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Tip Top! - Arizona Ghost Towns
by mark quigley, feature for The Arizona Sportsman's Journl TV (www.azho.com)

Last time we talked about Gillette, so I thought this time I would take you on a adventure over the old wagon haul road that led from Gillette into the rugged Bradshaw Mountains. This trip will require a 4-wheel drive vehicle in good condition. Be for-warned it’s a rough road adventure that should only be taken in cool months

Tip Top, Az - Tip Top’s mill and mining office, below right. Ore car rail tracks were built throughout the town. - Photo courtesy of Sharlot Hall Museum.

If planning to visit Gillette, you should also plan to stop at the ghost town of Tip Top. This was another very busy and crowded town, boasting a population of 1,200 people, the largest mining town in central Arizona. Named for a “tip top” silver prospect, this town boasted two hotels, two general stores, gin mills, six saloons, a Chinese laundry, butcher shop, stables/feed yard, two restaurants, blacksmith shop, post office, school, brothel, stage line to Prescott and even a shoe store. The town also had a courthouse where constable Joe Walker presided. Tip Top extended along Cottonwood Creek for three miles. Most of the businesses lined the creek below the Tip Top mine. Another downtown area, located above the gulch, consisted of a hotel and stores paralleling Grapevine Springs, the town’s water supply. At first, a mill was erected nine miles away, at Gillette. Wagon freight trains with 12 to 16 mules made daily trips through the mountains hauling silver to Gillette. Later, Tip Top built its own silver mill, and between 1878 to 1883 milled $1.5 million in silver.

Many of Tip Top’s miners were veterans of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate. They got along well, even though everyone wore handguns because of the renegade Indians raiding in the area. A few killings were recorded during Tip Top’s history. Two people were killed in gunfights, another by lightning and a fourth by a centipede bite. As the centipede story goes, a miner arose early one morning and while putting on his boots was bitten on the toe by centipede. Not knowing what to do, he rushed to the closest saloon and gulped down a quart of whiskey. Townspeople were not sure if he died from the whiskey or the bite.

Tip Top, Az - The old Brewery at Tip Top made strong drink for its 1,200 residents. The roof gave in a few years ago. - Mr. Quigley Photography

Later, an old newspaper account stated that, “A good rain is needed badly in Tip Top to wash out the gulch, as the accumulation of filth is getting so strong that one can scarcely pass up the street.”

Tip Toppers were known for their gambling and drinking. One lucky gambler made $9,700 in one week. Gamblers from all over Arizona traveled to the town and on the sixth of each month (payday for miners) would be waiting patiently in the many saloons for the naive miners. On many occasions, there were dances in the streets of Tip Top on pay day. Once, a minister from Phoenix came to Tip Top. With no church in town, he held services under a big cottonwood tree. All the townspeople came to hear him, sitting under the tree, drinking beer and thoroughly enjoying the sermon.
When the federal government demonetized silver in 1893, Tip Top’s silver mines became worthless. Overnight Tip Top became a ghost town as miners moved on to gold strikes farther up in the Bradshaw Mountains. In 1910, after tungsten was discovered at the mines, they had a short-lived revival.

Tip Top today is a quiet, abandoned ghost town. The mines and several stone buildings (brewery, restaurant and beer hall) still remain. Other stone homes and business are scattered over three miles around Tip Top. The foundations of the silver stamp mills, mining office and several other buildings all remain above the town. Tip Top’s mines are impressive and worth a careful visit. The many roads leading from the mines are actually a system of elaborate ore cart tracks. The graveyard lies upstream about .5 miles below the Seventy-Six mine on the north bank of Cottonwood Creek. It has more than 20 graves, with several small ones, probably children’s.

Tip Top, Az - Old silver mill site at Tip Top. The road can be seen in the background. - Mr. Quigley Photography

The road to Tip Top requires four-wheel drive vehicles. It is a beautiful trip through canyons, creeks and ridges, decorated with saguaro and mesquite forests. From Gillette, travel west on the old Gillette road. This is the original wagon road over which silver was transported to Gillette for smelting. A little over three miles later you will come to a corral, make a left here and follow this road to Williams Mesa. Once on top you will have spectacular views of Cottonwood Creek to the west and the New River Mountains to the east. Off the west side of Williams Mesa, a rough road will take you down to Boulder Creek. This is a rocky, nasty road, so take your time. It’s hard to believe that heavily loaded wagons once used this route. Once at the bottom, in Boulder Creek, you come to a ‘T’ in the road; turn right. At this point, when you are on your way out, you can continue down Boulder Creek, instead of turning east and climbing the mountain back to Gillette. This road follows Boulder Creek and will eventually take you to the end of Lake Pleasant, (Agua Fria channel). You will pass the site of the old ranch home, originally part of the Boulder Creek Ranch. At Lake Pleasant, follow Table Mesa Road back to Interstate 17.

Tip Top, Az - Mine at Tip Top. - .Mr. Quigley Photography

Now back to the ‘T’ in the road; follow this rough road for about another three miles before entering Tip Top. Exploring Tip Top is best done on foot, as the roads leading to the mines are in terrible shape and hard to turn around on. After exploring Tip Top, you can travel west again on the Tip Top road, which will eventually take you to the ghost camp of Packer, ( a old pack-mule-train stopping point on the way to Crown King) and finally on to Crown King, (Horse Thief Basin). The last time I went this way, I had to use an ATV to get to Crown King. I strongly recommend you do not travel this way by yourself, but rather in a group. The road that leads to Crown King is in extremely poor condition and can be a dangerous, as well as a long trip. There are several other roads west of Tip Top that lead to other mines. You can also follow a poor four-wheel-drive road to Columbia another ghost town that I will write about later. Travel safe, courteous & leave no trace.

Comment on this article, share your ghost town experiences or just post your pictures.

Tip Top, Az - Some old heavy equipment rements.Mr. Quigley Photography

Tip Top, Az - Looking straight down the shaft of one of Tip Top’s deep mines. - Mr. Quigley Photography

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