The Arizona Trail
Passage 1 Huachua Mountains
We pulled up to Montezuma Pass where the trailhead was large, with plenty of room to turn the trailer but the trip up to the pass was exciting! The road was well maintained but it had tight switchbacks and most trailers would be difficult to get through. We were lucky and a fellow horseman lent us his 2 horse goose neck and it was the perfect size. The elevation was over 6,000 and I felt it, Cisco was in a state of shock so it was hard to tell if scenery overload or elevation was his problem. Bo was ready to hit the trail! Burton took a few pictures and I headed up the mountain to cross over then towards Senora, Mexico. Immediately on the top Mexico came into view. I headed down to Monument 102 at the border and was surprise to see the secure Mexican border marked with a barbed wire fence in great disrepair. What a joke that was…absolutely no deterrent at all. I snapped a couple of pictures, looked around for any illegals then got mounted and headed back up to the pass. The Huachua Mountains were what I consider high desert but there are landforms called sky islands a feature unique to Arizona. These held native grasses and general relief from the desert. The trail swept upwards, was wide with good footing, covering only 3.8 miles.
Starting back at Montezuma Pass, Cisco, Bo and I headed north to Parker Canyon Lake Trailhead. It seemed like we climbed forever, switch backing dozens of times but the trail was good and well-marked. Cisco was pulling and full of himself as he hadn’t had any exercise since last week. This was his first remote trip and leaving Issy home took a lot of thought. The pros of taking Cisco was that he could cover so much more ground in a shorter time than Issy, Cisco also bonds with me where as Issy really doesn’t care if anyone is around…human or horse! I was hoping Cisco would trust me and that would take the place of his inexperience. Another thing good about him was that he really didn’t care about bicycles and the AT allowed bikes. Issy tolerated but hated them. Travelling upward, Cisco’s strong pace was interrupted by tread covered with rocks and boulders. We had to climb over huge rocks, but there wasn’t any dead fall, yet. The Miller Peak Wilderness greeted us but I didn’t climb that 9,050 to get to the top as we had to cover 21 miles as it was. Water was a concern but at about 8 miles we got to Tub Spring at 8,550’ and it held good water, with Cisco drinking for a while. Bo really didn’t like having to lean again the tub to get water but he persisted. We passed through the monument Fire area and the trees were all black and dead but the trail remained clear. The trail crews were on top of this trail! We crested a ridge and rode the crest with lovely views, got to the trail to Bear Spring but as the guide book said it was frequented by illegals I decided not to go off trail to it. We had lots of cover and even the afternoon sun didn’t feel very hot, I was even a bit chilled at this elevation and did put on my heavy winter coat. We travelled through a wash, stepping on ankle breaking rocks all the way but thankfully marked with cairns. We climbed up and through a gate and there was Shanty and Burton with our borrowed trailer. Covering 21.2 miles
Passage 2 Canelo Hills
This short 14.5 mile ride allowed me to help Burton to dismantle the electric pen I put up of Cisco, pack our sleeping bags and get him ready to haul to Canelo Pass. On the trail we passed above Parker Canyon Lake on a tread covered with fist sized rocks. These rocks are proving to be a real challenge for my Easy Boots. Issy wears Gloves with no buckle but Cisco is wearing Epic and those cables and buckles are just not holding up to this torturous footing with all the torqueing. So far we hadn’t seen any wildlife except birds. Bo tried to coax out a few ground varmints to no avail. I worried if Bo’s feet could hold up but so far he was fine. We travelled down about 30 switchbacks but were shaded by ponderosa pines and the footing became easier and less rocky. We travelled along a forest road then passed into and out of wash for a mile or so then climbed our way to Canelo Pass Road with me expecting Burton to have already arrived. He wasn’t there! But, I saw a lake from the trail and knew we would be safe as far as water was concerned if he had problems. There was a field a couple of mile west which could get us through the night if we had to camp allowing for good graze for Cisco if necessary. After about an hour Burton arrived. We covered the 14.5 miles in only 3 and half hours.
Passage 3 To Patagonia
We stared at Canelo Pass trailhead and left the 5,330’ climbing shortly then following an old road then into Redrock Canyon. We basically descended for miles getting to a hiker walk through gate but no horse access. I had to take down a 5 strand barbed wire fence and replace it! Luckily, I had a pair of pliers and was able to get the task done in short order. The enclosure was protecting endangered species but we did find a gap in the fence on the other side. There were miles of mesquite with their thorns challenging your passage. We crested a saddle then switch backed down to Harshaw Road where Burton was waiting. 16.5 miles in less than 5 hours!
