Union Pass marks the summit after the long climb from the Colorado River Valley on highway 68. For the observant remnants of the areas rich mining history are seen from the highway.
Some of the earliest mining activity in Mohave County took place on the western slopes of the Black Mountains in the area of Union Pass. The first recorded gold discoveries in the Oatman and Union Pass Mining Districts date to 1863 and a mine established by John Moss.
Hidden amongst the rocks, the brush, and shadowy canyons in Union Pass is decades of Arizona history. In 1851, Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves and a contingent of topographers, naturalists, artists, and military personnel left the Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico. Their assignment was to explore and map the Zuni and Colorado Rivers, evaluate their navigability, and determine the feasibility of a wagon road across what is now northern Arizona.
The expedition was led along a Native American trade route across what is northern Arizona. They followed a route that bypassed the depths of Canyon Diablo, north of the San Francisco Peaks, and then around the south side of Bill Williams Mountain.
Much of the route traveled would later be followed by the railroad, the national Old Trails Road and U.S. 66. From Beale Springs near Kingman they deviated from the course of these modern transportation corridors, crossed Coyote Pass and the Sacramento Valley to Union Pass.
In the expedition journals Sitgreaves wrote:
“November 5, Camp No. 32.– The approach to the mountains, before alluded to, was by a gradual ascent, so that when we arrived at their base, there did not remain much to be overcome. The pass was nevertheless exceedingly rough, and bordered by overhanging crags, which it was deemed prudent to occupy before advancing with the atajo. We passed through, however, unmolested, and were at length cheered by the view of the Colorado, winding far below through a broad valley, its course for many miles being apparent from the large trees upon its banks. The smoke of numerous fires in the valley gave evidence of a large Indian population, and the sight brought a spontaneous cheer from the men, who believed that this was to be the end of their privations and the labors and anxieties of the journey.”
Reaching the Colorado River and the villages of the Mohave near modern Bullhead City, the expedition continued south to Yuma.
In 1857, Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale accepted an assignment to survey and build a wagon road across New Mexico and Arizona, and to test the viability of camels for use in military transport in the desert southwest. To a large degree he followed in the footsteps of the Sitgreaves expedition.
But rather than continue south along the river, the Beale expedition swam his camels, horses, and mules across the Colorado River, and built crude rafts to transport supplies. Shortly afterwards a ferry was established at a site know as Beale’s Crossing to accommodate wagon trains. The site of Beale’s Crossing is near the point where Mohave Valley Drive curves south along the Colorado River.
The Bullhead City area is rich in Arizona history. It is a city rooted in the past, with a very bright future. If you are relocating to the area, and would like more information about all that Bullhead City has to offer, contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America