|Name: Courtland||Author's Rating:|
|Author: Matt Marine||Avg. User Rating: (based on one user vote)|
|Type: 4WD||Difficulty: - (Maintained Dirt Roads to Easy 4WD) - see description|
|Time: 4 - 6 hours||Region: SE Arizona|
|Length: 13.5 miles (out and back w/o any spur roads); ~ 17 miles with spur roads shown||Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ +653 / -1338 ft / - 685ft (one way on only Courtland/Gleeson Ruins)|
|Type: Multiple Loops||Avg Elevation: 4000 ft|
|Best time to go: fall, spring, winter||Fees: NA|
|Fitness rating: Low||Educational Merit: Medium|
|Danger/fear rating: Low||Scenic Beauty: High|
|Hours of Operation: NA||Last updated: April, 2014|
|Short Description: An easy 4WD adventure to the ruins of Courtland around the Turquoise Mountains|
|Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area: Jailhouse Rock; Tomb with a View; Railroad Rivalries (See more in comments below)|
|References / Contact Information: Arizona Backcountry Adventures; Courtland Tour (GleesonArizona.com); Courtland; Courtland Panorama; Western Mining History; Gleeson Arizona;|
|Points of interest: Gleeson and Courtland town sites and jails, vast amount of old mining sites, cemeteries, ruins and places to explore|
|Special Considerations: Lots of old mines in this area, stay away from open mine shafts and be careful of mine tailings. May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page).|
|How to get there: Take Hwy 80 south out of Benson toward Tombstone. Go through Tombstone and turn left onto N. Camino San Rafael. After about 1 mile, turn right onto Gleeson Road. Arrive at Gleeson after about 13 miles. Click here for directions.|
This is an awesome loop that takes you to a bunch of the remaining mining ruins of Courtland.
Turquoise Mountain Loop
A nice scenic drive around the western side of Turquoise Mountain and Brown's Peak. There are multiple roads leading off in either direction that we did not have time to explore which may lead to some great discoveries.
A short side trip to the Courtland Cemetery. Not a lot left here except for rock piles and old crosses, but it's worth the quick trip.
Gleeson Jail / School / Hospital
An easy 2WD trip to the historic Gleeson Jail. You can also visit the old school, hospital and jail tree. All of which are within easy walking distance from the Gleeson Jail.
Copper Belle Mine
This fun side trip takes you to two interesting places. The first is the "Jail Tree." We were told by a local resident Joe Bono (whose father owned the Bono General Store) that this tree was used to hold prisoners before the jail was built. The prisoners used to be chained to a cable around the large tree. The cable and some chain are still there.
The second is the mine itself. It has a large derrick, elevator shaft, winch houses, etc. Be very careful here. The shaft is very deep and footing is treacherous.
I was very surprised by the amount of information on Courtland and Gleeson that's out there. Although the area didn't thrive for long, it has a rich and interesting history. I give the short version below, but make sure you read the articles in the links - a bunch of great stuff there.
Courtland was established in 1909 and was named after Courtland Young, an owner of the Great Western Mining Company. During its heyday, Courtland was home to more than 2,000 residents had a "modern" jail, car dealership, restaurants, ice cream parlor and horse track (among other niceties). If you look at some of the historical panorama photographs, it seems incredible that there were so many buildings and tents there, and so little remaining today.
Courtland was short lived. The copper in the mines ran out at about 300 feet (where they hit limestone) and by 1921 Courtland had a "mass exodus" as residents left for richer fields. The post office closed in 1942.
What I call the "north" and "south" ruins are what remains of the "Big Rock Store" and the offices of the Great Western Copper Company, respectively. The Big Rock Store was named and built by John Rock, who kept the largest mercantile business in Courtland.
The jail was built in 1909 after an "incident" in the old jail which was just an oak door on a derelict mine shaft. The new jail was reinforced concrete, had two large cells, an office and indoor plumbing. The jail was actually nicer than most people's homes at the time. Most people's homes were crude wood or canvas and it created problems for the city with overcrowding from people committing infractions just to stay in the jail. The jail was referred to as the "Bright Hotel" by local residents after the nice accommodations and the name of the local sheriff. The doors and bars were torn out by the county in 1938 to be used in the new jail being built in the nearby town of Benson.
Here are some links you can go to for additional information and photos:
- Tour of Courtland. A great history of the town, plus lots of pictures and some EXCELLENT articles by John Snow covering things like the local newspapers, law and order, mining and others.
