Some History: In 1857, the United States government commissioned the southwest's first interstate road, setting aside $210,000 for the survey and construction of a road along the 35th parallel. A Navy Lieutenant, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, was lured out of California semi-retirement when offered the challenge of finding a suitable route to bring settlers to his adopted state. The Beale Survey would plot a route from Fort Smith Arkansas, through Oklahoma Indian Territory, on to Fort Defiance (near present day New Mexico/Arizona border), connect to Fort Mohave on the Colorado River and into California.
To ease the expected desert hardships, Beale employed 22 camels as pack animals in a unique desert surveying experiment. On August 27th, 1857, Beale and his survey team of 50 men left Fort Defiance and by late fall of the same year, reached the Colorado River.
Beale returned from California with a large party of experienced mountain men arriving at Antelope Springs (Flagstaff Old Town) on February 4th, 1858. The timing of the return trip was to test the feasibility of winter travel along the route. The crew proceeded to New Mexico where Beale's first journal concludes with an entry that the surveyed route is ideal for year round travel. Beale thought this was important for promoting travel to California, particularly with the infamous Donner Party fate 10 years earlier highlighting the perils of winter passage.
Beale submitted his recommendation report and survey and by summer of 1858 was approved to hire a construction crew and materials. On October 28th, 1858, Beale and his construction crew exceeding 100 men departed Fort Smith Arkansas assembling the road along the route they surveyed only a year earlier. "Assembling" may be an over statement for the road was little more than a 10 foot wide track with rocks pushed to the sides.
By the summer of 1860 Beale completed a final inspection of his wagon road and suggested in his final report to congress that an additional $100,000 be spent to build bridges over major rivers and Canyon Diablo. Beale also included the cost of building additional stock tanks to ease the pressure of finding water along the route. Congress accepted his recommendations and allocated funds, but the outbreak of Civil War in spring of 1861 led to other priorities.
The Kaibab National Forest Service Report offers a basic summary of the Beale Wagon Road history. I've supplement this courtesy of Jack Beale Smith. He's a Flagstaff historian who began tracing the Beale Wagon Road across Arizona as part of his master's thesis in 1974.
The Hike: The Beale Wagon Road through the Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, and Kaibab National Forest has been marked with a series of cairns, posts (with a distinctive camel emblem), trail signs (again with distinctive camel emblem), ground markers, or commemorative signs. I'll describe this hike as a series of "mini-hikes" or segments to facilitate more manageable hiking options since a trek end-to-end covers almost 45 miles. Reference the accompanying GPS Route for further details.
1. Linda Vista to Antelope Springs:
East TH Parking: Use the school parking lot on the south west corner of 4th Street and Linda Vista Drive.
West TH Parking: Use the Flagstaff Monument parking lot on the south side of Thorpe Road.
Segment Distance: 2.85 miles
On Friday September 11th, 1857, Beale's 50 men survey team made its way along the south side of Mount Elden following a path now under the roadbed of Linda Vista Drive. With advance scouts reporting difficult terrain ahead ascending a mesa, camp was made near the present day intersection of 4th Street and Linda Vista Drive.
The original survey took a route that follows present day Paradise Road up onto Switzer Mesa cutting over Buffalo Park to present day FR557 and Schultz Pass Road. But the need for a reliable water source resulted in creation of a spur trail to Antelope Springs (present day City Pond) and north along the Rio de Flag to San Francisco Springs (near present day Museum of Northern Arizona).
The settlement of Flagstaff began around the dammed Antelope Springs forming City Pond still visible today. The mythical "flag staff" was erected near this sight and is commemorated today with a historical monument. With the arrival of the railroad in 1882, Flagstaff moved a mile south leaving the settlement of "Old Town".
2. Antelope Springs to Leroux Springs:
East TH Parking: Use the Flagstaff Monument parking lot on the south side of Thorpe Road.
West TH Parking: Park at gate 1 mile north on Snow Bowl Road where FR516 makes 90-degree turn to east.
Segment Distance: 8.77 miles
From Antelope Springs (City Pond) to San Francisco Springs (Museum of Northern Arizona), the route closely follows the present path of SR180. Near the present day intersection with Snow Bowl Road, a side spur to a reliable water source was cleared. Leroux Springs, the source of Rio de Flag proved to be an important location. The settlement of Fort Valley (aka Fort Moroni) arose here. Beale noted in his diary;
"Worked the road in places, and traveling seven miles arrive at Le Roux Spring, the weather delightful; no one could pass through this country without being struck with its picturesque and beautiful scenery, its rich soil, and its noble forests of timber; the view from our camp of this morning is unsurpassed in the world; the soil is a rich black loam, the grass gramma and bunch equally mixed, and the timber, pine of the finest quality and greatest size; water at this season we find everywhere, nor is there at any time any lack of it at this place."
3. Leroux Springs to Hart Prairie Road:
East TH Parking: Park at gate 1 mile north on Snow Bowl Road where FR516 makes 90-degree turn to east.
West TH Parking: Parking area at intersection of Hart Prairie Road (FR151) and Hwy 180 near MM226.
