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Coronado Trail, Arizona, Driving Tour
Excerpt from National Geographic Traveler: Arizona guidebook
Text by Bill Weir     Photo by George H.H. Huey/CORBIS
Photo: Arizona
Hikers stop and take in a view of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The paved highway that retraces Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's epic journey in 1540 provides one of the greatest driving adventures in the West, with wonderful panoramas and beautiful alpine country along the way. Many back roads, camping areas, hiking trails, mountain streams, and lakes lie near the drive, which is equally scenic in both directions. Directions here are given from the south, starting in Clifton.

*Bolded names and numbers in the text below correspond with our map of this tour.

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Buy the National Geographic Traveler: Arizona guidebook
 
With some 460 curves in the section between Morenci and Alpine, this is not a trip for those in a hurry. Although you could travel the 123 miles (198 kilometers) in four hours nonstop, the scenery calls for a more leisurely pace. Hannagan Meadow and Alpine offer accommodations and you'll find plenty of campgrounds. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (tel +1 928 3334301) is steward for most of the land along the way. It's best to stock up on food and gas before setting out. Snow can close the section between Morenci and Hannagan Meadow from mid-December to mid-March, when cross-country skiers come out to enjoy the winter landscape.
 
Clifton (1) bears several reminders of its mining past. Stop by the Greenlee Chamber of Commerce (tel +1 928 865 3313, closed Saturday-Sunday), in a 1913 train depot beside US 191, for information and to see the Copper Head locomotive and old jail across the highway. Turn left up Chase Creek Street, lined with early 20th-century buildings, for exhibits on the area and its mines at Greenlee County Historical Museum (317 Chase Creek St., tel +1 928 865 3115, Closed Sunday. & Wednesday-Friday).
 
US 191 switchbacks northwest up to the modern mining town of Morenci, relocated here when old Morenci got in the way of mining operations. Continuing higher, you'll reach an overlook on the right for the open-pit Morenci Mine (2). At three miles (4.8 kilometers) wide and six miles (9.6 kilometers) long, it's one of the world's largest manmade holes. Past the mining operation, the highway enters the forest and ascends higher into the mountains. Cherry Lodge Picnic Area, 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Clifton on the left between Mileposts 178 and 179, is a pleasant spot to rest; a campground lies across the highway. Rose Peak (3) has a great panorama from a fire lookout on its 8,786-foot (2,678-meter) summit; you can hike up a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) trail (one way) or drive the rough 1.4-mile (2.3-kilometer) road near Milepost 207 (high-clearance vehicle needed).
 
The highway climbs up the Mogollon Rim to Blue Vista (4), a 9,184-foot-high (2,799-meter) overlook from which you can see countless ridges and mountains, including Mount Graham, 70 miles (112.7 kilometers) southwest in the Pinalenos; the turnoff is on the left near Milepost 225. Splendid forests of spruce, fir, and aspen blanket either side of the highway in the Hannagan Meadow (5) area, 73 miles (117.5 kilometers) from Clifton. There's a year-round lodge (tel +1 928 339 4370), plus campgrounds, trails, and cross-country skiing nearby.
 
Another 22 miles(35.4 kilometers) north takes you to the town of Alpine (tel +1 928 339 4330), where you'll find lodging, restaurants, and supplies. Escudilla Mountain (10,912 feet [3,326 meters]), a bit farther north still, is Arizona's third highest summit and a wilderness area. As US 191/180 drops to the high-desert area around Springerville, on the
left you'll pass Nelson Reservoir, a 60-acre (0.6-hectare) lake popular for boating and fishing. Springerville (6) marks the end of the trail; the staff at the Springerville-Eagar Regional Chamber of Commerce (318 E. Main St., tel +1 928 333 2123) can recommend things to see and do in the area.


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