by Stan Brown
(Pick up a Prescott National Forest Map at 344 South Cortez or at Granite Mountain Outfitters on Gurley Street before heading out on this "Day Trip…" It will enhance the experience of your journey. – ed.)
One of Yavapai County’s many beautiful drives, and a good one for entertaining guests, is the Williamson Valley Road out of Prescott northward to Seligman. Not only is this a scenic drive, but these seventy miles have many stories to tell from Arizona’s Territorial days.
We begin at mile zero, where the Williamson Valley Road takes off from Iron Springs at the Fire Station. On the Prescott National Forest map, Williamson Valley Road is Forest Service Road #6 and County Road #5. According to Will Barnes’ ‘Arizona Place Names,’ it was named after Lieutenant Williamson of the 1858 Ives party.
At mile 8.4, on our left, we pass the road to the American Ranch at the foot of the east side of Granite Mountain. Dan Connor, who had come with the Walker Party (and whose diary is our best record of the arrival of gold miners in 1863) staked this area as a homestead, calling it The American Ranch. When he decided to go to California, Connor traded his claim to Jefferson Harrison Lee for a gun he needed for his trip. Lee built a ranch house with an escape tunnel in the likely event of an Indian raid. The escape route was accessed through a hole in the floor of the house. He used it once when his house was burned by the Indians. Lee rebuilt and established a stage stop for travelers on the Hardyville Road which passed here, connecting Prescott and the Colorado River. Martha Summerhayes refers to this stop in her book ‘Vanished Arizona.’
A few miles north of the American Ranch is Mint Springs. Its creek rises on the north side of Granite Mountain, and flows northwest through what came to be known as Mint Valley. The name Robert Stringfield is attached to several places in this vicinity. He and his family homesteaded here a few years after arriving in Prescott in 1875. Descendants of the Stringfields continued the ranch and 4th generation Ralph Stringfield was instrumental in the establishment of the Prescott Cowboy Camp Meeting, held not far from here. There was a Mint Valley School district, the first school being built in 1883 by the Stringfield family about a mile west of the ‘highway.’ This indicates that a number of ranch families had settled in the area quite early. Some rocks from the foundation are the only trace of that school today. In 1918, the school was superseded by the Granite Mountain School District.
At mile 13 is the now private Inscription Canyon development. In this area is the ‘Talking Rock’ which contains a collection of prehistoric rock art. The Talking Rock and its canyon were deeded to the Yavapai Indians. The inscriptions were probably made by the Patayan people, Yuman speaking descendents of the archaic Hokan who traveled down the Pacific coast some 2,000 years ago, and then moved eastward into Arizona. Extensive ruins were left by these people along Walnut Creek.
At Mile 17, there is a railroad crossing. The Santa Fe Railroad was eager to have a connection from its main line at Seligman to Prescott, and then on to Phoenix. Two contending business groups consolidated in 1885 to form the Prescott and Arizona Central Railway Company. The line to Seligman was completed Dec. 31, 1886, but was plagued with problems. The engines proved too small to pull more than six cars, the roadbed was easily washed out and, since there was no turntable in Prescott, trains had to return to Seligman by backing up all the way! The enterprise was a disaster, and was replaced in 1891 by the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway. This line cut up through Chino Valley and joined with the Santa Fe at Ash Fork. By 1893 it was in operation and was soon dubbed the "Peavine," because of the way it wound around and clung to the mountains. It is a connection of this line our road crosses.
At milepost 20.6 is the Crossroads Ranch development on the right. This area was originally known as "the crossing" where stage, wagon trains and freight wagons crossed the wash on the route between Prescott and Hardyville (now Bullhead City). There are several things to note in this area. Dillon Wash (aka Williamson Valley Wash) was named for the John Dillon family who had a house in the settlement of Simmons. The large trees on your left, in 100 yards or so from the road, was the location of this small settlement and stage stop named for John A. Simmons who settled here in 1880. Back in October 1873, a post office was established here named "Williamson," with post mistress Betsy Zimmerman. Mrs. Zimmerman was known in Prescott for her butter, dairy products and vegetables she would bring to town to sell. On January 24, 1875 the name of the post office was changed to "Wilson" with William J. Simmons postmaster. On July 5, 1881 the name was again changed, this time to "Simmons." The post office closed in 1931, but the town name is still seen on many local maps, including the Prescott National Forest map. The ruins of the stage stop here are now on private property. Williamson Valley Road is sometimes referred to as Simmons Highway.
