One of the most intriguing and challenging hikes in the Rim country leads to the "Tunnel to Nowhere" north of Payson and below the Rim at an elevation of 7,200 feet. Also known as the Mineral Belt Railroad Tunnel, the secluded site can be difficult to find.
My son Gerry went looking for the tunnel a few years ago and couldn't find it.
His directions came from me.
Since that fiasco, I've visited the tunnel again to refine the directions, but I've also found some good pointers in the "Visitors Guide to the Mogollon Rim," published by the Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association.
The book may be purchased for a small fee at the Payson Ranger District office on East Highway 260 in Payson.
The key to finding the tunnel is to drive Forest Road 300, 12 miles east from its junction with the Beeline Highway above Strawberry.
After passing Crackerbox Canyon and FR 123, you'll find the Battle of Big Dry Wash Monument.
On the south side of FR 300 is a trailhead sign marking the entrance to the site.
Travel the trail about 100 feet to a second pole and turn left to the east side of the canyon. Hike about another half-mile to the next sign where the trail fishhooksto the left and starts back up the Rim.
This is where Gerry lost the trail because at this point it's difficult to follow and it's very steep. If there have been any heavy rains, such as the ones we experienced this week, following the trail will be even more difficult.
It's a fairly difficult 3/4-mile one-way hike, so plan on about a two-hour round trip.
Once there, the trials of the trail become worthwhile. The tunnel's historic significance dates to the 1860s when a group of Eastern businessman, led by the urgings of Chicago attorney James Eddy, wanted to build a railroad from Flagstaff to Globe. Christopher Creek was to be used as a stop-over and water station for the narrow-gauge steam locomotives.
Part of the plan for the railroad was to build a 3,000-foot-plus tunnel off the Rim toward Christopher Creek. The developers managed to lay track from Flagstaff to Mormon Lake but when it came time to build the tunnel, only 70 feet was completed. The difficulty of boring through the Rim coupled with financial problems of the Mineral Belt Railroad backers ended the grandiose scheme.
All that remains today is discarded track in the Coconino County forests and an old railroad tunnel that can be tough to find.
The complete history of the railroad is featured in "A Vision of Grandeur: The Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad" by Robert A. Trennert, published by the University of Arizona Press in 1970.