Historic Trails of Arizona

The historic trails included here have many stories to tell, of individuals like Martha Summerhayes (see below), and the countless families who endured hardships of early overland travel in search of a better life. These dirt traces were the lifeblood of the region, the supply, trade, and travel routes for Native Americans, conquistadores, explorers, surveyors, traders, trappers, miners, soldiers, missionaries, emigrants — men, women, and children — and yes, even gunfighters, renegades, bounty hunters, and bandits, always following the streams or heading to where there were springs of water. Simple things — water, forage for the animals, safety from marauders, and the most direct route possible — determined the route of travel. Today, a few vestiges of that stalwart past still remain, wagon tracks embedded in rock surfaces, iron traces left by metal wagon wheels, ruts and swales worn over time, bypassed now by modern vehicles.

Volunteer Support Team

Travelers have used El Camino del Diablo (The Devil’s Highway) for centuries. Today, recreational four-wheelers use it. Learn More

On-Site Support Team

Don Francisco Vázquez de Coronado ventured through northern Mexico into Arizona in 1540 searching for the fabulous legendary “Seven Cities of Gold.” Learn More

Service Projects

Some 240 people set out from Tubac, Arizona, on October 23, 1775 to establish a presidio and mission in the San Francisco Bay area. Learn More

Site Stewards

In 1856, Congress appropriated necessary funds to construct three wagon roads. The man selected to build one of the roads was Edward Beale. Learn More

R.I.M. Project

At the time it was most used, this road extended approximately 85 miles from Flagstaff (called “Antelope Spring” before 1876) to Prescott (Fort Whipple). Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

The Chávez Trail, despite the general rough and rugged terrain, enjoyed a relatively even and straight 125 miles from Winslow westward to Prescott. Learn More
Foundation & Friends Groups

The main supply route to Prescott and Fort Whipple, serving both military and civilians, was two 150-mile freight roads from the Colorado River. Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

In use for 32 years, this supply road created by General George Crook, connected Fort Apache to Fort Whipple. Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

Mormon colonizers of Arizona traveled this route to St. George, Utah, to be married in the closest temple. Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

The Arizona & California Stage Company, headquartered in Wickenburg, provided passenger, mail, and light freight service to the west. Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

The Old Spanish Trail, “the longest, crookedest, most arduous pack mule trail in the history of America,” was best-known during the Mexican period. Learn More

OHV Ambassadors

The southern overland route to California through present-day Arizona, has been in use for centuries — first by Native Americans, then by Europeans. Learn More


 

Martha Summerhayes

Martha SummerhayesMartha Summerhayes (pictured left) experienced first-hand the difficulties of traveling a number of Arizona’s earliest wagon roads, and she recounts conflicting emotions in her classic book, Vanished Arizona. In 1874, Martha joined her husband, Jack, an army officer assigned to Arizona’s frontier posts. After traveling up the Colorado River from Yuma by paddle-wheeled steamboat, they left Fort Mohave and journeyed by wagon along the Hardyville Road to Prescott, then the capital of Arizona Territory. She said, “Our route was not only dreary, it was positively hostile in its attitude towards every living thing except snakes, centipedes, and spiders.” Later, she was in the first wagon train to travel on the General Crook Road from Fort Verde to Fort Apache. On this trip she said the teamsters “poured forth volley upon volley of oaths. … [ that I ] had never heard of or conceived of ….” She returned with her new baby to Fort Verde; part of this route was along the Little Colorado River on the Beale Wagon Road, another part was along the Chávez Trail.

Of the Chávez Trail, Martha said, “ … at every stage of the road we saw evidences of hard travel, exhausted cattle, anxious teamsters, hunger and thirst, despair, starvation and death.” She wrote that the road near Rattlesnake Canyon “was worse than any we had yet encountered. I could not remain in the ambulance, so tried to walk a part of the way.” On the Ehrenberg Road, she described a necessary stop, Tyson’s Well, as “melancholy and uninviting. It reeks of everything unclean, morally and physically.” The desert she saw as bare and lifeless, “like Death itself.”

