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Eagle Creek - Painted Bluffs - GET #14, AZ

no permit
211 6 2
Guide 6 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4 of 5 by 2
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 23.9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,111 feet
Elevation Gain 2,555 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,699 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 36.23
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
28  2015-08-01 friendofThunderg
9  2015-08-01 azdesertfather
24  2015-08-01 JuanJaimeiii
23  2015-08-01 BiFrost
32  2010-05-30 writelots
95  2010-05-03 writelots
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, Nov
Sun  6:06am - 6:13pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby

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

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.

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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
    Eagle Creek - Painted Bluffs - GET #14
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    The further JJ & I go on these GET treks, the longer our days are! This one turned out for me (from Tucson) to be a 20-hour adventure, leaving at 3am, meeting up with JJ in Clifton at 6am, and starting out on the trail at 6:50. I did this one alone today from the west, while JJ had some company hiking from the east.

    The drive into this trailhead (which is the eastern trailhead for the Safford-Morenci Trail) is a really nice dirt road except for the last 2 miles and is easily passable by any car. The last 2 miles is bumpy but also was easily doable in a high clearance vehicle today (no 4WD needed). Just before making it to the trailhead, I turned off to check out the ruins of an ancient, abandoned adobe church. Its roof and back wall was missing, giving this haunting look out in the remote, open desert. Next to it was a sign about bighorn sheep in Eagle Creek, which I didn't see but Lee saw at the end of the day when they were coming out of the creek.

    The trip started out with a little dirt road hiking. I lost a little bit of time shooting down the road and missing my turnoff, doing nearly a mile extra. OK, slow down, watch the GPS!! The road quickly descended into a 4WD road into Eagle Creek. It wound through Eagle Creek a long ways, going from side to side of the creek with multiple crossings. I thought this would make my time in the creek go a little quicker than it did, but multiple crossings all morning in water that was about a foot shy of my waist took its toll time wise. It definitely kept me nice and cool on a sunny morning, and the cliff walls were nice (reminded me in some ways of Aravaipa, a few segments earlier). There are horses out there in a spot near a ranch, which I didn't see, though I saw LOTS of cows!

    Because most spots going through or on the banks of the creek have nothing resembling a trail to follow, it would be easy to miss someone also hiking out there. If someone isn't in the creek they oftentimes could be on either bank and in thick trees and bushes. I figured that was what had happened with meeting up with JJ and his crew, as I finished lunch and turned off of Eagle Creek and started up Knight Canyon. They had been delayed looking for the petroglyphs at Painted Bluffs however, so I ran into them then. Knowing I had lost some time in the creek that I hadn't counted on (and seeing the very real possibility of thunderstorms coming in the afternoon), I decided to pass on spending the time trying to also find them...from Lee's pictures they looked incredible though.

    Once I started heading up Knight Canyon things started cooling off, and storm clouds covered the sun...nice. For probably an hour, lightning clapped to the north on the ridge behind me, and to the south on the ridge behind Red Mountain there was a strong rainstorm, but I only had light rain and a nice breeze. I did run into a diamondback rattler (pretty, yellow color). As I started up the canyon I also saw a sign marking the beginning of Pained Bluff Trail #13, which was pretty much non-existent for a ways until I climbed in elevation; it was an older sign, and had on it "Highway 666 - 9mi" which was renamed Highway 191 here 12 years ago.

    Made it to the dirt road after a good bit of climbing, then some more climbing up the road and up a 1.5 mile stretch of US 191 before hitting Granville Campground, where I jumped in the jeep and started heading down. Was great to connect with the other guys for dinner in Safford, find out how their day went. (Thanks JJ!!) Good meeting you, bifrost, too!

    Pulled off the road at Benson to wake up and grab some coffee, and made it home about 11pm.

