Verde River Sheep Bridge
Verde River Sheep Bridge is a historic suspension bridge spanning the Verde River about 30 miles north of Carefree, Arizona. It is found at the end of the 36 mile long Bloody Basin Road (F.R. 259) from I-17 or about 30 miles north of Carefree (via F.R. 24). See the Bloody Basin Trail for more information on vehicle requirements and for turn-by-turn directions.
The area surrounding the Verde River, which includes much of Bloody Basin, is lush and was a favorable location for grazing animals. In 1926, under permit from the U.S. Forest Service, sheep herders began using the area as they moved sheep between winter grazing areas in the south and summer grazing areas in the north. There was a problem however. The Verde River was a formidable obstacle and while swimming sheep across the river, it was not uncommon to lose a few sheep at each crossing.
An early solution to this problem was a pontoon bridge built at Red Creek, about 6 miles north of the current Sheep Bridge. A suspension bridge was later built and used for about 3 years at Tangle Creek. This worked, but the bridge would have to be disassembled and reassembled each time a herder wanted to cross since flash flooding could sweep the bridge away. A more permanent solution was needed.
The Flagstaff Sheep Company, which owned around 11,000 head of sheep, decided to construct a permanent bridge over the Verde at the current site. A road to the site was built in 1943 and construction began immediately. Because construction took place during WWII, supplies were limited and the bridge was largely built out of surplus materials from the area. The cables on the bridge were brought from old mine tramways at the Bluebell and Golden Turkey Mine to the west. The bridge was completed in 1944 for a cost of $7,277. The supports were originally built out of wood and later reinforced with concrete.
Sheep Bridge was used by sheep herders until 1978. The bridge sat for 10 years and was weakened from years of use followed by years of flooding. In 1988, the old bridge was disassembled and the current bridge was built by the Forest Service in 1989. Portions of the old bridge remain today on the west banks of the Verde.
The bridge today is primarily used by curious travelers and those hiking into the Mazatzal Wilderness to the east. Combined with other historical stops in the area, it makes for an interesting day of exploring. The walkway spans over 400’ across the Verde River which flows year ‘round. Exploring each bank you can find large anchor points where the steel cables are sturdily affixed to the rock. Numerous foundations (including a hot spring) can be found on the west banks of the Verde and mark the former homestead of sheep herders when the bridge was in use. Enjoy exploring the area and the opportunity to look back into a unique part of Arizona’s ranching history.
"Verde River Sheep Bridge." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verde_River_Sheep_Bridge>.
Informational signs at Verde River Sheep Bridge