The Ash Fork Steel Dam is a historic treasure and engineering marvel of Arizona often overlooked and unknown. The steel dam was built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1898 as a means of providing water to steam engines. These trains were quite thirsty and used a lot of water while powering through the hot deserts of the southwestern US. Dams and reservoirs were necessary to store large amounts of ground water all along the railroad lines. The Ash Fork steel dam is on the National Register of Historic Places.
During this era, civil engineers were experimenting with steel as alternative to concrete. Bridges and other traditionally concrete structures were beginning to be built using steel, so civil engineer Francis Bainbridge decided to see if steel was a viable material for creating this dam. After almost 120 years of holding water, I’d say he had the right idea.
The Ash Fork Steel Dam is located about 50 miles west of Flagstaff, Arizona just a bit north of Interstate 40. Though it is close to I40, it isn’t particular easy to get to. First off, don’t use exit 148. While there is indeed a road that leads almost straight to the dam from exit 149, it is permanently blocked. Instead use exit 148 and head northeast on the gas pipeline “road”. You can plainly see it on Google Maps’ satellite view. While it is technically a road, it isn’t well-traveled and there are lots of watermelon-size rocks and cattle all over. Just drive slow and don’t mess with the cows. Once you get near the lake, you’ll have to hike down a small decline to the steel dam. You’ll find a National Register of Historic Places sign with a little history about the Ash Fork Steel Dam.