Devilish delight: U.S. 191 in eastern Arizona

Road climbs from desert floor to mountain top, with dozens of hairpins in a 120-mile adventure

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A section of the Coronado Trail | Arizona Department of Transportation photo

“If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beasts… His number is 666.” — Book of Revelation, Chapter 13, Verse 18

When it was commissioned in the mid-1920s, the road up the eastern spine of Arizona, from the border town of Douglas all the way up to Cortez in Colorado, was designated as U.S. Route 666, aka the Devil’s Highway.

One theory is that the 666 number was assigned because the federal bureaucrats saw the road as an offshoot of Route 66, which it intersected in northern Arizona. 

It wasn’t until 1993 that its road numbers were revised and the former Devil’s Highway became the Coronado Trail, U.S. 191, a National Scenic Byway named because in 1540 it was traveled by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as he sought the golden riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola, a trip that took him finally to a small hill in what is now Kansas. 

History aside, whether you call it 666 or 191, the 120-mile segment from the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci in the south and the alpine-style villages of Eagar and Springerville in the north is one of the best driving roads you might imagine.

I’ve driven it in both directions more than once, including one year when the route was part of the Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally and a small tree was the only thing keeping a Ferrari from tumbling over a drop off after the car skidded off the pavement. 

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From the south, 191 climbs from the desert floor past the world’s largest open-pit copper mine and up through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to more than 9,300 feet in elevation in the White Mountains, crosses the Alpine-like Hannagan Meadow, and then descends through a community called Alpine and on to Eagar and Springerville, where Billy the Kid once punched cows instead of lawmen.

When the route was first opened, it was a 2-day trek and thus establishment of the Hannagan Meadow Lodge, where you still can book a room, or at least enjoy a lunch stop.

fwha.dot.gov map of the Coronado Trail

What makes the road so great for driving are not only the elevation change, a lack of traffic (at least on weekdays), and the spectacular views, but the fact that there are more than 400 curves, including around 100 hairpins, along the way. The Federal Highway Administration has labeled this is the curviest road in the country. 

A bonus is the scenery, which can include elk or even wolves.

However, as Arizona Highways magazine put it, “there are several sharp curves and steep drop-offs along this narrow road — in some cases, there are no guardrails, and in some areas, speeds may slow to 10 mph.

Officially open year around, the road may be closed because of heavy snowfall at times during the winter months.

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For a more detailed look at the road, see the Roadtrip America website report.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. It’s on the ‘local’ Road Trip bucket list! So, do I try it with the RX7 or the Ducati?
    hmmmmm…..

    Thanks Larry!

    Stu A
    Sedona,AZ

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