Horse Thief and a Saloon
In the late 1800’s there was plenty of activity in the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix, Arizona. You could find horse thieves and gold miners. A group of horse thieves had a secret spot where they would take the horses stolen from Mexico and southern Arizona, rebrand them, and then sell them in Colorado and Utah. Their secret site had a nice reservoir to feed and water the horses. Gold miners were staking claim near the same area. One claim became the Crown King Mine and another became the Oro Belle Mine.
Today, we have this historic mining town of Crown King. Just down the road from Crown King is the former secret hideout of the horse thieves, now a recreation area known as Horse Thief Basin. Now you may wonder where does a saloon come fit in? Well, in 1906 the Crown King Saloon was moved from its original location near the ghost town of Oro Belle to its current location. It has been operating for 115 years.
There are many dirt roads that can lead you to Crown King, and then on to Horse Thief Basin if you want to do some fishing. However, the main route is off I-17 via the Bumble Bee exit. For the off road adventurers, the “back way” to Crown King is a great trip.
Motorcycles, UTV’s, and 4×4’s flood the “back way” route every weekend. This route has many unmaintained roads, ruts, rocks, and washes that can be challenging. As you climb out of the desert, you will find fantastic views of Lake Pleasant and the Bradshaw Mountains. Additionally, if you know where to stop, you can find the remains of Fort Misery and the Oro Belle mine.
Travis, my cousin and riding buddy, and I try and make this a yearly trip. Winter can be a great time to do it, but be careful. We have been caught in a snow storm that caused us to turn around. We have also been there days after a storm and had to navigate the dirt roads covered in snow. We have also done it at various times in the year. It is a great trip and the highlight is stopping at the Crown King General Store for some homemade fudge and grabbing some lunch at the Crown King Saloon.
The front way up is a long, but maintained dirt road. If you decide to go via the “back way,” it is recommended to do it with a group, with people that have done it before, and have an off road capable vehicle. Driving/riding mistakes on the route can have dire consequences.
Whichever way you choose, Crown King and Horse Thief Basin makes for a great day trip or weekend adventure.
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