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Name: Tucson Wash Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Easy 4WD)
Time: 3 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 12.25 miles (one way) with optional 6 miles to saddle and dam Elevation gain/loss/change: +356 / -2077 ft / -1721 ft (one way not including saddle and dam)
Type: Through trail Avg Elevation: 3000 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page).
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: March, 2013
Short Description: An easy and fun trail through the narrows along the Tucson Wash and under an old wooden train trestle (with an optional spur road leading to a beautiful saddle and old dam)
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Petrified?; Decrepit; Javelina Hunt Cache
References / Contact Information: Arizona StarNet: Arizona Trail Association; Tiger Arizona
Points of interest: The narrows along Tucson Wash, Ford Mine, Mckinney Dam, old wooden train trestle
Special Considerations: May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page).
How to get there: Take Oracle Road (Hwy 77) north out of Tucson, past Catalina and Oracle. About 4 miles north of the American Ave exit for Oracle, turn left onto Tiger Mine Road (Waypoint 001). Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This is a really fun and easy 4WD trail that takes you from Oracle to Mammoth along the Tucson Wash. There's a really cool (though short) spot I call "The Narrows" that you drive through. It's Oracle's version of Box Canyon. You can visit a nice wooden chute, Ford Mine and the old wooden train trestle near Mammoth.

As a side trip, you can also visit McKinney Dam and a wonderful saddle that has 360 degree views of the surrounding area. I don't know which part of the trail I like better.

General Information and History

Although this adventure doesn't take you directly through the old townsite of Tiger (on private property), the history of the area is still interesting.

Mining claims began in 1879 when Charles Dyke and T.C. Weed made a claim northeast of the town of Oracle (southwest of what would become Mammoth) and was originally known as the Hackney Claim. Mining the area was difficult due to a lack of water (common for southern Arizona) and not much happened until a few years later when Frank Schultz discovered ore at what would become the Mammoth Mine (named for what was believed to be mammoth amounts of gold deposited there).

A stamp mill was erected on the west bank of the San Pedro River for ease of water access and the ore was originally transported there by mule teams. These proved inefficient for transporting the large quantities of ore and a aerial tramway was erected in the early 1900s that connected the Mammoth Mine to the mill.

The mines in the area produced a wide variety of minerals, with gold being the most significant. The production of different, strategic materials came into play for both world wars.

The population around the Tiger Mine fluctuated greatly as mining camps do, ranging from a few hundred to over 1,800 in 1939. The town was large enough then to have a post office mining engineer Sam Houghton suggested they name the area Tiger after the mascot of his alma mater. The area had been called Schultz prior to this after the man who discovered the ore. The post office officially o on March 1, 1939. At this time, Tiger had company stores, a gas station and movie theater.

Magma Copper Co bought the town and surrounding area in 1953, but within a year the ore prices dropped and the mines became flooded. Unfortunately, the town was obliterated a few years ago by Magma Copper in an attempt to acquire gold at the Tiger Mine site.

During its brief history, Tiger produced 400,000 ounces of gold, 1 million ounces of silver, 3.5 million pounds of copper, 75 million pounds of lead, 50 million pounds of zinc among other minerals.

The Tiger area is also known for its wide range and rare mineral specimens and is popular with mineral collectors. Over 100 minerals have been discovered in the area, some of which have only been found at this location.

Now, turning to copper, the Magma Copper mine was initiated in 1956. It became one of the largest producers of copper in the United States. Open pit mining was initiated at the Magma site in 1985 to extract copper ore. The Magma mine is now also closed.

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The Trail

May, 2015 Update:
Possible gate closure at Waypoint 004. See member comments below.

From Highway 77, turn north onto Tiger Mine Rd at Waypoint 001. Cross the cattle guard and begin driving along the well-maintained dirt road. This portion of the road travels up and down saguaro crested hills and is a beautiful drive in itself and can usually be done by 2WD high-clearance vehicles and passenger cars in good weather.

There are minor roads leading off in both directions for the next few miles. Stay on the main road. After 1.5 miles, you'll pass a large parking area on the right for the Black Hills (#14) section of the Arizona Trail at the Tiger Mine Trailhead.

After a little over 3 miles, take a left onto the dirt road at Waypoint 003. The Tiger Mine Road that continues straight ahead is private property. Almost immediately after the left turn, you will see a corral and tank on your left and a large flat area on your right for a monitoring well.

At 4.5 miles, you'll drive down into the Tucson Wash at Waypoint 004. You will see an occupied ranch on your left, which I call Tiger Mine Ranch. There's no reason for me to call it this only that the ranch is on Tiger Mine Road. I'm not sure it's real name. Take a right through the gate and into the wash. You have a decision to make here. You can go straight through the wash and visit McKinney Dam and drive up to the saddle or take a right to head down Tucson wash.

