Imagine visiting the thriving towns of Sasco and Silverbell in the year 1907. Some 600 resident's call Sasco "home" and another 3000 local's call Silverbell "home". The Arizona Southern Rail Road connects these mining towns twice daily with Red Rock at the junction of the Southern Pacific Rail Road mainline about 7 miles to the east. Sasco has a large smelting operation servicing the local mines in the Picacho and Silverbell Mountains. This is a company town named after the largest employer, the Southern Arizona Smelting Company, or SASCO for short. You walk down Sasco's main street towards the Rockland Hotel to sample your beverage of choice. Have a few too many and end up in the local jail! Get in a fight and you might end up in the local cemetery... You travel 15 miles further west reaching the boom town of Silverbell renowned for its wide open lawless atmosphere.
At least a dozen mines are in operation with copper being king. With no known local source for water, a tank car on the Arizona Southern train brought water to replenish the cistern. This helps explain the inordinate amount of saloons operating in this mining town and the town tagline of "lawless hell-hole". In 1934 copper and silver prices crashed dramatically. The smelter closed at Sasco and the mines were no longer profitable. The rails for the Arizona Southern were torn up and sold for scrap. Sasco and Silverbell became ghost towns literally over night. When copper prices rebounded in 1948, a new mining venture was established dubbed "Silver Bell". The new mining methods led to a massive tailings dump that has buried most of the original Silverbell and continues to do so today. Check out "Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps" by Philip Varney for more historical information.
The Hike: From the Sasco TH (GPS coordinates 32o 32.229'N, 111o 25.611'W) at the "Y-intersection" where Sasco Road and La Osa Ranch Road meet, follow the ranch road in a northwesterly direction about 3/4 miles until you reach a fenced cemetery. The majority of the graves with concrete markers date from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic that claimed about a million victims in North America. Please use respect when entering the fenced cemetery.
Retrace your path back to Sasco Road. Near the "Y-intersection" as you peer to the west along the north side of Sasco Road, you will spot the remains of the Rockland Hotel. I find one of the most appealing aspects of a ghost town hike is having a historic photo and trying to match the camera angle for how the scene appears today.
Follow the remains of Sasco's main street to the immediate west of the hotel. You will pass a two room building purported to be the Sasco Jail. Concrete slabs mark the remains of other buildings lining the main street.
The old street will soon meet the power house foundation from the Sasco Smelter. Maneuver to the west side of the power house foundation to view the remains of the main smelting operations. The base of the 175 foot smoke stack is one of the more visible ruins today.
Head north beyond the remains of the smelter and you will encounter about 20 large concrete footings spaced about every 25 feet. These footings supported an elevated rail dump into ore bins plus a conveyor transfer system. As you walk north and west beyond the ore bin footings, you will spot the old spur rail grade that connected with the Arizona Southern Rail Road. This elevated view allows you to scan the entire abandoned town site.
Return to Sasco Road and continue heading in a southwesterly direction about half a mile. To your left tracking close to the modern power lines are the remains of the Sasco powder-house (explosives storage house) and a well. Miscellaneous concrete slabs dot the surrounding area marking the outskirts of the ghost town. Along the roadside you will find the remains of foundations associated with railway operations.
Continue west along Sasco Road about 3 miles entering into the Ironwood Forest National Monument, noted for its large concentration of rare crested saguaros and ironwood trees. I've read there are fewer than a hundred crested saguaros in the wild with the majority located within the borders of the National Monument.
Follow the route along Sasco Road passing the intersection with Silverbell Road and Ragged Top Mountain dominating the view to the south. Near GPS coordinates 32o 27.145'N, 111o 32.919'W Silverbell Road will make a sudden 90 degree bend to the west. The old road has been blocked off here and my maps indicated the historical site of "Saguaro" near this location. We explored the vicinity without noting anything of interest. I didn't find any mention of "Saguaro" during my background research for this hike description, but did note its existence on multiple maps.
As you head further south along Silverbell Road, you will come to an unobvious 4WD track crossing east and west (GPS coordinates 32o 26.151'N, 111o 33.580'W). To the east lies the remains of Silverbell mostly buried under the tailings from the recent mining operations. To the west lies the Silverbell cemetery. Similar to Sasco's cemetery, many of the graves date from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. Surprisingly some graves indicate the deceased has passed away in recent years indicating continuing use of this cemetery.
We followed the 4WD track to the east towards the tailings dump. This tracks along one of the main thoroughfares of Silverbell. You will note the occasional remains of foundations and other artifacts from the ghost town along the route.
Head back to Silverbell Road and continue in a southerly direction about 2 miles until you reach a gated entrance to an active mining operation. This is the Silverbell TH located at GPS coordinates 32o 25.718'N, 111o 33.410'W.
Summary: This ghost town trek can serve as a combined 4WD and hiking expedition, or as we witnessed on this occasion, a mountain bike shuttle route. The remnants of these two ghost towns border the Ironwood Forest National Monument, but lie on private lands owned by a conglomerate mining company in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings. Facing uncertain prospects, it will be our loss forever should the outcome be decided by a bulldozer leveling the sites for some future development. Maybe this is chance to expand the NM borders to encompass the sites and allow future generations an opportunity to glimpse into our past. Just a thought... 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.