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The Ghost Trail - Exploration and Adventure

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on July 1, 2007
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Lone Writer was leaning back in a motel recliner occasionally looking away from his book to frown at the snowpacked landscape in Elkhart, Indiana. "I gotta find somewhere warmer," he groaned.

He turned the page of his book and the first paragraph seemed to jump off the page:"A little known backwoods road slithers along near the international border between Arizona and Mexico. Some call it the 'Ghost Trail.'"

The usual questions formed on his lips, but there was no answer in the book for the most important one: "Why do they call it the Ghost Trail?" He paused and looked back out the window. "I'll bet it's warm in Tucson right now."

For those of you who don't already know, Lone Writer also works as a contractor to transport motorhomes from the factory in Elkhart, Indiana, to dealers scattered throughout the country. With a few clicks of the mouse, he found one that needed to be delivered to Tucson.

With a few more clicks, he sent off an e-mail to Happy Jack in Wichita. "I'm going to Tucson to check out a ghost trail near the Mexican border. If you're interested, I'll see you there."

Another e-mail went to Rusty in Tucson. "Coming to your town. See you this weekend."

Three days later, Lone Writer, Happy Jack, and Rusty met for a casino buffet north of Tucson. Rusty has lived in Tucson for years and is part-owner of the Abrego Self Storage. He has explored just about every backroad within 100 miles of Tucson and had never heard of the Ghost Trail.

"It goes over the mountains between Nogales and the old border crossing called Nochiel," Lone Writer offered.

"Sounds like the Duquesne Road," Rusty answered. "Never heard it called the Ghost Trail though."

After dinner, the three gathered at an apartment in Abrego and went through maps of the area. Rusty would not be able to join the search due to other obligations, but he pointed out numerous trails in the area and suggested a loop that would take them through ghost towns and mining camps, then back to Nogales over the Duquesne Road.

Early Saturday morning, Lone Writer and Happy Jack took the exit off Interstate 19 for Elephant Head Road. They headed toward the Santa Rita Mountains and left the pavement with a turn onto Bull Springs Road. The surface was rocky with deep washouts at dry stream crossings. The road is lined with prickly pear cactus, desert ironwood trees, and a variety of other desert plants.

Lone Writer's rental car was pushing its limits long before they reached the sign stating "4WD recommended." The rental car was left parked at the sign and both travelers continued the trip in Happy Jack's modified Explorer. As it turned out, the most difficult obstacle along the route was the one where the rental car was parked. There were several steep descents and climbs through dry washes but nothing that challenged the Explorer.

Even so, the Explorer developed a transmission problem. It began popping out of Low gear on hillclimbs and became nearly impossible to get into Reverse. The two travelers joked about having to walk back to the rental car and whether or not either of them would make it before the vultures closed in. Fortunately, the Explorer continued to limp along without giving out entirely.

This part of the trip did not include the route some call the Ghost Trail, but it did have a variety of ghosts of its own. It was a graveyard of abandoned vehicles. Stories tell of thieves driving the vehicles into the mountains and stripping them to the metal. Other stories say the thieves were trying to get the vehicles across the border but abandoned them when the Border Patrol closed in. Regardless of why the vehicles were driven into impossible terrain, they became a part of the landscape and will likely remain there for many years.

Spanish Jesuits first began mining the area where the town of Alto was established as early as 1690. Only one building remains. It served as the post office from 1907 to 1933. Alto is a Spanish word meaning "high" and was the last identity used for the community. Prior to being called Alto, it went by the name of El Plomo, taken from the Spanish word for "lead."

A short distance past Alto, the road surface changed from rough and rocky to graded. It is a county road passing private lands that are posted and locked behind gates. The next 8 miles went by quickly. After a creek crossing, the road connected to Highway 82. Patagonia was left and Nogales was right. Getting back to the rental car meant backtracking.

The hours of the day had gone by quickly. The decision was made to get back to the rental car and get both vehicles back to paved roads near Tucson before nightfall. The Ghost Trail would have to wait for another day.

There are numerous campsites along the Bull Springs Road, but travelers must be cautious. Traffic from illegals crossing the border can be dangerous, especially at night. Our travelers had left all their camping gear in Tucson, so staying overnight was not an option.

Sunday morning started by taking paved roads from Tucson back to Patagonia. The Explorer was left behind to rest its limping tranny. Lone Writer and Happy Jack started the day with breakfast at the Home Plate Restaurant. It's located within the complex for the Stage Stop Inn. If the rental car had made the journey across Bull Springs Road, this may have been where our travelers spent the night. The town lives in a quiet environment that still has the feel from many decades ago.

