Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Offroad: Parashant - Savannic Mine

Little did we know that this snowbird riding season the Parashant Grand Canyon area would be the most interesting rides we would take… several times. And we would go again in a heartbeat.

We've seen it on our maps, and we've always intended to "run over to Arizona and see the mines"; but, it's a long way over there from Whitney Pockets, our usual staging area of choice. Just to Tassi Springs, which we wrote about last year, and back takes a very full day. The Savannic Mine - and others - are farther than that.

However… there is only one other ride on "The Butte" which rivals it for sheer grandeur! The ride over through Pierson Gap and down into Cottonwood Wash looks over the "Hell's Kitchen" area and is Magnificent. The ride along the shelf road, past Pigeon Canyon, is truly breathtaking, in more ways than one.

Of course there's the "breathtaking" grandeur of a Kodak-worthy photograph which even Photoshop cannot improve; then, there's the strangling-tightness which slowly creeps into your chest and makes your heart race for anyone even the least vertiginously challenged!

After hours of wrangling the rocks and boulders of Cottonwood Wash, and the endless switchbacks of the climb out of the wash, the snake-like, winding shelf road above the Pigeon Canyon Wash, a couple thousand feet below, is a welcome relief. Just don't drive and watch the view at the same time.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home.]

General Trail:

This 85 mile (round-trip) ride takes a very full day, so start early and take your cameras as well as extra water and a lunch – perhaps dinner too. In some areas, a 4-wheel drive is really nice to have in order to climb the 2500 feet change in elevation; but, a 2WD ATV made it and the trail width barely tolerates a side-by-side ATV.

The ride difficulty is really only considered moderate but may not be tolerated at all well by the vertiginously-challenged. Unmarked side trails make a good map and GPS mandatory - don't leave home without them!

Things to see:

Red Aztec Formation sandstone of the upper Gold Butte area, historic Copper City junction, Arizona's Cottonwood Wash, high canyon-rim trail over Pigeon Canyon, historic Savannic Mine ruins and shafts, ride through several biomes from desert to Pinon/Cedar.


South on Gold Butte Road then east into Arizona. The unmaintained county road/trail winds through washes then northward up a high canyon-rim trail to the old mine ruins:   Savannic Mine,  Arizona, USA [36°16'16.94"N, 113°48'3.83"W]

Trail Description

Begin at any of the parking 'corrals' in the Whitney Junction area. The trail runs south down the New Gold Butte Road, part of the legislatively designated Gold Butte Backcountry Byway. Continue past the turnoff to Devil's Throat and to the next major intersection. This is the former site of Copper City. Unfortunately, it is now just a dusty wide spot in the road and probably only marked with an "Arizona to the left" marker.

Left (southeast) is the way you want to go, along a pretty nondescript, sandy-desert, unmaintained county road for several miles, cross the Arizona border and down into Cottonwood Wash. It's not signed and you will need to watch your GPS track while taking this trail to avoid several "promising," but wrong, side trails.

In fact, unless you are just out to spend your time "exploring," your GPS may be your best friend on this ride; because, there are many crossing trails, none of them marked, and only one real way to get into the mine from the way we are going.

You cross Cottonwood Wash keeping due East on the trail. It will run just north of Whiskey Spring (in case you have a map marked such), although you won't be able to see it.

After awhile the trail begins to run southeast and sometimes truly looks more like a wash than a trail; except, once in awhile, you follow a short segment around some obstacle and notice tire tracks. If you have questions about which way to go, just point your vehicle toward Waypoint "#1",  Arizona, USA [36°15'15.28"N, 113°51'17.47"W] – which is the farthest south the trail takes you.

At that point you will be north of "Nevershine" Peak and south (if you could see it from there) of Pigeon Canyon. You will recognize it because the trail turns north and becomes interestingly dramatic from then on.

You ride along a rim trail over something that could truly rival the Grand Canyon with magnificent views down Pigeon Canyon - I guess this is why they call this the Parashant Arm of the Grand Canyon. Lets hope you decided to heed my suggestion and brought your camera! If you didn't, you're gonna wanna come back.

Around a bend you begin climbing a couple of switchbacks, over some more rocks and... voila... Savannic Mine. There are a couple of old mine shafts, a broken winch or two and it's super place for lunch! The ruins at Savannic Mine need careful navigation. Old wooden ladders are rotten and broken winches are rusted solid.

As I slowly grow wise I briskly grow cautious.”
Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain
You will notice that the trail does continue up the cliffs to the east. This, however, is the furthest you can go without a solid 4-wheel drive vehicle and good tires. The incline, navigation over large rocks and uneven camber all turn it into an "expert" trail in difficulty.

However, this is what you came to see and the "views" are all the way you came. Up on top are the various old roads to the Grand Gulch and a couple other old mines. (Gordon has explored them and we have a trail map and report upcoming.)

The return is pretty much back the same way you came; although, believe me, it's a completely different ride. This time the canyon is in front of you and it's hard to keep your eyes off of it.

On this particular trip, in case you are following along on the Google Earth map, once we got near cottonwood wash, we did a pretty hefty detour down toward Tassi Springs then back up; however, you don't need any extra diversions to feel like you've just taken one of the best rides you've ever had on "The Butte."

Learn A Little More

In just a few short days the space ship Endeavor will fly to the International Space Station – for the last time ever! Fifty years of space-flight! Where has the time gone? Yuri, Sputnik, Shepard, Mercury, Apollo… the moon. Now, we're buds with our rivals for space in the greatest human achievement, well… ever: The International Space Station (ISS)! I'm sure that even Kufu, Ramses and his lot are scratching their heads and asking "how did they do that?"

A couple months further on and Atlantis will make the trip for its last time; then, it's all over! If Obama had his way there would be no more NASA. Oh, I know he likes the sound-bites and photo-ops and tries to interject himself into the TV coverage any time he can; but, his actions speak more loudly than his words.

One wonders just how someone arrives at setting giveaways to banks at a higher priority than NASA whose return on investment has been tried and proven over many, many years. (What kind of "return" have we gotten or will ever get from the banks.) But I digress.

Apollo was raised to completion in the dark years of war and student unrest. Of necessity, it had to fight for every column inch in the newspaper where mayhem and anger had permanent residence. And, you may remember what it was like during the months after Apollo landed on the moon. "What will they do next," was on everyone's lips. But, shortly, congress, and the press, and people were once again overpowered by daily agendas.

The likes of Werner Von Braun himself, and many others, carried the banner of exploration. In his public speeches he reminded us that the "dance was not over." There were places left to go and promises to keep. Several times, he capitalized on the old American phrase: Don't hang up your dancin' shoes, by warning us "Don't hang up your dancing slippers."

Through it all, NASA has continued to rewrite the science books and push boundary's and bring disparate peoples and enemies together on comparatively little investment for the massive return they have given.

Tina Swindell, a NASA employee also happens to be a professional singer/songwriter. I've posted one of her songs before. Today, in the headlights of the looming demise of the Space Shuttle program, let's remind ourselves that the music is still playing and we've got dancin' left to do.

Dancin' Shoes - by Tina Swindell


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