Keep your eyes on the road and your hands up on the wheel. Sage advice when you are driving to the ghost town of Reef high up in Carr Canyon.
Carr Canyon Road begins near milepost 328 off SR 92 in Hereford. The first two miles in are easy. The road is paved for the most part and is smooth as you gain some elevation. There are some lovely houses built in idyllic spots on the wash sides. At one place my wife and I once watched as a fawn playfully jousted with some turkeys. Around two miles in, there is a nicely maintained Forest Service Campground. Beyond that is Carr House where you can tour a home built and occupied from 1932 to 1973. The home is open on weekends and serves as an area information center and presentation venue.
Less than a quarter of a mile hike from the house, a trail will lead you to the remains of the Carr Ranch, named after James Carr, who came to Arizona from Kansas City, Missouri. In 1889 he built the road up to Reef to harvest lumber growing at 9200’on the shoulders of Carr Peak. It must have been quite the mill, as production was reported to have been 6,000 to 8,000 board feet per day.
After the Carr House, the unpaved road crosses over a pipe that carries water to the town of Tombstone, 22 miles to the northeast. The road then becomes quite steep with numerous switchbacks, as about 2000’ in altitude is gained over the next six miles. I’ve driven this road several times in my four-wheel drive vehicle with a short base and a good set of brakes, but I can only describe the drive as a white-knuckle affair in both directions.
The vistas to the north, east and south are vast. You can easily peer into Mexico, over towards Bisbee and down onto the landing area for the blimp that can be seen over Fort Huachuca.
The road surface is rocky, in some places a little loose, and the drop offs perilous. Before we moved here, I used to say, to whomever would listen, that I was going to make a fortune by introducing the concept of guardrails to the good people of Arizona. My pitch was going to be (A la “The Music Man,”) “You’ve got trouble, right here in Tuba City,” etc. So far this has not borne fruit.
After an intense 15 minutes of driving, I arrive at Reef. One of the unmitigated joys of rockhounding in southeast Arizona is how often one comes upon the long-ago abandoned remains of a once thriving mining operation. The foundations that were laid down to support stamp mills, evaporating tanks and assay offices were built to last a century, and they have, even if what they supported only lasted decades. There are water pipes to nowhere stuck in the ground and walls here, their thick iron heavy and rusted yet still capable of carrying a flow. Stout walls built so rugged and strong that they still resist gravity as they stand guard against the mountain. Here and there lay old painted tanks and oxidized sheets of metal that have acquired the mien of modern sculpture.
The ground is steeply angled here, as one would expect in an old mining camp, so steep in fact that moving a hundred feet can involve two hundred steps and a lot of time. The people that lived and worked in this place must have been as stout as these walls and as capable as the iron pipe that carried the water.
What else can describe the sound that these pines make here at the 7400’ elevation, where it is sunny and 75° except to say that in all that quiet they whisper?
Quartz, specifically white quartz, is what has brought me to this place. I am making some decorative swirls on the grasslands surrounding our house and I needed some more bright white rocks to go along with some white marble collected on the north end of the Dragoons and some old white granite collected in a wash on Gas Line Road east of Whetstone.
This beautiful quartz was the throwaway rock of this operation. It exists in two veins that run close enough to the surface that they could be worked in pits and trenches. The main draw was gold and silver which tended to run alongside the quartz. These minerals were excavated and processed from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. World War l, The Great War as it was known, brought on a market for the tungsten here.
Sometime after that, the mines were abandoned and filled in. The rails for transporting the ore were torn up. For a brief period in the 1950’s someone tried to make a go of it selling the quartz for landscaping purposes. This too was abandoned. There must have been much more accessible places to meet that demand. On the day that visited I did recover some quartz and even some nice specimens of calcite.
Heading for home I roll with my rocks. My eyes on the road, my hands up on the wheel.