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The open road: Visiting desert ghost towns

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The sun hangs low in the sky above the remnants of a smelter at Sasco on Sunday afternoon. Sasco was once the smelting hub for the copper mining town at Silverbell.
By Andrew Salvati
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 20, 2003
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In life, the journey is what counts. The same holds

true for road trips, well sort of ...

In what is now little more than wild and overgrown desert, a town of nearly 3,000 people once flourished.

In the early part of the 20th century, the towns of Sasco and Silverbell near present day Marana and Red Rock flourished as burgeoning mining camps.

I thought it might be fun to go and check out two of the West's famous "ghost towns" that dot the Arizona desert. So, I gassed up the car and took enough water to sustain me on the 40-mile car ride from downtown Tucson up I-10 and the subsequent walk to the sites of the once-populous towns.

Located roughly at the end of Avra Valley Road of the I-10, the Silverbell loop is a well-worn dirt road that takes ghost hunters through a rough and tumble desert landscape and connects what remains of Silverbell and Sasco with Red Rock.

Eager visitors should beware however, the site of both Silverbell and Sasco lie on private property and it may be beneficial to acquire the owner's permission before bouncing across the countryside in search of these relic buildings.

Sasco, an acronym for the Southern Arizona Smelting Company is easily the more intriguing of the two ruined camps because a large part of its original foundations and a graveyard remain intact.

Established in 1907, Sasco served as the smelting location for ore coming from the nearby mining camp of Silverbell. Home to approximately 600 souls at its peak, Sasco contained all the amenities of a frontier mining town; a post office, jail, houses, saloons, shops, smelter, railroad platform and a hotel.

The Sasco post office was discontinued in 1919 when the ore flow came to a trickle and the site became unprofitable. The closure of the post office and smelter effectively ended its existence as a settlement.

At the site today, visitors can still see the foundations of the Hotel Rockland, the railroad platform, and the Sasco smelter, easily

MELISSA HALTERMAN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A graveyard consisting of a handful of marked graves is practically all that remains at Silverbell.

recognizable by the oval opening at its front.

The Silverbell site is a bit trickier to find because it straddles land currently owned by the modern incarnation of the Southern Arizona Smelting Company.

Though most of the remains have since been worn away by erosion and the current mining that still goes on at the site, visitors can see a period cemetery about two miles from the original town that is the final resting place of Silverbell's deceased.

The Silverbell post office was established in 1904 though copper mining in the area had been going on since the 1860s.

At its height, Silverbell was home to nearly 3,000 miners and their families, and was one of the most renowned of the mining camps in Arizona. Then in the late 1940s, the town of Silverbell was moved to its present day

location where copper mining still endures in force.

Although most of the old Silverbell's remains have either been destroyed or lie well within present-day ASARCO's property, the region is home to one of the biggest tailing piles in Arizona. The tailing piles are easily recognizable in the area's large cliffs that sport dark and white markings and rings.

Getting to the sites of Silverbell and Sasco are quite tricky and require a bit of a walk through the desert. I would recommend wearing clothes that you aren't to worried about getting dirty; be ready for some hiking. Also, getting to the sites requires an extended trip down a dirt road for which a high clearance, preferably four wheel drive vehicle would be preferred. Although if it has been raining, like the day I went, driving might be hazardous. Be sure to bring a cell phone in case you get stuck in the mud.

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