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Name: Copper Creek Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Easy 4WD)
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 15.5 miles (one way) Elevation gain/loss/change: +3424 / -1724 ft / +1690 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 3500 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: November, 2013
Short Description: An easy 4WD trail to a series of old mining sites
Geocaches:Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Hole in the Rock; Crumbling Creek Geocache
References / Contact Information: Expeditions West; Ghost Towns
Points of interest: Copper Creek, mining ruins, Sombrero Butte.
Special Considerations: Many areas that used to be open are now gated off as private property. Lots of old mines in this area, stay away from open mine shafts and be careful of mine tailings.
How to get there: Take Hwy 77 north from Tucson, past the town of Mammoth. Just past the bridge over the San Pedro River, take a right on River Rd. Follow this road for about 2.3 miles. Turn left of Copper Creek Rd. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

September 2105 Update: A subscriber noted a barrier has been placed at Waypoint "Barrier" that only allows 60 inch or less wide vehicles through. See GPS page for coordinates. It may not be possible to drive to the old bridge and town site any more. He also noted a new road leading to the south leading to the "Holiday Inn" - See BLUE trail on map page. It may be possible to take the GREEN trail back to Waypoint 006 to the town site. I have not verified this information yet.

2013 Copper Creek Status Update: We went out to Copper Creek the day before Thanksgivng to verify some rumors that we'd heard. Rumor 1: Due to heavy rains two summers ago, the roads had been washed out and new roads built. Answer: Sort of. Yes, a few spots had significant wash outs and have been rebuilt or rerouted. The amount of reroutes is extremely minor (usually less than 50 feet or so). The worst is where the old trail along Copper Creek to the Sibley Mansion left the main road at the turn up the hill. For the most part these are insignificant. But, there has been A LOT of dozer work on the first part of the dirt road leading up to the canyon, though the dozer work wasn't the best and I found it rougher than the portions of the road that were left alone - very bumpty. There is a ton of mining work going on out there. We even saw some water trucks working during our trip. Some new roads and roads that have been rebuilt. We did not have time to explore these. For the portions we did (through Copper Creek and to Bunker Hill Mine, I would still rate it a 2 out of 5). Rumor 2: The way to the Sibley Mansion has been reopened. Answer: Wishful thinking. We attempted to go up through the creek and the first section of this difficult road has been made easier (the big crack has been filled in), but it still ends at Private Property signs. Yes, the large fence is now down (either by the storms or pulled down), but recent Private Property signs and the gate are still there. We did not have time to verify the other gate (coming down the hill to the mansion) is still there, but I can't imagine it wouldn't be. For now it seems the mansion is still off limits. Also since our last visit, almost all of the mines that used to be accessible are now fenced off and signed. I wish I had better news to report, but it is what it is. Copper Creek is still a cool place to visit, though you can't get to many of the better places that were accessible a few years ago.

Twenty years ago, this used to be my favorite place to go in southern Arizona. Now, although most of the historical sites (Bluebird Mine and the Sibley Mansion) have been gated off as private property, it still can be an adventure worth taking.

General Information and History

Copper Creek was not the name the original miners had intended. The Yellow Bird Claim company began prospecting the area in 1863 in hopes it would yield a large supply of silver. Unfortunately, copper was more in abundance than silver, so the area became know as the Copper Creek Mining District.

Even so, by 1910 the town was thriving and more than 500 people lived in the area. The town also boasted a post office (the foundation is still visible), more than 50 buildings and its own resident physician. Transportation to the town was supplied by the Copper Creek Stage Line.

Around the turn of the century, Roy Sibley and his wife, Belle, moved to the town. Roy was one the of the mining company's managers and his wife became the town's first postmaster in 1907. It wasn't Roy's managerial skills or his wife's postmaster proficiencies that would make this town famous, it was the home he built.

In 1908, Roy constructed a 20-room mansion down by the creek. It was built of stone and had polished oak floors, picture windows and full-length mirrors. This was one of the most ornate homes in southern Arizona and it was the center for social activities in the area. Rumor has it that the Sibley's entertained some of the social elite including the governor of Arizona. The high life didn't last long. The Sibleys moved out of the luxurious home in 1910.

