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Top Ten: Tunnels

“When faced with a mountain, I will not quit! I will keep striving until I climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine, with God’s help.” ~Robert Half

Arizona contains many mining tunnels (most of which are too dangerous to enter), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The state also has other kinds of tunnels which are listed below. These include driving tunnels, walking tunnels, an unfinished railroad tunnel, a lava tunnel, smuggling tunnels, and even a wind tunnel!

1. Deck Park Tunnel – The Papago Freeway Tunnel, better known as the Deck Park Tunnel, is a vehicular tunnel built underneath a park that was named after former Phoenix Mayor Margaret T. Hance. Completed in 1990, the Deck Park Tunnel was part of the “Final Mile” of I-10 connecting Santa Monica, CA, with Jacksonville, FL. The tunnel is located between Third Avenue and Third Street in downtown Phoenix. At 2,887 feet in length (approximately a half mile), it’s ranked as the 42nd longest vehicular tunnel in the US. The Deck Park Tunnel is actually made up of three tubes: two large tubes (one Eastbound, one Westbound), each carrying five lanes of traffic flanked by two emergency lanes; and a single lane tube which is not yet in service, but is reserved for city buses and emergency vehicles. The Deck Park Tunnel was designed to be ventilated naturally, using the energy of passing vehicles to help propel air through the tubes. Each tube has four backup fans to prevent the dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide in times of heavy traffic or in the event of a fire. For the safety of motorists, intercoms are located every 150 feet within the tunnel. The tunnel also has a large diesel generator to run the lighting, video surveillance, and intercoms even during a power outage.

2. Mule Pass Tunnel – Mule Pass Tunnel was the longest in Arizona until construction of the tunnel in Phoenix on I-10 through downtown. Driving State Highway 80 (Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway) from Tombstone towards Bisbee, you will pass through this tunnel just before reaching the town. Originally the road wound over the Mule Pass until the Mule Pass Tunnel was built in 1958. Locals jokingly call it “The Time Tunnel” and say that all who go through it come out into another time zone. Indeed, from the moment you pass through Mule Pass Tunnel – the entrance to Bisbee – it will be like taking a step back in history to the town that time forgot.

4. Queen Creek Tunnel – The Queen Creek Tunnel is a roughly ¼ mile long tunnel on US 60, in a beautifully rugged canyon just east of Superior. Completed in 1952, the Queen Creek Tunnel replaced the Claypool Tunnel linking Phoenix with Globe/Miami and other points east. Following a heavy rainfall, you can see an impressive waterfall right next to the highway. If you are heading East, after exiting the Queen Creek tunnel, pull off at the second of two large gravel lots on the right-hand side of US 60. Take a walk along the outside edge of the guardrail to get the best view of the waterfall which will be cascading down the cliff on the other side of the highway. Hike underneath the bridge and from there you can climb up to the waterfall.

3. Claypool Tunnel – The Claypool Tunnel (named for the town of Claypool, about 20 miles to the east) sits on an abandoned segment of the old U.S. Highway 60 alignment outside of Superior. A major engineering feat for its time, this narrow tunnel was built in 1922 and replaced by the Queen Creek Tunnel in 1952. If you park near the east portal of the Queen Creek Tunnel, the Claypool Tunnel is a short (less than 1/4 mile) walk. The Claypool Tunnel retains its integrity of design, setting, and workmanship. Despite some erosion of the road surface, the old highway itself is in good condition and sufficiently long to convey the feeling of a 1920’s highway.

5. Lava Tube – This impressive lava tube is located in the Coconino National Forest northwest of Flagstaff. From U.S. Highway 180, take Forest Road 245 west for about three miles, then go south for roughly 1 ½ miles on Forest Road 171, and turn left on FR 171B. This tube was formed within a few hours when an ancient volcano erupted. The tunnel is almost ¾ of a mile long and never gets above 45 degrees F. In some spots the ceiling is only about 3 feet high, while in others it’s 30 feet high and shaped like a subway tunnel. There is no admission charge, no tour guides, and no facilities. You’re on your own but there is only one way in and out. Small children will need help scrambling down the boulder pile at the entrance.

6. Railroad Tunnel to Nowhere – In 1883, some railroad entrepreneurs came up with a plan to transport ore from Globe up to the newly opened Atlantic and Pacific line in Flagstaff. The owners of the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad planned to dynamite a hole through the Mogollon Rim, building a tunnel 3,100 feet long and 16 feet wide. Then they would be able to lay track from Globe through the Tonto Basin and up across the pine forest to Flagstaff. Workers had drilled about 70 feet into the cliff by the time they ran out of funds and the project was abandoned. The Railroad Tunnel Trail begins just 12 miles from the west end of Forest Road 300 (the Rim Road). A monument to the Battle of Big Dry Wash helps mark the parking spot. From there, follow the power line trail down into the canyon. The hike is just a little over a half-mile long, but parts of it are rough, steep and challenging. The tunnel will be hidden up to your left in a side canyon. After dropping 760 feet from the Rim, now you will have to work your way back up 300 feet to the tunnel. The tunnel opening up in the cliff is hidden behind a tangle of brush.

7. Poland-Walker Tunnel – In the ghost town of Poland, at the north foot of Big Bug Mesa, accessible from the Black Canyon highway, you can find the Poland-Walker Tunnel. In 1897, the tunnel was started in Poland and three years later the Walker end of the tunnel was started. The tunnel was completed in 1903, its length estimated at over 8,000 feet. Originally, it was planned to haul ore by rail from Walker to the Poland mill, but the tunnel was never enlarged to standard railroad size. Small, mule-drawn ore cars were used until 1911. School children once traveled through the earth in this tunnel on their way to school in Walker. The last I heard, this tunnel was flooded so I wouldn’t recommend entering it now.

8. Hoover Dam Diversion Tunnels – In 1932-1932, to divert the Colorado River’s flow around the Hoover Dam construction site, four 56-foot-diameter tunnels were bored through the walls of Black Canyon, two on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side. Their combined length was nearly 16,000 feet (more than three miles). The diversion tunnels were lined with concrete. For nearly two years, the Colorado River flowed unchecked through the diversion tunnels. With Hoover Dam nearing completion in 1934, concrete plugs 405 feet thick were dovetailed into tunnels 2 and 3, closing the holes forever. Tunnels 1 and 4 were fitted with gate valves, allowing sufficient water to be released to meet downstream needs, while the waters of the Colorado River began to back up behind Hoover Dam.

9. Skydive Arizona Wind Tunnel, Eloy – Here’s a totally different type of tunnel – a vertical indoor wind tunnel! The wind tunnel provides basically the same experience as skydiving freefall but without having to jump out of an airplane. Now anyone age 3 years and older can “fly”!

10. Smuggling Tunnels – Drug and human smugglers are going underground in an effort to evade U.S. Border Patrol agents. In the Nogales area alone, over 30 tunnels were discovered between 2006-2009. The sophistication of these tunnels ranges from crude tunnels built with hands and small shovels, to elaborate ones with wooden pillars and electricity. These tunnel systems often incorporate drainage tunnels that are already there. Stay away from these tunnels! If you’re near the border and happen to stumble across a suspicious-looking hole, be sure to notify the local authorities.

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