Black Hills Backcountry National Scenic Byway is locally known as the Old Safford Road as this was part of the original route between Safford and the Clifton-Morenci Mining District. This adventurous road trip affords travelers grand vistas over the Gila and San Francisco River Valleys. Along the Byway are many opportunities for camping, bird watching, fishing, mountain biking, hiking and access points for river floating. In season (after rains), the hills radiate gold with poppies. Accessed from “The Trail” US 191 at MP 159.9 in Greenlee County or at MP 139 in Graham County, the Byway is a maintained gravel road, though a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA). Where the San Francisco River and Eagle Creek join the Gila River, within this 23,000 acre desert oasis, is one of the only two Riparian National Conservation Areas in the nation. Exploration of this area provides views of cliff dwellings, wildlife, historical buildings and Indian writings. And, most likey, this is the three-river area Geronimo spoke of when referencing his birthplace. Scenic drives can be enjoyed traveling this well-maintained Byway access road, along with many 4WD roads along the way. The perennial creeks, rivers and riparian vegetation of mesquite, cottonwoods, sycamores and willows make this a cool year-round desert oasis. Primitive camping in areas within the Gila Box RNCA is not permitted. Visit www.BLM.gov for up-to-date information. Access the Gila Box RNCA from 3-Way, heading north on US 191, by turning west on the Black Hills Byway.
Owl Creek Campground is a RV retreat atop a scenic bluff overlooking the Joe Subia Bridge and the Gila River. It is only about 5 miles from the US 191 MP entry point on US 191. Enjoy the comforts of camp after a day of exploring the Gila Box RNCA. This developed campground is dry (bring your own water), but includes picnic tables, grills, shade ramadas and restroom facilities. Fee required for use of each one of the seven campsites available.
The Joe Subia Bridge Gateway to the Gila Box RNCA includes the Gila River Boat Launch — the starting point for an easy-to-moderate Gila River floating exploration adventure. Designated picnic sites are equipped with all you need to enjoy the banks of the Gila River. Floating the conservation area requires a BLM permit.
An old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp, just a few miles past the RNCA, housed laborers who built many miles of rock berms called “spreader dikes” to control erosion. Many campsites of the CCC, and their hard, necessary work in the 1930’s can be found scattered all over Greenlee County. The old jail housed prisoners in transit along the Old Safford Road. Arizona’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) kiosks are an informative source while traveling the Black Hills Byway.
Guthrie Peak, with an elevation of 6,571 feet, is the area’s highpoint. Hiking or horseback riding trails to the summit provide enjoyable and challenging explorations of the Black Hills recreation area.