In the May 2018 issue of the Patagonia Regional Times, “Glimpses Into Our Past” columnist Alison Bunting wrote about the old public roadway between Tucson and Huachuca (City). I found this very interesting and decided to do one of my “hobby things” and try to determine where the actual roadway route of 1913 went through our area.
My past success in doing this kind of thing relied heavily on considering the probable mindset of people and their resources of the times. First routes were established trying to take straight lines between points, and things were done using mostly manual labor on a “maintenance only as needed” basis.
What I found of interest for this specific project was that traveling up and down alluvial fans and ridges was preferable to traveling transversely across watersheds. Ridges provided the least obstructed pathways. Bottomlands had all the vegetation, mud and standing water.
To start my search I based my efforts on two assumptions: first, that new roads are often built over old roads, and second, that mapmakers do their best to draw maps as meaningfully accurate as possible. I was working from a five-inch long map in the newspaper which represented about 50 miles of actual roadway. Because the mapmaker marked this original map with mileages to waypoints, and areas of notable up/down grades, this information forced me to stay on track; if the mileages didn’t add up right, I was not on the correct historical route.
So where was the old roadway? Starting about 100 yards north of the old railroad grade in Huachuca City, the road heads northeast about three miles, then veers more to north-northeast, following an alluvial fan about another 3.5 miles to where it intersects current SR82. From there it follows SR82 west for approximately 5.5 miles to the Rain Valley area.
Here the map indicates a turnoff to Elgin (12.4 miles), then heads more northerly. (Note that the current paved Upper Elgin Rd was not the historical turnoff; the original headed south to Elgin approximately one mile to the east of today’s paved road and east of the two little hills about a mile south of SR82.) At about three miles north of SR82, on the extreme north end of the Rain Valley Development, the road becomes very apparent and heads down a steep hill (the map indicates a 26% downgrade) to access a ridge route that then continues gradually downward for about five miles to the main drainage on the Empire Ranch (Cienega Creek). The road then continues directly to the Empire Ranch Headquarters along what my current map calls E. Yucca Flat Road (21.7 miles). I’m certain the Empire Ranch was a major mid-route destination during this period in time.
From the Empire Ranch headquarters, the old road did a little loop north for about a half mile to gain access into, and then up, Oak Tree Canyon (west end of old airport runway). The road proceeds up Oak Tree Canyon about 3.5 miles, then takes a side turn up into a drainage to the north to access a ridge route on the right for nearly two miles to the summit (27.4 miles).
The old road is clearly visible from SR83 coming off the ridge from the east before heading down towards the north along current Hwy 83 for about 0.2 miles, where it then turns west onto the current dirt road down to Helvetia Road.
From there the old road turns northeast to again join SR83 for another 2.6 miles or so. Near the current
Hilton Ranch Road, the old road headed west of current SR83 (to avoid impossible terrain), and then rejoined Hwy 83 not far from the current
‘Old Sonoita Highway.’ The old road appears to have then followed the Old Sonoita Highway on into Vail, and then followed the railroad tracks into Tucson.
Fun project! Maybe there are some readers out there who can support or refute my findings.