Passage 4 To Gardner Canyon Road
The section started out by road riding 7 miles to finally get to the trail so Burton drove us as far as he could. Thank goodness for the borrowed trailer! I saddled up and continued on the old road washed out for many years but there was water all along the way. I have been surprised as to its availability. The road pulled and tormented all of us…Cisco, his boots, Bo, his feet and me the general hardness of the footing. We continued on to Mount Wrightson Wilderness until we finally go to a single track which climbed to the peak of Josephine Peak. This gave Cisco a real workout with a 1,000’ gain in short order. Up at 6,560’ I jumped off as my habit was I would walk most of the downhill trail. I was hoping Cisco would realize that was the program and look forward to the break after the huge climbs. We passed gate after gate and caught up with a hiker at the wash and both of us had trouble staying on the trail (thank goodness for GPS) finally pulling back to a trail we got to Big Casa Canyon with me thinking it was the last canyon (wrong!) We travelled up and enjoyed a good trail, stopped to get water at Bear Spring then got to what looked like a real show stopper. I have seen plenty of trail obstacles but this one really took my off guard. It was a huge boulder on top of another and the trail passed through a tiny passage that even a person would have to bend down to get to the other side. I backed up and looked up mountain but it was all rocks and far too steep so I inspected the down mountain side only to find it impassable as well. We had to get through that tiny hole…..I looked closely and it seemed like we just might be able to make it if unsaddled Cisco would try to drop, squeeze and rub. I slowly walked him to the opening and he didn’t even hesitate. There was just enough room if he held his head as low as his withers and his hips were going to touch but not too bad. We got through. Unbelievable but amazing! Cisco lost a bit of his mane, got one little rub on a hip and that’s all. We saddled up and passed several gold mining plaques describing the 1900 gold rush, dropped into Gardner Canyon and climbed out to find Burton at the trailhead. We covered the 16.3 miles in 5 hours.
Gardner Canyon to Twin Tanks
Ahead was a long day of 26 miles. Luckily, Burton was able to drive me up the worn out old 4 wheeler road for many miles leaving the best of the trail for me to ride. I climbed into the Santa Rita Mountains through the 1880’s gold mining claims. The area is full of history of the miners specifically who were trying to develop a system to pipe and carry water to help the mining. Kentucky Camp was the base of operations and there are signs along the way of mine tailings. Cisco made short work of the trail travelling at 3+ miles per hour but my Easy Boots were not holding up to the task (Epic’s- the ones with the cables) and Bo was getting foot sore. But, the trail kept pulling us forward. Down into one canyon and up and down into another. Each canyon had it’s own beauty with green areas totally unexpected. One such area was just too lush not to stop for awhile for Cisco to graze. Sometime before Oak tree Canyon my GPS just went blank….no route, no trail, nothing…not even maps. Talk about a false sense of security…I had forgotten to back up my GPS with actual map work locating land marks to follow for just this occasion. This was a major fubar on my part. I am so glad it happened while I was west of Hwy 83 and south of Interstate 10 and not while I was in some remote forest where I had to try to find my way out of the wilderness under such circumstances. With my GPS out and absolutely no idea which road I was crossing I managed to miss Burton’s and my first rendezvous but I could tell from my maps I was about 10 miles short of our final meeting location. I pushed on and chastised myself for being so …well…stupid. So many trails pulled of the Arizona Trail that it would have been easy to get lost but just about when I was truly worried up would pop an Arizona Trail sign…still on the right trail! The trail headed towards Hwy 83 as I remember it was to go but then followed a point back up the mountain, doing this again and again. I was losing confidence but we went forward. Finally, I recognized a lake and then two small tanks which matched my maps…there was a road of sorts to Hwy 83 and I was heading out. I knew Burton could find me along side of the highway. We arrived at a gate where I tied Cisco, put a leash on Bo and went to look up and down Hwy 83. A kind fellow (Kurt) stopped and offered assistance and he drove off to locate Burton a couple of miles down the road. All ended well except that Bo was finished on the trail until his feet healed and I got some trail boots for him.
