Sep 22, 2010

A None Beer related post.....

This past weekend, a friend of mine, Brad and I decided to take a day, and head deep into the Bradshaw Mountains in Central Arizona, and search for a number of “ghost towns” reported to be in the area.

After consulting a number of websites, I put together a route that I thought worked well for us, sites that we could reach in a normal, 2WD truck.
I learned later that day, these websites, are not always all that reliable when it comes to conveying information as to the location of the various sites we were looking for.

All we could find of Gillette
Our first stop was an old stage stop by the name of Gillette. A town founded in 1878. The town was originally started as the milling town for the nearby Tip Top mine, about 7 miles up the mountains from the site. It later served as a stage stop for the Prescott to Phoenix Stage Line. A fairly typical “old west town”, with several gunfights, murders and lynching taking place in the towns short history. The Earp brothers we said to have stopped here, and spent the night on their way to Tombstone.
Not much remains of the town site, even though, at its peak, a few thousand people called Gillette home. We were not successful in finding the ruins of the old Burfind Hotel, which is really the only remaining recognizable structure. Later I learned we were only about a quarter mile from that site. We did find remains of a bridge, as well as countless bricks, and timber. Hard to believe just 100 years ago, we would have been standing in a fairly sizable town.

Not having a lot of success finding Gillette, we thought we would head north, a few miles up I-17. We got off the freeway on the Horsethief Basin Rec site exit, and made our way towards Crown King. According to the website, there are several sites of interest along the way. First off, just 5 miles off the freeway, was Bumble Bee. Not what I was expecting in a “ghost town” I must admit. All the buildings we could see from the road, except for one, appeared to still be lived in. However, Bumble Creek just south of the town site was a beautiful example of a riparian environment. Lots of green!

Cleator Saloon
The next site, about 10 miles past Bumble Bee, was the “ghost town” of Cleator. Again, most of the buildings appeared to be lived in. However, there was a lot of evidence of long since abandoned mining operations. Old trucks, mine cart etc were scattered about the area. The highlight of Cleator however, was the saloon. A still operational saloon makes up the towns only noticeable business. A very authentic, somewhat run down building that you rarely see in Arizona. The building still maintained it connection with the old mining towns. We couldn’t see any evidence of any renovations to the saloon. The lady behind the bar was more the friendly, as were the 3 or 4 dogs roaming at will around (in and out) the property. Still being 10am, and not sure where the day would take us, we elected to forgo a beer (however tempting it was) and make our up into the mountains.
What followed was a about an 8 mile stretch of road that made its way up 3000+ feet of elevation, starting in the desert, and climaxing in the high pines of Crown King, some 6000 feet above sea level. An amazing drive, and the road is good enough for just about any car to make it up (we even pasted a Mustang on our way down).

Again the “ghost town” of Crown King was not at all what I expected. At this point, I was beginning to question as to weather or not I understood the definition of a ghost town. There was nothing ghostly about Crown King at all. In fact, quite the opposite. We actually a hard time finding a place to park. We finally squeezed into a spot, between a large pick up, and several ATV’s (ATV’s appeared to be the preferred mode of transport up here) and made out way up the road to the Crown King saloon.
Bar at the Crown King Saloon
This was one of those places you immediately feel comfortable in as soon as you step in. Although it was obviously full of “locals”, it was a very unthreatening, even welcoming atmosphere in here. We easily found a spot at the bar, and ordered Crown King Ale (made by Redhook, and a pretty decent beer I must say). This was one of the most enjoyable beers I’ve had. I was sitting 6000+ up, in a historic town, at a bar that was over 100+ years old! Turned out, the very bar we were sitting at was moved from the old milling town of Oro Belle in 1910, after the mill closed. This struck me, as Oro Belle was next on our list of stops. We enjoyed listening the casual, slightly intoxicated banter of the locals (and it was just barely noon!) for a time, while we enjoyed our beers, and explored the many historic artifacts hanging on or around the bar. After a few minutes, we settled up, and explored more of Crown King for a few minutes, then made our way south/west out of town, toward the aforementioned Oro Belle, some 4 miles away.

Road to Oro Belle

Oro Belle ruin

After a few wrong turns (one that turned out to be down an old fella’s mining claim, and he did not look happy to see us) we finally found Oro Belle Rd (Fire Road 191) and made out way, carefully down the hill. After some time, the road leveled out and cut across the side of a hill (almost a cliff). The road got increasingly more narrow to the point where we were getting worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to turn around. After some exploration, we found a turn around, and decided we should do just that, since the road was getting worse and worse, and more and more narrow. As we were turning the truck around, I spotted some ruins just a little ways down the hill, so we parked, and made our way to some real ruins finally! They appeared to be a residence, albeit a good size one. The house looked down onto the old site of the long since vanished town site in the valley below. After enjoying a Bells Oberon and cigar at the site of the ruin, we made our way back.

Bumble Bee Creek
We tried heading back through Prescott but found the road to be a little too much for our truck to handle, so we made our way back through Crown King, back down the hill. Passing the now familiar sites of Cleator, and Bumble Bee. We did stop at Bumble Bee Creek, so named because the earlier settlers said Indians in this area were “as thick as bumble bee’s”. We spent some time at the creek bed, taking pictures and enjoying the company of a few cows roaming the area. What a gorgeous place for some camping we both decided! This strip of lush, greenery in the otherwise reddish brown desert is more then a welcoming site, and made a very peaceful end to our trip

Although I was a little disappointed that the “ghost towns’ we were seeking out turned out to be little more then authentic, historic sort of tourist trap, it was still a very rewarding trip. We found a few local watering holes that you only find a few times in a life time. These places are honest, genuine and comfortable, and well worth a day trip to experience not only their hospitality and warmth, but also the fairly recent history this region has to offer. Although the highlight of the activity in this area was little more then 100 years ago, it seems like ancient history, and hard to imagine my grandparents were alive while men still struggled with this harsh environment with little more then a mule, and pick ax.
If you have a day, and are looking for something to do, I suggest you head north, and take a drive up to Crown King. Bring you camera, a good pair of walking shoes, and leave your cell phone at home, and for a few hours, enjoy a small slice this great state has to offer, yet so little have get the privilege to experience.