|Name: California Gulch (FR217) / Old Glory Mill and Dam / Casa Piedra||Author's Rating:|
|Author: Matt Marine||Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet|
|Type: 4WD||Difficulty: (Easy 2WD/4WD trail) to (Moderate 4WD trail) - see description below|
|Time: 4 - 6 hours||Region: SE Arizona|
|Length: 5.5 miles (one way California Gulch) with no spurs; ~ 10 miles with spur roads shown||Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ +473 / -1029 ft / - 556 (one way on only California Gulch)|
|Type: Out and back (though completing a loop through Warsaw Canyon is easy)||Avg Elevation: 4000 ft|
|Best time to go: fall, spring, winter,||Fees: NA|
|Fitness rating: Low||Educational Merit: Medium|
|Danger/fear rating: Medium||Scenic Beauty: High|
|Hours of Operation: NA||Last updated: December, 2013|
|Short Description: An easy 2WD/4WD down near the border that combines beauty and history. Combined with Warsaw Canyon, this trail shouldn't be missed.|
|Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area: El Oro Cemetery; Rattlesnake Canyon; Montana Peak|
|References / Contact Information: Along the Ruby Road; Ghosttowns; Tucson Citizen; Arizona Buffalo Soldier Association; In Search of Old Glory Dam|
|Points of interest: Old Glory Mill, Dam, and Mine, Ruby Lakes Ruins, three old cemeteries (including one of the 10th Cavalry), dams galore, Casa Piedra (Stone House) ruins on the border, the Mexico border, Ruby|
|Special Considerations: Lots of old mines in this area, stay away from open mine shafts and be careful of mine tailings.Trail is located in illegal immigrant and smuggler high traffic area, see page regarding warning (it's not as bad as it sounds).|
|How to get there: From Tucson, head south on I-19 until you get to the Arivaca exit (exit 48). Take Arivaca Road west to Arivaca (paved road about 24 miles). Take a left in "downtown" Arivaca toward Ruby. Stay on Ruby road for about five miles (it becomes dirt after a few miles) until you get to the California Gulch turnoff (Waypoint Waypoint001). Click here for directions.|
California Gulch (FR217)
This road/area is very similar to Warsaw Canyon. This is one of the most beautiful trails in the area. It's a well-traveled road leading from Ruby Road down near the Mexico border. Most of the trail is smooth 2WD with short some high-clearance 2WD/4WD sections.
The beauty of this area is awesome. I enjoy the rolling hills, canyons and streams (both times we went we were surprised by the small amounts of water running - which for Arizona, is a big deal). The landscape is dominated by the rugged beauty of Montana Peak. There are side trails galore along this trail. You could spend days/weeks exploring this area.
In addition to the natural beauty, this area also has rich mining and ranching history. There are a tons of old mines, stone ruins, mills, mining sites, ranches here.
This trip includes a couple of side trips. It should be noted that some of these are rated more difficult than the California Gulch trail and may prove difficult for inexperienced drivers.
This is one of the most beautiful desert areas I've ever explored in southeast Arizona and shouldn't be missed.
Ruby Lakes Ruins and Cemetery
This is an old 4WD road that I believe the FS has closed. It leads along Ruby Lakes (which should not be confused with Ruby Lake right next to the ghost town of Ruby). You will see two nice dams. The first is filled in, the second holding the water for the lake. When we went, the area below the dam had some fairly nasty smelling water/mud. Of course, Cat-dog had to go investigate. She slipped on some of the leaves and went in about chest high. No big deal except the lower half of her was covered in wet, stinky mud. It smelled so bad that we had to drive with all the windows open to a spot with clean water to give her an impromptu bath.
The road ends at the stone ruins of some house/building. You can also hike up the canyon to the small cemetery. As far as I know, this cemetery does not have a name, so I will call it the Ruby Lakes Cemetery for clarity. The cemetery has a fence around it and we found a few crosses, headstones and name plates left here.
