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Thread: Johnson Canyon Tunnel

  1. #1
    campp's Avatar
    campp is offline Rawk Crawlin GPS Totin Ghost Towning Expert
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    Default Johnson Canyon Tunnel

    Being the railroad nutcase that I am, we had to take in the hike to the tunnel in Johnson Canyon, AZ. Halfway between Williams and Ash Fork, this canyon was a brutal challenge for the Atlantic & Pacific RR, when they were building their route across Arizona. They later became the ATSF (Santa Fe) Railroad. It was and is the only mainline tunnel in the state of Arizona.

    For several years in the early 1880s, over 3000 people lived at and worked on the 325-foot tunnel. The grade here is VERY steep, at 3%, and is the reason the route was abandoned in 1960. The tunnel is on a tight curve, on a grade, and was the scene of many wrecks. The creekbed is 200 feet below, and is reportedly full of train wreckage. I glassed the area, and finally saw a couple of wheels, but not much more. I didn't feel like the climb down, but it might reveal more.
    Hiking in along the right-of-way, there are lots of signal pads and misc evidence of the former tracks. One bridge is still intact.

    First you approach the western portal:



    The walls are sheathed in gorgeous sandstone masonry, and the ceiling is clad in rolled steel. I carried a heavy MagLight all the way there, and found it completely useless in the vast darkness. Being on a curve, you can't see the other end. We must have spooked some big animal out of the other end, because there was a lot of comotion, racket, and dust kicked up. Deer maybe? The tunnel looks to be in very good condition, I bet you could run a train through it today.

    Coming out the east portal, and the right of way continues:



    These old telegraph poles are still ready for duty 50 years after the trains left. Some insulators are still up there. You can see the ROW in the background:


    Last edited by campp; 01-18-2009 at 06:44 AM. Reason: photo host problems

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    I hiked another mile and found this washed-out bridge. What you see here is the far end and the center pier. I love this kind of masonry. It probably dates to the mid 1880s:



    This line originally had many timber trestle bridges. Because of fire and maintenance, they were later filled in with dirt and debris, leaving a nice route of cuts and fills through the valley. There are a few mine tailings on nearby hillsides. This line was considered SO vital during WWII, that guards were stationed there 24 hours a day. I finally found the guard shack, but one or two more good winters will do it in. It has an incredible view of the approach in the canyon.

    There were many deaths in the area from wrecks and other tragedies. One wreck of water tankers drowned a poor trapped brakeman. The tunnel itself burned several times, having foot-thick lumber underneath that steel sheathing. Something like 10 people lost their lives within a space of about 400 feet of track.

    Supposedly there is some evidence of the boom town that supported the workers located on the mesa above the tunnel. I've read it had several saloons and stores, but no law. I've heard there are marked graves. Accounts call it Simms (Simms was the tunnel contractor), Tunnel, or Simms Tunnel. It's a tough scramble to get up on top, and we were not in a position to tackle it. I spotted a couple of likely routes, but it is really full of brush, and quite verticle. I'd really like to come back out here and climb the mesa sometime.
    Last edited by campp; 07-27-2008 at 04:49 AM.

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    Campp, What an awesome interesting post & pics. Thanks so much! It looks like it was well worth the hike.

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    Default

    Nice photos, did you take any while inside of the tunnel?

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    Red face Miserable failure

    Quote Originally Posted by bob3 was bob2 View Post
    Nice photos, did you take any while inside of the tunnel?
    Yeah, I shot a couple and only got black frames. Was still shooting film then (hence not many pictures) but have since upgraded to a decent digital.

    Re-reading this I really want to get back up there, but need to find a hiking buddy. It's too remote to go solo for the scrambling required. Especially after reading that post about the increasing potency of snakes...

    I've read that if you were at all involved in the Pacific parts of WWII, you most likely rode through the Johnson Canyon tunnel on your way there.

    Not a good summer hike, although inside the tunnel it must be 20 degrees cooler and a breeze.
    Last edited by campp; 05-31-2008 at 09:43 AM.

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    I LOVE stuff like that! I wish I were a little closer to your area. Looks like there's a bunch more to explore. I'll bet that even if the wrecked trains were salvaged, there's bound to be a lot of intersting debris left.

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    Fabulous stuff, Campp. Old Railways.... you betcha!
    I'd love to see that tunnel - there is something really evocative about a portal into a mountain, to me. It speaks of a time and an attitude long gone. Man, those people worked HARD!
    I am constantly exploring the old logging and mining railways in SE Victoria, where I live. The mountains are a trove of old railway stuff, if you know where to look. To their credit, Victorians seem to have grasped the significance of the railway in their past. Now if only thay'd turn that enthusiasm to towns and buildings! (I talk about "Victorians" because I am not one!! I'm from NSW.)

    One of the things that will be an absolute priority for me is exploring some of America's railway past.
    Toltec and Cumbres, Durango and Silverton....places like these in Oregon, from a great site I discovered recently -
    http://www.brian894x4.com/OregonTrunkRailroad.html
    I am glad to be able to let others know about this website, if they don't already know of it, because it is a real labor of love and the guy has done some great explorations. I hope you enjoy it.
    "Those were great old days. Everthing is very quiet now, isn't it?" Elfego Baca

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    Thanks Gravelrash. Enjoy the CT&S, that ride is well worth it. Highly recommended. We're going to try to take in the D&SNG this summer (if I can convice Mrs Campp).

    Most people today know little or nothing about what railroads did and do for America and the rest of the world actually. Many of the ghost towns we hunt were started primarily because of the railroad's needs, or to support mining/logging/farming (all of which required rail service sooner or later). Follow the rails and you will find a ghost town!

    Santa Fe was such a class act. They took immense pride in their service, image, and equipment. All of the culverts and retaining walls were proudly dated like this culvert:



    Most of the infrastructure in Johnson Canyon dates to the early 1920s. I suspect they did a massive rebuild of this section around that time. Then they got another 40 years' service out of it before abandonment to the Crookton Cutoff. All in all, trains ruled the canyon for about 80 years.

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    Great stuff! I love stuff like this!
    "Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas."

    H.L. Mencken

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    Default Too Cool

    I love old railroad stuff. Thanks for posting Campp. I've located some old rxr grade here in Nevada, but nothing that cool.

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