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Hackberry Heaven: This Arizona Creek Trail Is Rugged Fun

Posted in Features on March 24, 2017
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Just southeast of the town of Superior, Arizona, is a high-desert landscape that has seen habitation by Native Americans, explorers, settlers, prospectors, and miners. It was here that many sought to scratch out an existence in the rugged terrain. We, however, traveled to the area for a fun weekend of four-wheeling and a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Superior developed as a mining community about 1875 when claims here were filed on a mine that would later be known as the Silver Queen Mine and eventually the Superior Magma Mine. A 400-foot vertical shaft was dug chasing a silver vein, but much of the mining for this precious metal was complete by 1893. The next great hope for the mine came about 1910, which was of pulling copper from the workings. As the mine was deepened, rich copper veins were encountered.

All around the towns of Superior and Globe you’ll find signs of old mining structures and remnants. Just off the highway is this large timber structure that appears to have been an ore chute or similar device.

With the digging expanding, a railroad was needed to efficiently haul ore from the mine to a refining plant in another town 31 miles away. At first, it was a narrow-gauge railroad, but it was later replaced with a standard gauge railroad that would become the longest 100 percent steam common carrier operating in the United States. Eventually, in 1924, a new smelter was installed onsite. The huge mine complex has survived an economic rollercoaster for decades producing copper, zinc, gold, and silver. Present-day operations still exist in the area, and there have been ongoing plans to expand the area of mining, possibly encroaching on the trail we sought to explore. Naturally, we wanted to get out and run it should there be a problem accessing it in the future.

The trail starts near the Oak Flat Campground and heads south, eventually following the Hackberry Creek bed and portions of rocky roads that follow a powerline. We spent a good day traveling along the rocky creek and climbing some fairly steep hills. Views of the surrounding mountains were impressive, and late in the afternoon, we found a large, flat area and set up camp. January overnight temperatures were rather cold but not dipping down to freezing. The next day we continued back north on an alternate trail that eventually took us back to Oak Flat.

Total trail length is about 10 miles in and out, although we covered 15 or so miles on dirt. It’s a moderately difficult trail so having at least 33-inch tires and a locker would be a good idea. It can be done as a day run, but we chose the overnight camping for a more leisurely pace. With Superior just a few miles away and the larger town of Globe a half hour east, services and parts are fairly close at hand. Much of the trail lies within the Tonto National Forest, but there are some outlying areas that are on state trust land where you need to have an annual permit for camping.

There’s a small park in Superior that displays old mining relics and history that’s worth a quick stop. If you check out other spots in town and the surrounding area, you’re bound to run across other old mechanical artifacts built many years ago.
We started on the Magma Mine Road off Highway 60 about 4 miles east of Superior, then turned south onto F.S. Road 315. At a T in the road, we followed F.S. 3139 down to a loop area following along Hackberry Creek. Heading back north, there are several routes of return.
Verne Simons was driving his ’49 Wicked Willys pickup with big-block Dodge V-8 power. It sits on 1-ton axles and 42-inch BFG KX tires with TrailReady beadlocks. It seemed everywhere he went his faithful companion, Tatu, was right there with him on the trail.
When exploring these mining areas and locales that had active concentrations of Native Americans, it’s not uncommon to spot man-made structures in the desert. With the arid climate, these may survive intact for long periods of time. It’s somewhat subtle, but we spotted several rock structure walls down in one of the canyons.
So many early Toyotas used on trails have been swapped to solid front axles. This ’86 4Runner still runs IFS, but at the skilled hands of Chris Arviso, it covers a lot of Arizona trails. It’s sitting on 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrains, and he runs Lock-Rights front and rear combined with 4.88 axle gearing. It goes slow with a Marlin Crawler setup with 4.7:1 low range.
We found a number of the trails were water-saturated from recent rains and later found water actively flowing down Hackberry Creek.
There are several branch trails in the area including one that cuts off from the main trail and travels up and over some large hills. We had the time so we did some extra exploring over the weekend.
Rob Bonney was out in his ’52 Dodge M37 truck. The half-century-old truck is powered by a small-block Chevy V-8 and turns a pair of Dana 70 axles sitting on 42-inch Pit Bull Rockers mounted on modified Hummer H1 beadlocks.
The area consists of typical high-desert scrub brush and rocky hills.
Trent McGee’s rig started life as a ’97 TJ Wrangler, but it’s now mostly buggy tucked under some leftover Jeep sheetmetal. He was packed lightly for the weekend but still had his comfortable tent cot strapped to the top of his rig.
Mike Austin took a ’48 Willys and modified it to suit his trail needs. He stretched the wheelbase to 103 inches while building a custom frame for it and stretched the body to match in the hood, door, and bed areas. With more room in the Jeep, he proceeded to transplant a GM TBI 350 V-8, SM465 transmission, and NP205 transfer case, along with Dana 44 front and Dana 60 rear axles with ARB air lockers.
At the lower elevations, we were surprised to find a flat, grassy valley, and we were still at a high-desert elevation of about 4,000 feet. We ran across a handful of small water basins in the area.
Tom Estelle, and son Carson, run a well-used ’89 Toyota that’s seen a lot of hardcore Arizona trails. They built the truck about a decade ago, swapping in a solid front axle on leaf springs. Crawling capabilities were improved with a Marlin Ultimate dual transfer case setup for deep gearing to turn 36-inch Super Swampers with 4.88 axle gearing and Detroit Lockers at both ends.
After splitting off at the T to follow Hackberry Creek in the canyon, the route meanders mostly south and then loops back towards the north to return to the starting point. There are plenty of interesting geological features here.
We spotted an interesting rocky climb, so naturally we had to go check it out.
We were able to stretch out suspensions on some of the better hills where boulders were jutting from the hillsides. Despite all the recent rain we found little mud on these trails.
This is the start up the long, winding Chevy Hill, simply named after the relic remains of an old Chevy truck that sits nearby. This hard rock slab was a bit slippery at the bottom but offered excellent traction most of the way to the top.
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