I always like taking time off from work around the holidays and this past year was no exception. Once the Christmas festivities were over, and everyone else in the house was back to work and such, it was the perfect time for a road trip.
The historic mining town of Superior is a little less than fifty miles from where I live. I visited there back in 2009 and found the old Main Street to be in a dismal state. Rows of empty buildings, some that had collapsed from years of neglect, with the monotony occasionally broken by a passing car.
Just to the east of Superior, US Highway 60 enters Queen Creek Canyon, climbing steadily up the canyon wall. After a short distance the highway crosses a steel arch bridge, then passes through the Queen Creek Tunnel, which was opened to traffic in 1952. If one looks down from the highway, glimpses of the original road which opened in 1926 are visible.
For many years, I longed to hike the old highway which passes over an old smaller bridge then under the current steel arch, but the gates at each end had menacing “No Trespassing” signs posted. However, late last year, I found out that the old road is now a designated hiking trail maintained by the Legends of Superior Trails group (lostinsuperioraz.com).
Thursday of my vacation week seemed like a good day to get out, so I packed up the camera bag and hiking boots and headed east.
The trailhead starts at the east end of Downtown Superior. Even though there is limited parking available at the trailhead, I chose to park on Main Street and made the short walk across Queen Creek.
The first mile or so of the trail is a very gentle climb and there is frequent traffic noise from the highway above. Remnants of past mining activity line the canyon walls along the first half-mile of the trek before rounding a curve brings the first landmark into view; the old 1926 Queen Creek Bridge. Right after crossing the old bridge, the current bridge comes into view, a massive steel arch structure which crosses over both the creek and the old highway.
After stopping to catch my breath and snap some shots of the impressive structure, I continued east. Another half-mile or so down the road is the town of Superior’s water well and tank. The old highway serves as a service road to the facilities and, in fact, I was passed by two water company trucks on the way in. A well-preserved section of the old road curves around the water tank, then begins ascending side of the canyon toward the current highway.
After a significant climb, the trail levels out and follows a course right below US 60. A short distance below the current Queen Creek Tunnel, the old road approaches the historic Claypool Tunnel, which was opened in 1926, and bored straight through rock with no extra support needed after completion. I was slightly chilled by a constant cool breeze as I passed through the old tunnel.
Coming out the east side brings an impressive view across the canyon. Pictures can not do justice to the sight! A short section of well-preserved highway and retaining wall continues from the tunnel’s east end, climbing to a lookout spot on the south side of the current highway.
After hiking back out of the canyon, I stopped for lunch in historic Downtown Superior. Main Street of 2017 was much different from the sight I experienced in 2009!
Many of the old buildings have been restored and house a lively mix of cafes, galleries, and antique shops. The structures that are still vacant have been graced with a fresh coat of paint and in some cases, vibrant murals. The historic Magma Hotel has also been restored to its former glory although a re-opening date has yet to be announced.
The town has an active Chamber of Commerce and is working to become a quaint tourist destination in the same vein as other old Arizona towns, such as Jerome and Bisbee. After lunch, I took a few updated shots of Downtown to add to my gallery.
Full gallery of Queen Creek Canyon can be found here: www.swimages.net/Queen-Creek-Canyon/
My Superior gallery, containing new and older shots, can be found here: www.swimages.net/Superior-AZ/