From Twin Tanks to Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead –
This is how you can fall in love with the desert. I couldn't put down the camera! Flowers were busting through the cactus....yellow, blue, red, orange, purple, white. Unbelievable beauty. I did share the trail with several hikers (flower searchers) and bicyclists. The cyclists were very considerate but for Cisco it was a non- event unless they gave him a peppermint as I had tried to condition him to bikes at home by leading, feeding and treating him while I rode my bike. We did however, have to cross under Hwy 83 in Cisco’s first tunnel with traffic going overhead. Now this was interesting…He stepped up to the task with only a long , serious look at the tunnel. It was short, bright and easy to see through. He followed me with hardly any hesitation. This was a great primer for the Interstate 10 tunnel later today. Now that tunnel was about 8 lanes wide and the only light was a small mid break and then a little bolt at the end. But as we travelled on north I was constantly in awe…the flora was spectacular. Miles of lovely flowers and so much color it was almost surreal. Oh, yeah, I got my GPS working…it had taken too many hits in my fanny (no comments, please) pack so I moved it to my pommel bag where it was protected and it worked flawlessly. I did know the landmarks this time and will continue to study the maps in the future…lesson well learned. The trail just continued from one rainbow of color to another as we trouped on towards I10 . Then there it was…the Tunnel. The real TUNNEL! Cisco had no desire to go into it and there was even an equestrian by pass but it was several miles longer. I took my time and coaxed Cisco into the tunnel…it was much tighter than the Hwy 83 tunnel and much shorter but I knew Cisco would fit. After all he fit in a hole in some rocks no bigger that a collie a few days ago. He followed me and with at least 2 feet over his head (held level to his withers) to spare the only time he hit was when he pulled back a the mid light break and his saddle bags rubbed the wall. He started to blot but quickly listened to my assurances and we bridged the opening both of us blinking for a second…only a second as an 18 wheeler roared overhead. From there it was easy, level until the last climb to Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead (named after Gabe who lost his life in defense of Gabby Gifford a few years ago)
Gab Zimmerman to X9 Ranch Rd
The trail started out dropping into Cienega Creek along some very lush and dense vegetation. We followed the vague trail along the bottom, under one railroad trestle then up and out of the wash to cross Marsh Station Road and go under another railroad trestle. This was had a train in the distance heading our way and I hurried Cisco in an effort to put as much distance between us and that train. Cisco barely gave the train a look but he kept his ears moving back and forth as it passed over the trestle and along side the upper ridge not too far from us. We entered Colossal Cave Mountain Park www.colossalcave.com which was closed unfortunately and moved on climbing and switch backing back done towards La Posta Quemada Ranch "Nestled in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains adjacent to Colossal Cave, the La Posta Quemada Ranch has a history that includes train robbers and stagecoaches, squatters and cattle-empire builders, cave explorers and Civilian Conservation Corps workers, ranchers and easterners dreaming of being cowboys, and finally developers and conservationists. The ranch has been known as Mountain Springs Ranch, Shaw’s Ranch, part of the Empire Ranch, Day’s Ranch, and the La Posta Quemada Ranch. The name Posta Quemada (burnt station) comes from a nearby 1858 Butterfield Stage Station that burned in the early 1860s and was later rebuilt, only to burn again. Throughout its history, the ranch has been tied to the nearby Colossal Cave, a major tourist attraction. Today, the ranch is combined with the cave to form Colossal Cave Mountain Park, a Pima County park". History of La Posta Quemada Ranch by Sharon Hunt. Cisco was fascinated by the horses corralled below and I had a hard time to keep his mind on the rocky ledge heading down to the ranch. He just knew our stop for the day was down there with all the other horses but we were still 8 miles from our cut off point where Burton was to pick us up. Passing by the ranch Cisco kept pulling towards his perceived buddies but we finally got into the bottom and the vegetation was so thick we couldn't see the ranch. We continue along the canyon into the Rincon Valley stopping short of Saguaro National Park on X9 Ranch Road.
