geronimo was also born nearby, and Chase Creek Street in town still looks much the same as in the days when saloons and brothels lined its now-quiet flanks.
Hikers following the main route in this segment generally enjoy a leisurely pace along Eagle Creek, sloshing back and forth across the drainage as dictated by the terrain, and pausing among leafy shade trees to admire the surrounding cliffs. The upper reaches of the canyon can be a little more challenging, with a somewhat deeper channel and the occasional beaver dam-flooded area. The Painted Bluff Trail is likewise rather primitive in character, is quite remote in its lower reaches, and ultimately provides a scenic and rewarding trip out to US 191 at segment's end.
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.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
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.