Tucson Wash (Keep on Red Track)

Take a right in the Tucson Wash. Within a quarter of a mile, you will come to what I call "The Narrows." This is a really cool part of the wash that gets very narrow and twisty. Don't worry, it's not too narrow that you won't be able to fit through. Just enough to make it fun.

All too soon, the Narrows end and the wash opens up again. Keep driving along the sandy wash as it winds its way toward Mammoth. You will pass a few roads leading out of the wash (Waypoint 005), just keep driving in the wash.

After Waypoint 005, drive another 0.5 miles until you come to a large wooden chute on the hill to your left. We stopped to climb up the hill to the topmost chute. Warning: the climb is very steep and the soil is extremely loose. It was almost like walking on a sandy treadmill. We would take a few steps up and slide back one or two in the loose sand. I really enjoyed the views at the upper chute. The climb down was even more fun as we "slid" down in the sand.

At Waypoint 007 (8 miles in), you will come to the Ford Mine on your left and just beyond is a super short spur road on the left that ends at a dead end narrow "waterfall". We had lunch in the shade from the tall rock walls here. Nice!

At 10.7 miles, you'll come to an intersection of the gas line road at Waypoint 008. It leads both to the north and south. As we were driving by, we saw a monument and windmill on the left (north side) and decided to go explore (the blue track). The view from the windmill was nice and there was a cool tank there. We took a different way down and walked over to the monument in the rocks overlooking the wash.

It was a nice, short side trip. We also explored the south side of the gas line road. The original track up the hill looks steep and washed out, so we took the bypass to the top. I think it's possible to drive it, but we didn't do it that day.

Once you're back in the main wash, keep heading northeast down the Tucson Wash for another mile (Waypoint 009). Looming above you, will be the old Mammoth Train Trestle. Drive under it. The left side is the best.

We parked in the shade of the trestle and scrambled up the northern embankment to get to the top. Not an easy climb. But the view made it worth it. I didn't see any trains when we were there and from the condition of the wood, I didn't think it was in use. But, I have seen pictures of trains crossing the trestle, though I don't know how recent they were. I wonder if the train engineers who cross knowing what condition some of those timbers are in. I wouldn't do that if I were them. Also, if you decide to walk out on the trestle, there's no where to run IF a train comes along. Be careful!

Once you're done playing engineer, you can take the trail that leads out of the wash immediately on the east side of the trestle to the north (don't go to the south). This trail follows the north side of the wash until you get to pavement and Mammoth at Waypoint 0010. Once out to the pavement, head south to go back to Tucson or north to go to Globe or Phoenix.

It was in this area (near the trestle) that we saw a gila monster hiding in the shade of a bush. He (or she) was a big, fat one and we wondered if he had just eaten or maybe she was pregnant?

You can also follow the wash until your come to a narrow cattle guard. Don't go through the cattle guard, turn left and go up to the main road (this is the route we took, but I would recommend the left after the trestle).

McKinney Dam and the Saddle (Blue Track)

If you decide to go on this spur road, at Tiger Mine Ranch (Waypoint 004) go straight through the wash and up the other side. This is where you may need 4WD, though some trucks can make this in 2WD.

Travel up this road for a little over 1/2 a mile. You will see a large metal tank on your left. Keep straight. Soon after the tank, you will come to a split in the road. We kept left, but either way should be okay. The roads come together shortly afterwards.

At 1.5 miles from Waypoint 004, you will come to another wash. A hard left here will take you to McKinney Dam (Waypoint 013) only 1/4 of a mile away. The dam has seen better days, but you can still see the rock work, which I think is really cool.

After visiting the dam, retrace your steps to Waypoint 012. Take a left out of the wash, heading north until you reach Waypoint 014 (about 0.4 miles). Take a right onto the trail that leads up to the saddle. This is the most difficult part of the trail. It's a little steep and washed out, but was still fairly easy.

The saddle (Waypoint 015) has room for 4-5 vehicles. If you're a little more adventurous, climb up the left side of the saddle to the monument on top. Wow! The views from here are awesome. This point gives you a 360 degree look at the valley below. When you're done enjoying the views, retrace your path to Waypoint 014.

You can go back the way you came in, or take a left down the way here like we did. If you go left, drive along the road until you reach Waypoint 016 a half mile away.

At Waypoint 016, turn right in the wash and head back to Waypoint 012. When you reach Waypoint 012 (0.3 miles in the wash), take a left to go back to the Tucson Wash ( Waypoint 004) about 1.5 miles to the south.

Now, you're back at the Tiger Mine Ranch. You can go back to Oracle the way you came in, or head out through the Narrows of the Tucson Wash.

Whatever you decided, have fun and be safe!

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Member Comments

Possible Gate Closure

May, 2015

Hey Matt, I drove the Tucson Wash today, and the gate at Waypoint 4 leading into the wash was closed.  I doubled back a bit and there was an opening into the wash near an open area that some people were camping in.  Here is the GPS coordinates: N32° 40.813' W110° 43.545’

Not sure if the gate will always be closed or not but this gave me access to the wash even still.

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