X9 Ranch Road to Manning Camp
This portion of passage 9 turned out to be a very memorable one as the elevation went from 3130' to 8,000' in less than 10 miles. It was all up and the trail was a difficult one without the elevation gain. Leaving the Rincon Valley and it mostly sandy footing we heading into the Saguaro National Park where camping is only allowed if you get a permit first (I obtained one and got an update on the water situation, corrals and elevation from the visitor station on the west side of the park...losing a day in the process!) Cisco and I moved at a fast walk (Bo was restricted to foot healing) and dogs weren't allowed in the park. We climbed and climbed towards Mica Mountain with the appropriate mica chips sparkling along the way. The footing was tough to say the least, with boulders and rocks at almost every foot fall. But, we climbed until I noticed some mule tracks and then we came up on the mule trail heading to Manning as I was. The ranger abruptly addressed me asking "Where are you going?" I replied Manning Camp and he rather rudely told me no one was supposed to be there today and no one was to camp there tonight. I told him I had my permit (thank goodness!) and talked with the ranger at the visitor station about the camp and it's corrals and that she even showed me a picture of them. He seemed very miffed, told me there was construction going on and that helicopters were coming and going with supplies. While normally I wouldn't have minded camping elsewhere I didn't bring my high line nor hobbles which meant that Cisco would have to be tired to a tree for the night....much against my wishes. I was supposed to have access to the corrals which he said he was going to use for his mules....a little talking and we came up with Cisco being able to use a small one in the back and I could camp down from the cabin they were reroofing. But, we still had thousands of feet of elevation to gain and then set up camp. We got to a lovely camping spot with graze and "next time" I'll bring my highline and camp there! 3.5 miles and 2,657' to gain to Manning Camp and the last mile and half I walked (rather...climbed) as I felt Cisco was giving out. Finally in camp I was told I had to wait about an hour for the helicopter to land several more times before I would put Cisco in his corral....My patience was running short and when the copter passed over head Cisco never picked up his from grazing so I felt safe that he wasn't going to be upset by them, but waiting to unsaddle, put up my tent was difficult as the sun was pretty close to the horizon. But, with my good coping skills (not) I reluctantly walked around and finally, I just took Cisco to the corral, unsaddled him, watered him, and went to set up my tent. It didn't take long before the ranger came and told me to move him out and back down the mountain until the last copter came and took a load and some workers back down the valley. It was a good thing I had taken him as he didn't care about that copter in the air but when it landed he came unglued! I hated to give the ranger credit for insisting I leave the area but I was glad to be on the far side of the landing zone. After all the excitement we finally settled down with Cisco in his corral and me in my tent.
Manning Camp - Mica Mountain to Redington Road
My night at Manning Camp wasn’t the best: Cisco paced back and forth until midnight when I finally got up and fed him a midnight snack, took off his boots which may have keep the entire work crew up as well. He still paced so I had to tie him to the corral, but it was all he needed to settle down and everyone was finally able to sleep. I worried about him tied to that pipe corral but by then I was too tired to try anything else. I woke at 5 with the first bird chirping and decided I would get out of camp before everyone else got up. Unfortunately, Ranger Tim was up brushing his teeth, we acknowledged each other with a nod and since his mouth was full I guess I escaped his criticism about Cisco’s walking. I had studied the maps and picked several landmarks to follow along the way realizing the pitiful situation I was in a few days ago when my GPS stopped working. Mica Mountain was a maze of trails, and the Arizona Trail joined with another there and the history of the trail was not to have too many Arizona Trail markers on another trail. This was good and bad but as my Mica Mountain experience was about to get even worse as I found the lack of Arizona trail signs not very encouraging. We all know that my GPS HAD to stop working right then on that mountain with all the bird nest trails leading out. Blank again and my options were to go back to Ranger Tim and ask which trails to take to Redington Road or go on and rely on my not so good map reading skills. I wasn’t going to give Ranger Tim the satisfaction of helping me so I stubbornly headed up the Mica Mountain Trail which was also part of the Spud Rock Trail, the North Slope Trail, and of course the Italian Spring Trail. Other trails came and went (The book says “stay on course by heading northeast along the creek bed, turning right on the North Slope Trail – at 13.6 miles turn 90 degrees to the left onto the North Slope Trail”) Great…..right, left…. guess it really doesn’t matter. I opted to follow the most travelled trail which was straight up Mica Mountain and down the other side. Then I saw a sign to Italian Spring which I knew was the direction I needed. We had travelled all the way up to 8,575’ and then it was all down, switch backing and scrambling but I felt confident that we were finally on the right trail. As we struggled down the Rincon Mountains and headed to Tanque Verde Canyon the narrow trail had deadfall in several places. One such tree was waist high, leaning over the ledge and had big thumb sized protrusions all over it. Deadly to say the least. I was leading Cisco and we both stopped in our tracks. This was a show stopper but I didn’t have the heart to go back to Manning Camp (remembering cordial Ranger Tim) Cisco and I had a discussion about which was worse. Then we saw it…a hint of a hoof print on the upper ridge…someone else had climbed up the almost sheer face and come down the other side of that nasty tree. As I would never had asked Cisco to go over that tree with all the dangerous limbs without cutting a clear path over them, I was certainly relieved to know some other horse and rider made it by going up. I lead Cisco up scrambling and trying to stay clear of his thrashing to climb above the tree. We made it! Cisco just stopped on the other side, me too, as we both knew what we just did was harrowing! More dead fall, but easy enough to climb over, then a gate and we were out of the Saquaro National Park. Down into the canyon we found a creek which still had pockets of water held in rock basins and by now Cisco was plenty thirsty. He pulled towards an awkward puddle between two huge rocks and with no footing but somehow stretched and strained until he was able to deplete the entire basin. From here we were less than 3 miles from Redington Road (that is if we were on the right trail) and Burton who was meeting us with water and feed. Looking up the other side of the canyon I saw 4 people heading our way so my first question was where were they heading and where did they get on the trail. Music to my ears….they were heading to Manning Camp and came from Redington Road. YES! We climbed out of the canyon and for the first time in over 12 miles I relaxed and looked forward knowing we would probably get to meet Burton as agreed.
