Canyon Diablo, Arizona

Coordinates: 35°09′46″N 111°07′04″W / 35.16278°N 111.11778°W / 35.16278; -111.11778
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Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Canyon Diablo in its heyday, c. 1890
Canyon Diablo in its heyday, c. 1890
Canyon Diablo, Arizona is located in Arizona
Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Location in the state of Arizona
Canyon Diablo, Arizona is located in the United States
Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Canyon Diablo, Arizona (the United States)
Coordinates: 35°09′46″N 111°07′04″W / 35.16278°N 111.11778°W / 35.16278; -111.11778Canyon Diablo
CountryUnited States
Elevation5,433 ft (1,656 m)
Time zoneUTC-7 (MST (no DST))

Canyon Diablo is a ghost town in Coconino County, Arizona, United States on the edge of the arroyo Canyon Diablo. The community was settled in 1880 and died out in the early 20th century.

The town, which is about 12 mi (19 km) northwest of Meteor Crater, was the closest community to the crater when portions of the meteorite were removed. Consequently, the meteorite that struck the crater is officially called the "Canyon Diablo Meteorite."[2]


Cowboys hold up the corpse of outlaw John Shaw, who died in the Canyon Diablo shootout, 1905.

The ramshackle camp of railroad workers originated in 1880, due to the construction of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad bridge over a large canyon named Canyon Diablo. The temporary community assumed the name of the canyon that stood in the way of the railroad construction - Canyon Diablo. The bridge construction took six months, during which many regular railroad construction workers were encamped and waiting to recommence their work once the canyon had been spanned. After the bridge was completed, construction resumed and the camp was largely abandoned.[3]

Construction of the railroad normally involved a constantly moving work area. The completed rail was used to transport materials and workers to the end of the line, where the bed was graded, small bridges were built, and the rail laid down. The workers would camp in tents spread out along the work area depending on the jobs they performed. However, when very large rivers or canyons were encountered, construction would slow to a stop as large, specialized bridges had to be constructed. This could result in a larger temporary camp or community springing up as the idle workers consolidated together in one place near where the bridge was being constructed. This is how Canyon Diablo came to be.

The original pillars the bridge was mounted on were excavated from the surrounding Kaibab Limestone and shaped on site by Italian stonemasons. The ruins of the lodgings of the railroad workmen are on the west end of the bridge site. Although the railroad ended at the edge of the canyon, work on the railroad route still progressed. Crews were sent ahead to survey the route, prepare the grade and bed, cut and pre-stage railroad ties and other supplies in advance of the iron rails that would accompany the trains once the canyon was spanned when the new bridge arrived. Work quickly progressed until the A&P crew linked up with the Southern Pacific Railroad crews at Needles, California on August 9, 1883.

Originally a small mobile business community catering to the needs of railroad men, once the railroad stopped at the edge of the canyon this community quickly produced numerous saloons, brothels, dance halls, and gambling houses, all of which remained open 24 hours a day. No lawmen were employed by the community initially, so it quickly became a very dangerous place. Its population was mostly railroad workers, along with passing outlaws, gamblers, and prostitutes. The town was designed with two lines of buildings facing one another across the rock bed main street. The center street, however, was not named Main Street, but "Hell Street". It consisted of fourteen saloons, ten gambling houses, four brothels and two dance halls. Also on this street were two eating counters, one grocery store, and one dry goods store. Scattered about in the vicinity of downtown were large numbers of tents, shotgun houses, and hastily thrown up shacks that served as local residences.

Within a short time the town had 2,000 residents. A regular stagecoach route from Flagstaff to Canyon Diablo began running and was often the victim of robberies. Within its first year, the town received its first marshal. He was sworn in at 3:00pm, and was being buried at 8:00pm that same night. Five more town marshals would follow, the longest lasting one month, and all were killed in the line of duty. A "Boot Hill" cemetery sprouted up at the end of town, which in less than a decade had 35 graves, all of whom had been killed by way of violent death. The 36th grave was that of former trading post owner Herman Wolfe, who died in 1899, the only one to have died a nonviolent death.

Herman Wolfe's trading post was at "Wolfe's Crossing" on the Little Colorado River about 12 miles north of Leupp, Arizona and near a place called Tolchaco. Herman Wolfe died there and his body was transported to Canyon Diablo for burial. Currently Wolfe's grave is heavily monumented and the story is that after World War II a relative from Germany found his grave and installed the headstone and other improvements on the grave site.

When the railroad bridge was completed, the town quickly died. The original railroad bridge was replaced in 1900 with a new bridge to carry heavier locomotives and cars. By 1903, the only thing remaining in the town was a Navajo trading post. A new double track railroad bridge was completed across the Canyon in 1947. What remains today at Canyon Diablo are a few building foundations, the grave marker and grave of Herman Wolfe, the ruins of the trading post, a railroad siding and a double track railroad bridge.

Canyon Diablo's population was 30 in 1890,[4] 29 in 1900,[5] and 36 in 1920.[6]


Access to Canyon Diablo is north on a very poor road from Exit 230/Two Guns off Interstate 40. A high ground clearance vehicle is recommended.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Canyon Diablo
  2. ^ Meteor Crater: Proof of Impact – – Retrieved September 19, 2008 Archived October 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Canyon Diablo, Arizona: Why nearly all the stories about it are lies". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved August 17, 2023.
  4. ^ Cram, George Franklin (1890). Cram's Universal Atlas: Geographical, Astronomical and Historical, Containing a Complete Series of Maps of Modern Geography, Illustrated by Numerous Views and Charts; the Whole Supplemented with Valuable Statistics, Diagrams, and a Complete Gazetteer of the United States. G.F. Cram. p. 349.
  5. ^ Cram's Modern Atlas: The New Unrivaled. J. R. Gray & Company. 1902.
  6. ^ Premier Atlas of the World: Containing Maps of All Countries of the World, with the Most Recent Boundary Decisions, and Maps of All the States, Territories, and Possessions of the United States with Population Figures from the Latest Official Census Reports, Also Data of Interest Concerning International and Domestic Political Questions. Rand McNally & Company. 1925. pp. 165–166.
  • The Santa Fe Route Railroads of Arizona Volume 4 by David F. Myrick, Signature Press 1998 [ISBN missing]

External links[edit]