Sunday, April 29, 2007

Benson to San Carlos

We by no means take the fastest route as there is still too much of Arizona to see. So, headed east on I-10, we first make a short detour to Cochise, yet another ghost town. However, this one is probably better called a semi-ghost as it does have a number of residents. First established in the 1880's as a fuel stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, it reached its peak population of about 3,000 more than a century ago. Though it has never truly died, it probably doesn't have more than about 100 residents. However, what it does have, is a number of historic buildings that make it well worth the side trip.

We then cruise through Willcox for a brief look at their historic district before heading north to Safford and turning back east and north again to our main destination - Clifton. Though were backtracking and the historic mining town takes us out of our way, we were so very glad we went. Clifton, though it has a lot of current residents, truly has all the makings of a ghost town. The entire area has been continuously mined since the 1870's and operations continue today. Three towns were originally established in the late 1800's, including Clifton, Morenci and Metcalf and mining prospered in all three. The large mines changed hands several times until the whole kit and caboodle was purchased by Phelps Dodge in 1921. Everything continued on an up-swing until the Depression caused the mines to shut down in 1932. However, new technology was soon developed, underground mining ceased, and open-pit mining began in earnest. For Metcalf and "Old" Morenci, that was the end for them, as both towns disappeared into the pits. However, a "New" Morenci was established, which is the base of operations today.

All that's left of those three historic mining camps is Clifton, at the bottom of the hill from New Morenci and it appears that the vast majority of town folk, and most certainly the businesses, have moved up the hill as well. Though many of the old homes in Clifton are still occupied, their is clearly an abundance of abandoned business buildings. Today, only two other historic Arizona mining towns rival Clifton in the number of historic buildings that continue to stand - Jerome and Bisbee. But, those towns are loaded with tourists, and loaded with boutiques and restaurants and tourist destinations. They also don't have active a large active mining operation. Clifton does. And what a mining operation! I've never seen anything so big, not that I've seen a lot of mining operations. As you travel up the hill to New Morenci and beyond, you run into mining pit, after mining pit, after mining pit. After taking a look at the vast mining operations, return to Clifton and get off the main road to get a view of numerous historic buildings. There are also several cemeteries in the area. What a blast!

Finally, we begin to backtrack back to Highway 70 headed westward to the San Carlos Apache Casino. No, we're not big gamblers, but their hotel had a great nightly rate.

No comments: