A Road Trip Along a Historic Trail

Arizona

Casa Grande to Gila Bend and back

April 3, 2013

Today Bob and I decided to go for a scenic drive and “blow the cobwebs out,” as my mother used to say.  After loading Patty and plenty of water into the pickup, we drove west on Arizona Highway 238, also known as Cowtown Road.  We gassed up in Maricopa.  Following our map, we left Maricopa on old Highway 238.  It now deadends.  We retraced our route and found our way out of Maricopa on new Highway 238. We were then headed west towards Gila Bend through the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the Maricopa Mountains. 

Sonoran Desert Scenery

Sonoran Desert Scenery

 

Maricopa Mountains

Maricopa Mountains

One fun sight to see was an old saguaro cactus with a huge hole in it.  We could see that there was an owl roosting in the hole and watching us drive by.  Unfortunately, it was not a place where I could pull off and take a picture.

Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sonoran Desert National Monument

At about midway between Maricopa and Gila Bend, we crossed a historical trail that has been the route of many peoples. 

Trail Post

Trail Post

In ancient times, this trail was used by the Anasazi, Hohokum, Zuni and other native Americans to travel through the mountain passes between Albuquerque and the Colorado River crossing at Yuma.

 

The historic Trail

The historic Trail

 

Looking north along the old Trail.

Looking north along the old Trail.

In the years between 1830 and 1848, it was part of a pack trail known as the Old Spanish Trail. Later it was a section of the Gila Trail which was the route that General Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West used between El Paso and Yuma Crossing – where they took possession of all the lands along their way. This same route was later used by pioneers traveling to California who were seeking the southern-most route.  The Mormon Battalion followed this trail on their long infantry march (see my previous post about Picacho Peak State Park for more information on the Mormon Battalion).

The Butterfield Stage Company used the route to carry mail and passengers from the east to southern California.  The Butterfield route was established in 1858 by John Butterfield and his partners (one of whom was William G. Fargo).  They determined the exact stage coach route, improved the pack trail into a stage coach road, and established way stations where a passenger could wash and buy a decent meal.

When fully operational, Butterfield had about eight hundred employees and used about a thousand horses, seven hundred mules, and over two hundred stagecoaches and spring wagons. A full size stagecoach could seat nine passengers inside and as many as could pile on top.  The stages bounced along at about five miles an hour.

Nowadays, the Union Pacific Railroad and Arizona State Highway 385 closely follow this historical route. The authenticated section of the route that is north of Highway 385 is closed to motorized traffic at this time.  Drivers of off-road vehicles have caused damage within the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The old Trail is closed as park officials try to restore the land to its original condition.

To see a really interesting, informative, and interactive map of these and other routes, go to http://southern-trails.org/trailmap.html .

K.C. at the old Trail.

K.C. at the old Trail.

Arizona Highway 385 meets I 8 at Gila Bend.  We jumped onto I 8 and headed back east toward Casa Grande. 

Looking east on I 8.

Looking east on I 8.

Looking towards the east on I 8 at Gila Bend.

Looking towards the east on I 8 at Gila Bend.

We exited the freeway and took a back road through Stanfield.  I thought Stanfield was an old ghost town that I had read about in a  book I purchased recently.  Whoops, it was Stanton, not Stanfield.  Stanfield is a small, but busy town with many bustling businesses.  Oh well, it was an interesting side trip and we noticed a small cafe in town.  We’ll be going back to try it out. 

We drove into Casa Grande and had a grand lunch at Sonic.  Then it was home in time for an afternoon nap. All-in-all, it has been a fun day. 

 

Comments are closed.

 

<