But as many have, Martha also appreciated the times on the trail when the weather was “fine beyond description,” with “no discomforts,” and she admitted to a “subtle fascination … as we rolled along the smooth hard roads that followed the windings of the Gila River.” In spite of hardships, she was captivated by Arizona’s sheer beauty, and her dreary experiences were soothed as she wrote:

“We had had another rough march, and had reached the limit of endurance, or thought we had, when we emerged from a mountain pass and drew rein upon the high green mesa overlooking Stoneman’s Lake, a beautiful blue sheet of water lying there away below us. It was good to our tired eyes, which had gazed upon nothing but burnt rocks and alkali plains for so many days. Our camp was beautiful beyond description, and lay near the edge of the mesa, whence we could look down upon the lovely lake. It was a complete surprise to us, as points of scenery were not much known or talked about then in Arizona …. We feasted our eyes and our very souls upon it.”

Trail users of today can read Martha Summerhayes’ well-written prose, and marvel, as she did, at the remoteness and the grandeur that is Arizona.

Disclaimer

The map and accompanying text is produced by the Historic Trails Subcommittee of the Arizona State Committee on Trails: ASCOT, a group of volunteers and professionals in many fields of endeavor, all interested in preservation and protection of Arizona’s notable historic routes. Each trail has its own unique story. There are many others. For example, we have made no attempt to tell of the first users, Arizona’s Native American tribes, who were here for millennia before Europeans arrived. That perhaps, is another project.

We thank you for your interest and invite you to learn more about Arizona’s colorful past by thoughtful use of this website information. Arizona State Parks thanks the ASCOT Historic Trails Subcommittee for its investment of time, effort, dedication, and expertise in the development of this information. We would also remind the reader that some of these trails pass through restricted zones such as private property, Indian and military reservations. Permits to use these trails may be necessary.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Allyn, Joseph P., The Arizona of Joseph Pratt Allyn
  • Baley, Charles, Disaster at the Colorado: Beale’s Wagon Road and the First Emigrant Party
  • Bolton, Herbert E., Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains
  • Broyles, Bill, “The Devil’s Highway.” Arizona Highways, February 1993
  • Byrkit, Jim, Lt. Col. J. Francisco Chaves and the ‘Chavez Trail’ & The Palatkwapi Trail
  • Calvin, Ross Lieutenant Emory Reports
  • Clarke Dwight L., The Original Journals of Henry Smith Turner
  • Crampton, C. Gregory and Steven K. Madsen, In Search of the Spanish Trail: Santa Fe to Los Angeles, 1829-1848
  • Etter, Patricia A., To California on the Southern Route, 1849: A History and Annotated Bibliography
  • Hague, Harlan, The Road to California: The search for a Southern Overland Route, 1540-1848
  • Hanchett, Lee J., Catch the Stage to Phoenix & Crossing Arizona
  • Hartmann, William K., Desert Heart: Chronicles of the Sonoran Desert
  • Heckethorn, Ada Fancher, The Toll Road: Prescott to Fort Mojave
  • Hinton, Richard, The Handbook to Arizona
  • Lesley, Lewis Burt, Uncle Sam’s Camels
  • Pourade, Richard F., Anza Conquers the Desert: The Anza Expeditions from Mexico to California and the Founding of San Francisco, 1774-1776
  • Ricketts, Norma Baldwin, Arizona’s Honeymoon Trail and Mormon Wagon Roads
  • Robrock, David P., Editor, Missouri ‘49er: The Journal of William W. Hunter on the Southern Gold Trail
  • Rozum, Fred A., “Buckboards and Stagecoaches: Establishing Public Transportation on the Black Canyon Route,” Journal of Arizona History, Summer 1989
  • Sanchez, Joseph P., Explorers, Traders, and Slavers: Forging the Old Spanish Trail 1678-1850
  • Smith, Jack Beale, Guides to the Beale Wagon Road
  • Summerhayes, Martha, Vanished Arizona: Recollections of my Army Life
  • Walker, Henry P. and Don Bufkin, Historical Atlas of Arizona

See Also

Web de Anza External Link A multicultural, bilingual, interactive website, operated by University of Oregon at Eugene, Oregon. Eight expedition diaries, each in both Spanish and English, are enriched with links to other primary sources.

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