Redington Pass (Road) to Molino Basin Campground
All of us spent the night at a great camp, Cisco had a little grass paddock I made from electric fence, the dogs were able to be just dogs and Burton relaxed. He had as much trouble as I did getting to Redington Road, got lost then managed to find his way. I am so very thankful that he went home and got our little trailer. Having it filled with water, supplies, bed and potty means a lot when you spend days on the trail! As morning light broke, a big, black storm cloud was heading our way and was definitely on course to hit the trail we had to take today. Given a choice I would rather stay here with Burton and the comfy trailer than riding in a thunder storm but I had missed so many days it would be better if possible to continue on. An old blue truck drove up over the extremely bumpy dirt road and I flagged it down hoping to speak with a local who could give an opinion on the approaching storm. As had become the norm, the fellow in the truck knew the Arizona Trail, like the fact that a gal was riding it and offered that the storm would probably only bring a few sprinkles and certainly no thunder storms. Much to my relief I would be able to ride and the kind driver even offered that I would be passing through his ranch for many miles – The Bellota Ranch! There it was right on my map the Bellota Ranch Headquarters. I saddled up for a short 13 miles ride, heading up away from our sweet camp and of course my even sweeter husband! I was a little apprehensive as my GPS still wasn’t working but I knew I could return back if I got too lost as it was only 13 miles. Travel was easy, a little confusing but not too bad, lots of cattle, somewhat rocky in spots but I was looking forward to the 1,000’ climb Mr. Bellota said would pull me away from his farm after leaving the Aqua Caliente drainage and its cottonwood trees. The cattle obscured the trail but just when I started to worry I saw 4 hikers and again was relieved to find that I had made the right choices as to the turns. We climbed northwest and that 1,000 feet elevation seemed like many more and we switch backed up with me looking at the hikers we left at the base. We finally got to a saddle and the views were incredible, Mt Lemmon was sheer rock and cliffs! I could see Burton pulled in to a camp parking lot but he was miles away and I had to switchback down to Molino Basin Campground. The trail was difficult with boulders but thankfully, no dead fall. I walked as I usually do down but my feet were sore from hitting the toes of my boots, so it was slow going and Cisco would nudge me every once in a while. Still I walked and we managed to get to Burton in just a little over 4 hours. We loaded up and headed to Catalina State Park where Burton had the big rig camped and Cisco had a nice pen to relax in. The scenery there was just as inspiring as Mt Lemmon!
Oracle Ridge to American Flag Ranch
As all the information I could gather on the trail one section was unanimously agreed that the trail over Romero Pass was far too hazardous for horses. They describe huge boulders and big climbs that hikers must pull themselves up by hand. Not mine & and Cisco’s type of fun! We decided to skip that 20 miles and have Burton haul us up the Catalina Highway to the Oracle Ridge Trail. The weather was very cold and snow had fallen at the higher elevations leaving me with the decision to go on or not. The trail was mostly north facing and that meant that the snow probably wouldn’t have melted by the time Cisco and I got there. I had a great deal of respect for snow covered trails as my buddy Ed Anderson had trouble on Fuller Ridge in California a few years back. The trail has enough unknowns as it is…I really didn’t want to add footing to the issues but we left out right alongside of the fire station with snow on the ground. The snow didn’t amount to much, only a few patches on the trail but hidden in the trees it was several inches deep. A few senior hikers left out before me packing down the trail as they went. Bo thought they were hiking for his entertainment and kept trying to engage each of them. They were good sports but we finally had to pass them as Cisco travels at over 3 miles an hour, up, down excepting over rock! We climbed, struggled with fist size rocks but very little dead fall. The slabs of rock gave Cisco some concern but he maneuvered through the worst until two slabs formed a “V” with no flat spot for his feet. As we were descending I was walking…so very glad, too. Cisco suddenly slipped and dropped on all four legs, folding them underneath him like he was sleeping. There he was wedged between the two slabs and I could not see a way for him to obtain any purchase for his feet even if he could get them out from under himself. These times require a hope and a prayer and I elicited both! Somehow, Cisco rolled back and forth until he was able to get one front leg out and then rolled his whole body in the opposite direction and freed his other front leg. It was remarkable to watch such a big horse free himself and not panic. In an instant he was up, scrambling towards the edge of the slabs and to dirt trail. I don’t think any horse with metal shoes would have been able to pull this off –with his boots grabbing a slight bit it was enough. I checked him over and found only