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Name: SASCO Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on three user votes)
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Semi-maintained dirt road)
Time: 2 - 4 hours Region: SW Arizona
Length: 6.25 miles (one way) Elevation gain/loss/change: +34 / -8 ft / +26 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 1800 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: April, 2002
Short Description: An interesting stop at an old smelting company location
Geocaches:Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just one. Sasco's Crosses.
References / Contact Information: Ghost Towns; Wikipedia
Points of interest: Sasco smelter and catacombs. Rockland Hotel.
Special Considerations: A new huge subdivision has sprung up near Sasco and this site is being overrun by people who are into paintball and trashing these fine areas. Go while you still can. Lots of old mines in this area, stay away from open mine shafts and be careful of mine tailings.
How to get there: To reach Sasco, take the Red Rock Exit (exit 226) off I-10 between Picacho Peak and Marana and proceed east towards Red Rock. Immediately take a right (north) towards Red Rock at the stop sign just west of I-10. Within a few hundred yards, turn left (east) on Sasco Road at stop sign then right. Proceed straight on Sasco road for 2.8 miles where it turns from pavement into a graded dirt road. The trail starts at the end of the pavement. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

Sasco has changed considerably since I first went there over twenty years ago. It used to be a place no one knew about—or cared about. The old smelter and catacombs were amazing. A mysterious and sometimes a little creepy place to explore. Unfortunately, in the past ten years, Sasco has been discovered by paintballers. It’s true that the catacombs and surrounding foundations make excellent bunkers and is paintballing heaven, but they have trashed the place for everyone else. Exploring the catacombs, the mud, the old concrete, used to bring you back a hundred years. Now, much of the area is covered in neon colored “paintball slime” from hundreds of thousands of exploded paintballs. The walls are covered in this goo and it can be hard to walk without stepping on paintballs.

Okay, enough of the downer. If you haven’t been to Sasco, you should still go. See it while you still can. Climb up the hill to the top, walk along the elevated tracks. Try to ignore the paintballs and trash.

If you go and you’re upset at the amount of destruction, you’re not alone. I hope it spurs someone with enough time and resources to do something about it. It would be great if we could save Sasco, clean it up and restrict paintballing. Of course, this is my opinion, the paintballers see it differently. Go there. Let me know what you think.

General Information and History

In the early 1900s the town of Sasco emerged as the “Coming Smelter Town of the West” only to fade away and experience a premature death. The remaining, crumbling concrete and rock ruins of this small smelting company are found in Avra Valley, Arizona, north of Tucson. A few foresighted men with ambitious ideas, discovered bad luck and natural disasters can derail even the best-laid plans.

Sasco, named from the acronym for Southern Arizona Smelting Company, officially became a town on July 10, 1907, but the town’s start began much earlier. At the end of the nineteenth century, the mining industry was starting to change. The gold and silver mines, which could be operated by a handful of miners, were being replaced by copper mines run by large companies. These required more money, machines and equipment than a small group of miners could supply. One such company was the Development Company of America (DCA) headed by businessman Frank M. Murphy. Years ahead of his time, he envisioned that the mines, railroad and processing companies now owned and operated by different organizations could be controlled by a single organization. In 1901, with the help of William Field Staunton, DCA’s chief engineer, they began to fulfill Murphy’s vision with the purchase of the Tombstone silver mines. Always looking toward future technologies, the duo believed they could use new pumping technology to reclaim the flooded lower levels of the mine. DCA also purchased the Union and Mammoth copper mines in the Silverbell mountains in 1903. In 1904, DCA built a railroad to connect the Silverbell mines with the Southern Pacific Railroad at the town of Red Rock.

The final phase of their plan was to build their own smelting company. On August 10, 1906, the Southern Arizona Smelting Company was formed with Murphy and Staunton in charge. After some initial financial problems, construction of the smelter began in the summer of 1907. A man by the name of Mead Goodloe was hired as the construction supervisor and smelter superintendent. It took almost a year to complete the construction of the facilities and installation of all of the smelter’s equipment. After a tremendous amount of work, the smelter was ready for production in February, 1908.

