Railroad Tunnel Trail It’s Hell on Wheels in Arizona! Travel into the treacherous beauty of an old Railroad Tunnel

The Proper Function

Hell On Wheels In Arizona

It was Hell on Wheels during the 1880s when railroad tycoons conjured up an idea – create a railroad tunnel through the Mogollon Rim! James W. Eddy developed a value proposition to transport rich silver ore from Globe while connecting with the Atlantic and Pacific rail of Flagstaff. While the concept was lofty, initial seed capital was raised as investors had visions of enormous profit. In 1883, a powder house was erected and 42 men began drilling the 3,100 foot-long tunnel.  Only one problem, this was Rim Country!break_line_mtn 01_WidePhoto

The route was surveyed to cross the treacherous and unforgiving Mogollon Rim that is capped with extensive basaltic lava flow. The line would need to include a reasonable grade that would need to be engineered through the uppermost sandstone stratum of the rim, called Coconino Sandstone. The formation of this Sandstone is windblown in origin and is one of the thickest sand-dune-derived sandstones on earth! As a result, the Mogollon Rim proved its worth when the company filed for bankruptcy in 1888, more than 3,000 feet shy of their goal. Today, the 70-foot-long hole is a fascinating impression from an age of the great railroad.

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Colonel Devin Trail

Colonel Thomas Casimer Devin was a United States Army officer and general. He commanded the Union cavalry during the American Civil War and Indian Wars. After the Civil War, he later assumed command of the Subdistrict of Prescott in 1867. He pioneered the development of this trail in 1868 as a supply route. The trail allowed for supplies to be routed towards Fort Whipple as well as being able to track Apache hostiles.

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Colonel Devin was considered one of the most effective commanders in the American Civil War. While he never attended West Point, he was so highly respected that when he died of stomach cancer in1878, he was interred in West Point Cemetery  (Plot: Section 20, Row B, Grave 21) after initially being buried in Long Island, NY. Devin was portrayed by David Carpenter in the 1993 film Gettysburg.

“The one moral, the one remedy for every evil, social, political, financial, and industrial, the one immediate vital need of the entire Republic, is the Pacific Railroad” – Rocky Mountain News

The Railroad Tunnel

The Railroad Tunnel can be accessed by starting at Washington Park Trailhead, which is a beautiful area that grants access to the East Verde River. For a shorter function, you can also connect with the Tunnel Trail from FR300 near General Springs Cabin. The Colonel Devin Trail is a rugged dirt road which starts to the northwestern aspect of the Washington Park Trailhead and intersects with the Arizona Trail. Although steep at times, the trail has a reasonable grade for most hikers in good health. As you begin your ascent, you’re greeted by a fresh spring that parallels the trail – the perfect soundtrack for this proper function!break_line_mtn

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You will notice a water pipeline and some power-lines, which the trail shares its access road. Be sure to observe the banks of the spring as you will see aspects of the original Colonel Devin Trail. If you are set on attempting to locate parts of the original trail, look high up on the ponderosa pines in search of the axe-cut trail blazes. 

In earlier times, trail blazes were carved with either an axe or a knife. The standard for the US Forest Service is a blocked letter “i”, which symbolizes a candle. While trail blazes are no longer used for environmental reasons, many of them are still quite visible. The symbols aren’t universal, but there are some standards to indicate trail direction. Here is a simple image on how to navigate the blazes upon the Mogollon Rim.
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As you continue switchbacking through the tall ponderosa pine, you will see a small wooden sign noting the turnoff for RR Tunnel Loop No. 390 1 mi (34.44788, -111.25128). The path wanders to reveal an cabin-like rock structure, which looks fairly modern in design – unlike the old powder house at the mouth of the old tunnel. Be careful not to miss the fork (34.44892, -111.24928) that leads to the actual tunnel as it is easy to miss. Here is a photo, be sure to continue straight as opposed to ascending westward.

The trail at this point is fairly ambiguous, so be sure to keep your eye out for the cairns. The footing is less than stable as you course several switchbacks and question whether you are headed in the right direction. Just as you decide that it may not be worth the effort, the old rock powder house reveals itself with the mouth of the tunnel open wide enough to engulf a locomotive.
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Eyes like paper plates, you approach the tunnel in silence. Then, you start to notice graffiti along the interior walls – it’s just sad.  Perhaps, I will organize a clean-up function to restore the tunnel to its original state – interested? As you enter the tunnel, you are amazed at its size as a cool breeze sweeps over your face. The sound of fresh water dripping into a puddle causes you to exhale deeply. Sit, have lunch, imagine what it took for these men to have created such a tunnel during this era. What exactly is The Proper Function? It’s this moment when you question things that are much larger than yourself. Take your time.break_line_mtn

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“But Buck was neither a house-dog nor a kennel-dog. The whole realm was his.” – Jack London

Discovery

Indian Paintbrush Battle of Big Dry Wash
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Indian Paintbrush

Native Americans used this plant for medicinal and other uses, but the name “Indian paintbrush” seems to come from fanciful or legendary idea. In the legend, a young Native American wanted to paint the sunset, but became frustrated as he couldn’t match the brilliant colors of the sky. He then turned and asked the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit provided him with paintbrushes with beautiful colors on them which he used to create his painting. When finished, the young boy left his paintbrushes scattered about the landscape. Later, these paintbrushes blossomed into plans and thus they were named.

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Battle of Big Dry Wash

Atop the Colonel Devin trail just before General Springs, you will see the Battle of Big Dry Wash Memorial. Seven miles north of this site, a band of Apache Indians were defeated by the U.S. Calvary on July 14, 1882. This battle was the last one fought between the Apaches and army regulars. A video produced by Arizona PBS can be seen here.

This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Arizona
87°
clear sky
humidity: 10%
wind: 13mph W
H 87 • L 67
83°
Fri
86°
Sat
85°
Sun
85°
Mon
85°
Tue
Weather from OpenWeatherMap
F
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
LocationPayson
State, RegionArizona,Northeast
Coordinates34.424113°, -111.266767°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
DifficultyModerate
WaterBring
DogsYes
HistoricYes

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.

  • Dave

    Simply a smiling visitor enjoying your wonderful blog!

  • Stacy

    I’ve hike this area numerous times and I had no idea about this tunnel. I loved you ‘Hell on Wheels’ reference, it’s my favorite show! You really have an amazing blog and look forward to your future adventures. Thanks for sharing!

    • TPF

      Hi Stacy,

      Thank you for the compliment! FR300 is closed at the moment until they open next week, so you will have to hike up Colonel Devin Trail to visit the tunnel. Otherwise, once FR300 opens you can drop down from General Springs Cabin area.