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Sunday, August 23, 2009


BEALE WAGON ROAD Kaibab National Forest Once upon a time in old Arizona, camels worked side-by-side with horses and mules blazing wagon roads across the western territories. Today, wooden posts bearing chiseled images of dromedary profiles pay homage to the beasts that (kinda) helped construct the Beale Wagon Road. Back in the late 1800s, the desert-adapted beasts were imported to the States because they seemed like the perfect draft animals for working in the unforgiving, arid lands of the American frontier. Not. What nobody counted on was the fact that the worldview of the camels didn’t entirely embrace the need to cooperate with humans in their road-building efforts. By nature, camels are obstinate, uncooperative and consummate spitters with dead-on aim. As if spit wasn’t bad enough, historical accounts contain frequent references to the thick clouds of “foul aroma” that accompanied the camels wherever they went. Still, the natives of the Middle East managed to do enough work on the Beale Wagon Road to be immortalized on the trail markers that now denote the tread way. Under the direction of Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale, this historic causeway was commissioned by the military to provide a route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to the California border at the Colorado River. Abandoned when Route 66 was completed, the road nearly faded into oblivion before it was repurposed as a hiking trail. A work-in-progress, following this route requires good sleuthing skills. There’s no obvious path and the trail is marked only by a series of wooden posts, cairns and metal markers that leapfrog over the Kaibab plateau among wind-swept junipers and shards of 4-million-year-old volcanic glass which were deposited during the era when nearby Bill Williams Mountain was actively spewing lava. Still, history buffs and hard-core hikers alike will relish the great views and relative solitude along this obscure path. Although the west may not have been won entirely on the backs of camels, this trail preserves a singular slice of history when the foul-smelling spitters did their share of the work. HIGHLIGHTS: An historic mid-19th century wagon route with interesting trail markers and great views. LENGTH: 19.5 miles one way. (Easily hiked in segments) Rating: easy-moderate ELEVATION RANGE: 6,200’ – 7,200’ DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 185 miles one-way GETTING THERE:  From Flagstaff, travel west on I-40 to exit 171 (Pittman Valley). Drive north on Forest Road 74 for 7.7 miles to Forest Road 141. Go right on FR-141 and continue for a half-mile to the intersection with Forest Road 730. Head left on FR-730 and go 2.25 miles to Forest Road 115. Turn left onto FR-115 and follow it for roughly 2 miles to Forest Road 2030. Follow FR-2030 for just under a mile to the circular parking area and the sign for Laws Spring. Use the easy-to-follow signs to find the trail. Go left at first “T” intersection to locate the wagon trail ruins. Or, go right, for a more challenging adventure. INFORMATION & MAPS: Kaibab National Forest

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