The fun and the enjoyment of the Beale Wagon Road in the vicinity of Williams is mostly in the challenge of finding it. That may not be so hard if you’re using it as a hiking trail, starting at some well-known trailhead, and following markers along the Wagon Road itself. But if you’re trying to find it by car as it meanders through the Kaibab National Forest, that’s a different story. Although the Forest Service has published a rudimentary map of the Wagon Road (available on line), points of access to it don’t appear on regular maps. In some spots, the often ill-marked, narrow, rocky or muddy, pox-marked, corduroy Forest Service roads themselves follow Beale's route but have obliterated the original Wagon Road. In other spots, the railroad bed has taken over the route. You won’t know when you are on it – or cross it – unless you know what you are looking for. Advance research is a must in this modern day scavenger hunt. Even then, this obscure historic engineering feat may not ring any bells with most locals you ask – or even some Forest Service personnel.
In the Kaibab, the Beale Wagon Road runs a crooked parallel route roughly ten miles -- more and less -- north of Interstate 40 as the super highway passes from Parks in the east, through Williams, and on west toward Ash Fork. If you’re up for a little hike, drive to Laws Springs, park at the marked trailhead and hike in to the Springs—admire the thousands of petroglyphs, read the history of the Springs, climb around the rocky outcroppings – and keep going to the Wagon Road just beyond. But if you want to just drive your car right to the Wagon Road, access it west of Williams on Forest Road 142. Stop at Russel’s Tank and imagine it as an important watering hole for wagon trains of 160 years ago. Then a little farther along you’ll actually be driving over the Wagon Road with ruins of adobe brick buildings from Beale’s era here and there. Use your mind’s eye to see camels hauling Beale’s survey party as they plot the way for the Wagon Road through the wilderness. Listen for the scrape of shovels, the clank of hammers clearing rock to the sides of a cut or building the roadbed up above a flood area. Observe the mule deer, wild hogs, even an occasional mountain cat or bear, and remember that their ancestors were the evening meal for the manual laborers whose work marks the land more than a century and a half later. The area is still remote and wild. It isn’t hard to join Beale’s team as you ride the dusty road looking for the stubby cairns of rock encased in fence wire that mark Beale’s chosen route in some places … and gaze in awe at the rolling mountains and dusty grasslands. If you love the wilderness, you won’t regret spending your afternoon sightseeing ride searching out the Beale Wagon Road and finding … wilderness.
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