- General article on history of Courtland with some pictures
From Western Mining History
- A gallery of pictures from Courtland both past and present
From Arizona Backcountry Adventures
- A trip down to Courtland with pictures and history
For a great history of Gleeson and the jail, click here. The jail was rebuilt by the previous owners in 2008. They not only rebuilt the outside and the structure, but furnished it with antiques and small, interesting displays regarding life around Gleeson during its heyday. It is now owned by Joe Bono. Bono grew up in Gleeson, his father owning the general store on the northeast corner of the intersection. He opens the jail for tours on the first Saturday of every month from 10-2.
We talked to him during our visit and I found him friendly, knowledgeable and extremely interesting. If you're interested in the history of Gleeson, take some time to go down and visit during the jail's open house once a month.
Gleeson, Courtland and Surrounding Area GPS Coordinates
Click here for some GPS coordinates of the ruins, cemeteries and other interesting places in Courtland, Gleeson and surrounding areas. Click here for old photos of Gleeson.
Note: Not all the side trails are described here. Route finding can be difficult due to the large number of trails in the area. Pay close attention to the GPS or map to keep on track. Or go out and have fun and explore others not shown here.
Courtland Ruins Loop
At Waypoint 010, you can see both the "northern" and "southern" ruins on either side of Ghost Town Trail. These are the Big Rock Store and the offices of the Great Western Copper Company. If you're heading north (from Gleeson), take a left onto the trail and immediately park at the ruins of the Big Rock Store. You can walk to the other ruins (offices) across the street. These ruins can typically be reached by a passenger car, the rest require a 4WD vehicle.
When you're done exploring these awesome ruins, get back in your vehicle and continue straight along the same road (the main one, there's a road that heads off to the right after the northern ruins, but we did not take that). Within a few hundred feet, you will also see some small foundations and walls off to the left side of the trail that you can explore.
Continue down the road for about 0.7 miles (Waypoint 011). You will see some orange tailings directly ahead and a faint trail to your right. The trail to the right (part of one of the numerous railroad beds) leads to some additional concrete foundations and tanks at Waypoint 012 along the GREEN route. These are part of the old powerhouse. The trail is very overgrown and it may be best to walk if you like. There's a Y-intersection, take the right to get to the ruins.
From Waypoint 011, keep heading straight up to the separator ruins at Waypoint 013 (0.83 miles). There's a good deal of ruins, concrete, foundations and scrap metal around the area. I heard this is also a good place for rock hounding, but they all look the same to me :-).
This is a "modern" set of ruins with an interesting history. From Arizona Backcountry Adventures: Just to the west of downtown Courtland near the old Mame Mine is a set of interesting concrete structures. For those of us who grew up around modern copper mining operations the sight of all of the old tin cans lying around indicated to us immediately what these structures were about. They were part of a copper precipitation process called "Copper Cementation". Copper precipitation was not the mining technique used in the original days of the Courtland Mines. These structures are from "modern" times. This operation was conducted by the Paramount Mining Company during the 1960's. The seven cells, each with two sections, were constructed in 1960. The cells were filled with shredded tin cans. Sulfuric Acid mixed with water taken from one of the shafts was sprayed onto drill holes over the old mine stopes. As the solution percolated down through the rocks of the old mine, the remaining copper was leached out. The resultant copper sulfate solution was pumped out of the mines onto the tin cans where the copper precipitated out. The cement copper was loaded onto trucks and taken to the Inspiration Plant in Miami to be refined. In the mid 60's, there were as many as 7 employees working 3 shifts per day. 16 tons of concentrates were shipped a week with a value of 70-85% copper. It is unknown why the operation shut down, but it had closed by 1968 or so.
Continue along the road as you climb up to the saddle, then drive between the two mountains and down the other side. At 1.25 miles you will come to another large intersection at Waypoint 014. We took a left here, but I believe you can also do an exit here along the BLUE trail (though I have not taken this yet). You can also see a cool looking shelf road on your left cut into the mountain side. This looks like fun, but we didn't take this option. I heard that it stops very quickly as it wraps around the northern side of the mountain.
The trail curves to the right as you head back to the main road. There's a nice section here where you will be down in a cut on both sides of you. There's another small set of ruins on the left at Waypoint 014A. It looks like the small structure once had a boiler inside and powered some equipment.
After 2.25 miles, you're back on the main road at Waypoint 015. I really enjoyed this short trail. It was a ton of fun and not very technical.
