Getting back to the Arizona Trail started out with a few hick-ups. Leaving Mena seemed like I was leaving the best riding time of the year but as the trail side water was drying up all along the Arizona Trail I knew I had to get out to the desert or forget it for another year (that wasn’t going to happen if I could help it) so we headed out and before we even got out of Oklahoma we ran into our first burp! Kathy’s trailer hook up was dragging and it was ruined. She had two decisions….go home and fix it or drive between Burton and I as we continued on to Arizona….got to love her….she did just as I would have….go for it! So we headed out west with Kathy and Arvid in the middle of our road train! We drove to Foss Lake, spoke to the ranger (who told us the panels for the horses were moved to Mouse Creek – well, we got there and “no panels” but we had tired horses so they were just happy to stop and spend the night any way they could. I love Foss Lake and it’s relaxed trails and had hoped to ride with Kathy for a couple of hours but we were all too tired. Our journey west was under way!!
From Foss Lake we headed to Grants, New Mexico where I had spent several layovers at the Rodeo Grounds. The interstate was in pretty good shape and we sailed over I 40 right thru Albuquerque and on to Grants. Pulling into the Rodeo Grounds was like seeing an old friend, I knew the routine and we settled in as if we owned the place. The same host as the year before came by later at night collected the $15 - pen, water, AND electric for the trailers….perfect stop! Tomorrow to Roosevelt Lake, Arizona!
We got off I 40 at Hwy 87 and rolled down the mountains towards Roosevelt Lake. I hadn’t been to Frazier Campground but I heard from my Arizona Trail mentor “Bonnie” that it was a very good horse camp. Last year Burton and I camped remotely backed up to the forest at a barbed wire fence…nice but I was glad to have pens so the horses could really relax. Long drive, Kathy & Arvid with no trailer lights, but we arrived safe and Arvid was sure he could fix the lights with not much trouble (hind sight……gee what a mess)
We spent all day letting the horses relax and Arvid fixing the lights (not), looking at the trail access and spotting locations where Burton might be able to meet us with resupply and water, interesting roads for a truck and VERY interesting for our little 3 horse goose neck trailer, but Burton, as usual was game to try to lighten our load by bringing our packs and meeting us. So our plan was set. Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle!
YES! On the trail at last, Kathy and I headed south on the Cottonwood Canyon Trail which was part of the Arizona Trail. Sure felt good to be astride and covering some mileage by horse back. I rode to the Cottonwood trail last year but pulled off just at the beginning so was thrilled to be riding the part I didn’t get on. The trail was rocky but clearly marked with cairns and past foot traffic so we had fun just riding south. Kathy was in awe and Cisco knew it was starting to be back to business. Bo lead the way and rustled out (or tried) any varmint he could. We followed the canyon in a narrow slot, beautiful but difficult because of the rocks and washouts. Both horses needed the work out and Bubba was on high alert the whole time. Kathy wasn’t sure a horse could go over some the rocks but Cisco just trudged on and Bubba was not going to be left behind. While we were crossing down into a creek Bo chased an unseen critter and Bubba just knew that the world was coming to an end. He dumped Kathy and scaled up the canyon wall. It was so steep that just looking up it was a trick. Kathy was down on the ground, horse was up on the canyon wall and I stood there with my thumb in my mouth (not) wondering what to do first. Just as I got off Kathy jumped up saying “I’m not hurt” and then she looked up…..Way up there was Bubba and for her to even try to climb the wall would have been a real challenge, luckily Bubba was more scared of being alone up there with the eagles then down here with Cisco and the critters so down he headed. It never ceases to amaze me to see what a horse can do but down the wall he came (one rein caught around his front legs and one boot gone) Kathy reached out to try to grab him as he passed so she could save the reins but without snaps on them she didn’t have a chance to get them straight. Bubba just barreled down to Cisco with only one scratch and no broken reins! As wild eyed as he was he allowed Kathy to readjust everything, fix the broken boot and mount up to ride on. Okay, Bubba and Kathy were now officially christened by the Arizona Trail. Well done, Kathy! We rode on to Forest Road 83 to the Two Bar Ridge Trailhead where Burton and Arvid were waiting to haul us back to camp.
