We are taking a helicopter ride south from the Mogollon Rim, following the East Verde River, and listening to the many tales it has to tell. Last week we had come to the Phelps-Dodge pumping station at the end of their pipe line, bringing water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir into the East Verde River.
For the next mile the community of Rim Trail hugs the river bank. This entire subdivision was the homestead of Bartolomeo and Mercedes Belluzzi, and was called Rim Trail Ranch. The original pioneer trail is evident for long stretches here and for the next two miles south.
From our helicopter we look down on the old Stan Roper Ranch, now called Verde Glen subdivision. Dude Creek flows (intermittently) into the East Verde River here, just north of the Control Road. That place was the site of Sam Haught Junior's ranch from 1885 to 1890. Later it was a site well known to the children and ranchers in the area. In correspondence with Myrtle Haught Branstetter in 1983 she wrote to me, "The old Rim Rock School is where Dude Creek runs into the East Verdie (sic) River. Up on the bank is the remains of the foundation." That school was in operation from 1900 until at least 1908 or later. In the 1930s this same location was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp as they worked on the Control Road, surrounding trails, and nearby streams.
Now we come to Forest Road 64 known as the Control Road, as in "fire control road." It was created in its present form by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and follows an ancient trail used by Indians during their hunts and later by pioneers to connect with each other. The road comes off Highway 87 just east of Pine and twists eastward until it emerges onto Highway 260 west of Kohl's Ranch.
History teacher and Forest Ranger Robert Moore states in his thesis on the CCC, "Some CCC work not originally intended as a recreation project later had a big impact on forest visitation. Back country road construction during the CCC days was almost always related to fire suppression with the goal of quickly getting men to the source of the smoke. Fire roads later (often) turned into numbered forest roads that opened up the back country to recreation uses."
While Rim country residents appreciate the convenience of the Control Road for getting to cabins, to scout camp and to hiking trails, it was the primary access road during the devastating Dude Fire in 1990.
Where the Control Road crosses the river we are just at the northern edge of the Whispering Pines Community. Here a modern concrete bridge makes it difficult to even notice the crossing.
Until 1995 this crossing was made over an historic one-way wagon bridge, and it was a bridge with a past.
For the story we must go back in imagination to the San Carlos Indian Reservation during the last two decades of the 18th century. For both Indians and the army troops crossing the Gila River there was often deadly. Journals of the day report frequent drownings as the raging river swept away persons, animals, and supplies.
In 1913 the Office of Indian Affairs erected a seven-span steel truss wagon bridge over the Gila River. It was the earliest, one-way, multiple span bridge in Arizona. However, one year after it was completed a flood washed it out. The remnants stood askew across the river for six years before the bridge spans were repaired. For the next 14 years the structure carried traffic over the Gila, until it was replaced in 1934.
The seven steel spans were carried for their second life to remote and needy places around the state. The CCC put out a call for one of those 138-foot spans with its timbered deck to be placed over the East Verde River on the Control Road near the terminus of the Houston Mesa Road.
For decades many of us enjoyed crossing and re-crossing this old historic bridge, listening to its rattles and pops. However, 82 years of history is perhaps enough for any bridge, since people's lives are in the balance. Furthermore, its three-ton limit was exceeded more and more by emergency vehicles, fire trucks, and construction vehicles that used the Control Road. One day a group of county and National Forest officials stood under the old bridge and considered its replacement, when a cement truck rumbled overhead.
They imagined the whole thing was about to come down on them, and within an amazingly short time Federal funds became available for its replacement. The old bridge that had been built for wagons on an Indian reservation was doomed. Several of the other spans from the Gila River crossing have been accounted for. Two of them, each identical to the old Control Road span, can be crossed today on the Perkinsville Road from Jerome.