Old Glory Mill, Mine and Dam (FR217, FR4161, FR4171, FR4162)
The Old Glory Mill is one of the coolest stone structures in the area and shouldn't be missed. From there you can walk to the Old Glory Dam (upstream along the Old Glory Canyon). If you're in for a challenge you can also hike up the tramway to the mine (or you can drive up FR4162 if you like). You can also drive up FR4161 to the upstream side of the dam and visit a cool double hole mine. These roads also lead to some unmarked graves and what I call the Old Glory Cemetery (due to its location in the Old Glory Canyon). It appears the graves at the Old Glory Cemetery have been robbed in the distant past. This area is filled with history and beauty. Large trees near the mill provide some shade for a picnic spot. You can take FR4162 to explore the ruins of another small stone building, the Old Glory Mine and drive all the way to Warsaw Canyon if you wish.
California Gulch Cemetery (FR 4174)
A short and easy spur road that leads to another old cemetery. Once again, I don't have a name for this cemetery, so I will name it the California Gulch Cemetery (due to it's location inside the gulch) to help keep it straight. Not a lot left of this cemetery. A few piles of rocks and we found a couple of crosses (all were down when we came by). You have to walk the last few hundred yards to the cemetery.
The Oro Blanco Ruins (FR4172)
This is another super short spur road that leads to some concrete ruins. Not a ton here, but neat to see. The road continues to the Oro Blanco Mine, but we did not travel it. Not sure what is there.
Casa Piedra "Stone House" Ruins (FR41637, FR4173)
This is a longer and more difficult 4WD trail that leads to a "Stone House" ruins right at the border. It's a beautiful drive, but the road is sparsely used and very brushy. We saw four illegals in the canyon when we drove this. They were carrying large backpacks. I don't know if they contained drugs, clothes or food. They ran away, but be careful.
In Search of Old Glory Dam
While doing some research on the Old Glory Mine, I found an old picture of a huge (by southern Arizona mining standards) dam in the area. Built out of rock in the late 1800s, this dam provided much needed water to the Old Glory Mill.
But where was it and what happened to it? These are the questions I had to answer on a second trip to the area. Read about our adventure, find out how wrong I was and watch some video of the mill, dam and surrounding ruins by clicking here.
The history of this area is wonderful and very interesting. Located in the late 1800s, the Old Glory Mill was the best producer of gold in the Oro Blanco Mining District. The miners built a huge dam to supply the mill with water and we had quite an adventure finding this dam (click here to read about it).
You can read a wonderful history of the Old Glory Mine (and surrounding area) penned by Bob Ring and Al Ring, authors of the Along the Ruby Road series of columns appearing in the Green Valley News and the Ring Brother's History website. They also have a few nice old pictures including one of the mill and dam in the early 1900s.
Click here to read this article.
Click here to see more pictures of the Old Glory site (and others from the area).
Note: Although many of these roads were very easy during our visit, I could see that a big monsoon could wash them out. I believe the Border Patrol uses these road frequently, so they may keep them in good shape.
California Gulch (FR 217)
Turn south at California Gulch (there is a sign here) at Waypoint 001. Note: you will see many, many side trails leading off in both directions. I have not created waypoints for all of these. Usually, just keep going straight and stay on the main road and you'll be on California Gulch. You'll begin by following the "gulch" and if its rained recently, you will cross some nice water in this area. Look to the east and you will see the prominent Montana Peak.
If you look closely, you will see some stone walls, concrete foundations and old equipment pads along the canyon. After about 1.3 miles, you will come to a large open area. This is the filled in portion of a dam that you can't see until you go a little further up the road. The first road on your left goes up the adjacent canyon toward Ruby (though I believe this has been closed by the FS) - we did not take it. The second road on your left is FR4176, which goes right below Montana Peak and ends at a cattle tank I believe - we did not take this road either. The third "road" (at Waypoint 002) which is right after the dam and is very faint leads to the Ruby Lakes Ruins and Cemetery (yellow track). See below for description and for more information. To stay on FR217, stay right and continue on the main road.
Continue almost another mile down FR217 until you come to a four-way intersection at Waypoint 003 (though you may not see the fourth way at first). The intersection is at the top of a small hill and you can't see the road straight ahead until you're right in the intersection.
The road on the right (FR4161) leads to the upstream side of the Old Glory Dam, the Old Glory Cemetery and a cool two hole mine - see below for description. The road straight ahead (FR4162) leads to the Old Glory Mill - see description below. Take a left to stay on FR217.