Turquoise Mountain Loop
From the main road (Ghost Town Trail), turn onto Turquoise Mountain Road at Waypoint 017. Note: this trail can be easy to miss as it's sort of hidden in a shallow wash. The trail heads west and after a short distance you will come to a gate. Go through the gate and continue down the road. For the most part, the road is super smooth and easy and you can make good time. Please don't go fast though. Enjoy the scenery, don't spook animals or create dust for the ranchers.
There's working ranches on either side along portions of this road. The trail stays a good distance away from them. After a little more than 2 miles, you'll pass a road on your left at Waypoint 018. It looks like it switchbacks up Turquoise Mountain. We saw a large gate about 1/4 the way up that looked like it could be locked. We did not investigate it. Keep straight.
At Waypoint 019 (2.4 miles) you will pass a sign stating you're entering State Trust Land. Keep straight on the trail you're driving on. Then at 3.0 miles (Waypoint 020), you leave State Trust Land.
Keep straight. You will pass a road on your left at about 3.4 miles (Waypoint 021). After 3.5 miles, bear left. The road on the right goes to a ranch. Shortly, you will cross a wash and head up the other side. At 3.85 miles (Waypoint 022) take a sharp left onto the well-graded dirt road. You are now on N. High Lonesome Rd which will lead back to Gleeson.
Bear right at 4.6 miles (Waypoint 023), though in reality, I don't believe there's another choice. The old road here has been closed off by fencing.
After 5.4 miles, you're back to Gleeson and Waypoint 001.
Coming from Gleeson and down the Ghost Town Trail, take a right at Waypoint 008 (4.0 miles from Gleeson). Follow the old railway bed for 0.3 miles until you reach a turnaround spot. The old cemetery is on your right. It looked like people were cleaning up the area recently. Please be respectful. When you're done, return the way you came.
Note: the trail can be very brushy. Expect some good Arizona pin stripping. From the Ghost Town Trail, head west on the trail at Waypoint 003 (2.6 miles from Gleeson). After 0.6 miles, you will come to an old railroad bed and a faint trail on your left at Waypoint 004 (BLUE trail). You can see a wall up on the hill to your left. Although we explored this trail up until the foundation and wall, I probably wouldn't do it again. It was very brushy and the foundation/wall wasn't much to see. There may be something else up there we missed since we didn't go to the end of the road.
Keep straight on the main road. After 0.8 miles, you will come to another intersection at Waypoint 005. Bear left (right goes to a quick dead end) and head down into the wash. This section is VERY brushy. It's a little more than 0.1 miles of a brushy drive to get to the bottom of the wash. The trail takes a sharp curve to the right (though it may also continue for a while to the left) in the wash.
After another 0.1 miles or so, the trail exits the wash on the left. At Waypoint 005A (1.35 miles), you have a decision to make. You can take a left and drive up the short, but steep hill to get to the base of the Red Mountain. This was a fun section. Be careful: you will not be able to see the trail over your hood as your vehicle comes over the hill and long-wheel based trucks with no lift may get high centered. Also, there's a quick second, easier hill immediately after the first. Be careful of a large washout on your right that may not be easily visible. Stay hard left, then drive to the base of the Red Mountain.
I believe you can also go straight for a hundred feet or so, then take a left and get to the base of the mountain the way we exited it (BLUE trail).
At about 1.43 miles (Waypoint 006), you'll be at the base of Red Mountain. It's actually two mountains. We climbed to the top of the first one on foot and it was tougher than it looks. The dirt is very soft (like course sand) and it was two steps up, one step back as we climbed. I sank so deep into the dirt that it almost came over the top of my hiking boots. Two in our party climbed all the way to the top of the taller red mountain, but I was not one of them. Actually, no one over 18 was feeling ambitious enough to do it that day. The views here are incredible. The erosion and crevices are wonderful. It makes an awesome spot for pictures and a picnic. There are some old concrete foundations here also.
When you're finished exploring Red Mountain, drive around to the right. At about 1.6 miles, you will come to an impasse on the trail. It's been washed away. Luckily there's a bypass on the right. Take the bypass and after 2.2 miles, you will be at the main road again (Ghost Town Trail) at Waypoint 007.
Gleeson and Courtland Jail / Courtland Town Ruins
You can reach Gleeson by car and most of the road is paved. There's a lot to see at Gleeson, just be careful to pay attention and heed the Private Property signs. All of the below can be accessed by foot.
