Clifton and Morenci were established during the late 1800’s as mining towns. They are in eastern Arizona, near the New Mexico border. Clifton, incorporated in 1909, is the seat of Greenlee County and the birthplace of Geronimo, famous Apache warrior chief. Morenci boasts the largest open pit copper mine in the U.S. Elevations range from 3,464 feet in Clifton to 4,838 feet in Morenci, which is still unincorporated.
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Mining and mineral processing dominate the economic picture in the Clifton/Morenci area, employing upwards of two-thirds of the workforce. The government and educational sectors are also major employers with about 200 employees. Clifton and Morenci are trade centers for tourists driving the popular Coronado Trail or touring the historic Chase Creek business district. While there are a large number of retail and service firms, they are not major employers. The Greenlee Enterprise Zone, encompassing the entire county, was established in 1991. Employers may qualify for state corporate income tax credits if they expand employment by hiring local, economically disadvantaged employees. The four counties–Greenlee, Graham, Santa Cruz and Cochise–which comprise the Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization (SEAGO) have been designated Arizona’s first EDA District. This program provides funding for economic development in the four-county area.
The spectacular Coronado Trail cuts a path northward through the mountains and valleys of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, rising to a height of more than 9,000 feet at the Mogollon Rim. Wild and picturesque, the San Francisco River meanders through Clifton while the Gila River runs a course south of Clifton, through the fertile, grass-covered meadows of the Gila and Duncan valleys. These water resources together with Eagle Creek, the Blue, and Black Rivers form local recreation sites. Hunting in the area is for bear, mountain lion, deer, turkey, elk, javelina, and antelope. The rivers in the south form fine warm-water fisheries. Northern streams abound with trout. The hills around Clifton, filled with a multitude of agates and other stones, are popular with rock hunters. The communities are on old U.S. 666, recently renamed U.S. 191, and State Highway 75. Safford is about 45 miles to the southwest and the New Mexico state line is 30 to 35 miles east. The communities are approximately 169 miles northeast of Tucson.
It is in Greenlee County and is the county seat. There are canyon walls stretching up around the town with the San Francisco River meandering down its middle. Clifton is located on U.S. Highway 191. The town of Morenci looms on the hill above, just six miles away. Clifton is approximately 30 miles from the New Mexico border and 169 miles northeast of Tucson. Overview: The town is sometimes referred to as the Gateway to the Coronado Trail. The famous trail leads from Clifton north to the town of Springerville and is noted as one of the most scenic drives in Arizona. Clifton began as a mining town. Today Clifton has a population of 3,100. The town sits at an elevation of 3,464 feet. The climate is mild all year round with a winter low temperature of 31 degrees and a summer high temperature of 100 degrees. Clifton is a center of government, trade, tourism, and mining. Its people enjoy a good life in Arizona s eastern borderland. Community Features: There are several attractions that reveal the history of the area. The Greenlee County Historical Museum is located at the west end of Chase Creek in Clifton. The museum is packed full of interesting memorabilia from the surrounding area. Visitors will discover Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor, Apache warrior Geronimo and Ted De Grazia were all born nearby. The museum has artifacts that make the west come alive. It is a stop worth taking. Clifton has approximately 45 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town is brimming with history. Many of the buildings are located on historic Chase Creek and can be seen by taking a walking tour of the town. Visitors can get a map of the tour by stopping in at the Greenlee County Historical Museum. The Morenci Open Mine Pit Tour gives visitors an up-close look at the mining process. The equipment is monstrous and the sheer size of the operation is hard to comprehend. The tour takes about three and a half hours. Make sure you call ahead to find out the days and times. The tour is located north of town in Morenci. Clifton has a number of outdoor activities. The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway travels between the towns of Clifton and Springerville, along with U.S. Highway 180 or 191. Francisco Vasques de Coronado first used the trail in 1540, during his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. The drive passes through gorgeous landscapes and through dangerous switchbacks. Another scenic drive that is located just outside of town is the Black Hills Back Country Byway. This rough 21-mile road between Clifton and Safford begins just south of Clifton and passes over the Old Safford Bridge. The road was once a wagon trail and it travels through spectacular scenery and sweeping views. It is a must-see, as long as you are prepared for the bumpy path. The Black Hills Rockhounding Area is about 15 miles south of Clifton off of U.S. Highway 191. The road off the highway is not regularly maintained. Therefore, visitors should come prepared. Many rockhounds have found fire agates in this area. It is an adventure. History: Clifton was founded in 1865 by some Mexican placer miners. However, the town did not take off until 1872 when Jim and Bob Metcalf discovered copper deposits near Clifton. The men created the Longfellow and Metcalf mines. It was during this same year, that a peace treaty was signed with the Apache Indians. This treaty allowed access to the area. Soon other mines began popping up like the Montezuma, Copper Mountain, Yankie, and the Arizona Central. These mines along with the Longfellow and Metcalf mines organized the Copper Mountain Mining District. Later, the Metcalfs sold their portion of the mine to the Lesinsky brothers.
