Although the higher elevations of Arizona did receive some snow this past week, as was forecast, I decided to stick with my initial plans for Friday and headed off toward Florence.
My route of choice was the Florence-Kelvin Highway, a 32-mile road leading from State Route 79 in Florence to State Route 177 near Kearny. The first twenty or so miles are paved, running through open desert with the occasional house along the way. Shortly before the pavement ends is the turnoff for Cochran Road.
As the name implies the road leads to the ghost town site of Cochran, along the Gila River. Cochran was established in 1905 by John Cochran who owned several mining claims in the area. The town boasted as many as 100 residents at one point, along with several businesses including a general store and boarding house. However, the post office was discontinued in 1915 and Cochran became a ghost town soon after.
Today, the townsite of Cochran is just an open area along the tracks of the Copper Basin Railway, with no surviving buildings. However, Cochran is more commonly associated with five still-standing structures nearby that predate the town’s existence by at least twenty years.
The Cochran Coke Ovens (pictured above) are lined-up neatly on the side of a mountain, facing to the east. The ovens were believed to have been built around 1882. Wood from mesquite trees, which grow wild in the area, was burned in the ovens to produce coke to fuel nearby smelters.
Driving to the coke ovens requires crossing the Gila River and traveling roads which would likely be too challenging for my stock Chevy Trailblazer to make. Plus, I’ve heard the land around them is private property and the owner is not happy with unauthorized visitors. However, there is a clear view of the ovens from Cochran Road, right before you reach the townsite. I pulled off, setup my tripod, and got a few shots with my 75-300mm lens zoomed to the max.
Once I had photographed the ovens and nearby scenery to my satisfaction, I continued down the hill to the town site. A large group of off-roaders had set up camp under the trees and I parked nearby. I stopped to chat with a couple of gentlemen who were taking a smoke break next to the railroad tracks, then walked the remaining distance to the river bed.
The Gila flows pretty much year-round in this part of the state, therefore the floodplain is lined with thick underbrush which made an impressive natural tunnel over the road.
Unfortunately, I got a little “snap-happy” on the way in and my battery died before I reached the water. My spare battery was back at the truck and I didn’t feel like making a second hike back to the water as it was already afternoon by this point.
Once I swapped out my battery I took a few more shots around the townsite then headed back toward the main road, stopping occasionally for a scenic shot or two.
Upon my return to the Florence-Kelvin Highway, I continued east. A mile or so after the Cochran turnoff sits a gated entrance to a never-built housing development, The Boulders. The site gets its name from a large field of granite boulders that improbably ended up in the middle of the desert.
While pausing to take a couple of snaps of the entry sign, I realized I had company. A wandering cow had taken an interest in my efforts while her hungry calf grabbed a snack by the side of the road. I swapped lenses and was able to take a portrait of the “local residents” before a passing vehicle scared them back into the brush.
Continuing east the pavement ended right after The Boulders, but the dirt road is very well maintained at the posted 40 mph speed limit is not unreasonable. (Unless one is there to take in the scenery as I was!) I stopped for a few more shots along the way before reaching SR177.
While heading toward Superior, I noticed the gates to viewpoint of the Ray Mine were open. The open-pit mine has been in operation since 1882 and produces over 250,000 tons of copper ore a day. I had planned to visit the previous week, but unfortunately it was locked-up on that day.
The last time I visited Ray was many years ago with an older, much lower-quality camera. This time I took some new, higher-quality, panorama shots plus some snaps of one of the immense mine dump trucks going about its daily duty.
After leaving the mine, I continued on to Superior for a late lunch. Luck was with me it seemed. Right after I was done with my sandwich at Porter’s Cafe, ADOT tweeted that the SR177 was closed in both directions for an accident, just south of town. If I had been much later, I would’ve been backtracking through Florence and likely stuck with a less-satisfying meal at McDonald’s or Burger King!
Coming up next Saturday, the 10th Annual Superior Home and Building Tour.
My new Cochran AZ gallery can be found here: www.swimages.net/Cochran-AZ/
Updates to Florence-Kelvin Highway can be found here: www.swimages.net/Florence-Kelvin-Highway/
My new Ray Mine gallery can be found here: www.swimages.net/Ray-Mine/