Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Friday, January 12, 2018


The “golden spike” moment for the Arizona Trail is marked only by a simple brass survey post set in a concrete base banked with native rocks.  Dedicated on December 16, 2011,
Trellis bridge over the Gila River below the golden spike site.
the low-key monument that sits above the banks of the Gila River near the town of Kelvin denotes the completion of a decades-long effort to build a non-motorized recreation trail from Mexico to Utah.  The monument bears the initials of Dale Shewalter, the “Father of the Arizona National Scenic Trail.  Sadly, Shewalter did not live to see the completion of the trans-Arizona trail he worked for beginning in the mid-1980s. 
"Golden spike."
The understated tribute on a ridge overlooking a river and trellis bridge at the gateway to one of the trail’s most spectacular segments is an apt tribute to the tenacious teacher, activist and adventurer.
ASARCO Ray Mine in distance
It’s also the keystone of one of the most technically-challenging and profoundly beautiful segments of the 800+-mile route.  David Hicks, former Arizona Trail director who recently backpacked the 26-mile Gila River Canyons Passage 16 enthusiastically recommends it for skilled hikers looking for an epic experience. 
I feel it is only second to the Grand Canyon in scenic beauty--and, there are many sections of the Arizona Trail that fit that description,” Hicks gushed.  “In the Gila River Canyons there are some sections so remote that you will likely not see another person during the time that you might spend in this passage.”  According to Francisco Mendoza, a Bureau of Land Management Tucson Field office outdoor recreation planner, there are many reasons why this section of the trail was the last to be completed.  “There were the problems of access, rugged terrain, protecting sensitive ecosystems and archeological sites and the need to work with land owners, mine claims, ranching operations and government agencies,” Mendoza said. 
Gila River near Kelvin.
As the man who navigated the topographic challenges and a maze of permits and permissions, he knows first-hand. “Mendoza can be called the Father of the Gila River Canyons Passage,” says Hicks.  “It was he who did the initial scoping of the route and
was the architect for the laying out of this scenic segment.” His work forged many positive relationships among the myriad entities that worked together to create a world-class stretch of trail. The planning and assessment efforts began in 2002 with field reconnaissance, negotiations and tons of paperwork before ground work commenced.
Arizona Trail, Gila River Canyons Passage 16
“First assault happened in 2007,” says Mendoza. A mixed bag of labor including youth crews,
volunteers and contractors was used in the trail construction. Although it’s technically done, the work goes on.  The term ‘complete’ is relative,” Hicks says. “Sure, it’s done, but ongoing regular maintenance is needed due to fires, erosion and opportunities for improvements. The trail is not a stagnant path but a living Arizona treasure that requires attention and funding to preserve it for generations to come.” 
Dave Hicks, Francisco Mendoza and John Matteson at the spike.
(A recent hike on the passage with Hicks, Mendoza, June Lowrey, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management and John Matteson, Arizona Trail regional trail steward, was punctuated with removing stones, trimming catclaw and making plans to repair a drainage.) The placid riverside start to the passage belies a wild and diverse trip through pristine backcountry with many surprises along the way. For instance, the
15 miles of trail near the communities of Kelvin and Riverside is one of only two sections of the AZT that runs along a perennial flowing stream.
Beyond the water, the trail swings north, climbs steadily for several miles and then opens to what Hicks describes as "jaw dropping awesome scenery”.  Gaping canyons, amazing rock formations and miles of untainted natural beauty are the payoff for making the grueling trek.  Passage 16 ends in the middle of nowhere with no reliable water sources or easy exits, so it’s imperative that those attempting it understand the route and have a plan.  “Eleven miles north of the river, the passage ends.” Hicks says. “But trail users aren't done when they get to that spot.  There's another 12 miles of Arizona Trail in the Alamo Canyon Passage 17 to the Picket Post Trailhead near Highway 60. It’s great backpacking.”
Rugged beauty of Alamo Canyon.
LENGTH: 26 miles one-way
ELEVATION: 1646- 3714’
From US 60 in Superior, go 15.2 miles south on State Route 177 to the Florence-Kelvin Highway. Continue 1.2 miles south, cross the Kelvin Bridge and park where the passage begins south of the bridge along Centurion  Road.
For more access points and detailed route information:

No comments: