Thursday, March 10, 2016
Less than an hour north of Phoenix, cool water flows through Agua Fria National Monument in a deep canyon that winds from north to south through the desert landscape. Literature on this Monument, which was designated in 2000 by President bill Clinton, touts the importance of preserving prehistoric remains of Ancient Puebloans scattered throughout the windswept mesas.
We were surprised to find equally fascinating historic features on a recent hike through the canyon from Badger Spring trailhead to Sunset Point. Our guidebook, nor the maps and websites about the Monument, made no mention of the ~2-mile long 16" diameter pipeline that spans both sides of the canyon, crossing at one point via a timber brace perched on top of a granite pinnacle. Dozens of dry-stacked stone pillars support the pipe. Where there was not enough flat ground to work with, the pipe is suspended from cliffs by thick cables. This major engineering feat was accomplished for the benefit of providing water and power to the Richinbar Mine, which churned out gold and silver ore for more than 40 years, 1896-1937. The rusted remains of the pumps and a generating station are scattered below the rim near the old town site of Richinbar, currently a private inholding in the Monument, where about a hundred people made a living over a century ago.
Deep history is equally stunning. Strewn throughout the perennial stream, there are giant water-polished granite boulders filled with chunks of even older basalt.
The hike is a strenuous 10-mile boulder hopping adventure, but well worth the journey, especially on a warm day in the desert when wading and swimming in the many deep pools would be pure pleasure.