Nanette and Al Adame, frequent visitors to "Rim Country" were in desperate need to get away from it all and enjoy the outdoors. With Covid-19 looming where would they go to get away from everyone and practically everything? Nanette said, "We are so fortunate our jobs haven’t slowed down during the Pandemic and we both can work from home. The downside is we end up working twelve hour days, six days a week so we haven’t been out much. This weekend to maintain our sanity we needed a little time outdoors". So, the adventurous couple decided to hike to the famous old rail road tunnel that James Eddy tried to boar through this massive mountain of rock over a century ago. Read more and discover this unique WILD hidden gem in Gila County.
IN 1881, BUSINESSMAN JAMES EDDY was struck by inspiration. Northern Arizona was connected to the rest of the country by transcontinental railways and was dense with ponderosa pine forests and a burgeoning timber industry. Southern Arizona, meanwhile, was even more populated, and the isolated mining boomtowns like Globe and Miami were home to some of the richest silver and copper veins in the world. If he could connect the south to the railroad network in the north, he would stand to make a fortune.
The benefit of connecting the two halves of the state would be twofold: sending much-needed lumber and supplies to the communities in the south, and freighting mined minerals back north where they could more easily be shipped to the industrial centers on the coasts. Only one thing stood in the way of Eddy’s plan: the Mogollon Rim.
The southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, an elevated region that crosses into four states, is the Mogollon Rim, a massive ridge of steep slopes that cross much of Arizona. When Eddy formed the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad company, his engineers calculated that to run a railway across the Mogollon Rim at a gentle enough grade for trains he would need to create a tunnel 3,100 feet long and 16 feet wide.
In 1883, work on the Mogollon Rim tunnel began. Over 40 men spent all summer blasting a passage through the rock. Only 70 feet of the tunnel had been completed, however, when the company ran out of funds and the work came to a halt. Eddy spent the next several years finding investors and hyping the railroad project, managing to get another 35 miles of track laid when the money ran dry and the work stopped again, this time for good.
Over the subsequent years, the 35 miles of track south of Flagstaff were torn up by locals and reused for scrap. Today, the only remaining evidence of Eddy’s ambitious but failed project is the partially completed tunnel deep in the Tonto National Forest. Other than some graffiti near the entrance, it still looks more or less exactly as it did when the Arizona Mineral Belt crews left it in 1883. The crumbling structure to the right of the tunnel entrance is the remains of the powder house where the workers stored their explosives while blasting through the ridge.
Know Before You Go
The connecting trail that leads to the abandoned tunnel isn't on most maps. To find it, use the Washington Park trailhead (34.430262, -111.260810) in Tonto National Forest and hike north for about 1.5 miles. A sign will then point you onto another trail that heads to the east. This trail slowly becomes harder to distinguish and eventually you'll be relying on rock cairns that lead you up a very steep and rocky slope. The trail here is very difficult but you don't have to go far before it levels out and the abandoned partial-tunnel will be directly in front of you. Getting There The Railroad Tunnel can be accessed by starting at Washington Park Trailhead, which is a beautiful area that grants access to the East Verde River. For a shorter function, you can also connect with the Tunnel Trail from FR300 near General Springs Cabin. The Colonel Devin Trail is a rugged dirt road which starts to the northwestern aspect of the Washington Park Trailhead and intersects with the Arizona Trail. Although steep at times, the trail has a reasonable grade for most hikers in good health. As you begin your ascent, you’re greeted by a fresh spring that parallels the trail – the perfect soundtrack for this proper function! You will notice a water pipeline and some power-lines, which the trail shares its access road. Be sure to observe the banks of the spring as you will see aspects of the original Colonel Devin Trail. As you continue switch-backing through the tall ponderosa pine, you will see a small wooden sign noting the turnoff for RR Tunnel Loop No. 390 1 mi (34.44788, -111.25128). The path wanders to reveal an cabin-like rock structure, which looks fairly modern in design – unlike the old powder house at the mouth of the old tunnel. Be careful not to miss the fork (34.44892, -111.24928) that leads to the actual tunnel as it is easy to miss. Here is a photo, be sure to continue straight as opposed to ascending westward.
The trail at this point is fairly ambiguous, so be sure to keep your eye out for the cairns. The footing is less than stable as you course several switchbacks and question whether you are headed in the right direction. Just as you decide that it may not be worth the effort, the old rock powder house reveals itself with the mouth of the tunnel open wide enough to engulf a locomotive.
So, if you are like Nanette and Al and you are looking for a WILD adventure, where you are pretty much assured you will not see another living soul - the Old Rail Road Tunnel to no where might be an option. Here are a couple things to keep in mind:
This is very rough territory. So, just know that going in.
You will need to pack in water. It can get very hot in this area, so make sure you have enough.
You will want a good pair of shoes. It is very rocky so you will need the support.
We recommend you tell someone where you are going.
VERY IMPORTANT (please leave no trace - if you pack it in, pack it out)
Sources: http://theproperfunction.com/railroad-tunnel-hike https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/abandoned-railroad-tunnel-mineral-belt Photos by Nanette Adame