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Hackberry Heaven: This Arizona Creek Trail Is Rugged Fun

This Arizona creek trail is rugged fun

Jay KopycinskiPhotographer, Writer

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.

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.