Mine Tailings Picture of the Week

With this posting, we’ve completed this month’s photo excursion of Castle Hot Springs Road. The detour north of State Route 74 started with almost prairie-like flat desert adjacent to the Wickenburg range. Then the road ascended into the Buckhorn Range with a magnificent view of the Bradshaw’s. Next, our back road dropped down to Castle Creek through the Hieroglyphic Mountains past the hot springs resort. Finally, we returned to asphalt at Lake Pleasant where we saw vast groves of saguaros growing on the mountain slopes (I put that in my mental filing cabinet for a future outing).

There was one scene along the way that wasn’t quite ripe enough to shoot when I first drove by it, so I wanted to backtrack and see if it improved with the warm afternoon sun. It did, and it is this week’s featured image which I call Mine Tailings.

Mine Tailings - Tailings comprised of red soil caught my eye because of the color and erosion pattern.
Mine Tailings – Tailings comprised of red soil caught my eye because of the color and erosion pattern.

I don’t know if there are an inordinate number of mines in Yavapai County, but it seems like they’re everywhere. A few hearty souls—that either suffer from unrelenting gold fever or have nothing better to do—still work the claims, but most of the mines are abandoned. When the ore runs dry, the prospectors move on in search of the next elusive bonanza. Because there’s no economic incentive to restore the claim, abandoned mines are left unposted and are often dangerous. Just this year, rescuers have pulled a couple of people trapped in mine shafts. It’s a growing Arizona problem.

One of the tells of an old mine is the tailings. As prospectors tunnel into a mountainside, they have to remove the diggings and pile them somewhere. In massive operations, fleets of trucks build hundred-foot-tall dikes, like the one that used to line Highway 60 in Miami, Arizona. But with smaller claims of one or two men, they will fill a wheelbarrow and walk it outside and dump it over the edge, building a tailings dump; the deeper the mine, the bigger the tailings.

The thing that makes the tailings in this week’s photo interesting to me is that they’re red, and the late afternoon sun exaggerates that color. The red against the blue sky vibrates my eyeballs. There’s more that we can learn from the image, like how old it is. The erosion patterns are deep from many seasons of heavy rain, and its fan pattern is reminiscent of what you see in the Painted Desert. In both cases, water easily cut through soft soil. Finally, dirt and rock that comes out of a shaft is well below the topsoil level, so it’s not rich in nutrients. Here, the desert Mesquite has begun to colonize the hillside, so the soil contains some organic material already.

You can see a larger version of Mine Tailings on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we set off for another adventure exploring Arizona’s back roads.

Until next time — jw

Salvation Peak Flag Picture of the Week

Castel Hot Springs Resort
Castle Hot Springs Resort – Originally built in 1896 by the owner of the Congress Mine -Frank Murphy – will reopen in October, so cash in your IRA and visit. I believe the tarp is covering the garden where the chief grows fresh vegetables for the restaurant.

It doesn’t much matter which way you travel on Castle Hot Springs Road, either clockwise or the other way, will get you to the historic retreat—the luxury resort for the rich and famous built in 1896. Your choice of travel depends on whether you want to drive through the mountains via Morristown or north from Lake Pleasant via Castle Creek. As a history buff, I prefer the original route, but I also live closer to the old railroad depot, and I’m too lazy to drive that distance to Lake Pleasant.

After I moved to Arizona, I heard stories of the ghost resort from friends, but I didn’t lay eyes on it for thirty years. After the last of my infamous station wagons was totaled while it was parked in the Sun City Boswell Hospital parking lot, we replaced it with my first SUV—Shadowfax. It was an Olds Bravada with ground clearance and four-wheel drive good enough to begin exploring back roads. One of my first outings was to Castle Hot Springs. As a film shooter back then, I didn’t have a perfect shot of the main house, so I didn’t bother taking any pictures.

There’s quite a bit of history that would make good stand-alone stories. Trivia like:

  • The hot spring found by Ft. Whipple Calvary soldiers tracking bandits.
  • Frank Murphy—the Congress Mine owner—bought the land, built the buildings, and then paid for the road.
  • The resort thrived during the first half of the 20th Century catering to the likes of the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Wrigleys, Zane Gray, and Clark Gable (there had to be famous actresses that visited too, but I didn’t discover any of their names).
  • Murphy’s brother—when he was the territorial governor—turned the resort into Arizona’s Mar-A-Lago because winters were too cold in Prescott. And because Warren Murphy ran the state from here, Arizona’s first telephone was installed in the hall of the main building (I believed it survived the ’76 fire).
  • The temperature of the hot springs water is 12oº, which is the same as every Phoenix household during summer.