Continue down FR217 for another 0.85 miles until you reach Waypoint 004. A left here takes you down FR4174 and the California Gulch Cemetery - see below for description.
Keep driving straight along the main road. After another 0.46 miles, you will come to FR4172 on your right (Waypoint 005). This road leads to the ruins near Oro Blanco Mine and to the mine itself - see description below.
Continue driving straight on main road. You will see some roads to either side. You will also notice a large "dump" with trailers, vehicles, equipment down in the canyon on your left. Although you can take the road up to this spot, it is gated off as private property and it's not worth the trip.
After 1.84 miles you will come to Waypoint 006 and FR4173 (blue track). A right here (to stay on the main road - FR217 - will take you to Warsaw Canyon and Casa Piedra Ruins - see description below. For now, go straight on the lesser used road. Travel 0.2 miles and park near Waypoint 007. If you would keep driving on this road, it would take you to the Border Tank (we did not drive this, but it looks like a neat area). This area was extremely beautiful when we were there, with large trees and nice water. Another great place for a picnic. From here, you can walk (yellow trail) to the 10th Cavalry cemetery at Waypoint "10thcalv" a little more than 1/4 a mile away (walking there isn't a straight shot).
The graves are of some 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers back in 1918. We noticed that at least one looked like they were been grave robbed - the rocks were not in a pile and created a circle around the grave and the ground was depressed as if much of the soil had been removed. This was done many years ago. You can read about it by clicking here.
When you're done, you can head back the way you came, or take Warsaw Canyon out. They were both in similar condition when we did our run.
Ruby Lakes Ruins and Cemetery
From California Gulch Road (FR217) head south at the faint road at Waypoint 003. Although this trail is along an old 4WD road and you could drive to the ruins, I believe the FS has closed it. As soon as you start down this road, look back to your left. You will now see the first dam. All it is doing today is holding back dirt.
Keep going along the road. Ruby Lakes in now on your left. You will come up a slight rise, then drop down the other side. Here's the second dam, which does hold back the water. I really enjoyed the architecture of this dam with the large concrete buttresses (so did Cat-dog).
Stay on the road and soon you will come to Waypoint RL001 and the stone ruins (about 0.5 miles from the start). The road ends at the ruins and there is no official trail to the cemetery, though sometimes you may be able to find a game trail to follow. Here's the route we took. We followed the canyon down until it split, then took the canyon to the left. Stay in the canyon and bear right. The cemetery will be on your right up a 15 foot embankment. Return the way you came in.
Old Glory Mine and Mill (FR4162)
At Waypoint 003, go straight through the intersection from FR217. This is the start of FR4162. You will begin a slow decent into the Old Glory Canyon. After about 0.4 miles, you will come to a small dam in the canyon/wash on your right at Waypoint OGM001. This is the "third dam" at the Old Glory Mill and is downstream of the mill. In the Ring's history of the area, this dam kept filling up with sediment and history has not changed. You should be able to see the stone walls of the mill from here straight ahead.
Continue along FR4162 until you reach Waypoint 001a and the mill on your right. You can park right next to the mill. You can see pictures of the old mill from around the 1900s here at the Ring Brother's History website XXX. I would familiarize yourself with what the mill looked like before you go which will help you picture it while you're there.
Now, go ahead and explore the mill. You will notice some curved walls along the wash/canyon on the lower level that are shown in the old picture (click here for a comparison picture). You will probably walk through the large door on the side of the mill in the wall with the window above. Inside, take note of the wooden header above the door with lots of nails. I wonder what this was used for. You will also see the brick equipment pads. I believe this was used for the steam boiler (you can see the chimney in the old picture and a portion of it is still in the mill). The rockwork along the walls is incredible.
As you're looking at the mill from the parking area, there's an overgrown pad at about your 10 O'clock position and up about 15 feet on the hill where the wooden building used to stand (see photo from Ring Brother's History).
If you want, you can hike up along the old wooden tramway that used to connect the mill to the mine (see the old picture). Warning: there is no trail here, the hike can be steep and slippery. It is also very prickly. All that's left of the tram are some old rivets, wooden planks and frames and anchor posts. From this area, you will get to see the remnants of the Old Glory Dam just up the canyon.