This area is actually Williamson Valley. The road by that name only now officially comes into that valley. The gravel road heading northeast here at Simmons goes a short distance to Matli. Joe and Emma Matli arrived in July 1900, and soon took over the Bianconi Ranch where Joe had worked for a while. The five Matli sons were well known for their rodeo performances and the Matli family established a large dairy ranch. The windmill over the well at the Sharlot Hall Museum is from the Matli ranch and is on the National Historic Register.
At milepost 22.1, the Camp Wood Road branches off to the left. It is Forest Road 21, County Road 68. (Don’t turn here, just observe the historical significance.) About 14 miles west on this gravel road is Camp Wood, an early stage stop and later a forest ranger station and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in the 1930s. Several ranches that pride themselves in old-fashioned cowboy methods are located along this side road. The area is overlooked by a fire lookout tower on top of 7,272-foot Hyde Mountain just a few miles northwest of Camp Wood in the Santa Maria Mountains.
Remaining on Williamson Valley Road (County Road 5), the road at this junction turns to well-maintained gravel for the remainder of the trip to Seligman. As you drive, look to the left (west) and you will see Hyde Mountain and with binoculars you can see the fire lookout.
At milepost 31, you enter Prescott National Forest. From Prescott to this point you have been traveling on private or State land. At milepost 35 you will enter a small section of private land where there are several ranches. At milepost 35.8 you will come to a one-lane steel truss bridge over Walnut Creek. Park here for a bit and absorb the history. This bridge has historic roots in the San Carlos Indian Reservation where, in 1912, it was part of a seven-span bridge over the Gila River. By 1916, several floods had taken their toll and the long bridge was no longer usable, the approaches having been washed out. The state highway department later took over the spans and sent most of them to various places for reuse. It was 1936 when this span was moved to this location over Walnut Creek. From a Days Past article, "The Bridges of Yavapai County" by this author, "An old concrete bridge owned by the Forest Service was torn out and the steel truss placed over a new easement just downstream. Yavapai County took the lead in constructing the approaches and securing the easements from local ranchers. In December 1940, the road was designated as a county highway, maintained by the county. However, since this was also a forest road, both entities shared the inspection and maintenance of the bridge. Which government, state or county, had actual jurisdiction was unclear. In 1976 the Forest Service requested the bridge be transferred to the county but it was almost 1990 before the red tape and apathy were cleared away and the transfer made. In 1990 Yavapai County secured and renovated the seventy-seven year old span."
Take a short walk upstream to the location of the present dam where the original concrete bridge crossed the creek.
Returning to your vehicle, as you cross the bridge look up and slightly to the left (NW) and you will see the Juniper Mesa Wilderness area. You are in the Juniper Mountains that span many miles to the north and west from here. Soon after crossing the bridge, County Road 125 (Walnut Creek Road) branches to the west. Turn here to explore the area.
The little community of Walnut Creek that flourished in the 1870s, 80s and 90s was about 1.8 miles in from the turnoff. There is now a ranger station and the Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research at the town site. The Amiel Whipple party had traveled along Walnut Creek in 1854 while scouting for a route that could be followed by a transcontinental railroad. He originally named it "Pueblo Creek" because of the extensive ancient ruins in the area. While waiting for his supply train, Whipple camped in the area of today’s Walnut Creek Ranger Station. The community of Walnut Creek was on the old toll road owned and operated by William C. Hardy who had hired Hualapai Indians to build his road. It was called the Hardyville Road and ran all the way from Prescott to Hardyville (now Bullhead City). Along this stretch of the road was Camp Hualapai, an army installation from 1869-1873 to keep the road open and keep peace with the Indians. The school here in Walnut Creek had 26 students in 1879 under schoolmaster S. Charmingdale Rogers. He was briefly the postmaster of "Charmingdale," a nearby hamlet named after him. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a camp at the ranger station site from 1933 to 1941 and some ruins remain.