There’s another more interesting story, however. During the Second World War, the resort was dark because of rationing and shortages. After the war ended, Walter Rounsevel—then owner and general manager—leased the property to the US Military as a recovery and rehab facility for injured officers. One of those officers was a young lieutenant whose back was injured after a Japanese destroyer rammed his PT boat. The officer’s name was John F. Kennedy, and he spent several months recovering at Castle Hot Springs soaking in the springs, hiking trails, and golfing.

Salvation Peak Flag - For providing a place for injured servicemen to recuperate during World War II, the Castle Hot Springs Resort got special dispensation to fly an American Flag on Salvation Peak 24 hours a day.
Salvation Peak Flag – For providing a place for injured officers to recuperate during World War II, the Castle Hot Springs Resort got special dispensation to fly an American Flag on Salvation Peak 24 hours a day.

For its part in helping with the recovery of these servicemen, a special dispensation was given to Castle Hot Springs to fly an American flag 24 hours a day atop Salvation Peak. The flag is visible along the road before and after passing the resort, and I took several shots of it even though the sun was directly behind. My favorite version is this week’s featured image, and I call it, Salvation Peak Flag. Although it looks formidable, Salvation Peak is a smaller outcrop of Governors Peak which is located within the Hells Gate Wilderness area.

You can see a larger version of Salvation Peak Flag on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we’ll present our final photo that I made on my Castle Hot Spring Road outing.

Until next time — jw

Big Hell’s Gate Picture of the Week

Castle Hot Springs Road’s loop north of Arizona State Route 74 passes three small desert mountain ranges. Driving the road from west to east, first, we skirt the Wickenburg Range, which you can see out of the driver-side window. Shortly after that, the highway began to weave through the Buckhorn Range and past the picture stops, about which I wrote the last two weeks. Just around the bend from the AD Wash Gap, our back road climbs a sharp grade to a ridgeline—the highest point along our journey. There are great views once we reach the top, so a photography stop is imperative.

It was hard to decide where to look when I got out of the truck because there was so much to see. To the north are Castle Creek Basin, Sheep Mountains, and the Bradshaw’s on the distant horizon. This was the only image I took and brought home on my first visit. Of course, I shot with film then and was stingy about wasting it.

View From The Ridge–you can see the Sheep and Bradshaw Mountains in the north from the high point along the Castle Hot Springs Road.

If you turn around and face south, however, you have a great view of Hells Canyon Wilderness and our third range of mountains—the Hieroglyphic Mountains. The Castle Hot Springs Road encircles the wilderness and even passes through a corner along its eastern flank. From this viewpoint, you can see into it and feel like you could reach out and touch it; you can’t get there from here (thanks again, Yogi). Because the wilderness area abuts private property on its north and east sides, you have to hike in on trails from the south or west. Here, there are signs clearly stating, “No Trespassing. No Hunting. No Hiking. Don’t even think about it.”

Big Hell's Gate--An excelent view into the Hell's Canyon Wilderness area with Big Hell's Gate in front of Hellgate Mountain.
Big Hell’s Gate–An excellent view into the Hell’s Canyon Wilderness area with Big Hell’s Gate posing in front of Hellgate Mountain.

I took this week’s picture from this ridge, about halfway back down the hill, to avoid telephone lines. There are several 3000′ peaks in Hells Canyon Wilderness, Governor’s Peak, Garfias Mountain, and the one seen here—Hellgate Mountain. They surround a Burro Flat basin that provides solitude isolated from metropolitan Phoenix.

The gap in the basalt ridge is Big Hell’s Gate, which is the same Bitter Creek ground away we drove through two weeks ago. The creek flows through the gap, then off to the left, gouging another slot called Little Hells Gate. I’ve not been fortunate enough to have seen or photographed it, but maybe someday. As they say in car racing, “As long as there’s movement, there’s hope.

Click here to see a larger version of Big Hells Gate on its Web Page. Be sure to return next week when we see another beautiful stop I made on my Castle Hot Spring Road outing.

Until next time — jw

AD Wash Gap Picture of the Week

This month’s photo topic is Castle Hot Springs Road—part of my long-term project of getting off the highways to explore Arizona’s back roads. My only restriction is that the roads are accessible by regular passenger cars. That’s because I don’t want to buy some dune buggy for the project (Actual Read: Queen Anne won’t let me buy one).

