Black Canyon City offers much more than pies

By Joanna Dodder Nellans

You may be among the thousands of annual Interstate 17 travelers who make a quick stop for a slice of pie at the Rock Springs Café on the way to and from the Phoenix area.

But have you ever checked out what else Black Canyon City has to offer? This is the perfect time of year to enjoy the Sonoran Desert in this southern Yavapai County community. By February or March, wildflowers already are emerging.

Despite a population under 3,000, energetic local volunteers have partnered with government agencies and non-profits to create a visitor center, museum and two trail systems in this unincorporated town. All sit next to or near Old Black Canyon Highway.

First stop is the 30-acre Black Canyon Heritage Park, the perfect spot to get oriented. Black Canyon City Community Association Co-chair Ann Hutchinson and other volunteers staff the visitor center, which opened in 2016. It features information about the park’s riparian habitat, the nearby Agua Fria National Monument, and the Black Canyon Trail that skirts Black Canyon City.

Next door is the Cañon School Museum featuring local history on colorful pioneers such as Jack Swilling, who helped found Phoenix and guided the Walker Party to the gold that led to the establishment of Prescott in 1864. He had a bad reputation but was a nice guy when he wasn’t imbibing in alcohol or morphine to ease the pain of an old injury, Black Canyon Historical Society President Bob Nilles said.

Outside the visitor center and museum is a half-mile-long trail system winding around a pond that the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks with endangered Gila topminnow and desert pupfish. A Monarch Waystation attracts monarchs and other butterflies.

Back on OBC Highway, watch for the sign to 90-acre High Desert Park, a short drive up the hill on Jacie Lane. The High Desert Helpers help maintain this county park with picnic areas, playground, ballfields and 2.7 miles of trails offering scenic views of the surrounding mountains.

Next is a trailhead for the 80-mile-long Black Canyon National Recreation Trail. Hikers, bikers and horseback riders can take it all the way south to Highway 74 and north to Highway 69 near Mayer.

Final stop is the Rock Springs Café. On the fourth Saturdays of the cooler months including Feb. 23 and March 23, Rock Springs hosts its “Hogs ‘n Heat” outdoor party with live music, barbecue and games. Revelers can dry camp in a neighboring parking lot with permission.

While Old Black Canyon Highway turns awfully rough just north of Black Canyon City, the curious still can discover remaining drivable dirt segments all the way back to Prescott and imagine what the trip was like for pre-interstate travelers.

If you go:

Getting there from Prescott:

Drive east on Highway 69 then south Interstate 17 about 55 miles to the first Black Canyon City exit. Follow the three miles of Old Black Canyon Highway through town. To get off the pavement on the way home, dirt sections of Old Black Canyon Highway still remain. Or you can hike, bike, or ride horses all the way from Black Canyon City to Highway 69 near Mayer on the non-motorized Black Canyon National Recreation Trail.

Black Canyon City highlights:

Black Canyon Heritage Park visitor center: 33955 Old Black Canyon Hwy. Open M-F 9-5 and Saturday 9-1; call 623-374-5282 to confirm hours since it depends on volunteers. Free with donations appreciated.

Old Cañon School Museum: 33955 Old Black Canyon Hwy. Open F-M 10-2; call 623-374-0332 to confirm since it also depends on volunteers. Free with donations appreciated.

High Desert Park: 19001 Jacie Lane. Free admission.

Black Canyon National Recreation Trail:

Rock Springs Café: 35900 Old Black Canyon Hwy. 602-258-5088/