Today we were riding out to the Mills Ridge Trailhead. It was across the suspension bridge from our base camp so Burton hauled us out. Both he and Arvid couldn’t imagine where we would climb the huge wall of rock to get to the plateau and beyond. There was a small narrow thread of a trail heading along the canyon wall but at first even Kathy wasn’t sure there was enough room for a horse to step foot. (Hind sight…this was a frigging freeway!) The Vineyard Trail as it was called switch-backed back and forth up to the ridge where we could see the entire lake below. It was an arduous climb but we crested to see Apache Lake on to the south. This is the stuff that drives me year after year….so hard to describe the beauty! While enjoying the views we noticed that Bubba had torn a boot off and it was somewhere back DOWN THERE! I told Kathy we (she) had no option but to go back down and try to find it. Ah, come on…she is 15 years younger than me. Kathy dutifully hiked off down the cliff wall but she did have an encounter with a group of workers who knew she was looking for Bubba’s boot…they nicely had placed it on a rock (versus carrying it up) Soon we rejoined and at 3,400 elevation from down at base camp of around 2,200 Kathy was glad the boot was not ruined and she was able to mount up. We enjoyed the scenery and met up with Burton on Mills Ridge access road 429. Even riding the road was delightful and worth the effort.
Up and loaded with Burton hauling us to El Oso Road to Pigeon Springs Trailhead, I fretted about the narrow mountain road with tight switchbacks. I hate them, I fear them and I would rather do almost anything than be hauled up them but hauled we must to continue so with sweaty hands and lots of how to advice being shouted Burton 4 wheeled it up the sandstone road. I finally was almost hysterical so my dear, dear husband pulled off and started to unload about a ¼ mile short of the trail head….Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care….my feet were firmly planted on that road and with just a short walk we were at the trail head. Burton had driven up in front of us and as I looked down from the road he had already turned around….yes, turned around! So very glad not to have seen that or worse yet been in the truck! (Bet Burton was glad I wasn’t there too!) So to the trail we hoofed. The old road bed offered a very safe footing but there were 4 wheelers showing up with a roar. Bubba was still wild eyed and Kathy found it safer to dismount until he became more controllable. Cisco was just the professional he has always been, munching grass as we waited for Bubba and Kathy. We had views everywhere, surrounding us and often so incredible that we failed to hear the 4 wheelers coming, but in every case the drivers were courteous and slowed to pass. The manzanitas were in full bloom adding to the spectacular surrounds. We stopped to have lunch on a crest where the horses were treated to a bit of graze and we were able to give them their lunch portion in nose bags. Soon we dropped into Sycamore Creek surreal and calming with water plentiful. Lush grass and water made the horses ease on and it was hard to encourage them past the wonderful, shaded valley. Soon we climbed out to find Burton and Arvid waiting to haul us back to Frazier to rest for a few days. I could feel my body start to adjust to this wonderful trail life.
April 11, 12
Today we had 16 miles to ride with elevation from 3,000’ to over 5,500’ so we knew it was going to be a real pull. Burton wanted to bring our tents and resupply as far as possible so the horses could travel light which meant that he would have to take some of those cliff hanging roads (at least that is what they call them) to meet us but he insisted. He would have to sleep in the truck and was worried that Arvid would be very uncomfortable for a whole night. Arvid and Burton are from the old breed of men, quiet, tough, honest and gentlemen. So they dropped us off, unhooked the trailer and headed off from Sunflower towards the Mazatzal Wilderness. We simply retraced about ¼ mile of yesterday’s trail and then took a tunnel under Hwy 87 to parallel Sycamore Creek towards the wilderness. Stunning landscape met us, one treat after another, we went from one water source to another with the horses having long drinks each time. We came up to some graze and many tracks both horse and cattle, then a great stock tank just out of a wash. Stopping for lunch we filled up and moved past a gate into a field of horses. Luckily they only observed us although one paint followed us with no contact or incidents. I have had some close encounters with horses who just didn’t like intruders but not this time. We hurriedly passed through the next gate leaving the inquisitive horses behind. On a side hill javelina scampered away, neither horse worried, but when a hiker passed Bubba knew that the mouth of hell was releasing demons on him. Kathy got off but Bubba still almost came off the trail. I felt Cisco shaking his head at the foolish greenie trail horse. As Bubba calmed we moved on through to a sign marked Peeley Trailhead and Cornucopia