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postheadericon A Winkelman Loop

I love this rock formation near Kearney, AZ.

The Ride Map to this route has been posted on the Ride Maps tab for quite some time and I have mentioned it in at least one “Riding SoAZ” post. I recently rode it again and thought I would “flesh it out” a bit since this is such a great ride, especially if have any interest in AZ history.

Here is the overview taken directly from the Ride Maps page: “ 200 miles. Difficulty – Easy. This loop cruises through some beautiful country along the San Pedro River Valley. It includes the 177 spur from Winkleman to Superior. If you continue on to Globe on 77 you get to go through Top-of-the-World and it is only 26 more miles.” I would only add a couple of things. First, it is 200+ miles. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for weather conditions. Second, if you ride this as it is mapped, you have 15 miles of US-60 to ride. Speed limit there is 65mph. Others may (and will) disagree, but I think that any vehicle 125cc or better should be fine. Smaller than that and you likely feel pretty uncomfortable on that 15 mile stretch.

Advertising one the side of a building in Superior, AZ.

On to the route. I am going to describe this route in a counter-clockwise fashion because that’s the way I rode it. Feel free to be wild and crazy and go clockwise. If you do so, start at the end of this piece and read it backwards if you want to see all the things I did. Once out of Tucson, follow Route 77 toward Oracle. A few miles past the community of Catalina, you’ll see the sign for Biosphere 2. Once past Biosphere, you go past Oracle. If you want to actually see any of this little town, you’ll have to exit at American Ave, as there is virtually none of Oracle visible from Route 77.

Once past Oracle, you come to one of my favorite sections of the route. You start a 10 mile stretch of 8-9% down grade as you drop down in to the San Pedro River Valley. If it is a clear day, there are some great views down in to the valley. The road conditions here are very good and there are intermittent passing lanes as well. At the bottom of the hill, you pass through the community of Mammoth.

One of ASARCO’s buildings with the smelter stack dominating the skyline

Like many AZ towns, Mammoth’s history is associated with mining. For years, it looked like Mammoth was fading away like so many other old mining towns. I was pleased to see a number of new buildings going up as I passed through. Many AZ mines are back in business now. Maybe that is what is fueling the growth I saw. Please keep in mind that the local police here are known for strictly enforcing the town speed limits. There is food and fuel available in Mammoth if you need it.

Once in the valley enjoy the trip through trees and farmland. There are also great views of the northern end of the Galiuro Mountains to the east of you. It is a little more than 20 miles from Mammoth to Winkelman. AS you get to the end of the valley, you arrive at the intersection of Route 77 and Route 177 Spur. This intersection is located in the tri-city area of Dudleyville, Winkelman and Hayden. (I found an excellent history of the area HERE.)

I know it says “Superior” but Giorsetti’s is in Winkelman.

One point of interest here is Giorsetti’s Grocery, located 1 block north of Rt 177 on Giffith St. Giorsetti’s has been owned and operated by 4 generations of the Giorsetti family since it opened in 1910. My friend and I stopped in and bought ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola and drank them before we continued on to Hayden.

Downtown Hayden with the old movie theater on this end and the “police officer’s station” at the other.

Hayden shares a town boundary with Winkelman, so it doesn’t take long to get there. Go 1.5 miles from the Route 77 / Route 177 junction and turn north on Velasco Ave.  Once up the hill, turn left on 4th and right on Hayden Ave to see the old downtown area. I especially enjoyed police headquarters which is now located in what used to be the bank. I looks like something straight out of an old gangster movie. Unlike Winkelman, Hayden was a true “company town.” Among other things, your housing was directly tied to your job at the mine. If you lost your job or even if you retired, you had to move.

Three towns used to be out there. This is the Ray Mine.

Less than 10 miles east of Hayden is another community planned out by the mines. In 1958, the towns of Ray, Sonora and Barcelona were relocated because they were about to be swallowed by the the Ray open pit copper mine. The town of Kearney was established so that those people, most of whom worked at the mine, had a new home. There is a hotel, a couple of restaurants and fuel available. Kearney is where I finally caught a ride after my ill-fated ride on the Florence-Kelvin Highway.

Those are the foothills of the Dripping Spring Mountains.

Since leaving Winkelman, Route 177 meanders along between the Gila River and the foothills of the Dripping Spring Mountains. The scenery is very pleasant and there are some great opportunities for taking pictures. 7 miles past Kearney, you begin climbing up the mountains. As you begin the climb you can start to see down into the open pit mine. If you’ve never seen one before, they are quite impressive. The next 15 miles are twisty with a lot of climbs and steeps descents. The road is a bit narrower here as well, but there isn’t a lot of traffic. The city of Superior appear before you as you leave the mountains.

Looking east, up Main St in Superior

Superior is small, but I think it is a cool little town and it’s worth a visit (a short one.) The town sets at the base of some impressive cliffs. There is a road tunnel just east of town on US-60 that you must go through if you chose to get here by going through Globe. There are a couple of nice little diners here as well. I have eaten at the Cafe’ Piedra Roja as well as Buckboard City. Both were very good. there are other places here as well. Other points of interest are the Boyce Thompson Arboretum (oldest, largest botanical museum in the state) and, I’m sure you knew this, the World’s Smallest Museum!

The sign says it all

As mentioned earlier, it is 15 miles down the 65mph US-60 to Route 79, aka the Florence Highway. The good news is that this is divided highway and it is in very good condition. From US-60, it is another 20 miles of mostly straight, flat road to get to Florence.

Look closely when you’re in Florence. The time is always 11:44

I believe I have written about Florence before. There are three state prisons located in Florence and the prison gift shop, located at the intersection of Route 79 and Butte Ave is one of my favorite places to stop here. Another mildly interesting place to check out is the old Pinal County Courthouse. If you look carefully at the clock on the tower, you will note that it says it is 11:44, regardless of what your watch says. Apparently, the original architect wanted a clock in the tower. The board of supervisors at the time decided that a clock was frivolous and wouldn’t pay for it. So, the architect painted one on there. That was in 1891 and it’s been there ever since.

This almost completes our loop. At this point it is about 60 miles back to Tucson via route 79. there are several food and fuel options in Florence, so use them if you need to. the route back. the first 20 miles out of Florence are some of the straightest road I’ve ever traveled. about 20 miles south of Florence you will pass one point of interest for those old enough, or interested in movie history enough to know who Tom Mix was. The site where he died, on October 11, 1940 is memorialized by a very nice statue and small picnic area.

A note of caution: people driving Route 79 between Florence and Tucson tend to do so very quickly. Watch you rear view mirror frequently for speed demons rapidly approaching your six.

By the time you finish this described route, you will have traveled more than 200 miles. You will have passed through some interesting, though lesser known Arizona places and will have seen some beauty as only a desert can provide.

Enjoy,

Howard

 

 

 

 

 

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