A SPECTACULAR HIGHWAY DRIVE
They call this the Coronado Trail but most historians have a little tiny problem imagining Coronado and his armor-clad Conquistadores riding their horses up the rugged country here in 1540. Coronado probably crossed the white Mountains much farther to the west. But Coronado might have stood in the high desert to the south, where the Coronado Trail really gets started, and contemplated his chances. It is highway 191 now, it used to be 666, some people thought it was a reference to the Devil so they changed it, and your first stop will be the Morenci open pit copper mine, where they took almost three billion tons of earth from the world's second largest open-pit mine.
Down the hill, in turn-of-the-century mining town of Clifton, some of the wacky flavor of the old west can be found in the jail carved in the mountain side. There is a story that when he completed the job, the guy who built this jail went out, got drunk, shot up a couple of bars and wound up being the first customer in his own jail.
The highway was dedicated in 1926, a most scenic roadway for a most practical purpose, bringing timber out of the White Mountains. It is 123 miles from Clifton to Springerville and unless you're Mario Andretti and are so blase` you never stop to see the scenery, the drive will take you at least 6 hours. The road is windy and twisty, with enough hairpin turns to make a snake sick.
You climb and climb and climb. Five thousand, 6000, 7, 8, 9000 feet. Into a land of far-reaching views that say you really are on top of the world here. Summer comes late to Hannagan meadow...flowers bloom in July. Afternoon thundershowers almost every day cool the land, watch for herds of Elk grazing near the highway. Now there are plenty of things to do when you come to the mountains. You can camp, you can fish, you can hike, maybe, down the KP trail. You'll have to ask the locals what the KP stands for, it's a little risque.
If you're going to do what you should and take some time to explore, try staying at Hannagan Meadow Lodge. We came to this place for years when it was REALLY rustic. There was no TV, no radio and the silence at night actually drove some people to such distraction they packed up after the first night and went back to the city.
The silence is still the same, but in 1996 Mark and Carrie Dauksavage took a portion of lottery winnings and bought the lodge and renovated it. It is a little bit more modern than it was, but it is now missing the "charm" of having to share bathrooms and low water pressure and some alarming creaking sounds. It is still very quiet and still has no TV or radio in the rooms or cabins. As far as I'm concerned, it's just right.
I don't know if Mark and Carrie still own it, but from the looks of their web site, the place is still going strong. If they've kept the food in the dining room at the same level it was before, eating there is almost worth the trip!
But you should set aside at least one day just to travel this highway. Driving the Coronado Trail is an event in itself.
The Coronado Trail, or highway 191, can be accessed from either Safford, Az in the south or Springerville, Az to the north. Most of its length is narrow, twisty, 2-lane, paved highway and the going is slow. From Phoenix or Albuquerque, you have about a 6-hour drive to the lodge.
The web site for Hannagan Meadow Lodge is: www.hannaganmeadow.com.
Their phone: 928-428-2225.
Other lodging is vailable in Alpine, 22 miles north of Hannagan Meado, and in Springerville. The nearest lodging south is Clifton-Morenci.
Hannagan Meadow is at 9,100 feet and summer temps rarely get above the mid-80's. Nights can get down in the 40's and sometimes into the 30's. Bring a sweater!