Rare heavy snow hits Clifton-Morenci

Photo By Susan Breen: Veterans Park in Clifton stands out all the more after a Jan. 2 heavy snowstorm. Despite the cold, several people were seen visiting the various veterans’ memorials in the park.

Storm temporarily shuts down part of U.S. 191

By Walt Mares

The Black Hills are anything but black. They became and remain quite white after a heavy snow fell in large parts of Greenlee and Graham counties early Wednesday morning, Jan. 2. It snowed so heavily that part of the highway between Safford in Graham and Three-Way in Greenlee was closed for hours on Wednesday morning.

Wait, there is more.

Photo By Walt Mares: Snow fell on the football field in South Clifton giving it the appearance of a kind of pool ready for someone to jump into. The field is part of the former Clifton High School athletic complex. The athletic facilities are now under the auspices of the Morenci Community Services.

The heavy snow also hit Clifton-Morenci. For most people waking up to see their front yards and streets covered with white stuff was quite an unusual occurrence. It has been at least two years since people have awakened to such a sight. 

There was a heavy snowstorm in mid-January 2017. But snow did not fall in the lower elevations of Greenlee County. It fell in the higher elevations of the Morenci copper mine and above it in the Apache National Forest. 

Photo By Walt Mares: Snow covers bare limbs on a peach tree in a South Clifton yard after a winter storm brought the white stuff in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Jan. 2. It had been at least two years since any significant amount of snow fell on Clifton-Morenci.

For some, especially those who live in Safford and work at the Morenci copper mine, Wednesday’s storm created some real difficulties such as getting to work. That was compounded by the closing of U.S. Highway 191 that runs through the Black Hills, which is the route usually taken by those traveling to and from Safford to the Morenci mine.

The closing was from milepost 131 to milepost 155. milepost 131 is where a turnoff is located from U.S. Highway 70 to 191. It is one end of a section of 191 known locally as “The Stretch.”  Using The Stretch it is 34 miles to Three-Way and another 15 miles to Morenci. 

Traffic was rerouted through Duncan, located on U.S. 70, in southern Greenlee County. Going that route from Safford to Morenci takes significantly more time.

For many, the snow created a most welcome change in the appearance of Clifton-Morenci and its surrounding hilltops and mountains.

“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” John Armstrong said late Wednesday afternoon. Armstrong, a Morenci native, added, “It seems like it’s been such a long time, too long, to see the beauty we’re seeing today. It’s been so dry around here. Obviously, I’d like to see more of this.”

Photo By Walt Mares: The Gila Health Services facility in Morenci and surrounding areas are covered with snow that fell early Wednesday morning, Jan. 2.

It has been a long dry spell in Greenlee and neighboring Graham. Rain has been rare in spring, summer, and fall.

Even a Colorado native who has lived in Arizona for several years and claims to despise snow, sounded as if he had warmed to Wednesday’s snowfall. “I’ve got to admit it’s downright pretty. Not having to go out and work or travel  in it for me makes a big, big difference.”

Photo By Susan Breen: A view from Morenci looking downhill toward Clifton includes snow- and cloud-covered mountain peaks immediately surrounding Clifton, located in the San Francisco and Chase Creek canyons.

He noted that he stays off the roads and does not travel anywhere “when it snows around here. I know how to drive in snow and on icy roads. I did that in Colorado for many years. My biggest concern is that most people around here don’t know how to drive on a snowy road. I mean, after all, it snows so rarely around here they don’t have much need to know how to drive in those kinds of conditions.”

The man said that despite the snow, he figures the traveling for motorists must have been pretty safe going. “I didn’t hear very many sirens Wednesday morning, so I figured there weren’t many, if any, emergencies like a car crash or something of that nature.”

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