Roughly 65 miles east of Phoenix, a forgotten piece of the U.S. 60 highway now lives on as a world-class system of trails where a perilous, winding roadway once stood. The trail, which is too dangerous to traverse in a car, actually first began as a trail — as all American roads did become industrialization.
The Apache Trail route stood for decades, connecting Phoenix-area lands with Copper Corridor towns like Globe and Miami. In the early 20th century, American convicts paved large parts of the U.S. 60 highway over the tortuous Apache Trail, including the Claypool Tunnel near Superior.
With its hairpin turns and steep cliff sides, the new highway boasted some incredible views; but was too dangerous for the massive influx of automobiles after World War II. In 1952, state legislators retooled the highway to include the Queen Creek Tunnel, which put a portion of the 60 out of service, according to USA Today.
What’s left from the highway-too-dangerous-to-drive is a crumbling, yet mesmerizing trail called the Legends of Superior Trails system. Owned by Resolution Copper Property, the roughly 12-mile-system of trails now services a mix of hiking, biking, and equestrian use. Each segment explores a unique slice of Superior’s history and environmental diversity.
Some of the segments include the stunning riparian corridor of Arnett Canyon with connectivity to the Arizona National Scenic Trail; a walk through the abandoned town of Pinal; and an interpretive in-town stroll that highlights local mining and ranching histories.
The Queen Creek Canyon trail is now a hike since it was too dangerous to drive
The 42. mile Queen Creek Canyon segment, though, gives patrons the best bang for their buck. This is the trail that outlines the portions of old highway which was too dangerous to drive after the early 1950s.
The old highway trail traces the bed of Queen Creek, where fragments of old mining equipment and barred-off prospect shafts litter the dry waterway. Hikers get to see 1920s era bridge construction, as well as a mighty view of the sycamore-lined creek with cliffs on all sides. About halfway through, the road loops around a water tank and leads to a geological hotbed of quartzite, limestone and volcanic tuff. It’s a display over 500 million years in the making.
Next, as hikers trudge uphill, the trail unleashes views of 4,377-foot Picketpost Mountain. Patrons can also see the remote, chiseled landscape of Alamo Canyon and Tonto National Forest to the southwest.
Finally, the trail ends up at the old Claypool Tunnel. Hikers get to walk through a cool, rough-blasted tube that feels like it will cave in at any second. The newer portion of the U.S. 60 begin again just yards away, so patrons really get a feel for the decision-making and planning needed to execute the safety protocol over 70 years ago. For more details, you can visit Arizona’s hiking database HERE.