Trail. Luckily, we followed the Cornucopia Trail as Bonnie had told me not to take the Arizona Trail to Mt Peeley because there were many dangerous slides and it was too risky for the horses. I had forgotten until I checked my GPS to see that we were way off the A T and saw on my map where I had marked it with Bonnie’s comments. The Cornucopia Trail was a beautiful canyon trail that followed a creek all the way back up the Arizona Trail – we were so happy to have seen it although there were many difficult rock climbs for the horses. We pulled into Peeley trailhead to see Arvid had set up Kathy’s tent for us both to sleep in but there wasn’t any place to high line the horses so I moved across the trail head and set up my tent next to some good trees. The horses were so exhausted that they only wanted to eat and rest and were no problem the entire night. I slept next to them as I always try to do. Kathy had a hard night trying not to slide down to the bottom of her tent so she got little sleep and when she did she was woken by a strange guttural noise……two old men snoring in the truck next to her tent! Morning broke with only me and the horses having a great night sleep…Well, maybe the dogs slept okay but Shanty had to sleep in the back seat of the truck with the nasal blastors, Bo slept in my tent as usual. As we were packing up a bearded volunteer drove up and I questioned him about the next 10 miles of trail. He told me I was about 2 weeks too early since the trail crews were scheduled to work it and remove several downed trees and repack some of the tread. I was very concerned: this was rugged mountain terrain and Bubba was just too inexperienced to encounter tread that was undermined or worse. We decided to walk down the old road 9 miles to the trailer and haul around to the Barnhardt Trailhead. Seemingly a simple and benign answer to what could have been very challenging alternative. Well, the cliff side cattle guards had no horse gates so here we were looking at a cattle guard with no easy way around it. Of course it was impossible for a horse to go over but then I saw a faint print on the high side of the guard where a horse had somehow scrambled up the cliff and then down the other side. There was down barbed wire, loops and strands….very worrisome. I lead Cisco up and he carefully maneuvered around the post with Bubba and Kathy following. At 5 miles Burton had stopped so we could get some water for the horses and then on we went to hit our second cattle guard. This time we had to go on the cliff side to get around, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as the first. 4 more miles and we loaded up and headed to Barnhardt.
Barnhardt Trailhead was a large open parking lot with nothing else. With all 3 rigs parked we did have most of the comforts of home except for the horses. They were confined to my large electric pen which I set up while everyone else went to get the rigs. The ground was iron ore like (maybe fine lava) so it was hard and not a place where I would have normally put the horses for any length of time but I found some other horse signs and feeling the comfort of the past equines both Cisco and Bubba were happy. The views right out of the camper were spectacular and nestled in the mountain base we were protected from the west wind. As we settled in for the night Bubba alerted, ran and Cisco followed right through the electric fence. I believe there were javelina or some other creatures but I didn’t see anything. Sleep was not going to be a possibility unless we put the horses into the trailers. So poor Cisco was loaded into our trailer with the divider taken out to give him some room and Kathy comfined Bubba to their trailer. Morning brought a bright sky and we saddled up to ride the Barnhardt Trail out of camp to continue north. Well, the Barnhardt Trail is the trail from hell. Seriously, the guide book doesn’t recommend the trail for horses and because of the narrow and very rocky tread there was reason to believe it. We climbed, switch backed and held our breaths with Kathy walking much of the way as Bubba didn’t seem safe to ride. He was getting broken in on the roughest part of the Arizona Trail right off. We passed hikers, both day hikers and thru hikers and continued on again with views of the valley, the San Francisco Peaks and meadows. Covering the trail at a good rate we were able to get to The Park. I saw a wonderful field with graze way off down the mountain and told Kathy how wonderful it would be to camp there where the horses would have graze and we could put up our tents amongst the tall pines. We wound down the mountain and within a couple of hours we were unpacking our tents under those very trees. Unfortunately, what had appeared to be graze was some kind of weed that the horses reached for but were disappointed to find it unpalatable. I did find some graze out from camp and we were all relaxed for the night (excluding the ½ mile trip to haul water for camp and the horses) but heaven could be only slightly better than The Park! This was Kathy’s first remote camp so I can only imagine at the wonder she felt.
