Thursday, September 5, 2019

Experience the Coronado Trail

Experience the Coronado Trail blog cover image

The Coronado Trail makes up the ninety miles of US 191 in Arizona between Clifton and Alpine. The views as the highway progresses are breathtaking. A slew of campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, scenic viewpoints and detours to other areas just off the highway, make the Coronado Trail a road trip for anyone seeking the ultimate adventure experience.

looking down toward the city of Clifton from the Coronado Trail

Route 191 is a National Scenic Byway winding through the mountains just above Clifton in Arizona. It is part of the historic Route 666 better known as “The Devil’s Highway.” The portion of US 191 that runs between Clifton and Alpine is known as the Coronado Trail. It is named for the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s journey through the area in 1540. The Trail is a beautiful scenic drive that boasts elevations between six thousand and nine thousand feet, with huge forested areas of land dotting the volcanic mountains. These forests are made up of Mexican Blue Oak, tall Ponderosa Pines, and Alligator and Pinon Junipers. These forests are pristine and untouched by the Wallow Fire that occurred in 2011. The Coronado Trail runs through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest which is a rich environment for wildlife. When driving through the area, it is not unusual to spot bald eagles, ospreys, elk, mule deer, antelope bighorn sheep, black bears, and Mexican wolves.

a shaded hiking trail along The Devil's Highway

The Coronado Trail is devoid of human habitation for the most part. There are very few human inhabitants and services such as gas and food stops are few and far between until reaching Alpine. If you are not planning to make a stop at the Hannagan Meadow Lodge, there are plenty of scenic viewing points and campgrounds along the trail to stop and enjoy a packed lunch. When driving the Trail, expect to climb rapidly through rugged mountain topography. The peak elevation of the trail is just over nine thousand feet close to Hannagan Meadow. It is not unusual to come across snow and ice while driving even in the spring and fall months. The Coronado trail is paved, but narrow.  Thought the Trail is only ninety miles, prepare to be on the road for three hours due to the tight hair pinned turns and blind curves of the highway. There have been sightings from those driving this lonely stretch of road of packs of demon dogs, psychotic truck drivers, and ghosts. Whether your goal is to view the beautiful scenery and wildlife or investigate the sightings of ghostly apparitions, the Coronado Trail delivers the adventure of a lifetime.

the sun setting behind the mountains of Arizona

Though driving the Coronado Trail in itself can be a rewarding adventure, there are several spots along the trail perfect for detouring and adding to the experience. In order to fully experience the landscape, consider extending the trip into a whole weekend and continuing on US 180 east of Alpine over the New Mexico border. As the elevation declines and the pine forests give way to the desert, the highway runs along the San Francisco River. Popular scenic views on this stretch of highway include the San Francisco Box Canyon, the White Mountains of Arizona, and the San Francisco Hot Springs. The highway runs all the way back into Clifton where the journey started.

a narrow paved highway winding through the mountains

Clifton itself offers insights into its mining past through its historically preserved buildings and museum exhibits. The Greenlee Chamber of Commerce is housed in the old 1913 train depot just off of US 191. The train depot also houses the Copper Head Locomotive which is open for study by those wanting to learn more. The Greenlee County Historical Museum contains exhibits on the surrounding areas and the mining past of Clifton. Morenci Mine is located a bit outside of Clifton and is worth a look as it is one of the largest holes made by man in the world. As the Coronado Trail continues out of Clifton and Morenci, there are plenty of other stops for extending the journey. Reserve, New Mexico off of US 180 offers gas, restaurants, and groceries. The Alma Grill located in Alma, New Mexico is a popular stop for those traveling the circuit for any meal of the day. Mogollon is a ghost town that can be explored during the summer months. It lies at the end of a petrifying one-lane road winding up a mountain.

There are several areas along the Coronado Trail itself that are worth exploring. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest sits at the one hundred- and seventy-seventh-mile mark. The Trail winds up through a series of hairpin turns and rhyolite cliffs. Though there aren’t many places to pull off, the view of the road dropping away behind the vehicle through the rearview mirror is spectacular. There are several hiking trails along the Coronado Trail, such as the Painted Cliffs Trail, Spur Cross Trail, HL Canyon Trail, Trail 14, Hogtrail Saddle Trail, Robinson Mesa Trail, Hot Air Trail, Hagen Trail, and Forest Trail 70. The views are worth stopping and taking in at the many pull-off lots along highway. Rose Peak is located at the two hundred- and sixth-mile marker. On the east side of the Coronado Trail, a parking area leads to a hiking trail. The trail is half a mile and ends at a lookout tower. The tower sits at an elevation of eight thousand seven hundred feet and offers a magnificent view of the Mogollon Rim. One view not to be missed is Blue Vista. Blue Vista sits at an elevation of nine thousand two hundred and twelve feet and offers fantastic views to the east, south, and west. It makes the perfect stop along the Coronado Trail to eat a meal, with its restrooms and picnic area on ridge edge. Several converging trails can be hiked from this area.

The Coronado Trail offers an unbeatable experience for all who travel it. The rich mining history in Clifton, the beautiful hiking trails and scenic viewpoints along the route offer adventure to anyone who willing to brave it.

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