In 1917, a nature lover by the name of Martin Tew turned the property into a ranch by the name of Monte Bonito. He also wrote poetry which he shared with others by leaving it on trees for people to read.

In 1933, the Arizona Molybdenum Corporation was mining in the area. It was at this time that the San Diego Union reported Copper Creek as a town that was crime-ridden and wild, much to the dismay of its residents. After almost another 10 years, the mine and post office closed after about 35 years of service.

The area is also well-known for a large ranching family, the Mercers.

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The Trail

Note: There is active mining and cattle ranching in the area. Please be considerate and be aware that conditions can change due to the mining operation.

The trail begins at the intersection of River Rd and Copper Creek Rd (Waypoint 001). Head east on Copper Creek Rd. Almost immediately, you'll come to a small shooting range on the left side. This is a good thing. Before the shooting range came into being (about 10 -15 years ago), this area was a free-for-all for shooters. Each setting up in different areas and leaving their "targets" and shells all over the place. It was a mess. The area has become much cleaner since the shooting range was constructed. If anyone (especially Tucsonians) knows how bad Redington Rd has become (areas full of shooting trash littering the road), you can appreciate this.

Shortly after the shooting range, you'll come to a sign in box on the left. Please sign in. For the fist half mile or so, the trail winds its way through a wash. Some of the rock formations in the small side canyons can be quite interesting to explore on foot.

Keep on the main road as you pass trails on the left and right. These usually don't go far and end up at cattle tanks. Remember that this is still being used as ranch land and you may find free range cattle standing in the middle of the road around the next corner.

The road isn't 4WD yet and can usually be negotiated by high-clearance trucks or SUVs. After 7.0 miles from the start, you'll pass the trail that leads to Rug Road at Waypoint 003 (yellow trail). Keep going straight and down the hill into Copper Creek. If you look down into the canyon ahead you can see some active settling tanks (I think that's what they are called, but I'm not a mining engineer). This is where you will be going.

At Waypoint 004, keep going straight past the two road on your right. These used to lead to an ranch site that sat on a hill just to the west of the intersection. Way back in the 1980s, this was still a functioning residence, consisting of a main home, a few corrals and a mobile home. Sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, a fire destroyed the home. It sat burned and deserted for a few years until it was completely torn down and hauled away. Nothing is left of the place except for a cleared area on the hill. Anyway, these roads are now gated off as private property after a few hundred yards.

Now you'll be driving through a small canyon made by Copper Creek. On the right you will be able to see the settling tanks you saw from above. At Waypoint 005, I believe there's a trail that will also take you to Rug Road (blue trail). While taking GPS coordinate and routes in this area, I had a "user failure" of my system (I deleted the information by mistake), so I am mostly going off memory here.

See note above regarding possible barrier in the area.

Stay on the main road in the canyon and you will soon come to some concrete foundations on the right and an old bridge and hopper on the right. This is a nice area to get out, stretch the legs. If you are lucky, there's water running through the rocky creek below. If you are really lucky, it's a beautiful turquoise color. I am not sure what causes this or why it is present some days, not others. One year we traced the source to a crack in the northern canyon wall a couple of hundred yards upstream from the bridge. It was sort of strange. At this intersection you would look downstream and see all turquoise colored water, then look upstream and it would be clear. Obviously, something was leaching out from the soil/rocks. There is another, smaller bridge just upstream of the first bridge. Please don't cross either of these bridges, they are not safe and private property.

Continue heading up Copper Creek Rd. This is a beautiful area of the trail with large trees in the creek. A small waterfall will be on the left (down in the creek) if the water is flowing. There are also sprinkles of tailings and other old mining operations in the area.

About 9.5 miles form the start, you will reach the hill that will take you up to the old Copper Creek town site (Waypoint 006). This hill is usually the most difficult of the trail (though I have seen it where it was very easy too). After coming up the hill, you will turn to the right. There are rock foundations on top of the hill on your right, a Y-intersection straight ahead. At the center of the Y is the old post office, with the town's name (what is left of it) chiseled in rock next to the steps that went to the entrance. That's about all that's left of the town now.

From here, you can either head off to the right (the shortcut to Bunker Hill Mine which is the green trail on the map-this can be used as a different way back), or left and back down the hill. I usually go left here.