Segment Distance: 2.95 miles
The present day "Hot Shot" Headquarters is located near Big Leroux Spring. It should be noted that there are two Leroux Springs - Big and Little Leroux named after 1820's trapper Antoine Leroux who frequented the area in search of beaver pelts. On September 12, 1857, Beale and his survey crew set up camp near Big Leroux Spring. Beale recorded in his journal;
"Le Roux Spring is one of transparent sparkling water, and bursts out of the side of the mountain and runs gurgling down for a quarter of a mile where it loses itself in the valley."
From Leroux Springs, the Beale expedition made its way west across Fort Valley following a path that closely follows a present day Transwestern gas pipeline right-of-way. Where the pipeline right-of-way crosses Hwy 180 the old wagon road bears north tracking the east side of Hwy 180 until it reaches Hart Prairie Road.
4. Hart Prairie Road to FR171:
East TH Parking: Parking area at intersection of Hart Prairie Road (FR151) and Hwy 180 near MM226.
West TH Parking: Park at FR171 intersection with FR9002M (just north of FR171C).
Segment Distance: 5.14 miles
From Hart Prairie Road continue west along Hwy 180 about 500 feet until you come to the intersection with FR222B. About a 1500 feet west of Hwy 180 along FR222B you will come to a double track path heading in a north-westerly direction. This unmarked forest road roughly follows the wagon road. Our map shows at least 3 ground markers along this section, but we failed to locate any until the crossing of FR9008N and FR9009N south of Grand Canyon Tank.
The old wagon road follows a fairly well defined trail between FR9009N and FR164C. Near the Trick Tank junction of FR164C and FR9001M you will notice rocks piled on both sides of the 10 foot wide track. These are classic remnants of the Beale Wagon Road construction crew work improving the gentle grade.
The path soon joins onto FR9002M. This is an example of a present day forest road following the road bed of an abandoned logging railroad built on top of the old Beale Wagon Road. Follow the old road bed to the ground markers at FR171.
5. Wild Bill Hill to Government Prairie:
East TH Parking: Park at FR171 intersection with FR9004M (just north of FR171C).
West TH Parking: Park at FR107 intersection with FR100 (south side of Government Mountain).
Segment Distance: 7.59 miles
This is easily my favorite section of the Beale Wagon Road. From FR171 follow FR9004M west following the south fence of a private ranch surrounding Wild Bill Tank. The Beale expedition made the original tank as a potential water source between Leroux and Beale Springs. Continue west along FR9004M towards Government Prairie. An unmarked forest road will track north towards Wild Bill Hill.
Wild Bill Hill was a frequent vista for passing travelers. From this vantage travelers could view the expansive Government Prairie and Sitgreaves Mountain further to the west.
Portions of the original road bed across Government Prairie are still visible as two straight lines of rocks piled about a wagon track ten feet apart. The remains of homesteads that sprang up along the wagon road can be spotted along the way. Distinctive Rain Tank Hill dominates the view to the south of Government Prairie.
6. Government Mountain to Laws Spring:
East TH Parking: Park at FR107 intersection with FR100 (south side of Government Mountain).
West TH Parking: Park at FR115 intersection with Beale Wagon Road.
Segment Distance: 11.82 miles
Continue northwest along FR100/FR107 towards FR141 and Spring Valley. Water could be located at Obsidian Tank and Beale Spring (aka Breckenridge Spring) on the north side of Government Mountain. Once again, a side spur trail to a reliable water source was cleared.
Remains of the Beale Wagon Road can be seen just north of the FR107/FR141 intersection in Spring Valley. This area was known as Bear Spring, as named by Thomas Hedgpeth after killing a bear at the site in late July of 1858.
Follow Spring Valley Road (FR141) towards Section Sixteen Hill. The Beale Wagon Road passes on the east and north sides of Section Sixteen Hill on private lands. To continue our trek, follow FR97 around the south and west sides of the hill eventually following the original road bed as you rejoin Spring Valley Road (FR141).
Pass between north side of Little Squaw Mountain and south side of Squaw Mountain via FR713. Join onto FR712 towards Boulin Tank. Follow FR115 north to the signed crossing of the Beale Wagon Road.
7. Laws Spring:
East TH Parking: Park at FR115 intersection with Beale Wagon Road.
West TH Parking: Park at FR84 intersection with Beale Wagon Road.
Segment Distance: 5.16 miles
This is the only developed site along the trail with interpretive signs at Laws Springs. A tombstone engraver who was part of the 1857 Beale survey team meticulously engraved the name.
Summary: I've described a 45 mile section of the Beale Wagon Road from present day Flagstaff to the crossing of present day Forest Road 84, just west of Laws Spring. Traversing this relatively small section of the 1,240 mile route serves as a historic reminder of what hardships the original southwest settlers had to endure conquering the geography on their way to a "better life". I've already made a reservation at the La Posada in Winslow and hope to complete another section of the Beale Wagon Road east from Flagstaff. Stay tuned and enjoy!
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
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.