I Finally Met the Devil

The date was August 11, 2010. I awoke earlier than Deb, as is the usual case because she likes to stargaze into the wee morning hours. I was feeling a bit anxious. I knew the day’s activities could be challenging based on all that I read and heard.

I let her sleep in as I made preparations for us to leave the Meteor Crater RV Park where we had stayed the night. We were there to witness the Perseid meteor shower and since we were in northern Arizona we concluded that there was no more appropriate place to see the meteor shower than at Meteor Crater, Arizona, some forty miles east of Flagstaff. 

EBCS West Canyon Diablo - The eastbound control signal at West Canyon Diablo shows a clear indication and flat terrain ahead.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Once I packed up all the gear and checked the truck over completely, I awoke Deb and made her breakfast. After we got cleaned up we pulled away from our spot and headed for a rendezvous four years in the making.

The last time we were in this part of Arizona was back in 2006 when Deb and I “chased steel” on the BNSF Seligman Subdivision from Needles, California all the way to Winslow, Arizona. On that trip I was driving a far-less-capable vehicle that would have had issues getting to today’s destination so I opted to defer going there.

In railfanning circles, Canyon Diablo is a coveted and remarkable location. In part due to the fantastic bridge that spans the canyon but also due to the fact that the road to Canyon Diablo is challenging and rugged. I was determined to make the trip this time.

We headed west a few miles on Interstate 40 and eventually took the exit at Two Guns, Exit 230 which is the beginning of the road that leads to the bridge. As the road changed from asphalt near the freeway to a graded dirt road we passed a sign that read “Rough Road Ahead.” I looked at Deb, having previously disclosed the reputation that this road has with her, and asked “You ready for this?” She smiled hesitantly. 

Soon thereafter the road changed composition once again to one of rocks and ruts. Did I say rocks? I meant to say “ROCKS.” I carefully picked my course through the openings and over the ruts best I could. My vehicle weighs in at nearly 11,000 pounds when loaded down with all of our gear and the Lance Camper on the back. It was challenging to say the least.

My main concern was keeping forward momentum as we traveled. Should I stop on a sandy patch of road or desert, I might not be able to get her going again. About 15 minutes into the journey I noticed that the GPS indicated that we still had 2.2 more miles to go to get to the bridge. All I kept thinking about was how am I going to get help if I get stuck. At one crucial point I disclosed my concern to Deb over the road and questioned the value of the effort we had undertaken but it was only fleeting in nature. I pressed on.

We passed more than a few discarded and blown tires along the road. I pressed on. As we neared the bridge and the canyon the GPS became useless. Roads indicated on the GPS’ display simply weren’t there or weren’t there anymore. We had to dead reckon and pick our own way, so to speak.

Despite the challenges of the road and the fact that August is THE rainy month in Arizona, which threw a few “lakes” in our path, we made it to the bridge intact. That is more than I can say for the contents of the camper which were strewn all over the place inside. Oh well, fun, travel and adventure - right?

As we closed on the bridgehead I kept second guessing our location because I had expected to see a bridge. (No duh, uh?) Well, the bridge is almost entirely below the rim of the chasm which, if you are not careful, you could easily drive right into!

Once there I took a celebratory walk and a smoke break to regain my usual calm and collected self. As I meander around I noticed remains of long ago buildings and all things discarded in the course of living. There were old rusted tin cans, glass bottles of yesteryear, and even a grave - well adorned and maintained considering it was from the late 1880s. Wow what a place.

I had known a little history of the area before going there like how the place came to be when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad were laying rails west out of Albuquerque, New Mexico towards California when the crews ran into the obstacle that is Canyon Diablo. After a failed attempt to build a bridge over the chasm, which occurred because someone misread the plans where the bridge parts were preassembled, the A & P was forced to sell out to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, due to near bankruptcy, which eventually spanned the canyon with a viable bridge in 1882. This was just part of the story. After I returned home I researched the area and the town and learned even more interesting details that I wish I knew when I was there.

Slight Historic Departure

During the time the railroads were waiting for the bridge to be completed the “town” of Canyon Diablo came to be. As with any railhead location, where there are railroad crews there are saloons, prostitutes, and chaos. Canyon Diablo was no different, except in one respect - reputation. Apparently the town of Canyon Diablo had more lawlessness than all of the “wild west” towns that you may be familiar with. Towns like Dodge City, Kansas, and Tombstone, Arizona were peaceful by Canyon Diablo standards. In fact, legend has it that the first sheriff of Canyon Diablo was sworn in at 3:00 PM and buried by 8:00 PM the same day!