As you come into Gleeson from Tombstone, you will see the Gleeson Cemetery on your left. This is a very large cemetery (for ghost town standards) and is well-maintained. I have not visited this cemetery yet, but it looks like it could be an interesting stop.
You will also notice some old ruins on both sides of the road. Some of these have Private Property signs on them. Please respect them. At the "main" intersection of Gleeson Road and High Lonesome Road, you will find the rebuilt Gleeson Jail (southwest corner). It's open for tours the first Saturday of each month from 10-2. This jail was built due to escapes from the previous wooden jail. Click here for a picture of the old wooden jail and new concrete jail.
On the southeast corner of the intersection is the ruins from the "new" school house. All that remains is the basement walls and the front entry pillars. The building was much taller than the remains indicate and I found it hard to imagine what the building looked like when it was new. Click here to see a picture of it from 1939. Amazing, right?
The northeast corner of the intersection holds the old Joe Bono General store, warehouse and the jail tree. You can't access the inside of the store, but it is interesting to see it from the outside. As with the school, the only remains of the warehouse are the concrete basement walls. See the Copper Belle trail for the jail tree. Just a bit up the road are the walls of the old hospital. It was fenced off when we visited and we just viewed it from the road.
You can also visit the "Jail Tree" which is in the wash behind Bono's old general store. From the intersection, head toward the store, but take a right in the wash before you get there (about 25 feet from the intersection). Head down the wash and just behind the store you will see a very large tree on your left. The tree still has the old cable and chains that the prisoners used to be tied to before the jail was built.
Courtland Jail and Town Ruins
From Gleeson, continue east down Gleeson Road for a little more than a mile, then turn left onto Gleeson-Courtland Road (Ghost Town Trail) at Waypoint 002.
After 5 miles, you will come to the Courtland Jail at Waypoint 016 and the remains of Courtland's main street. The jail is on your right and is still mostly intact except for the missing bars and doors. These were yanked out and used in the "new" jail in Benson in 1938. It was a two cell affair, but the rooms are large by today's standards.
Across the road and down about 100 yards is what's left of Courtland's main street. You can see portions of the old sidewalk, some foundations and columns. When you look at the old picture of the town, there was a lot here. Unfortunately, 95% of it is gone. From the picture, you can see where some of the other building were. We did not have time to explore these areas. I don't believe there's anything left standing, but you may still find some interesting stuff.
Return the way you came or continue down the road to continue your adventure.
Copper Belle Mine above Gleeson
From the Gleeson intersection (Waypoint 001), head north toward the old Bono store, then IMMEDIATELY take a right in the wash (before you reach the store). Head down the wash for a short distance and you will see a very large tree behind the store (on the side of the wash).
This is the "Jail Tree" at Waypoint 025. We were told by former Gleeson residents that prisoners used to be chained to the tree prior to the jail being built. The cable and some chains are still there. The tree has grown around them. Very cool.
After exploring the Jail Tree, continue down the wash for just less than 1/4 of a mile, then take a left to climb up the hill out of the wash at Waypoint 026.
Keep driving up the trail for another 1/4 of a mile or so until you come to the large equipment and derrick on your right (Waypoint 027). When we went, we were able to circle around to the top of the tailings pile, but you may want to park at the base of the equipment. We heard that the pile got extremely soft after a rain and may not have been a good idea to drive on it. I do know that the pile was soft around the large mine shaft up there when we went. BE VERY CAREFUL around it. It is very deep and the ground doesn't seem too stable.
There's the old derrick, dual winch house, some foundations and other pieces of equipment up there to explore. I've heard people have found turquoise and silver in the tailings pile, so good luck.
When you're finished and your vehicle is filled with precious minerals ;-), head back down the way you came and back to Gleeson.
More Geocaches in the Area!
Thanks for your Courtland trail writeup. We live a few miles away from Courtland. Thought you might want to update the geocaches sections with a few more caches. I adopted most of the geocaches in that area and I've also re-published several of the geocaches that had been removed off State Trust Lands now that Arizona allows geocaching on those lands again. The first 7 on the lists are mine and each cache contains a laminated sheet with a historical write-up providing some interesting history of the Courtland area. We love combining two favorite past times of geocaching and Jeeping. I was really happy to see the geocaching section on your write-up!
Here is the current list of Courtland area geocaches (in addition to the ones listed above):