Bradshaw Mtn Railroad Tunnel Picturesque views with a mining history that went off the rails

The Proper Function

Gold In Them Der Hills 

It was 1863 when gold was discovered within the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona. Like an army of ants, prospectors were immediately crawling this mountain range in search of treasure. State historian, Marshall Trimble, recounts that there were “millions of dollars in gold and silver in those hills, but it cost $21.50 a ton to haul ore by muleback across the mountains to Prescott.” With The Crowned King producing $1.5 million during the 1890’s alone, it was time to bring in a railroad man, Frank M. Murphy.
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When miners claimed that building a railroad in the Bradshaw Mountains was “Impossible!”, that was exactly what Frank Murphy needed to hear. Know that when you travel along FR 259 headed to Crown King, most of this road served as the actual railroad bed that Murphy built in 1895. The rail included five switchbacks, terrain with 2,000 feet in elevation gain, a tunnel and high trestles to make the final ascent to Crown King. If anyone was up for the task of creating the Poland Branch, it certainly was Frank Murphy.

Murphy’s rail system was recognized as one of the best engineering feats of it’s time. “By 1907, the mining districts in the area were producing more than $1,140,000 in gold and silver annually” according to Marshall Trimble. Working with the Bradshaw Mountain Railway Co., he constructed this particular tunnel as part of the Poland Branch, completed in May of 1902.

“When the gold runs out, so do the people”

– Unknown

By 1920, the railroad leading to Crown King was abandoned due to dry mines and the Poland Branch shut down soon after. Perhaps it was ‘Murphy’s Law’, but an ailing Frank Murphy died three years prior to the railroads demise. The Weekly Journal – Miner’s headline read “Frank M. Murphy, Empire Builder, Answers the Summons of Death” He passed away on August 22, 1917 in Prescott, Arizona.

Poland Branch Tunnel

The tunnel was constructed when the Bradshaw Mountain Railway Co. (subsidiary of the Sante Fe) completed it’s branch leading to the town of Poland. The branch followed Big Bug Creek through a canyon that required two trestles and this 200 foot tunnel. While evidence of the Railroad itself is but a memory, this tunnel still represents an era that made the Bradshaw Mountains famous!

To reach the tunnel, you will travel on I-17 North to AZ-69 towards Prescott. Continue on AZ-69 N and turn left onto Poland Road. Continue onto Poland Junction Rd and park at these coordinates 34.446669, -112.345489. The tunnel isn’t obvious when you park, but you’ll note a small trail to the left that scurries between the tree’s. If you look high above this area, you will note that the side of the mountain has been carved out, this will be your destiation.
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The hike to the tunnel is extremely short and easy. Continue up the path and the large opening of the tunnel will quickly reveal itself. Unfortunately, misguided people have vandalized the walls of the tunnel with spray paint. I recommend you ignore the graffiti as you would the people who committed the act. During my visit, I had picked up a trash bag full of trash from people who chose to litter the tunnel.
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While the tunnel appears to be incomplete, the backside actually collapsed several years ago. Speaking with a breezy pines resident, he stated “30 years ago, you could walk through that tunnel where you find old ties, steel spikes and other pieces” of the rail history left behind. If you want to visit the backside of the tunnel, you can continue down Poland Junction Rd. and make your first right while parking at 34.445924, -112.346827. This is a bit of a longer hike, but really allows you to appreciate the solid rock that had to be blasted with black powder.

Discovery

As with each Proper Function, there is always an attempt to find something deeper than the function itself. It’s been over 100 years and the workmanship of this tunnel still resides. Is there anything that you’ve done in your life that will sustain itself 100 years from now? A legacy is something we leave or give to others, something that will last beyond our lifetime. I am working on it….

 

 

Citations
  • Philip Varney, Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Towns: A travel guide to history, Phoenix, Arizona Highways Books, 1988, 117 pages.
  • Excerpt from Arizoniana by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.
  • Train Photo Call Number: RR-200P, Date 1901. SHM Photographs. Sharlot Hall Museum
  • Poland Station Photo. Sharlot Hall Museum
This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Arizona
101°
clear sky
humidity: 13%
wind: 11mph SW
H 103 • L 74
88°
Sun
86°
Mon
87°
Tue
84°
Wed
86°
Thu
Weather from OpenWeatherMap
F
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
LocationBradshaw Mountains
State, RegionArizona,Northwest
Coordinates34.446712°, -112.345481°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
DifficultyEasy
WaterBring
DogsYes
HistoricYes
Time1 hour

TPF

Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.