a few rock burns and scratches. We were good to go again but I am sure glad that damn doctor who wanted to put me on blood pressure pills 30 years ago couldn’t have taken my blood pressure right then. We continued on, me confident that I was travelling the correct trail for the first time in several days as Burton had purchased a new chip for my GPS and it was working flawlessly and confirming my travel without having to constantly check my maps. I did however fail to zoom in to a good resolution and followed an old road and climbed Rice Peak which was almost straight up, rode to the point and looked down at my GPS telling me I was RIGHT ON! Not! If I followed my GPS I would have dropped off the peak and well, I would not be writing this today. A quick check of the zoom showed me that the trail was alongside the mountain peak and not down it’s face! I had missed the gate at the bottom of the climb. Back down to the gate and on the trail we circled the peak, but this time from below and then continued along the ridge with views for miles of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I could see High Jinks Ranch –once owned by Buffalo Bill Cody – www.highjinksranch.net but decided not to stop as we were meeting Burton at American Flag Ranch and we were already a bit late. We headed down the canyons and finally got to the trailhead with Burton waiting with a much need bucket of water for Cisco and a glass of ice tea for me!
American Flag Ranch to Hwy 77 in Oracle
The trail today was a short and easy one of only 8 miles. The elevation stayed between 3,992’ to 4,431’ along low ridges and mostly passed through the Oracle State Park. We travelled on nice footing with only the desert prickly pear hindering us and although known as a great mountain bike path we never saw anyone except a volunteer laying out tools for his group to clear the route of fist sized rocks. We came to a windmill which was not running but there was a picnic table and great place to relax for a few minutes. We followed an old road bed into a wash then came to the culvert which was far too small for Cisco to enter. If we hadn’t had prior word about it we would have had to cut barbed wire fencing, hop a guard rail and cross a busy highway but we pulled off and Burton meet us at the Oracle State Park trailhead. Easy day!
Gila River – Picket Post Trailhead
We drove north to the Kelvin – Riverside Bridge south of the town of Superior at Kelvin. The trailhead was lovely but hot and open with no shade. I intended to ride out 10 miles and back to the trailer along the Gila River having lunch at the abandoned town of Cochran on the south side of the river. I envisioned a shade covered trail meandering along the river…NOT! We quickly climbed away from the river although the river views were wonderful, we had started late in the morning and the heat was already building on the barren, open trail on the side of the canyon wall. The scenery was well worth the effort but I was concerned with leaving Burton for 6 or 7 hours back at the trailhead with no shade so I opted to cut the ride short and only went out about 6 miles and headed back. We had seen Cochran as we drove to it the day before to see if we could get a rig there but the road was far too rough to consider. I opted to ride from Picket Post south the next day so I wouldn’t miss any of the trail. When I got back to the trailer Burton looked like he could pass out and the heat was stifling. We loaded up and went to Winkelman City Park and camped alongside the Gila River under some eucalyptus trees with Cisco relaxing in the rodeo arena. It was a great camp, the dogs enjoyed the freedom and we enjoyed the breeze from the river. We filled our water tanks and kicked back for a day of rest. Nice camp! We left Winkelman and the cool, bug free river side camp and headed to Picket Post Trailhead west of Superior off Hwy 60, feeling like we were so lucky to have had a wonderful camp right out of a town, but Picket Post was every bit a nice. We camped a half mile from the actual trailhead which was signed for no camping. The field was flat, sandy and scenic and we easily set up a large electric fenced area for Cisco to romp. It seemed that every camp was a bit better than the previous. With still an hour or so of sun left in the sky I rode north on the trail to the highway underpass, through to the other side and quickly got lost on my very long 3 mile trail which I didn’t take seriously. Cisco didn’t have on boots as I was thinking that “it was only 3 miles,” the cows had obliterated the actual trail, I didn’t take my GPS and didn’t even have my maps….3 miles…why worry? Back and forth I went between fences trying to find the trail, once I almost made the mistake of entering a Corrientes bull’s pasture and he was one mean looking hugger who was eyeing us the whole time. I am so very glad we didn’t mistakenly invade his domain! The canyon was deep with no views except of “The Bull” so I crisscrossed back and forth still heading north whenever possible but my passages was interrupted by private property and secure fences. Finally, we passed along side of a fence and found a gap and a trail that wasn’t covered with clove hoof prints. We pulled out of the canyon to find Burton sitting at the trailhead to take us home. The 3 miles from hell was over!
