There are certain places that draw and inspire you to return, calling for further discovery. The Copper Creek District located in the Galiuro Mountains east of Tucson is such a place. Rich in history, and even a little intrigue…
- Date: 11/19-20/2004
- Trail Time: 3-5 hours
- Location: Located East of Mammoth and Arizona 77. Copper Creek Road starts in Mammoth, and is accessed by taking Main St. into town and look for East Copper Creek Rd. (Note: It is Bluebird Rd. west of Main Street). The turn is at (N32 43.280 W110 38.370 NAD84). From Main Street the road turns to dirt and crosses the San Pedro River. After crossing the river, the road turns back to pavement for a short distance. The paved portion of Copper Creek Rd. ends at the intersection of S. River Rd. (N32 43.382 W110 37.631). Cross S. River Rd and continue on the dirt, passing a shooting range.
- Mapping / GPS / Waypoint / Track Files:
- Downloads: .MPS File / .gdb file (version 2) / .gpx file / .txt file
- Maps: Topo Area / detail map w/ waypoint’s
- Note: To download, right click and “save as”.
- Trail Rating (1-5 scale): 3- This is a very tight canyon and is not suitable for full-size vehicles. Rocker panel protection recommended. There is a bypass of the canyon available, which shown on the map.
- Major Obstacle: There are a few narrow and challenging sections in the creek that will test available ground clearance and traction.
- Brush (minor, moderate, severe): Severe
- Scenic Value (1-5 scale): 4
Scott Brady- 2004 Toyota Tacoma
Jack- 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser 80
Robb- Toyota land Cruiser 80 series
John Shotts- Toyota land Cruiser 80 series
Bajataco- Toyota Tacoma
Al- Toyota Tacoma
Brittan- Toyota Tacoma Double Cab
Uwe- Toyota 4runner (2nd Generation)
Brian- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
- Arizona State Trust Land Permit is required.
- Technical Mine Information: Bunker Hill District
- Special Note: This area is being considered for closure as a result of wildcat dumping. Please remove all of your trash, and even the trash of others if possible.
- Report Dumping: (520) 622-5800. 24 hours. More information
Copper Creek Road
Looking east up Copper Creek
After crossing the San Pedro River, Copper Creek Road begins to climb into the Galiuro Mountains and onto BLM land. Part of our group chose to camp along the route and we enjoyed a great dutch oven dinner and breakfast. In the morning, a local fish and game officer stopped at our camp and checked my State Trust Land Permit.
Soon the rest of the group arrived and we were traveling into the foothills above Well Canyon and Copper Creek. At just over seven miles, the trail begins to narrow and becomes impassible to 2wd vehicles, though well within the capability of most stock 4wds. The road narrows to less than 12 feet in some places as it rides a narrow shelf above the creek. Several mine remains are present along the route, and the water in the creek bottom turns to a bright orange from leaching through the nearby tailings.
A small cabin at Bluebird Mine
At (N32 45.090 W110 28.655) there is a smaller trail that drops into the creek and is marked by the remains of the original Copper Creek sign. The trail becomes narrow as it climbs along the creek, dropping into the wash after a short section of shelf road. At less than .5 miles, there is a trail that climbs out of the wash to the north (N32 45.177 W110 28.394), and up a series of switchbacks for about two miles to the remains of the Bluebird mine. There is a well preserved cabin with its corrugated roof still in place that is the gem of this site. There is even a very light coating of the original yellow paint along the top of the walls. The mine remains are limited, with a deep vertical shaft covered by a rusted chain link fence and several concrete footings. The mine is located at (N32 45.818 W110 28.287).
I explored the trail beyond the shaft and found a great overlook into Copper Creek. The trail continues farther for a short distance and ends at a nice (but small) primitive campsite.
Sibley Mansion and Copper Creek Mining Operation
The “gatekeeper” obstacle for the creek trail
The Copper Creek Mining District is rich with history, as it was heavily mined for copper and silver. The area was operated from 1880 until the mid 1940’s. It was originally known as the Bunker Hill Mining District, but under the development of R. Sibley it became known as Copper Creek, and began to flourish. The remote location of the mine brought continuous challenges for the developers. There were frequent attacks from natives and the remote location made it difficult to transport the ore.
In 1903, Frank and R. Sibley started the Copper Creek Mining Company and began extensive development in 1905. With the completion of the Arizona Eastern Railroad, which reduced the ore hauling distance to 35 miles, “prospects” began to improve. The mines proved to be marginally effective, which led to several schemes by the Sibleys to generate funding, including the formation of several companies to allow filtering of investment funds. They were also accused of over-reporting the amount of high-grade ore and underestimating expenses in an attempt to gain investment. His most impressive feat was the construction of the three-story tall Sibley Mansion, situated above the creek in a grove of huge sycamore trees. The mansion had 20 rooms and hardwood flooring. Guests were treated to great luxuries in an attempt to gain their support.
In 1915, the Sibleys were in bankruptcy and the mansion was abandoned. Only 700,000 pounds were mined for a total value of $137,000. There are still the remains of the mansion and nearby storehouse to the east.
After passing the Bluebird Mine trail head, within 1000 ft. there is a bypass route (N32 45.194 W110 28.244) to the mansion that heads south and around a small mountain. This route is quite easy when dry and allows stock vehicles to access to the ruins.
After the bypass, the trail becomes more difficult as it travels in the canyon bottom. There is a large rock pile that becomes the gatekeeper for this route and requires careful driving for larger SUV’s. The canyon bottom continues to narrow and several challenging rock sections are passed, including a tight S-turn through the creek over larger rocks. Trees and branches will encroach on the vehicle and scratch the paint. One of the Land Cruisers even suffered minor damage from an errant limb.
The first obstacle
The creek trail ends at a very narrow and cambered shelf, with few choices. If the vehicle is narrow enough, it is possible to hug the rock face and make an easy climb. Wider vehicles, or those desiring a challenge, can climb the shelf further away from the wall, which will require a modified vehicle and good driving skill.
After the shelf is a very tight brush area and only a short distance to the large stand of Sycamores. This area is ideal for camping, and has several improved sites with fire rings and leveled tent areas. it is one of the nicer remote campsites in AZ.
To the north about 100 yards are the remains of the mansion, its three story towers thrusting skyward in final resistance to the home’s slow decay. Trees now grow where glossy wooden floors once were and wealthy guests walked. Several of the outer walls are still intact, with a few doors and windows outlined by thick rock and support beams. Little else remains…
Further down the trail is the original storehouse, which is in good condition compared to the mansion. Most of the walls are still intact and it is easy to see where storage and support beams were set. There are several excellent vintage images of the commissary available at this web site: vintagephoto.com