Gillespie Dam is a historic dam located in the Gila River Indian Community in southern Arizona. Built in the 1920s, Gillespie Dam is a concrete diversion dam that was designed to capture water from the Gila River and direct it into an irrigation canal. The dam was named after its builder, William T. Gillespie, a prominent engineer and landowner in the area.
The construction of Gillespie Dam was an important milestone in the development of the region, as it allowed for the irrigation of thousands of acres of land and supported the growth of agriculture in the area. Today, the dam is still in use and remains an important part of the local economy.
One of the most scenic routes to reach Gillespie Dam is by taking the Agua Caliente Road. This winding road takes you through the heart of the Gila River Indian Community and provides stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape. As you travel down Agua Caliente Road, you'll pass by several historic sites, including the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area and the historic Gillespie Dam Bridge.
The Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area is a popular destination for off-road enthusiasts and offers miles of challenging terrain for ATVs and other off-road vehicles. The area is also home to several natural hot springs, which are a popular spot for visitors looking to relax and soak in the warm water.
The Gillespie Dam Bridge is another important landmark in the area. Built in 1927, the bridge was the first concrete arch bridge in Arizona and served as a major transportation route for many years. Today, the bridge is no longer open to traffic but remains an important part of the area's history.
As you continue down Agua Caliente Road, you'll eventually reach Gillespie Dam. The dam itself is an impressive structure, standing over 100 feet tall and stretching more than 600 feet across the Gila River. The dam is still in use today and provides water for irrigation and other purposes.
History of Gillespie Dam
The construction of Gillespie Dam was part of a larger effort to harness the water resources of the Gila River and support agricultural development in the region. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a series of canals were constructed along the river to divert water to farmland in the surrounding areas.
However, the system was inefficient and unreliable, as water was often lost to seepage and evaporation. In the early 1900s, William T. Gillespie, a prominent engineer and landowner in the area, proposed the construction of a concrete dam to capture and control the flow of water from the Gila River.
Construction on the dam began in 1920 and was completed in 1921. The dam was a significant engineering achievement, as it was one of the first concrete dams of its size to be built in the region. The dam was designed to capture water from the river and divert it into a canal system that would supply water to thousands of acres of farmland in the surrounding area.
The dam quickly became an important part of the local economy, as it supported the growth of agriculture in the area. Cotton, citrus, and other crops were grown on the irrigated land, and the region became known for its abundant harvests.
In the years following its construction, Gillespie Dam underwent several modifications and improvements to increase its capacity and efficiency. In the 1960s, the dam was raised to its current height of 103 feet and an additional spillway was added to handle excess water flow.
Today, Gillespie Dam is still in use and remains an important part of the local economy. The dam provides water for irrigation, drinking water, and other uses, and supports a variety of industries in the surrounding area.
Unfortunately, Gillespie Dam was also the site of a tragic incident in 1995. On October 9th of that year, the Sunset Limited Amtrak passenger train was traveling through the area when it derailed and plunged into a ravine near the dam. The accident was caused by sabotage of the tracks, which were reportedly damaged by someone placing metal bars on the rails.
The derailment was a shocking event that claimed the lives of one crew member and four passengers, and injured dozens more. The accident sparked a massive investigation, and the perpetrator of the sabotage was eventually identified and brought to justice.
The Sunset Limited derailment remains one of the most devastating incidents in the history of the area, and serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining and protecting critical infrastructure like the railroad tracks that run near Gillespie Dam. Despite this tragedy, however, the area continues to be an important destination for tourists and locals alike, and Gillespie Dam remains an impressive feat of engineering and a symbol of the region's history and development.
Overall, a trip down Agua Caliente Road to Gillespie Dam is a great way to experience the beauty and history of the Gila River Indian Community. Whether you're a history buff, an off-road enthusiast, or simply looking for a scenic drive, this route is sure to impress.