    JJ and I are now less than 38 miles for the New Mexico border! Not sure how far we will go after that due to the long drive, but we are definitely committed that far. Probably one more road trip, a couple of days out and we'll be there.
    Eagle Creek - Painted Bluffs - GET #14
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I took up azdesertfather on another offer to knock out a section of the little known Grand Enchantment Trail on Saturday. The plan involved a vehicle swap with JJ and another late night/early morning rocket ride across Arizona to a far away trailhead. After reading the description for the section and taking into consideration the very early start along with the long day ahead of us, I let JJ know that I was probably leaning towards sitting this one out and completing it in the Fall as a backpack. JJ replied by calling me a female body part (not the one that rhymes with Dolores), me not wanting to be labeled a cat, said I was down after all. I enlisted BiFrost to come along, as I thought he might be looking for something to do on Saturday after Mrs. BiFrost (slowandsteady) had agreed to watch Cup and Blanco. Might as well get that HAZ appreciation out right now, thanks again Kathy!

    After a 0041 wake-up and 0200 departure from the valley, JJ somewhat to our chagrin and certainly to our amazement had us at our Morenci rendezvous location an hour early, 0500. No worries though, JJ used the extra time to work on an impromptu real estate deal and Karl and I watched in awe the early morning operations of what may be perhaps the busiest and most happening Circle K in all of Arizona. Dave arrived promptly at 0600 and we were off to our separate trailheads.

    We started in ponderosa and finished in prickly pair. In between we had an amazing day of: wildlife viewing, a very cool pre-historic site, several contemporary but interesting ranching and mining sites, amazing scenery and some very unique natural settings. Our list of wildlife encounters included: a black tail, coati, wild horses and bighorn sheep. I was also able to lure JJ on a detour up the side of a steep hill to a set of bluffs in order to investigate a lead on some Anasazi pictographs and possible ruins. The prehistoric site quickly became perhaps the highlight of the day for myself and JJ. We spent a considerable amount of time up there investigating what we both agreed were some of the coolest glphys we had ever seen, due in large part because they were from the pictograph variety and full of color. There were also some very faint remains of what was most likely an impressive set of ruins at one time and signs of a once ambitious project undertaken by ranchers to utilize the two reliable springs that at one time were undoubtedly the lifeblood and primary reason behind the location of the prehistoric site. Some HAZ appreciation to Blisterfree for helping me pin down the location of this very rewarding site.

    I do not want to overstate the beauty of this segment, but we all agreed it was a winner. In fact, I am pretty sure there is a return visit in the works for myself, Karl and most likely some other HAZers. That being said, this stretch of trail is probably not for everyone, it is rugged, remote, the route is not always clearly defined and the 60 or so creek crossings may be a little much for some people's liking. However, the area has tremendous potential for exploring and there are ample opportunities for reaching areas where one can find absolute solitude.

    My day was capped off with a 5-10 minute photo shoot and viewing session of 8-10 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep that were gracefully contouring along the high cliffs above Eagle Creek. I had stopped for a few minutes to remove some gravel from my boots and by chance spotted the well concealed herd in the cliffs high above the creek, it turned out being by far one of my more memorable wildlife viewing experiences.

    Again I loved this place and most of us agreed its a very worthy destination, however, it is probably not for everyone, so do your due diligence before making the four hour commute. If after some research you decide that Eagle Creek is the place for you, then in the words of the great rapper Nelly, "go get yo' eagle on!"

    We all got together at El Charo in Safford for a great meal, good times and sub par service afterwards. A Huge thanks to JJ who picked up the tab and to Karl for throwing down. Its strange, I told JJ and Karl the approximate salary of a social studies teacher in Phoenix and they would not let me buy another thing the whole day, I should have that conversation with more people!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    Old Safford-Morenci Trail east trailhead:

    From Clifton take US 191 (Coronado Bvd) north to the town of Morenci. Continue another ~5 miles and turn left onto signed, graded dirt Lower Eagle Creek Rd a short ways before ridge-top overlooks of the mine. The road descends to the flood plain of Eagle Creek in another 5.5 miles, where it turns left past a pumping facility, then right to cross the creek. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is often advisable here and beyond. Now on unsigned Black River Rd (the same road changes names), continue ~1.6 miles, along the way ignoring a side road at right, to the signed Old Safford-Morenci Trail east trailhead. Parking for several vehicles is available along the roadside opposite and just beyond the trailhead sign.
    page created by HAZ_Hikebot on Aug 25 2013 7:22 pm
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