Travel Hooray – Black Canyon Trail to Russian Well

Canyon Trail to Russian Well

The working windmill at the Russian Well site

The Black
Canyon National Recreation Trail is quietly expanding its northern reach.

Efforts to
extend the 80+-mile historic route that stretches from Phoenix to the outskirts
of Prescott are taking shape in the Verde Ranger District of Prescott National

Black Canyon Trail is expanding in the Prescott National Forest

there are already numerous easy-access trailheads scattered along the route,
plans for better connectivity and loop options in the Verde Valley are in

Scenic spot at the hike’s high point

One off-the-beaten- path
trailhead that’s currently open and flagged for enhancement is the Russian Well
segment northeast of the town of Mayer. 
Situated in stunning back country of rolling hills, washes and scrubby
rangeland, this remote stretch of trail, which (as of this writing) follows
a signed temporary alignment on dirt roads is also packed with relics of the area’s past.

Rustic stone structure at Russian Well

It’s a starkly
beautiful, curious place with multiple personalities.  The hike starts out with a walk among
low-growing pockets of mesquite, scrub oak, cacti, yucca and tickets of cat
claw that punctuate largely barren grasslands. 
The undulating path dips and climbs through wide open spaces where
domestic cattle graze and deer might be sighted darting among scant stands of
juniper trees.  At the top of the first
rise, the cottonwood-lined course of Yarber Wash in a depression below cuts a
ribbon of color among the muted tones of the surrounding chaparral.

Black Canyon Trail traverses mineral-rich back country

 The road twists downhill and crosses the sandy
riparian strip before heading uphill again to a cattle guard and fence line
signed for U Cross Ranch. 

Russian Well site and Copper Mountain (center horizon) seen from the trail 

Another mild uphill
section lands at a corral where some of the most sweeping vistas of the hike come
into view. Look for the long profile of the Bradshaw Mountains in the west,
Pine Mountain Wilderness to the east and the prominent peak of Copper Mountain
to the southwest.  Strewn with salt licks
(blocks of minerals placed for resident cattle) and strung with barbed wire,
the high corral site marks the beginning of the history segment of the hike.

The trail crosses tree-lined Yarber Wash


Artifacts at the abandoned Tri-Metal Mine site

A water trough at Russian Well attracts wildlife

From here
the road approaches the boundary of Prescott National Forest and enters Bureau
of Land Management territory and dips downhill along a rough road cut that
exposes some of the complex geology that attracted prospectors to mineral-rich
volcanic deposits.  At the 2.9-mile point,
the trail encounters an intersection above the tiny oasis of the Russian Well

U Cross Ranch site on the Black Canyon Trail

The left fork heads up to the Tri-Metals
Mine while the right spur continues downhill on the Black Canyon Trail to the well.  The Russian Well locale makes for interesting
exploring.  Ringed by massive, clearly ancient
junipers, the site straddles Brushy Wash, a deeply incised drainage where a
working windmill pumps groundwater into a collection of tanks and an open-air water
trough.  A picturesque, partially
collapsed stone building surrounded by splintered timbers and metal scraps
stands above a small corral at the edge of the wash. 

The corral at Russian Well

Juniper trees surround the Russian Well corral

A walk around the place reveals signs of
active wildlife, including raucous, steel-blue pinion jays that flit around the
water trough, and scatterings of rusted cans and odds-and-ends that reveal
little about the well’s original builders except maybe they ate beans and drank
beer.  As with all heritage sites, leave
everything as you found it. 

Prescott National Forest mountain views abound on this hike

Russian Well
is the turnaround point for this hike, however, the trail continues south on
the route’s Copper Mountain segment.

Ruins of the Tri-Metal Mine prospect

It’s 10.2 miles to the next substantial
access point—the Big Bug trailhead off State Route 69 near the town of Mayer.  For an out-an-back hike, there’s more to
explore on the return trip.  Hike back up
to the road junction and follow the opposite fork to the mine.

Scrubby rangeland dominates the hike

During its
operating life, the defunct Yavapai County prospect yielded silver, gold,
copper and lead.  Two filled-in digs, waste
piles and a group of disintegrating concrete foundations and structures are all
that remain.  You’d be hard pressed to
find any remnants riches lying about, but a display of oxidized detritus like
nuts, bolts and unidentifiable parts scattered among the ruins are more mundane
treasures to observe in place while gazing out over layers of foothills and
mountain peaks.  

LENGTH: 7.1-mile
round trip as described here


4,189 – 4,517 feet


Phoenix go north on Interstate 17 to the Orme/Dugas Road exit 268 north of
Cordes Junction.  Turn left at the bottom
of the offramp and follow Orme Road (County Road 169) 7.1 miles to the
trailhead on the left.  There’s a Black
Canyon Trail sign at the entrance to a large dirt lot.  Hike begins at the trail post at the south
side of the lot

Roads are
maintained dirt suitable for all vehicles.

INFO: Black Canyon Trail Coalition

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