Picket Post South
I call my totally flubbed up rides a tune up and I seem to need a reminder about how unforgiving the trail is when stupidity is involved. Everything has gone so well that I often forget how much trouble one can get into when one becomes complacent. This time I headed out with maps, GPS, emergency kit, extra boot, extra water, sat phone, Cb radio, compass…..well, just about everything I didn’t take last night! I was as prepared for any problems as I could possibly be. Except one…..We headed out from our fine camp to start back at the trail head at Picketpost and found a trail right from camp so we didn’t have to road walk this time. Leaving the trailhead the view of Picketpost Mountain was spectacular. We travelled along the base of the mountain on a fine, well maintained trail heading south in the Tonto National Forest. There were switchbacks but they were wide and Cisco easily maneuvered along the route…we were covering a lot of ground with expediency and Cisco seemed to know that this was an out and back ride. We went south for 7 or 8 miles and then headed back seeing signs of horse travel all the way. Heading up along a switch back I saw a snake and it took me a few moments to realize it was a rattler as it was all stretched out sunning. It only took it a second to coil up and rattle getting in a position to strike. Unfortunately, Bo was on one side of him and Cisco and I were on the other. I screamed at Bo to stay and not cross in front of that angry snake but the minute I turned to climb up the mountain to avoid it Bo came running…I guess he thought we were taking another trail. The snake coiled tighter and I knew Bo was going to get struck but the snake’s head followed us instead and Bo was able to run right alongside of it before it realized he was passing by. I could hardly breathe as Bo was so close that the snake would not have had to even try to get him. He was on top of him! Time stood still but Bo was finally with me as we reversed our path and climbed up the side and broke through the jumping cactus (prickly pear) to get to the trail safely. Cisco’s legs were covered with barbs and even my boots, stirrups and pant legs had hitch hiking barbs hanging off. I know that a snake bite would have been worse but those barbs hurt and I didn’t relish the task of pulling them off Cisco or myself. Bo even had a few hanging from his front legs! We were only gone 6 hours but I was certainly glad to be back safely at the trailer and get started removing those nasty barbs.
Picketpost to Roger’s Trough
Burton was determined to meet me at Roger’s Trough although the guide book describes the road there as impassable to trailers. As I was on the trail I had no idea what he was tackling to get up that mountain at over 5,000 feet. Picketpost was 2,399’ so he had a great deal of climbing. The trail followed along Whitford Canyon which was dry, then climbed to a ridge where we could see for miles. The Superstition Wilderness was as described, simply awesome! We crossed FR 650 and not far off was a working wind mill. Since we hadn’t had any water I looked forward to getting Cisco a good drink soon. We got closer and closer to the windmill until I could see that it was inside of a fence and clearly not set up for public use. There was a corral with a horse (all saddled up) running around but no access for us to get to the water. We had to pass up what might be our last chance to get water until Roger’s Trough. We continued on and after a couple of miles I got off and gave Cisco most of both of my canteens of water. He finished it in a breath and looked for more but I had to reserve a little bit in case I needed it. No snack this time, Cisco, we had to wait until we had some more water. We had gone over 12 miles and the biggest challenge was still ahead of us. We had an arduous climb up Montana Mountain. The elevation quickly rose to almost 6,000’ and it was in just a couple of miles. Cisco was already very thirsty but we had to climb and it was too steep for me to walk. There was a hawk who was eye level with us for several minutes as I looked out over the canyon and it swooped back and forth as if to try to see what we were doing. I stopped Cisco after a few hundred feet as he was working hard to breathe but he was still eager to go forward. Finally, we crested Montana and hit the old road (650) took a left and knew that we only had a few miles to go. Right off there was a huge rain puddle which Cisco quickly drank from. We moved on with me walking and after a mile of so I noticed a pair of grooves in the road that I recognized as the braces of our little trailer hitting the ground. Burton had made it this far so he must have missed his turn. How he ever got that rig up the mountain was amazing to me and unfortunately he was several miles from the actual trailhead. I tried to radio him but wasn’t able to make the connection so I just continued on. A couple of guys on a 4 wheeler came up and I asked them if they knew how far it was to Roger’s Trough and they said I was “way off” – when I questioned them further they said “We have a GPS and we know where we are” so I just acted as if they were correct but asked if they might show me on my map. It wasn’t long until they realized that they were reading their GPS wrong and I was in fact only a mile from Roger’s Trough. We arrived at the trailhead to find Burton, exhausted but sitting there with a big grin on his face. The day had been hard on all of us!
