I’m not sure where the name Miller Canyon originated. It may have been named after a person, or it may have referred to the saw mill that once existed in the upper part of the canyon where the town of Palmerlee was active in the early 1900’s. The town is gone now. All that remains are foundations where the sawmill once stood.
The canyon has a year-round Spring which the city of Tombstone tapped in 1880. They ran a pipeline 27 miles across the desert to supply the town with fresh water. The pipeline still works, providing the spring source remains undamaged.
It’s a beautiful and rugged canyon, a favorite jaunt for hikers as the trail winds up the sides of the canyon through a Ponderosa forest. Unfortunately, the canyon is also a magnet for destructive wildfires due to the winds that sweep through it.
The 1977 wildfire was the first devastating wildfire the canyon had seen in a long time. The fire burned vegetation that anchored the soil to the steep slopes and flash flooding followed in its aftermath. The main road was washed out, homes at the foot of the canyon were damaged, and the Tombstone pipeline was broken. It took the town 2 years of repairs before the pipeline was completely restored.
The 2012 Monument wildfire destroyed the canyon. The wind-blown inferno completely denuded the soil and wiped out structures and businesses that stood in its path. The winds were so severe that the fire jumped the main highway and rushed down toward the San Pedro River before anyone realized what had happened.
When the Monsoon rains came there was nothing left on the slopes to stop the water which thundered through the canyon, carving out deep impassible gorges and destroying whatever properties lay in its path.
Once again, the Tombstone pipeline was put out of commission and the city has been unable to repair it due to legal issues with property owners in the canyon. Tombstone faces a severe water shortage while the matter works its way through the courts.
The Ponderosa forest in the upper canyon is gone. Hiking is now both difficult and dangerous for the unfettered Monsoon rains have carved tremendous gorges through the canyon. The Forest Service has done a good job restoring access to the lower and upper canyon but it will be years before the trails are properly restored.
My favorite little patch of woods remains unscathed so I’ll still be able to get my Autumn photos. However, getting to the spot has become a challenge.