Morning was opened when the sun creeped over the mountain and cast a slight warm shadow on the field where Cisco was telling me he wanted to go. I promptly untied the two horses from the high line and took them to graze. I could feel the stress of civilization draining my entire body as I listened to both horses munch. Kathy walked the ½ mile to refresh the water supply and found her new canvas bucket was leaking so she could lonely bring back one bucket…..I took the horses to her and we found a pool were the water had seeped in during the night that was big enough for them to drink from. We both could have stayed and camped there for another night or two but we had to tack up and move on.
LF Ranch was our destination for today. The trail was mostly a very old road with poor footing and rock after rock. Often I had to check to be sure we were even on the right trail and it was so difficult including downed trees and tough going. Finally, we arrived at the gate to LF Ranch. It was like entering another era. Mary Ann sashayed up towards us with a big smile and friendly “hello.” She told us she wasn’t expecting us (I guess the hiker didn’t pass on the message we were coming) but this didn’t seem to be an issue. She showed us the “Bunk House” which could sleep 6 and escorted us to a bull pen for the horses to have for the night. That bull pen was right next to some wild, horned calves and Bubba was up in arms! Cisco just seemed to breathe deep and tried to find something to munch on. Watered and with a couple of flakes of alfalfa thrown into their pen both horses soon only concerned themselves with the chow. Back at the bunk house Mary Ann directed another hiker to a site where he was to pitch his tent…meaning Kathy and I had the bunk house to ourselves! I couldn’t have imagined sleeping with 4 other people (especially guys who snored) but we did have a hot shower and FLUSH toilet right outside our door. Bo curled right up next to my bed and was out until about 2 or so when he woke me up with a yelp! I had left the door open for ventilation (never giving a thought to snakes or other critters who could have wandered in) but with a flash light search I didn’t find anything crawling and Bo promptly fell back to sleep. Me…no of course not, I knew I would have to extricate some kind of poisonous varmint at any minute!
With some fresh cream for my morning coffee, I was happily drinking a cup on the porch watching MaryAnn and Shane get their rigging and trail clearing equipment ready for several days of working the trail. There were peacocks strutting, chickens pecking the ground and her mules and horses eyed us with the same interest. This is how mornings must have started years ago; relaxed, slow but with a purpose.
White Rock Mesa
Our trail today was up White Rock Mesa to Hard Scrabble Mesa at Twin Buttes. The plan was to have Burton pick us up there as the rigs were close enough for us to spend the night at the Pine Trailhead. We left LF Ranch late causing Mary Ann to be late as well. She was to be on the trail to work for 3 days and wanted to shut the ranch down before we left. We knew we would find a crew somewhere on the trail and this was to be a new experience for Bubba. We left the ranch at the East Verde River which had only a small amount of water and started to climb. There was juniper and pine and the most memorable part of this trail was the black lava which engulfed the entire trail at a very difficult ascent towards the Mogollon Rim. Every step was arduous and the horses had to work so hard to gain the elevation. Finally as we were hoping the worst was over there was delightful Whiterock Spring which was developed with a horse tank and crystal clear water slowly dripping over the edge. The horses drank, relaxed and we moved on refreshed. White rock lined the trail at this point and we left the Mazatzal Wilderness trying to follow the trail marked with rock cairns. Bo had always been our trail finder but here he was not able to help. So many hikers had scattered over the rocks that there wasn’t any clear trail, we lost it for several minutes although I knew the basic direction but having to crisscross back and forth to locate the faint signs of trail. There really wasn’t much difference in the footing: on the trail or not, just rocks and cactus. After a quick lunch break at Saddle Ridge where there was a pasture tank but we wanted to push on to try to meet Burton. Somehow we got things crossed and Burton thought we would be coming up the electric high line easement??????????? He had started to drive down the barely passable jeep trail when we arrived at FR 194, luckily the satellite phone connected with him and he turned around after having to move boulders and weave his way back. So glad to be loading up and heading to our trailer….shower, pens for the horses, and grass! Pine Trailhead was great!