Roger’s Trough to Roosevelt Lake
Last night Burton took Cisco and I all the way back to Picketpost and our big rig. It was a grueling trip and I was scared on more than one occasion. The road was far too narrow, with switchbacks too sharp and extremely bumpy with protruding rocks jetting up from the center of the road to catch anything low enough to snag. I really wanted to just camp there at Roger’s Trough or somewhere close but Burton was set on going to the trailer. After a few miles we finally got to a section that was at least reasonable and made a little time, finally arriving at the trailer after 2 hours of driving 9 miles! The next morning I dreaded the trip back up Forest Road 172 but I wasn’t going to skip one of the most talked about sections of the trail…the ruins of Reavis Ranch! So we loaded up and headed back for another 2 hour trip up but within 3 miles I had to ask Burton to stop…it was so rough and treacherous that I felt that Cisco would be better off walking. I saddled up and rode for a few miles basically enjoying myself. Cisco was sharp and energetic and pulling forward and did so for several miles until the grade became steep and it soon worn him out. We followed Burton for miles and I watched as the trailer tires left the road and suspended in midair and knew that even tired Cisco was better off walking than in that trailer. I knew that the ¾ ton truck Burton was using could pull the trailer out of almost anything (or more likely…up from any cliff) but it was just too light to save Cisco with his added weight. We finally got to Roger’s Trough and this time I noticed that the entire area had knee deep grass all along the perimeter…what a wonderful treat for Cisco…we set up his electric pen and he was able to enjoy good graze all night!
Second try to Roosevelt Lake
I woke up this morning ready to hit the trail! A couple of very knowledgeable hikers came through last night and reported about the water sources, grade and condition of the next section of trail and armed with this good and current information I was eager to ride. It would be over 23 miles but the part through the Reavis Ranch was easy, cool and there was plenty of water until the last 7 miles or so. I was intrigued by Elisha Reavis an educated fellow who taught school for a while then retreated to the solitude of his valley ranch so I was looking forward to see what may have drawn him into isolation. We hoofed it to the Reavis Ranch Trail and then on to Reavis Saddle where we entered Reavis Ranch. The trees seemed from another ecosystem, the soil was sandy loam and there were green pastures everywhere. Here in the desert was a certain oasis and Reavis had reason to want to live and spend his life in this idyllic setting. There were remnants of his ranch with posts, farm equipment, a home foundation and apple trees still living. The cottonwood trees were scattered along the live, clear creek and the entire area invited us to stay and enjoy Elisha’s dream. We rested for an hour and then knowing we had a long day left we headed out towards Boulder Mountain, following the Reavis Gap Trail to the Two Bar Ridge Trail marked by cairns and skirting in and out of far reaching cactus barbs. We followed along this ridge for miles and as the trail was rock and faded it was difficult to follow. Bo usually led, Cisco followed and I just checked my GPS every once in a while to be sure we were somewhere near the trail until we all stopped at once. We had followed the trail into a blind camping area with no trail leading out. I let Bo sniff around for a few minutes but he never located the trail so we had to back track, not far but had I paid a little better attention I would have seen the log over the camp site trail and known not to follow that. Anyway, it was a strenuous climb and we hadn’t seen any water for several miles and still had to climb Pinyon Mountain. I jumped off and gave Cisco my canteens of water reserving a couple of cups for myself after allowing Bo a good drink. Finally, we got to Black Bush Ranch Road (FR 83) and I could see a trough down the road but was disappointed to find it dry. Bo even went to check it out and then ran off to a stock tank further down the road which only had wet mud in it. We were very thirsty but the corral we saw was dry as well. Finally, there was a nice large stock tank with water (it was green but it didn’t stink) and Cisco made it clear that he wanted some. I thought he would never stop drinking and drinking and drinking! Refreshed we followed the road (two track) until we got to the Cottonwood Canyon Trail not recommended for horses and then I knew we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead Burton and I agreed to meet at. We followed FR83 down and I radio Burton who came and picked us up. Wonderful trip and beautiful trail…..the reason I was there!