Exploring Sierra Ancha Country
We left Phoenix on a warm spring weekend and headed east through the historic town of Miami, Arizona. This area has long been copper-rich country and the commercial mine operation here has a storied past that extends back to 1915. We traveled past the town and the open pit mine areas to Highway 188 North. We were headed into the Sierra Ancha area, a high-desert part of the state that is extremely rugged.
The strip of Arizona where we were headed is bordered partially on the west by two wilderness areas and on the east by Indian reservation land. We set out to explore for the weekend with a trio of Toyotas and a thirst for adventure. We followed old mine routes and byways. The wheeling was not tough, but the vistas were grand as we wound our way around the base of the Sierra Ancha mountain range. This range is part of a transitional zone between the low-lying deserts to the south and the Colorado Plateau. Elevations range from about 3,000 feet to well over 7,000 at the mountaintops.
We found excellent camping along Turkey Creek off a side trail and picked a shady spot tucked up into some mature trees. The creek here was flowing steadily and the area offered an interesting landscape that included cacti and huge shade trees towering over the sandy washes.
We ventured farther north on our second day out and took a less-traveled trail to seek out an old mining operation site. Asbestos was discovered in this region in 1916. We found the location of an American Asbestos Mine that operated between the years of 1921 and 1954. Arizona chrysotile asbestos was useful for electrical insulation and other goods given its relatively low iron content.
We spent some time wandering around the area and found the remains of an old mill onsite used to process the ore pulled from the mine. Amongst the debris, we found the decaying hulks of half-century-old cars and trucks, concrete building foundations, aging timber structures, and an array of industrial machinery pieces.
The trails we ran were relatively easy and could be traveled by most any high-clearance 4WD when the roads are dry. When the tracks get snowy or wet, the mountain switchbacks and some of the hills could be far more entertaining. We came to the Sierra Ancha in search of interesting backcountry trails, scenic beauty, and historic sites. We found all three on this trip.