Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published November 18, 2001.)
Q: Where exactly is Black Canyon, anyway?
A: Which one? I found four Black Canyons in Arizona Names, X Marks the Spot, which is a really swell book, by the way. In fact, there are about six pages of “Black” names in there: Black Springs, Black Knob, Black Creek, Black Draw, Black Mesa, Black Gulch, Black-Hearted Dimwitted Masters, etc., etc. OK, I made up the last one.
I wonder why there are so many “Black” names. It could be the nature of the rock or maybe it’s the dramatic shadows caused by the light in these parts.
Someone should look into this.
Anyway, I assume you are talking about Black Canyon, as in the Black Canyon Freeway, a.k.a. Interstate 17.
You know that Sunset Point rest stop on the west side of I-17 between New River and Cordes Junction? It’s a great rest stop, although if you’re leaving town, it’s really too soon to stop and if your headed back to town, you’re almost there anyway. Of course, this depends on how old your kids are or how much coffee you’ve had.
Anyway, when you look west at the Sunset Point rest stop, you’re looking down into Black Canyon. The mountains across the way are the Bradshaws.
According to the Roadside Geology of Arizona, another swell book, the canyon has dark metamorphic rocks that are about 1.7 million years old. Metamorphic means rocks made from older rocks that have been subjected to great heat or pressure.
The old Black Canyon Highway used to be the main road out of town headed north. It went through New River, Black Canyon City, Mayer and Dewey and so forth. There was stagecoach service of one kind or another between Prescott and Phoenix on the old Black Canyon road until 1917.
There are still plenty of old guys around who will chew your ear off with stories about driving the old Black Canyon Highway, so be careful who you ask about it.