Heading Toward A Tunnel To Nowhere

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A bright, warm morning in early August 1883, found a crew of railroad construction workers, along with some local Indians, working their way down the narrow, steep Captain Devlin Road, carved out of the face of the Mogollon Rim. Their objective: A small shelf about a third of the way down the Rim's sheer west face. Here they would begin work on what was intended to be a tunnel that would eventually break through the upper surface of the Rim.

Its purpose was to provide access from below for the newly proposed Mineral Belt Railway. The railway was to run from the mining district around Globe and extend all the way to Flagstaff where it would meet up with the major east/west lines. Financed by East Coast money, this ambitious project was to provide a direct access unavailable at that time.

Drilling and blasting their way into the Rim, the crew soon expanded the shelf with sufficient debris to allow them to build a construction office out of the native rock.

At the opening, the tunnel was 20 feet high and 16 feet wide. These dimensions would allow a standard-size train to pass through with plenty of clearance. By the end the month, the crew had cut its way into the Rim for about 70 yards. They were just getting ready to expand this portion to the height and width of the entrance when they received bad news: The money for the project had run out and the tunnel was to be abandoned.

Packing up their gear and giving their hard work a long, last look, they left the sight behind, never to return. Today, this tunnel to nowhere, its interior walls covered with the graffiti of passing generations, remains a lasting monument to one of the many pioneering efforts of those bygone days that was never meant to be.

To Get There

From the intersection of Highways 87 (Beeline) and 260 in Payson, proceed north on the Beeline 1.9 miles to the intersection of Houston Mesa Road. Turn right. Continue on that road for another 12.3 miles until it reaches an intersection with the Forest Service Control Road at the Whispering Pines Village.

Turn left on the Control Road and continue on for .6 mile.

Turn right onto Forest Service Road 32 (FSR32). Follow this road for 3.3 miles until it intersects with another road. Turn right on this road and stay on it until it reaches the Washington Park Trailhead parking lot at the end of the road.

The trail begins at a Forest Service sign on the north side of the parking lot. This part of the trail is actually an unmaintained, rolling road that provides access to the power lines that drop down from the Rim above.

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Tunnel to Nowhere
Distance: 6.2 miles (including side trip to top of Rim)
Difficulty: Moderate overall (difficult in places)
Elevation gain: 1500 feet
Maps: Tonto Forest Service Map (North Half) Keil Ridge and Dane Canyon 7.5 Minute Topos

This road was initially built to support an aqueduct that once ran the length of drainage for the East Verde River. For the first 1.6 miles, the road follows the river on its left as it winds its way down from above through stands of pine, fir, cedar and thick patches of undergrowth.

To the left of the road, the high walls and facings of the Rim loom overhead.

At the end of this stretch, watch for a small trail marker sign on the right that indicates that the trail leaves the road and heads off into the trees.

From here on, the trail winds through the trees as it begins to climb up the side of the Rim in earnest. The trail is not clearly marked and a visitor should always watch for cairns (small stacks of rocks) that help guide the way.

Another .3 mile up, the trail meets with the fork to the tunnel. There is a sign at this point that indicates the trail to the tunnel heads off to the right.

The left fork circles around the base of the Rim and climbs up to where it eventually reaches the Rim Road (FSR300) at a point just east of the Battle of Big Dry Wash Historical Marker, which is on the opposite side of the road. This is also where a short road leads east to the site of the General Springs Cabin site.

Extreme caution should be used beyond the fork to the tunnel as the trail is poorly defined and one should watch closely for cairns as it is difficult to follow. Additionally, the trail is narrow, steep and contains many loose rocks that could cause one to take a spill.

It continues along on the right side of a narrow ravine for .25 mile until crossing it just below the entrance to the tunnel. The trail ends up the shelf near the remains of the construction building.

After examining the tunnel site, return to the fork and head up to the Rim Road. An alternate route could make use of the Rim Road location instead of beginning at the Washington Park location. Also, a car shuttle could be established using these two access points.

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