Canyon Diablo Rail Road Bridge

Railroad Ghosts of
Canyon Diablo

 

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1901 Canyon Diablo Bridge
The bridge was eventually built and became a railroad marvel as this 1901 post card shows.
Canyon Diablo was given its name by Lieutenant Whipple in 1853. This canyon presented such an obstacle to his historic thirty-fifth parallel survey party that he wanted to let all that followed know what he thought of it. Devil's Canyon was appropriately named. Other survey parties, like Whipple's, had to go miles out of their way just to cross the canyon. Lieutenant "Ned" Beale on his famous camel expedition of 1857 reported the canyon as impassable. The railroad tried to span the canyon in 1881 but Canyon Diablo once more lived up to its name. Evidently the timber parts of the railroad bridge were pre-assembled elsewhere and the plans were misread. The bridge came up several feet short!

 

The town of Canyon Diablo originally sprang up as a railroad camp in the 1880's. In its early days it was said to be one of the roughest towns in the territory. Some felt it was even rougher than Tombstone. Gambling halls, saloons and ladies of easy virtue were the order of the day in Canyon Diablo. Gunfights were said to be quite common. In fact the term of town sheriff in Canyon Diablo usually was a short one. A sheriff lasting more than a day or two was considered to be a lucky old timer. Either that or very good at handling a gun!

Aerial Phot of Canyon Diablo RailRoad Bridge

Canyon Diablo and the Railroad Bridge as seen from the air.

Canyon Diablo was also the scene of a couple of interesting robberies. A tale is told of a holdup with divine intervention. An outlaw robbed the payroll intended for the railroad construction crew. The outraged workers quickly formed a posse and went in hot pursuit of their money. They finally caught up with the hapless outlaw who had somehow lost his saddlebags containing the payroll during the chase. The area was searched but the money was not found. The posse was rather disappointed at the turn of events as you can well imagine.

Modern Canyon Diablo Bridge

The modern Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Bridge is still being used today.

 

Not to let an opportunity for some sort of compensation go by, they decided to hang the outlaw on the spot. They put a noose around his neck and draped the rope around the limb of a pine tree. Just as they were about to administer some frontier justice a bolt of lightning struck the pine tree. Nobody was injured, but they were a little shook up over the whole affair. The posse suspected some sort of divine intervention may have been involved in the unexpected lightning strike and decided to turn the outlaw over to the proper authorities. The outlaw was given a term in the Yuma Territorial Prison and life returned to normal in Canyon Diablo. The robbery was all but forgotten until a few years later when a cowboy out on the range happened to find the weather beaten saddlebags with the payroll still inside!

 

Another train robbery took place at Canyon Diablo in the spring of 1889. Four men robbed the Santa Fe express car when the train stopped to fill its wood box. The bandits were cowboys from the rough and tumble Hashknife Outfit out of Holbrook and wanted to supplement their meager cowhand pay with some ill-gotten gains. They made off with seven thousand dollars and some jewelry, a sizable fortune back in those days. The men were finally apprehended three weeks and six hundred miles later after a running gunfight at Wahweap Canyon on the Utah/Arizona border near the present town of Page, Arizona. The legendary sheriff of Yavapai County, Buckey O'Neill and his three-man posse tracked the outlaws relentlessly through some of the most isolated and inhospitable country of the territory to bring the outlaws to justice.

Canyon Diablo Ruins

The ruins at Canyon Diablo are quite extensive.

 

Canyon Diablo Store is Closed Now
The Canyon Diablo store has been shut down for quite awhile!

Today Canyon Diablo is quiet. It is a haunted place, haunted by the history of its turbulent past. The wind rustles gently through the ruins, giving voice to the forgotten ghosts of Canyon Diablo. Only the passing of an occasional Burlington Northern and Santa Fe train breaks the eerie silence of the old ghost town. The trains don't stop here anymore; they are bound for other places across the famous canyon of the devil. There are plenty of ruins left from the old town on the north side of the tracks to explore though. The extensive stone ruins attest to the size and importance of the town in Arizona territorial history.
Rusted bodies of old automobiles dot the landscape, relics left over from another era. Here and there foundations and mounds of adobe ruins lay exposed to the desert sun and wind. They remind one of the inevitable passing of time and that life goes on, maybe not here anymore, but somewhere on down the line.

Canyon Diablo Rusted Relics

 

Map of Two Guns & Canyon Diablo

The road to the ghost town of Canyon Diablo isn't hard to find. Though it is not marked, it is the only road going out into the desert across the Interstate from Two Guns. Process of elimination is pretty easy on this one. What wasn't easy was the road!
This is a pretty rough road. I've heard it described as a four-wheel drive road and that description fits. The road was pretty rocky so I wasn't worried about getting stuck in the sand, but I had to be very careful about my oil pan. I was driving my 95 Mitsubishi Mirage and I don't believe they classify it as a high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicle. I made slow progress down the road, zigzagging to avoid particularly rocky outcroppings that from the vantage point of my Mirage looked like small mountains. A couple of times I wondered if I should be doing this at all, and should just turn around and forget the whole thing. 
A half-hour and four miles from the Interstate later, I had finally made it to the ghost town of Canyon Diablo. I was in one piece, and my car was fine. You could indeed drive the road in a passenger car if you were careful and took your time. The history of this little piece of Americana is so fascinating I just had to explore it in person. I'm glad I didn't turn around.

 

Take this exit to return to Route 66 at Two Guns Trading Post...

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