Even though Dewey and the landscapes that embrace it along state highway 69 are still filled with vestiges of a rural agricultural area there is ample evidence that suburbia is sweeping east and south form Prescott. At Mayer that all changes, especially if you decide to follow the old Black Canyon Highway south to Bumble Bee, or to make the climb to the historic mining town of Crown King.
A bridge on the old Black Canyon Highway near Mayer, Arizona.
Once the tires leave the pavement it almost as though time stopped around 1940, the year that this became an improved version of the road that was only a slightly modernized version of the late 19th century wagon road, and there was serious talk in the state house to make this the third paved highway in the state.Authentic highway infrastructure built between 1926, the year of Route 66 certification, and 1940 is not exactly uncommon in Arizona. Still as with the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains, and this section of the Black Canyon Highway, there is something special about being able to drive from the modern era directly into the past.
On the road between Mayerand Cordes Junction.
In essence the entire drive from Mayer to Crown King and from Crown King to Prescott fits this bill in spades. Adding to the sense of time travel are the tangible links and vestiges from the frontier era when the mining boom in the Bradshaw Mountains made this the most promising place to be in the Arizona territory, and a few that bridged the gap between the and the era of the Model T Ford.
As an example, in Mayer, a dusty little village named for John Mayer, a merchant who opened a store, stage station, and saloon along the wagon road linking Phoenix with Prescott in 1882, a towering smoke stack dominates a hill on the east side of highway 89. This remains as a monument to the shortcomings of optimism.Planning to capitalize on extensive mining in the area, a developer initiated two major construction projects, a smelter and a smoke stack.
Mining took a precipitous downturn before construction of the smelter could commence. Even though the developer tried to break the construction contracts, the Weber Chimney Company held his feet to the fire, received payment, and built the smoke stack.
From Mayer the old road is fairly well maintained but as dry as it has been, it easy to raise a towering rooster tail of dust at almost any speed. The road courses with the twisted lay of the land through quintessential Arizona landscapes of dry washes, stone, scrub brush, and towering saguaro.
Cordes Junction, Arizona
Signposts and map references ring with history all along this dusty highway. As an example, Poland Road is a reference to David R. Poland, a pioneering prospector who arrived in the area in 1864, and established the Poland Mine eight years later.Poland Junction soon boomed and the population soared to eight hundred as this was as close as the railroad could get to the mine resultant of the rugged terrain. To expedite the shipping of ore, miners dug an 1,100 foot tunnel and used mule drawn ore cars on rails.
At the faded frontier metropolis of Cordes Junction, the location where I improvised a tail gate repair in a stinging sand storm the road branches with one leg heading south toward Bumble Bee, and the other towards Cleator and Crown King. The road isn’t as well maintained from this point but the county does give it cursory pass with a road grader every six weeks. Cordes Junction is one of those places that managed to survive well into the modern era by adapting to the needs of travelers. Its origins date to establishment of the Antelope Hill stage coach station in the 1870s and it continued to moderately thrive until the bypass of this highway in the 1950s.
As the road to Cleator is a tad bit rougher, and a little narrower, and as it is laid out in a manner to flow through the desert on a course of least resistance, there is a growing sense that you are driving from the world of the mid 20th century, into the world of the late 19th century. As this entire area is a haven for off road enthusiasts, and as it is only a stones throw from Phoenix, the bar and general store that date to 1904 do a thriving business even though the town itself has long faded away leaving few vestiges. This is where the adventure truly begins. From here the road climbs to Crown King by following the old rail bed. As a result, in many places it is a steep one lane road with pull outs.The railroad, an engineering marvel in its time, was the brain child of Frank Murphy, a visionary with an incredible can do spirit. He built the railroad from Ash Fork to Phoenix, a feat most historians consider the end of the frontier era in Arizona, and the railroad from Prescott to Mayer. Murphy had to entirely reinvent the concept of railroading to lay rails from Cleator to Crown King. The grades were unprecedented, likewise with the curves. He lured experienced crews from throughout the world by offering an unprecedented one dollar per day. Still, when blasting for a rock cut exposed a rich vein of gold, the entire crew abandoned the project and became prospectors. Completed in 1904, and abandoned in 1926, the railroad became an attraction in itself that lured people to Crown King. Though the road is passable by automobile, it is still a rocky, dusty, steep, thrilling drive that climbs higher and higher into the Bradshaw Mountains. Narrow rock cuts, twelve sharp switchbacks, a collapsed railroad tunnel that necessitated carving a road bed from the very shoulder of the mountain resulting in a precipitous drop from the roads shoulder, and awe inspiring views with every twist and turn are the highlights. Then comes what locals refer to as the magic bridge. On one end of the one lane span the road is carved from rocky, raw desert. At the other end it enters a deeply shade dappled forest. Now you are but a few miles from Crown King. On our adventure the first stop was the Cedar Roost Inn, a business with a very interesting promotional twist. Shortly after entering the forest there is a banner advertising the Inn, with phone number, and a beautiful covered bridge. Cross the bridge, park in the clearing, and ….There isn’t an inn, just a couple of ramshackle old house on stone terraces, and a series of stone steps marked by a Cedar Roost sign and arrow. As it turns out the lovely little inn is actually accessed best by driving into town, and then turning back along the creek but they maintain the lovely little bridge to ensure their business is not overlooked.
Darla and Mike are delightful hosts that take tremendous pride in their little corner of paradise. The rooms are basic but clean with a wide array of thoughtful amenities that ensure a pleasant, enjoyable, restful stay. For more information you can contact them at (928)632-5564.
Cedar Roost Inn
Burros have been replaced by Jeeps and all manner of off road vehicles but Crown King is still a bustling community even though the population hovers around 100 people. The “business district” consists of a general store and post office with small café, and one gas pump, in operation since 1904, another store with little café, and the saloon built in the 1870s and relocated to Crown King in the teens. There are also a number of summer and weekend cabins mixed with ancient cabins and houses, and a school that still meets the needs of grade school students as it has since 1916. The crown jewel, however, has to be the mill, a restaurant with truly unique ambiance, excellent food, and a fascinating history. That is where we will begin on Wednesday with part three.