The origin of the towns name is difficult to say. One story says that the town was named after Henry Clifton, who was a leading a prospecting group in the area in 1864. Apaches later chased Clifton out of the area. Another story says that Charlie Shannon noticed that steep canyon walls and hillsides surrounding the town and smelter. He called the town Cliff Town. Later, the name was shortened to Clifton.
When mining first began, the copper ore was shipped to Swansea, Wales for smelting. Unfortunately, this proved to be very expensive and cut into the profits. The Lesinsky brothers came up with a new plan. They constructed an adobe smelter along Chase Creek in Clifton. The process began by hauling the ore by burro from the mine down to the smelter at Chase Creek. The burros would pull the empty ore carts up to the mine. Then when the carts were full, the burros would be loaded on top of the ore and the carts would be sent down the hill powered by gravity. Oxen train next took the smelted ore over to Kansas City. Not only did Chase Creek Street have a smelter, it also became the center of Clifton. Chase Creek Street was the main business thoroughfare. Its narrow crooked street had board sidewalks and buildings jammed together on both sides.
Clifton’s first town jail was built in 1878. The Clifton Cliff Jail located along the Chase Creek Street and can still be seen today. The jail was blasted out of the side of the granite cliff. Though bad men in the old days were often as ingenious as ruthless, it is claimed that none ever left Clifton Cliff Jail except under escort. The jail does have a story behind it. The Lesinsky brothers, owners of the mines, enlisted Margarito Verala to build the jail. The story goes on to say that upon the completion of the jail, Verala went out to celebrate. He got too carried away and shot up the dance hall. Verala ended up becoming the jails, first guest.
Also in 1878, the Lesinsky brothers improved the transportation of ore. They built a narrow gauge railroad and the first steam locomotive was used. The Little Emma was the name of the mini locomotive that hauled the ore to Colorado. In 1880, the Lesinsky brothers decided to sell the operation for several million.
The mine sold to Frank Underwood, who created the Arizona Copper Company. The company’s headquarters was in Edinburgh, Scotland. The operation grew again. This time a 71-mile railroad was built to New Mexico to link with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Arizona Copper smelter remained in the same location as the first one built by the Lesinsky brothers near Chase Creek. Throughout the late 1890s and the early 1900s, the mine experienced drops in copper prices and several strikes. Clifton was incorporated in 1909 and the town was recognized as the county seat. Clifton continues to hold that distinction today. In 1921, Arizona Copper sold to Phelps-Dodge. Clifton went through more strikes and several terrible floods. Today mining and mineral processing are dominant factors in Clifton’s economy, which employs about two-thirds of the workforce.
Did you know? Clifton and Morenci were established during the late 1800s as mining towns. They are in eastern Arizona, near the New Mexico border. Clifton, incorporated in 1909, is the seat of Greenlee County and the birthplace of Geronimo, famous Apache warrior chief.
The 25th Territorial Assembly created Greenlee County. In 1909, the eastern portion of Graham County was taken to establish Greenlee County. There was a good bit of resistance to the formation of the new county. Graham County did not like the idea of becoming smaller in size and losing some of their mining districts. In a compromise, the new county was not as a big as originally proposed and it absorbed all of Graham County’s debts. Today, Greenlee County covers 1,837 square miles.
The naming of the new county went through some interesting twists and turns. In the beginning, the name “Lincoln County” was suggested. However, when the votes have counted the name “Greenlee County” won out. Greenlee comes from Mason Greenlee, who came to the Clifton area in 1874. Upon his arrival, Apache Indians ran him out of the area. Undaunted, Greenlee returned in 1879 to live until his death in 1913.
Clifton has remained the county seat throughout Greenlee County’s history. It has been a mining town since 1869 and continues to be a part of Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation in nearby Morenci.
The county stretches almost the length of Eastern Arizona, along with the New Mexico border. This piece of land has varying landscapes. The northern section of Greenlee County is a part of the Apache National Forest. There are dense forestlands with an abundance of creeks and streams. This proves to be ideal for the many types of wildlife living here. In southern Greenlee County near Duncan, the terrain includes rolling green hills. Here you will spot cattle grazing freely. The Blue River, San Francisco River, and the Gila River crisscross through the county.
You will find some attractions in Greenlee County. Bear Wallow Wilderness is in the upper northwestern corner of Greenlee County. The wilderness covers 11,000 acres and is a great place to try your line at trout fishing or your boots along one of the many hiking trails. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area begins near the Old Safford Bridge and follows the Gila River southwest. Visitors come to see the wildlife and take a trip down the river.
Greenlee County is a perfect spot to see wildlife in their natural surroundings.