Patagonia's roots date back to ranching activities in the 1880s. If you have a horse with you, the hitching rail outside the Stage Stop Inn will come in handy. Besides the hitching rail, the building has the old-style porch and covered sidewalk typical of the 1880s.

Our travelers left Patagonia on the Harshaw Road and eventually arrived in Lochiel. This border crossing is no longer open, but the customs house and some other buildings still mark the site. An old church sits atop a hill and is posted private. At the edge of town, a rather elaborate historical marker declares the first European west of the Rockies arrived on April 12 of 1539.

Lochiel was a bustling community in the 1880s, with smelters, saloons, butcher shops, and many other businesses. For Lone Writer and Happy Jack, it was the beginning of what some call the Ghost Trail. There was still no evidence as to where that name came from.

The two left Lochiel and soon arrived in the ghost town of Duquesne. The entire mining camp is posted as private, but much of it can be viewed from the road. There are numerous mining claims in the area, including Washington Camp. The two towns were so close together that miners teased, "If you step on the tail of one, the other will bark."

Duquesne claimed one resident that went on to fame. His name was George Westinghouse who founded Westinghouse Electric. During the 1880s, the area boomed with mining activities and claimed more than 1,000 residents.

From Duquesne, our travelers followed the signs for Duquesne Road and climbed a steep trail to the pass overlooking Nogales and the valley below. The scenery was so vast that it was impossible to capture the scope of it all in a photograph.

Along the way, they passed numerous abandoned mines but did not find any of the abandoned cars as seen during the previous day on Bull Springs Road. They also found nothing to explain why some would call it the Ghost Trail, although the many abandoned mines and the ghost towns of Washington Camp, Duquesne, and Lochiel certainly conjure up images of ghosts still wandering the hills in search of gold. No doubt the entire county was once running with blood from battles between miners and Apaches, battles between miners and claim jumpers, and just individual confrontations among the hard cases that lived and died in the Santa Rita Mountains.

For Lone Writer and Happy Jack, the origin of the Ghost Trail name lost its significance. They had enjoyed a weekend with 70-degree days and 30-degree nights. Clear blue skies, star-filled nights, and views from high mountain trails had provided indescribable scenery.

It was a whole lot warmer than Elkhart, Indiana.

0.0 31 47.3636 111 1.2473 Take Exit 56 off I-19 and go to the stop sign on the east access road. Turn right (south).
3.1 31 44.9324 111 2.6445 Turn left (east) on Elephant Head Road.
0.0 31 44.2493 111 1.3491 Right on Mt. Hopkins Road.
4.7 31 41.3670 110 58.4566 Right on Bull Springs Road (dirt).
6.8 31 40.2181 110 {{{57}}}.9275 Right fork.
7.8 31 39.6082 110 58.1083 Left fork.
8.4 31 39.5346 110 57.5443 Entering national forest on Road 143. Stay on 143 until next note.
9.8 31 39.3472 110 56.4174 Exit national forest.
10.5 31 39.2295 110 55.8017 Right fork.
10.9 31 39.1045 110.55.6456 Begin 4x4 recommended.
11.7/0.0 31 39.0279 110 54.9404 Right fork.
2.5 31.38.2316 110 53.4854 Right fork.
3.4 31 38.3122 110 52.9644 Right fork. This ends 4x4 recommended.
4.1 31 37.8984 110 52.7822 Left fork.
5.2 31 37.2270 110 52.5418 Alto town site.
5.8 31 36.6993 110 52.5649 Entering private lands. Stay on road.
7.3 31 35.6453 110 53.1611 Stay left on main road.
16.0 31 31.0597 110 47.7014 Right fork to highway.
16.4 31 30.9333 110 47.3649 Hwy. 82. Left is Patagonia.
0.0 31 32.4203 110 45.1954 Stage Stop Motel. Go north. Connects to Harshaw Road.
6.0 31 29.3274 110 41.5525 Straight onto dirt road.
10.3/0.0 31 27.2980 110 39.0785 Straight toward Lochiel.
3.6 31 27.1019 110 35.4800 Right turn.
9.4/0.0 31 22.7250 110 34.1812 Right toward Lochiel.
1.8 31 21.2977 110 34.7626 Right toward Lochiel.
5.5 31 29.9885 110 37.3258 Lochiel border crossing.
6.1/0.0 31 20.3554 110 37.6422 Historic marker for the first European west of the Rockies.
3.2 31 22.0669 110 40.1713 Left on Duquesne 128.
4.2 31 22.1902 110 41.1046 Duquesne town site. Right fork.
5.0 31 22.7545 110 41.2223 Left on Duquesne Road.
5.7 31 23.1982 110 41.5148 Left toward Nogales.
7.3 31 23.1779 110 42.8622 Pass. Cross over the top and follow the signs to Nogales.
24.9   Nogales.

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