At the bottom of the hill, there's a pull off to the right before crossing the creek. If you park here, you can walk to an old dam a hundred yards or so upstream. Currently, the top of the dam is filled in with rock and soil and fairly free of large trees. You can see the remains of a few big trees at the bottom of the dam. These came crashing down during a huge flash flood a few years ago. They used to sit right on the edge at the top of the dam and were a great place for shade for a picnic before they washed away.

To continue with your adventure, cross the creek, then make the hard turn to the right. You will see a couple of small trails on the right which will take you to the area at the top of the dam. The wash opens up here and there are also some nice big trees for camping or picnicking in the sandy wash.

At Waypoint 007, the road that heads off to the left will also take you to Rug Road. It also used to take you to Bluebird Mine and the ruins in the area (Waypoint Bluebird). This used to be one of my favorite parts of the adventure. There were three fairly well-preserved old cabins/homes, concrete mining foundations and some other interesting mining artifacts. It has been gated off as private property.

Continue down the creek. At Waypoint 008, take the sharp turn to the right and head up the hill. A left here which leads down the creek used to be a very challenging 4WD trail down the creek to the Sibley Mansion (Waypoint Copper Creek). It is gated off as private property not too far from this intersection.

When you reach Waypoint 009, you can either take a left or keep going straight. A left used to be the "easy" way to the Sibley Mansion. This trail has also been gated off as it heads down the last hill to Sibley Mansion (approximately at Waypoint 010).

If you take the left, you can turn around at a large parking area at the top of the hill (before you head down) and won't have to back up the hill after reaching the gate. Besides the old mansion and bunkhouse, you used to be able to hike up the creek (pun intended) to an old plane wreck located near Waypoints "Tail" and "Plane." Not much remains of the wreck today and I was never able to find more than what's shown in the picture, but who knows, you may be luckier than me. Note: I do not know if the plane wreck is on private property or not.

At Waypoint 009 again, keep going straight as you head for Bunker Hill Mine. When you reach Waypoint 011, the track on the right (green) heads back to Copper Creek town site which you can use for your return trip, while straight on takes you to Bunker Hill Mine.

Keep going straight and at the bottom of the hill, there's a nice old mineshaft on your left. Stop at Bunker Hill Mine (Waypoint 012) or what has affectionately become known as the "Holiday Inn."

Look at the faint graffiti on the concrete walls on your left. Someone a long time ago painted the words "Holiday Inn" on it. I have no idea why, but most people know this area as the Holiday Inn now. Note: This graffiti was already there when I first visited the site back in the early 1980s.

After the Holiday Inn you can continue on the trail until you reach the intersection at Waypoint 013. A right here used to take you back out to Mammoth (River Rd), but is gated off as private property not too far down the road from Waypoint 013. A left here takes you to the base of Sombrero Butte.

If you decide to take a left to Sombrero Butte, take a quick right (after less than about 1/4 of a mile) to head down the hill. Staying straight will take you to yet another private property gate (Waypoint 015)on a road that leads to the old Mercer Ranch.

Drive the 1/2 mile to the base of Sombrero Butte. This is another nice place to explore and have a picnic. You can see a nice small "cave" up a few hundred feet on Sombrero Butte. It's a nice little hike (mostly bushwhacking) to the cave. Also, there are some old foundations here.

When you're done exploring, head back up the hill and back out to pavement. If you didn't take the shortcut (the green trail) on your way out, it's nice to take it on the way back.

Although much of Copper Creek has been gated off, it still offers some nice, easy four-wheeling and beautiful country to explore.

Have fun and be safe.

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Member Comments

Member comments regarding this adventure below.

Rockslide partially blocking road

April, 2015:

Good morning Matt
 
Yesterday we took a trip over to Copper Creek and we ran into
a problem, the road is blocked after you go past the multi-colored
tailings and before you get to the ore bin and bridge. There is a
good size rock slide blocking the road. Some people have been able to
cross the slide (from the tracks left) but most people would not be
able to cross. And the rocks up the wall from the slide do not look
all that stable.
 
We were able to find a way around the blockage but added about
an hour plus to the ride.
 
Just thought you might want to know so you can pass this onto others.

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