Another option is to hike up the canyon for about 1/4 miles to the Old Glory Dam itself at Waypoint OGM005. Again, there is no trail here and you'll be doing some bushwhacking. The first section is through tall grass (be very careful with snakes here), then you will pass over the "smaller dam" before climbing over some boulders to reach the larger dam itself. If you visit the dam from this side, make sure you look beyond the large tree on your right to see the top of the dam. This view can be misleading as the dam itself appears to be part of the canyon walls. If the creek is flowing, this is worth the trip. See the section of the Old Glory Dam for more information on the dam.
When you're done with the mill, you can drive up FR4162 to visit the Old Glory Mine and eventually reach Warsaw Canyon Road. From Waypoint OGM001a, head up the hill. As you come around the corner to your right, you will reach Waypoint OGM002. There are some stone ruins on your left and a flat area on your right where the tent was in the picture. A little further up the road on your right is another flat spot where another wooden building you can see in the old photo used to be. We found lots of old trash in these areas.
Keep heading up the road for another 0.4 miles until you come to Waypoint OGM003. You can take a right up this short spur road (~0.16 miles) to the top of the hill and the Old Glory Mine (Waypoint 0GM004). Note: this road is a little more difficult than the roads you've been on so far. The views from the top of the hill and the Old Glory Mine are outstanding. A full 360 degree view. Old Glory Mine actually was on the two adjoining knobs. The one you can see that's closer to the mill was where the tramway connected. I believe many of these mines have been filled in by the FS, but they were interesting for the short time we explored them.
Head back down to FR4162. If you want to head to Warsaw Canyon, take a right and drive the 1.2 miles until you reach Waypoint OGM012. If you want to go back to California Gulch, take a left and head back to the four-way intersection at Waypoint WPT003.
Old Glory Dam, Graves, Cemetery and Two Hole Mine (FR4161 and FR4171)
From the four-way intersection at Waypoint WPT003, head north onto FR4161. If you want to see the graves, immediately park along the side of the road on your left near Waypoint OGM007. We found two rock piles that I believe were the unmarked graves in this area.
Keep traveling on FR4161 for about 0.1 miles and take a left at the next intersection at Waypoint OGM008 on FR4171. After about 0.25 miles, the road curves to the right and you will be fairly close to the Old Glory Cemetery at Waypoint OGM010. Note: not a lot of parking options here. You will have to hike a hundred yards or so through prickly thorns to the large flat area the cemetery lies in. You can plainly see the piles of rocks here, but there seems something strange about them. The rocks are not piled high as you would expect, but spread out in an elliptical circle and there's a small depression in the middle of some. You will see this again at the 10th Cavalry Cemetery. They've been dug up by grave robbers. Sad, sad, sad. My guess is karma might rear its ugly head for those who did the digging.
When you're done with the cemetery, keep going on FR4171 for about another 0.1 or 0.2 miles. You will dip down into a small wash, then just beyond it is a large flat area (Waypoint OGM009) that you can park at if you would like to hike to the Two Hole Mine and the top of the Old Glory Dam.
From the parking area, you can see the mine on your left just across the small wash at Waypoint OGM011. This is a pretty cool mine as it has two adjacent horizontal shafts. It is not labeled in my topo map, so I am calling it the "Two Hole Mine" for simplicity sake. I do not know what name the mine was called. There's also some remnants of a shack next to the mine.
If you want to visit the dam, follow the small wash down to the Old Glory Canyon. There was a faint game trail we used during our trip. The trail crosses the canyon and heads to the left on the opposite side of the canyon. I originally followed the bottom of the canyon to the top of the dam which was much more difficult of a hike. This area is extremely overgrown and brushy. You can see the rockwork of the left canyon wall as you approach the dam. This dam was about 125 across, about 30 feet wide at the base, about 40-50 feet tall and held back 12 million gallons of water in its heyday. It was used by the Old Glory Mill to process the ore from the mine. It was also stocked with fish to offer the miners some recreation during their free time. Today, the dam is collapsed and much of it had been filled in with sediment. I'm not sure how it collapsed, but I do have some ideas. See my In Search of the Old Glory Dam for information on this.
