Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paving over history: the Butterfield Trail

For the last couple of months we've  been commuting every week between Tucson and Yuma for  doctor's appointment. Each time we passed the Gila Bend exit off Interstate 10, we commented on the Butterfield Trail exit and how we should stop and explore it.

So that's what we did when we were coming back from Yuma last Friday. Only there was no trail to explore. Butterfield Trail signage stops with the freeway exit signs. We headed into Gila Bend for directions. A clerk at one store thought we meant Butterfield Trail Road and directed us there. It was a short street, maybe 100 or so yards long that ended at the entrance to an RV park.

We stopped at the office to get permission to cross through the park to get to the trail only to be told it didn't exist any more in these parts. It was long paved over for highways, the current one being U.S. 85 that is a shortcut to Phoenix from Yuma. We had actually driven on the Butterfield Trail and didn't know it. (I was expecting to see stage coach tracks, much like those that still exist on a secluded forest road near LaGrande, Oregon.)

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company used the trail used only between 1857 and 1861 to carry mail and passengers from St. Louis or Memphis to San Francisco.

It took the stage coaches just over 71 hours to traverse the 280 miles of Sonora Desert between Tucson and Fort Yuma. Today that route has been whittled to 226 miles that can be traveled in under four hours on 75 mph freeways.

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