In Clifton, Arizona, “Where the Trail Begins”, you will be in the San Francisco River valley where homes are built on canyon slopes and century-old rock retaining walls are everywhere. Here you begin an ascent in elevation and a passage through Arizona mining history. Notice the historic Clifton Train Depot. Adjacent are railroad tracks that support the Morenci Open Pit Copper Mine. Look for trucks hauling sheets of copper out of the mine. As US 191 turns up Chase Creek you will see the foundations of an early copper smelter on the canyon walls. The Trail here follows the original Coronado Railroad, the first railroad in Arizona, toward the mine.
But after two miles, the highway turns back and up the canyon wall because a mountain of tailings now blocks Chase Creek. This leads you to Morenci, Arizona, a town owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc., and populated by its employees. Climb through Morenci and for the next several miles experience awe at the magnitude the the largest open pit copper mine in North America!
Now the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway starts its climb in earnest! Switchbacks, steep grades, and hairpin turns combine to increase your elevation 2,000 feet over the next 10 miles. Take it easy, stop at the overlooks to enjoy the views, and be careful on the many deceptive turns. For the next 40 miles or so, the Trail takes a circuitous route around mountains peaks and through forests with the Blue Range Primitive Area to the east and Bear Wallow Wilderness to the west. Abundant wildlife lives here, so look for deer, elk, squirrel, rabbits, many bird species, and even bear. Take advantage of the numerous picnic and campground sites along the route. Eventually, the Trail climbs again over the Mogollon Rim at over 9,000 feet and into alpine forest. Take a break at the beautiful Hannagan Meadow before exiting the northern boundary of Greenlee County on your way to Alpine, Arizona in Apache County.
Few places offer such a contrast of climates, wildlife, vegetation, terrain, geology, technology, cultural impacts, and recreational opportunities! Select those that interest you, and . . . find your adventure in Greenlee County!