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We Explore the Crown King Trail

Posted in Events on December 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Near the center of Arizona lies the remnants of an aged gold mining town that was once a sizeable center of commerce driven by the hardships and wealth associated with the precious gold metal.

This was the largest mine in the Bradshaw Mountains. The first claim in the area was placed in the summer of 1875 and a small group of men worked the area digging for ore. At first, the mining activity here was moderate, but after eastern capitalist George Harrington visited the area, his interest increased and he soon moved to the Bradshaw Mountains. With several partners, he formed the Crowned King Mining Company with aspirations of filing more local claims and expanding mining operations. This was in the late 1880s and a post office was established there in July 1888 in response to the growth of the community.

The settlement of Crown King (shortened from the company name) started to expand with additions of a ten-stamp mill to crush ore and a sawmill to provide lumber for operations and housing. With the increased extraction of ore, roads were starting to be built in the area and the population thrived. As one might imagine, a saloon was soon proposed and there was some bit of political wrangling that occurred between the saloon proprietor and the mining management. The company saw the drinking establishment as a distraction from the work they were focused on. However, the first saloon and others were soon open to serve patrons.

Forest Service and recreation area maps are posted at a few stops. Street licensed vehicles are allowed on all roads and trials. Non-licensed vehicles must possess an Arizona OHV sticker, and are permitted on most all the area Forest Service trails, but there are some restrictions up around the town of Crown King.

Since the area here was (and still is) a relatively dry climate, cyanide solution soaking was the preferred method for extracting the gold from crushed ore. As the operation started pulling more and more rock out of the ground, infrastructure expanded, water was being pumped to the ore mill, and an electric dynamo was installed to provide lighting in 1896. Eventually, ongoing legal squabbles would tear the mining partners apart, and the Crowned King mine was closed down in 1899.

During the years that the mine operated, it is estimated that about $2 million worth of gold was pulled from depths of about 500 feet. The town of Crown King once had hundreds of buildings and was a thriving community. But, as the mining activity subsided, the population dwindled. The post office was closed in 1954, although it now resides again inside the Crown King General Store. Nowadays, the town is a tourist spot and a great place to explore and relax up in the pines.

This trip begins very near Lake Pleasant, a man-made lake in the desert northwest of Phoenix. There are no fees to travel through this area, but there are day recreation fees to access parking and area use around the lake perimeter. The lake is a popular fishing and boating destination.

We traveled up there from the Phoenix metro area and followed old backcountry trails into the old gold mining town, explored the area trails, and camped out in the forest outside town.

Town of Crown King
Much of the trail from Lake Pleasant up to Crown King can be tackled in a near stock vehicle with good clearance. However, this can vary with seasonal changes, and is certainly more difficult in rainy or snowy conditions. ’Wheelers with modified rigs can have fun as well on some of the optional obstacles and paths up the hills. The trip out the north end of town is mostly dirt roads and provides an easier way for non-4WD vehicles to get into the town.

Crown King is a small community of maybe only a few hundred people. However, it is a popular destination for all types of dirt travelers and off-roaders. Some weekends offer such events as a chili cook-off and other outdoor festivals.

A railroad was built in this area in the early twentieth century, but was discontinued in 1926. Parts of the road running to Crown King follow the old railroad bed.
View Slideshow

GPS Coordinates
From Phoenix take I-17 north to Carefree Highway (74) west. Drive about 11.2 miles west, then turn north onto Castle Hot Springs Road and proceed 5.4 miles to a tee in the road. Turn left and proceed 0.2 mile to first waypoint.
Waypoint Mileage Latitude North Longitude West Notes
1 0.0 N33° 54’ 37.8” W112° 19’ 28.9” Reset odometer at Forest Service information sign. Proceed north on Castle Hot Springs Road.
2 8.8 N33° 59’ 50.2” W112° 23’ 00.8” Turn right at tee and cross wash on Champie Road.
3 11.3 N34° 00’ 50.6” W112° 21’ 09.8” Keep right at fork in trail.
4 12.6 N34° 01’ 11.0” W112° 20’ 15.2” Turn left at tee (Cow Creek Road).
5 16.5 N34° 03’ 38.7” W112° 21’ 56.4” Turn right at tee (Crown King rock) and head north.
6 18.5 N34° 05’ 01.0” W112° 21’ 44.8” Bear left at fork onto Crown King Trail.
7 18.6 N34° 05’ 07.3” W112° 21’ 47.1” Trail forks to two paths up hill. Left side more challenging.
8 20.1 N34° 05’ 55.1” W112° 21’ 55.5” Trail splits and soon rejoins. Harder path to the right.
9 22.5 N34° 07’ 45.0” W112° 21’ 40.3” Prescott National Forest boundary and cattle guard.
10 22.6 N34° 07’ 49.4” W112° 21’ 40.0” Take left fork in trail.
11 23.6 N34° 08’ 29.8” W112° 22’ 05.9” Bear right and continue north up hill.
12 26.4 N34° 10’ 21.0” W112° 21’ 39.5” Turn right at the tee onto Forest Road 192.
13 29.7 N34° 11’ 22.7” W112° 21’ 08.0” Orobelle Road and into the pines.
14 30.5 N34° 11’ 53.7” W112° 21’ 11.5” Meet Senator Highway. Continue on F.S. Road 52.
15 31.5 N34° 11’ 56.6” W112° 20’ 23.6” Turn left onto Horsethief Basin Road.
16 32.1 N34° 12’ 19.7” W112° 20’ 15.6” Cross creek bridge and arrive in town of Crown King.
17 32.4 N34° 12’ 20.2” W112° 20’ 15.8” Pickup Forest Road 259 north (opposite of arrival) to leave town.
18 45.3 N34° 16’ 42.2” W112° 13’ 54.3” Forest Road 259 changes to County Road 59 in town of Cleator.
19 48.9 N34° 15’ 52.6” W112° 11’ 02.1” Bear right at junction to continue south to Bumble Bee.
20 58.0 N34° 09’ 09.5” W112° 09’ 41.7” Dirt ends, pavement begins.
21 59.2 N34° 08’ 45.4” W112° 09’ 01.6” Winding road meets I-17 south back to Phoenix.
See USGS 7.5 minute topo maps: Crown King (town area).

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