Larry & Lee Ann's Journey travel blog

Before heading out for the day we searched downtown for the Post...

We found the pretty Safford Courthouse first...

Heading north on Hwy 191 this morning toward Clifton...

We've decided to leave 191 for awhile and do 21 miles of...

There's a beautiful sky on this lovely day!

The Byway kiosk's make it interesting & have great info too!

The prominant bluff is lava flow...

Looks like a saddle to me...

Interesting...

Might be a bit tough to take a walk through here!

Ramadas provide nice shade and picnicking along the way...

As well as great views!

Exhibit to learn history of Morenci copper mine, the number one producer...

That's the mine, wayyyyy in the distance...

Interesting info for you...

Aren't these rocks amazing?

Love these colors!

I really wanted to take this one home! To Ely...

Moving along, pretty drive!

Lookin' comfortable!

Cute calves too!

The Byway crosses the Gila River on the Old Safford Bridge...

There's a 180 degree hotspring if you want to hike 4 miles...

Next post takes us into Clinton...It's short so check back!


Today we traveled the 21-mile-long Black Hills Back Country Byway, accessed from U.S. Highway 191. The route is marked with mileage signs, with milepost 1 on the Safford side and milepost 21 on the Clifton side of the Byway. Near each end of the road there is a National Back Country Byway kiosk. These exhibits provided historical information about the byway, as well as information on road conditions and safety considerations.

We learned that the first known inhabitants of the area were Native Americans. Mogollon people 1,000 years ago farmed, hunted, and gathered wild plant foods. The byway passes through the historical territory of the Chiricahua and Western Apache, who arrived in southeastern Arizona around 1600. Some Apaches used the area as a local travel route and hideout prior to the surrender of Geronimo in 1886.

Coronado passed through this region in 1540 as he led Spanish conquistadors in search of gold and the Seven Cities of Cibola. James Ohio Pattie, a famous mountain man, trapped beaver along the Gila River in the 1820s. General Kearny and his guide Kit Carson led troops through the Gila Box in 1846 en route to California to participate in the Mexican-American War.

Pioneer ranchers and farmers eked out a living in these hillsides starting in the 1870s. Almost 700 head of cattle graze 65,000 acres on the five ranches the byway crosses. Ranching families, some of whom have operated here since the 1800s, still live close to the land. A copper deposit of great significance was discovered near Clifton and in 1872 the first claims were staked. As the mines grew, Anglo, Spanish, and Chinese settlers supplied wood and vegetables to the miners, traveling over treacherous mountain trails.

We really enjoyed our stop at an exhibit at mile marker 13 where we learned about the history of Freeport-McMoran's Morenci copper mine, the number one producer of copper in North America. The present mine complex and associated facilities stretch over 50 square miles. More than 16 billion pounds of copper have been produced by this operation. There were some amazing rocks on display there. Would have loved to bring one home but Larry said we'd need a skip-loader to get one on the truck, lol!

It's hard to imagine the prisoners toiling out here from 1914 to 1920. They endured a lot to construct the Safford-Clifton Road -- now the byway -- but greatly enhanced travel between the agricultural Safford valley and the mining communities of Clifton and Morenci. The byway crosses the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area between mileposts 17 and 18. Designated by Congress in 1990, the conservation area includes 22,000 acres of scenic desert canyons surrounding perennial rivers and creeks. Midway on the byway, the Canyon Overlook Picnic Area provides shaded ramadas with a scenic vista of the Gila River canyon. Closer to the east end of the byway is the Owl Creek Campground with seven units perched on a cliff overlooking the historic Old Safford Bridge. The south end of the bridge is a popular launch site for those floating the Gila River and for fishing for catfish. The north end of the bridge has a small picnic area. Mule deer, javelina, and quail can be hunted on public lands along the byway.

The Black Hills Back Country Byway is unpaved, but is accessible to high clearance vehicles during dry weather. Portions of the byway have narrow drop-offs or are confined by steep cliffs. Signs indicated you should not attempt the byway in a travel trailer or any vehicle more than 20 feet long. Motor homes and trailers can be left at parking areas provided near kiosks at each end. There were also signs advising that you take extra care to drive defensively on this route. And to expect a vehicle around the next bend and to remember that mountain courtesy gives uphill traffic the right of way. We passed three government trucks during our 21 mile drive and were able to pull over for them quite easily.

We arrived in the quaint old town of Clifton and stopped at a few spots I'd 'Googled' as places to see. The mine is the main attraction but you really can't get up close and personal. There's a security shack there to keep us 'trespasser's' out, imagine that! So, all in all, it was an enjoyable trip and if you get in the area we'd recommend this as a good way to spend a day. Don't forget to bring lots of water and a picnic lunch! You'll need both...



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