Hike back to your vehicles. I believe that FR4171 ends at a mine not too far up the road, but we did not take it to its end. We went back to FR217 and California Gulch.
California Gulch Cemetery (FR4174)
From FR217, head east onto FR4174 at Waypoint WPT004. Drive down the road for about 0.3 miles. You will cross a very small wash with a truck camper shell on your right. Park in the open area at Waypoint CG001.
Hike across the flat area to Waypoint CG002 (less than 0.1 miles). Beware, this area was full of prickers that stuck to your pants. You will come up a slight rise and there will be the cemetery in front of you. There's not much left except for a few piles of rocks (these don't look disturbed) and makeshift crosses.
When you're done, head back to FR217.
The Ruins at Oro Blanco (FR4172)
From FR217, head east onto FR4174 at Waypoint WPT004. Take the short drive to Waypoint OB0001 on your right. You will see the concrete foundations, slabs, trash dump and tanks left behind. These ruins seem more recent than others in the area. You can also view the old photo of the Oro Blanco Mill from the Ring Brother's History. I do not know if this spot was the location of the mill or if it was closer to the mine. My guess is that this was not the mill's location. I also enjoyed seeing the large mule train in the photo hauling wood (and piles of wood) to feed the steam boilers.
I believe the road leads down the the Oro Blanco Mine (there's another set of ruins labeled on the topo map too) and gets you near Warsaw Canyon, but not all the way there. When done, turn around and head back to FR217.
Casa Piedra "Stone House" Ruins (FR4163 and FR4173)
From FR217 at Waypoint WPT006, keep right heading west on existing FR217. Travel almost 0.3 miles and continue straight on FR217 at Waypoint BT001.
After another 0.17 miles, take the left onto FR4167 (there are two entrances to this road, the second one is the easiest and most used). The trail almost immediately becomes worse than what you've been on for this adventure and you will have a long, steep drive up the side of the mountain. After about 0.75 miles from start of FR4167 you will come to the highest elevation of the trail (but not the mountain itself) and start to head back down the mountainside.
At Waypoint BT003, bear left down the hill toward the Boundary Tank. It doesn't look like the trail exits from the tank, but it does. The trail to the right (straight ahead) leads to a mine on top of the mountain, but we did not take this trail. Go around the tank. Stay on the main trail here. There may be other trails leading off it, but I'm not sure where these go.
Soon after the tank you will go over a small saddle. The trail after this saddle become more difficult and much less traveled. For a while, we wondered if we were on the correct trail or if it would just end around a corner and we would have to back up. We pressed forward.
You will come to a beautiful canyon and stream crossing about 0.8 miles from the Boundary Tank. We had to get out and walk to see that the trail crossed the stream and keeps going on the other side. It did.
At about 1 mile from Boundary Tank, you will come to the border and Casa Piedra (Waypoint BT004). The border fence here is just a cattle fence. The stone ruins are just to the right of a gate in a fence (not the border fence) that the road goes through.
It appears the FS is closing this section of the road between Casa Piedra and the Border Tank to the northeast, though it appeared this portion of the trail was as well used as the section we were just on.
You can hike this section of the trail if you wish, but be warned, we saw four illegals carrying large packs in this area. They ran away, but you never know. Keep straight at Waypoint BT005, then take a left at Waypoint BT006. At BT006a, keep straight. The road on your right leads to the Border Tank. Not long after is a large corral at Waypoint BT007 on FR4173. This section of the road (to the Border Tank) appears to be open and can be driven. It is a beautiful area with a few stream crossings. Very nice. When you hit Waypoint WPT007, you'll be back on the California Gulch trip.
To make this a nice loop, you can combine this with the Warsaw Canyon Adventure. This is a continuation of FR217 and is about the same difficulty as California Gulch. Warsaw Canyon also offers some great scenery and history.
Whatever you decide to do, have fun and be safe!
Unexpected Find in California Gulch
March 14, 2013,
Years ago in November a bunch of us camped out in california gulch while deer hunting. We stumbled across a hippy camp and some fat gal was buck naked bathing in the stream when it was only about 50 degrees in the shade.