Sasco had grown into a small town, complete with stores, residential neighborhood and saloons. Goodloe built a large house which became known as “the big house” and “it became the center of Sasco’s social and political circles”. The foundations of the house and a hand-built fountain near it are still visible today. The town began to grow as DCA tried to attract workers and their families. It appeared Sasco was quickly becoming one of the premier smelting towns in the southwest, but disaster was about to strike. DCA’s Tombstone mining efforts were pushing the limit of the new pumping technology. By the beginning of 1909, pumping had reached an incredible 5,000,000 gallons per day. In June, 1909 one of the main pumps failed and the backup pumps could not keep up. In less than a day, the water rose more than 200 feet and swallowed up everything, including the water pumps, below the 800-foot level. Murphy blamed Staunton and began to start pumping the water out of the mine again. By 1910 Sasco boasted a population of 500 people and had processed over 245,000 tons of copper ore. Staunton resigned in May due to differences in opinion over the Tombstone failure. Murphy was able to reclaim the lower 200 feet of the mine, but DCA’s financial situation could not support it. DCA declared bankruptcy in 1911.

Sasco did not die a quick death after the shut down of the smelter in 1911. It was revived for a short time after ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) bought and reopened the Silverbell mine in 1915. But disaster would strike a final time. In the winter of 1918, the worldwide influenza epidemic would sweep through the town and devastate it. The Sasco cemetery is filled with plain, concrete crosses as a legacy to the destruction. Finally, in 1921 ASARCO closed the Silverbell mine and the buildings were torn down in the mid-1930s.

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The Trail

NOTE: These directions have not been updated since the new subdivision began construction. I believe they are still correct, but haven’t verified this. This trail can be made by most passenger vehicles (if no recent rains have made a small wash crossing too deep ). It can be a little bumpy and cars with really low clearance can hit on the ruts. High ground clearance vehicles can make a loop around Silverbell Mountains out of this trip

The well graded, dirt road to Sasco travels between small hills and mountains which seem to jut out of the flat desert floor on both sides of the road. As you get closer to the Sasco ruins, the large smokestack base can be seen on the side of the hill where the Sasco smelter once stood.

The road passes several large cattle stockyards where the paved road turns into the dirt road. Be prepared for a strong odor when passing the stockyards, especially during the summer monsoon months. Many short two-track trails lead off from Sasco road. These once lead to the Sasco mining camp’s houses and many of the roads are gated off as private property. Very little of these remain today.

The beautiful, jagged peaks of the Silverbell mountains can be seen off to the west in the distance. If time permits, the Sasco road may be taken until it turns into the Silverbell mine road. This 40 mile loop road brings you back to Marana. It is usually well graded and may be traveled with a passenger car or high clearance vehicle. The road passes the Silverbell town site and mine – most of which is on private property.

Follow the road to Waypoint 002. If you want, take a right and head north for 3/4 of a mile to the Sasco Cemetery (Waypoint 003). Visiting the cemetery visually tells the tale of the devastating 1918 influenza. When finished, head back to Waypoint 002 and take a right on the main road.

A quarter mile down the road is a track to the right that leads to the ruins of the Rockland Hotel (Waypoint 004). I'm not sure how many beds this hotel had in its prime, but it's worth a quick side trip to see it.

Go back to the road and head west until you reach the right turn to the
Sasco smelter about another 1/2 miles down the road (Waypoint 005). You can park next the the old smokestack (Waypoint 006) on the left. The smelter site is composed of numerous foundations and half-standing walls spread out over a wide area. The smelter site consists of foundations of the smelter (commonly know as the “catacombs”), smokestack base, shops, jail and elevated train track. In the past few years the catacombs have been vandalized by paintball groups, but it still should not be missed. The elevated train track foundations are a short walk north of the smelter. Climbing atop the foundations gives you an eerie feeling that the train may once again run its course if given the chance.

If you want to visit an area that used to be a portion of the town, take the main road west for about another 1/4 of a mile, then take the track on the left (south) to Waypoint 007. This spur leads to the foundations of Mead Goodloe’s house, a concrete powder room and what looks like a rock and concrete well.

When you're done, you can either go back the way you came, or complete the loop around the Silverbell Mountains.

Although Sasco has seen better days, it’s still a neat place to visit.

Have fun and be safe.

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Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here. You can also rate this adventure by clicking here.

Not as much paintball trash!

January, 2013: We have been to sasco several times and the last 3 times my Girl scout Troop and I went around picking up paintball shells and bb pellets each of us carrying home shopping bags full. We just went this last weekend 1-5-13 and could not find more than 3 paintballs! Yay! We too hate to see such destruction and disrespect to be done to a neat part of az history. Also tip on the river you must cross on Sasco road. Check with Pinal County road maintenance to get schedule of when they open levee to make sure river/road is passable. Also due to new subdivision you go to stop sign go left to Sasco Rd. Then go right then follow past cattle farms.

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