Just northeast of the ranger station, off the Juniper Springs Trail about mile up from the road, is an old cemetery in disrepair with only four graves having legible headstones noting deaths between 1881 and 1897. The grave name "W. T. Shook," was the two-year-old son of William G. Shook, who later was a resident at the Pioneer Home in Prescott. Another grave is that of Marilla Jean Rogers who died March 6, 1897. Above her headstone is a wooden plaque with this inscription: "Within this grave an angel lies, no myth that flits above the skies. A host in life of friendly ties bespoke an angel good and wise." She was apparently the wife of the postmaster/schoolmaster. Two other gravestones are E. D. Scholey (1851-1881) and Roland Scholey (1878-1881), possibly a father and son. The Arizona Miner, March 14, 1879 states, "Mrs. Ed Scholey, who keeps a very good station at Walnut Creek, is in town. She informs us that her husband, who received, two years ago, a severe paralytic stroke, is very low and is now unable to either walk or talk."
Turn around here at the ranger station and return to Williamson Valley Road, turning north toward Seligman. Looking north at mileposts 41-43, you will see Picacho Butte which is along I-40 nine miles east of Seligman. Bill Williams Mountain at Williams can be seen to the east in the distance. Stop a moment at milepost 51 for a panoramic view. The radar dome can be seen on the hill at Seligman. Can you see the trucks on I-40?
At milepost 58, you will be driving across the Big Chino Wash which extends from north of Seligman and I-40, and is a major headwater for the Verde River. This is the beginning of Chino Valley opening southeastward to the town by the same name. Walnut Creek and creeks in Williamson Valley are primary contributors to this aquifer, creating the head waters of the Verde River. The Big Chino aquifer supplies 80% of the flow in the upper river. The Big Chino Wash, now usually dry, ran with water before 1950 and contained native fish. The Big Chino Wash and this broad valley were named by Whipple in 1853 because, he writes, "Chino is said to be the local Mexican name for grama grass which grows luxuriantly in this valley."
At milepost 67.2, the gravel road ends and the paved road into Seligman becomes old Route 66. In 1886, the area was known as Prescott Junction because a spur line, the Prescott and Central Arizona Railroad ("Peavine"), ran from here to Prescott. Original settlers were Theut and Moultrie families between 1889 and 1891. The town was later named Seligman after the brothers who were part owners of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company (Hashknife Outfit) and also large stockholders with the railroad. Seligman had been a terminal point for changing crews between Winslow and Needles. Railroaders rented rooms, and patronized the local cafes and businesses during their layovers. In the late 1970s, the new interstate bypassed the town and in February 1985 the Santa Fe Railroad closed its operations here. Today the trains roar through Seligman without stopping. In the 2000 census, the population was 456.
For a real treat, walk Seligman’s Route 66, check out the shops, have some lunch and return to Prescott via I-40, then Route 89 from Ashfork.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(pb088f4i1-inpe1201pe) Reuse only by permission.
The American Ranch, shown here in 1884, at mile 8.4 along the Williamson Valley Road was a stage stop on the Hardyville Road connecting Prescott and Hardyville (now Bullhead City) on the Colorado River. At mile 13 is Talking Rock where prehistoric petroglyphs dot the canyon walls.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(courtesy Kathy Krause) Reuse only by permission.
Walnut Creek Bridge on Williamson Valley Road was moved to this location in 1936 from the Gila River where it was part of a 7-span bridge in use from 1912 to 1916.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(pb086f4i5) Reuse only by permission.
An undated photo of students at the Walnut Creek School. It is known the school had 26 students in 1879. The schoolmaster was S. Charmingdale Rogers.