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Walking an Aqueduct
(March 26th, 2008 - Santa Rita Mountains, Southern Arizona)
Had some climbing to do today! The Trail climbed smartly out of Temporal Gulch over a high saddle into Walker Basin. We collected water from Walker Creek, but not too much, because it became obvious to us that most major drainages along this passage would be showing water. It was fortunate that our hike happened during one of the wettest years Arizona has seen in a decade.
Dave resting at Walker Creek
Another good climb took us to a saddle at about 6,500 feet, east of Josephine Peak. We then descended into Big Casa Blanca Canyon. We were stunned by the vigorous flow of water at the canyon bottom near Bear Spring.
After lunch by the creek, we got back on the trail and were immediately surprised at how wide it had become. Not quite as wide as a two track road, but close. Very well constructed, the trail stayed nearly completely level for way more than a mile. No ups, no downs. It just went on and on this way.
Eventually, we arrived at Tunnel Spring. An interpretive sign explained what we had been experiencing; we had been walking on an abandoned aqueduct. In 1904, an outfit called the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company decided to get serious about extracting gold from their claims near Kentucky Camp. The problem was that they needed water, and lots of it, to employ the hydraulic mining system required to extract the gold. Kentucky Camp was not near an adequate water supply, the nearest plentiful water occurring in Big Casa Blanca Canyon.
Tunnel Spring - typical for southern Arizona
The company sunk $200,000 into the construction of a system of carefully engineered aqueducts, tunnels and pipelines to transport the water from Big Casa Blanca to Kentucky Camp. In the end, they were successful in extracting only $2,000 worth of gold from their claims after the water system went into use.
Below Tunnel Spring, we dropped into Gardner Canyon, which was flowing with plenty of water. We then walked another abandoned aqueduct to Cave Canyon, also flowing with water. After resting there for an hour or so, we pushed on to a camp near Kentucky Camp and the plentiful water at its faucet.