Since I live on its west, Castle Hot Springs Road starts in Morristown at its junction with U.S. Highway 60—Grand Avenue. It loops northeast from Arizona State Route 74—which we always called Carefree Highway, but I see that it’s officially listed as Morristown-New River Highway—past the Wickenburg Mountains into the Buckhorn Range before it returns to SR 74 via the bed of Castle Creek through the Hieroglyphic Mountains. Its length is less than thirty-five miles, and you can use a pick-up truck because most of it is well-graded and broad. Its roughest section is on the east side, the several miles between Lake Pleasant and the resort, because it travels in the creek bottom. So, if you want to drive your Lamborghini to the Castle Hot Springs resort, take the clockwise direction from Morristown.

As I’ve said through the years,  people build highways from roads, roads on trails, and trails from paths, so you shouldn’t be surprised that some of the Castle Hot Springs Road originated from the Wickenburg stagecoach route. “Why travel through the mountains when there’s a straight shot across the desert floor?” you may ask. Remember, stages needed water for both passengers and horses. The trip took all day at best. On the west side, some parts of the original stagecoach road remain, and you can drive them, but you need an ATV or Jeep for that.

AD Wash Gap
AD Wash Gap–The AD Wash drains the local mountain and runs by the road before turning into a narrow canyon and eventually becoming part of Castle Springs. You get a peek of the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance in the gap.

This week’s image comes from the road’s west section, a mile up the road from last week’s photo. On the north side of the mountain seen in that photo, Rincon Spring feeds a runoff called AD Wash—there’s no reference to what the name means, even in my trusty Arizona Place Names. The wash drains the local mountain and feeds the Layton tank before it turns and flows through a canyon between the hills. On the other side, AD Wash drops a couple hundred feet into Castle Creek.

When I shot this photo, I wanted to capture the saguaro grove against the canyon’s jagged edges in the late afternoon light. When I saw it on my computer, I was pleased with the paloverde in bloom and the blue streak running through the cloudy sky. For those unfamiliar with our Sonoran Desert, the saguaros in this photo range from 40 to 60 feet tall, and that should help set a sense of scale to what you’re viewing.

You can see a larger version of AD Wash Gap on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to return next week when we see another beautiful stop I made on my Castle Hot Spring Road outing.

Until next time — jw

Bitter Creek Saguaros Picture of the Week

Queen Anne and I spent yesterday changing the house calendars, and with a new month, it’s time for a new photo project. I’ve been struggling to come up with an ongoing long-term theme—something similar to last years where we took you from town to town within Yavapai County. I considered several options—all of which I crossed off because they involved exercise and the possibility of having my mug broadcast on a Silver Alert.

To find inspiration, as I frequently do, I grabbed my Arizona Gazetteer Map, went into the library, and scoured through it until my legs fell asleep. In the maps, I saw something that would be interesting as a basis for a long term project. I noticed that there are roads—secondary unpaved roads—all over the state. They’re like the ones around my neighborhood that are well graded and can be traveled in ordinary sedans (in dry weather). For Archie—my four-wheel SUV—they’re freeways. These back-roads go to places I’ve never seen, and because they’re not meant for speed, almost all of you haven’t been on them either. Some of them are dead ends, some lead up into the mountains, and some head off across the desert. Haven’t you ever drive past some side road and think, “I wonder where that goes?”

So, that’s what I plan to take on for a while. I’ll pick a back road and see if it leads to something pretty or novel. Maybe I’ll eventually collect enough material and produce a catalog or magazine of sorts, but I’ll worry about that later. I can always suspend this project when I come across something fresh or different. You might say that this blog, newsletter, or whatever you want to call it, is going from On the Road to Off the Beaten Path.

Conveniently, I had a head start, because a couple of weeks ago, I took my camera and headed up Castle Hot Springs Road. It’s the long way between Lake Pleasant and Morristown, and the only way you can get to the newly reopened Castle Hot Springs Resort where Clark Gable stayed (we’ll talk more about that in another post). The road winds its way through the Wickenburg Range, Buckhorn Range, around the Hell’s Gate Wilderness, and past several working ranches, so there’s lots of eye-candy along the way.

Large saguaros march up the side of an unnamed mountain.
Bitter Creek Saguaros–Large saguaros march up the side of an unnamed mountain.

This week’s featured image comes from the area where the road runs through Bitter Creek. The 3700’ mountain is unnamed, and I was struck at how the saguaros grew thick along its flank to the top. At the base of the mountain’s north side, there is a ranch labeled 11 L on my topo map and a water hole named Layton Tank. I like how the vertical cacti resemble the crowds climbing Mt. Everest we’ve seen in the news lately. I’m also pleased that the clouds parted enough to add texture to the sky. I called this image Bitter Creek Saguaros.

You can see a larger version of Bitter Creek Saguaros on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we’ll see another beautiful scene I shot on my Castle Hot Spring Road outing.

Until next time — jw