I can’t do the complete history of Canyon Diablo justice so I won’t even try. I do strongly encourage those of you who might be interested in learning more to check out this sites which have more information:

As I heard the distinctive low rumble of an approaching freight train, a sound all its own, I raced back to the truck to grab my camera and gear. I proceeded to shoot photos over the next two hours or so, some of which are posted here: 

BNSF 4836 West and The Canyon Diablo Bridge - BNSF 4836 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 7338 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4027 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 651 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 4759 (GE DASH 9-44CW) lead their ethanol unit train over the formidable Canyon Diablo east of Flagstaff, AZ.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

BNSF 7625 West on Canyon Diablo Bridge - BNSF 7625 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4193 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5233 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the power for this westbound manifest train seen here crossing the Canyon Diablo Bridge.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Westbound Manifest Crosses Canyon Diablo Bridge - A westbound manifest train, BNSF 7625 West, rolls over Canyon Diablo Bridge just east of Flagstaff, AZ.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Rusty Barrel at Canyon Diablo - A long forgotten barrel rusts away in the forbidding Arizona weather and sun at Canyon Diablo.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Our Rig at Canyon Diablo - Our rig near the bridge over Canyon Diablo. Very little of the bridge extends over the rim of the canyon. The only telltale indications visible from a distance that you are near the canyon and the bridge are the runs of underground fiber cable coming to the surface and braced to span the canyon by those “telephone poles.”
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

Eastbound Intermodal by the Ruins of Canyon Diablo - BNSF 7497 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7221 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 5262 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the lead units of this eastbound intermodal consist as she passes the ruins of an old trading post at Canyon Diablo, AZ. The middle part of the train is currently on the bridge in this shot.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

BNSF 7497 East - BNSF 7497 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7221 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 5262 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are the lead units of this eastbound intermodal consist approaching the eastbound control signals at East Canyon Diablo, AZ under an awesome summer sky.
[8/11/2010 - Seligman Subdivision] © 2010 Joe Perry.

As the clouds began to amass on the horizon I began to become concerned about flash floods and the already difficult road out of here getting more swamped than it already was. We had come and met the devil. I had got some good shots so it was time to go. Best not to tempt the devil… 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (6)

Canyon Diablo is one of my favorite places - though I've never gone north of the Interstate, always staying on the south side, exploring Two Guns and the canyon as it is down that way. I've been tempted to find the tracks, but always felt that I somehow shouldn't.

My experiences with it are here, here and here.

Also, thanks for regularly posting about your travels and the great railroad shots. I regularly follow your feed and really do appreciate your work. Thanks!


August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Swanger

Great shots, Joe, they were worth the effort to get there. Deb is a real trooper for hanging by your side as you made your way out there.


August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBjg Fella

@Eric: Thanks for the comments and support! I read your blog posts and must say, you are certainly an ambitious one, aren't you? The US on a Vespa? A daily view of the Civil War? Wow. Excellent stuff and I love your dedication.

You should check out the tracks and the bridge over the canyon if ever you find yourself that way again. I am certain you will enjoy it. The area, as you know, is steeped in history and very surreal. I don't think a Vespa would be the right vehicle for the road though! ;-)


August 26, 2010 | Registered CommenterJoe Perry

hi joe, this is great stuff and beautiful photos. as i was reading i was thinking of my travels with my husband (joe also) who is always looking for mines. sometimes he just decides to take off, without map, plenty of water or gas, and look for something he thinks he remembers out that way... often very hair raising. you are much more prepared and that is good. this sounds like a wonderful spot and would like to go there someday, but it sure looks like you could have driven right off the cliff

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrose ramirez

Joe Perry, these are some of my favorite photos. It was definitely worth the SCARY ride. Lets go out again. Soon. Oh, and I do enjoy the history part too. Deb

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Parra

Hello Joe, I'am a friend of Debbie's from High school and if it was me I would not wanted to go on that road. I give alot of credit!! congrats on the AWESOME time and Dedicatiion, Love the history about Canyon Diablo and Love the pics!! Keep up the AWESOME work! And to Debbie, it was all worth it!! Thanks,

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArlene

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« Convergence at Crookton | Main | It's All About Character - The EMD SD40-2 »