Queen Creek Canyon and Tunnel

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Imagine that the trip from Phoenix to the Copper Corridor cities of Globe and Miami takes all day. This was reality in the early 20th century before US 60 replaced the twisting Apache Trail route.

While the traffic to the Renaissance Festival in February and March sometimes makes the trip feel like a hectic marathon, US 60 cut travel time to about an hour and a half.

The convicts built parts of the highway, including the Claypool Tunnel near Superior, which was blasted from solid rock into the steep cliffs above Queen Creek Canyon.

Although known for its fabulous views, the narrow road lined with hairpin bends and nasty descents proved too dangerous for modern travel needs. It was retooled in 1952 to its current safer alignment, which includes the smooth (but claustrophobic) Queen Creek Tunnel.

The current US 60 bridge spans Queen Creek in Superior.

But the disused part of US 60 didn’t just disappear. Its ruined course, which now sits on Resolution Copper property, has been turned into a recreational trail as part of the Legends of Superior Trails system.

About 65 miles east of Phoenix, the 11.65-mile LOST system is divided into five segments open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Each segment explores a unique slice of Superior’s history and environmental diversity.

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There’s the beautiful Arnett Canyon waterfront corridor with connectivity to the Arizona National Scenic Trail, a walk through the abandoned town of Pinal, and an interpretive town walk among mining and ranching heritage artifacts. the region. But it’s the Queen Creek Canyon segment that offers a guided tour of the defunct highway.

Mineral-rich geology is exposed in Queen Creek Canyon in Superior.

The 4.2-mile round-trip hike begins on the outskirts of Superior’s historic downtown business district. Following the disintegrated substrate of pavement and gravel, the old highway follows the bed of Queen Creek where bits of old mining equipment and barred outlooks teeter over the mostly dry waterway.

Throughout the hike, a palpable push-pull of old and new sets the mood, beginning with crossing a 1920s concrete bridge that looms under the gargantuan span of its riveted metal replacement. bolted into vertical cliffs hovering above the sycamore-lined creek. Among eroded culverts, barriers, and drainage systems, interpretive panels complement the hike with information about local wildlife, geology, and history.

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About halfway through the hike, the route winds around a water reservoir and begins a winding ascent through a geologically complex area of ​​quartzite, limestone and volcanic tuff – an astonishing sight of 540 million miles. years.

Abandoned mines are dangerous.  Stay on the trail.  These signs warn hikers of Queen Creek Canyon in Superior.

As you ascend, the trail reveals views of 4,377-foot Picketpost Mountain and the remote, chiseled landscape of the Alamo Canyon and Tonto National Forest to the southwest.

The trail ends at the old Claypool Tunnel. It’s a short, somewhat scary walk through the roughly blasted stone tube that brings hikers within a few feet of its replacement on the new US 60. ‘at the trailhead, RenFair traffic notwithstanding.

The rough inside of the Claypool Tunnel in Superior is part of the Queen Creek Canyon hike.

Queen Creek Canyon Hike

Length: 4.2 km round trip.

Rating: Moderate.

Elevation: 2,807 to 3,485 feet.

Getting There : Use the Magma Avenue trailhead. From US 60 in Superior, take exit 227 for Kearny/Winkelman. At the top of the exit ramp, go left and merge onto Magma Avenue (towards the business district). Proceed 0.2 miles to the intersection of Magma Avenue and Heiner Drive, where there is a dirt parking lot. The hike starts at the gate at the north end of the lot.

Details: superioraztrails.com.

Learn more about Mare Czinar hikes at arizonahiking.blogspot.com.

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