From Pine we travelled south on the Arizona Trail heading back towards that electric high line Burton was travelling. We crossed Hwy 87 and watched as the Narrows came into view. The Mogollon Rim to the north and the Narrows to the south! The tread although rocky was okay and the horses could pick their way without constantly walking on them. We passed by some private property and Cisco just was sure he knew some of the inhabitants….He called to them and only one picked up it’s head. Covering only 8 miles it felt like it wasn’t even worth the effort to saddle up but we all were happy to get back to Pine, the grass and lovely bowl setting just below the Mogollon Rim.
Bray Creek was tonight’s destination. Starting out was the views of the Mazatzal Mountains and Four Peaks….ridge riding at it’s best along with the views of the Mogollon Rim in front of us set the stage for a great ride. I set Bray Creek as our camp spot since it had water and looked like it might have a bit of graze. The footing was great with not too many rocks and when we got to Bray Creek there was indeed s bit of graze the only problem was that the water was at a spring up a very steep hill. We had to carry several canvas buckets down for the horses as well as some for our use. High lined and resting the horses seemed to relax and enjoy the setting. Tents up and soon to sleep until about 10 when a biker came through, we were just glad it was a hiker and not elk or bear! Dark as it was he declined our invitation to camp with us saying he wanted to cover another few miles.
General Springs Cabin
We started to break camp to be interrupted by 2 more bikers one from Italy. They inquired about last night’s visitor then pushed on. Neither horse showed any interest in the bikes. We saddled up and headed towards the seemingly impenetrable Mogollon Rim. It rose up bigger than life and was a mountain of sheer rock. Somehow we were to get to the top. Drawing closer the trail became sandstone and was difficult to gain footing: right at a sandstone slab Cisco slipped and fell. We were both on the ground with me between his front and hind feet. The wedge we were on was angled just enough to make it almost impossible for Cisco to gain his balance without stepping on me but somehow he didn’t; just catching the heel of my boot with his hind foot. I felt he did everything he could not to step on me and I sure wasn’t able to move fast enough to get out of the way of his scrambling. Reaching for the stirrup I pulled myself out from under him getting a very unique view of horse plumbing! I assessed his legs, side and although he had a few scratches both he and my leg were saved by the bulky camping and packing gear. No real harm or so it seemed. I walked for maybe a mile and then mounted up with my heel hurting. Cisco felt a bit off but not so much that he was balking or limping so we went on. When we emerged from some trees to find the Washington Park Trailhead I seriously considered trying to get Burton to pick us up. There was even a corral so waiting hours for him to arrive would have been possible but upon looking at the many different dirt forest roads he would have to take to get us discouraged me enough to continue on. I had put boots on Bo to try to save his feet as he was a bit sore but he constantly threw them and with my foot hurting I dreaded getting off and trying to find them. Kathy rose to the occasion and headed back down the mountain to our last watering hole to see if one of the boots had come off there but didn’t find it. I knew that a lame horse, rider AND dog was just too much so I dismounted and headed back to retrace Kathy’s footsteps. Again no luck until I was about 40 feet from where Kathy was waiting with the horses and there the darn thing was just a stone’s throw from us! Now we had to face the Mogollon Rim wall and it was one of the most vertical climbs I have ever had. There was an old trail for when the miners were going to dig a tunnel to move ore and it gave us a bit of help switch backing up to the Colorado Plateau at 7,200’ at the rim. We then travelled on to General Springs Cabin where I knew that Cisco shouldn’t be asked to go any further…..he was indeed hurt. His hind foot was dragging but I guess I was in so much pain I didn’t feel his off gait. Somehow he carried me and all that camping gear up to the rim….what a horse. I couldn’t make connections with Burton as he didn’t have cell service but a kind hiker who had driven to the cabin offered to go in the morning to find him and tell him we needed to pick be picked up. Meanwhile the horses enjoyed grazing around the cabin and we spent a wonderful night camping there behind General Springs Cabin. Cisco was still dragging his hind foot in the morning and he looked several times at his hip….I hoped that he wasn’t seriously hurt and felt guilty that I didn’t catch it before the rim challenge. A few days off would tell the story.
Today found Cisco stumbling and too much out of character….only slight interest in his food and hardly any in his hay. I feared the worst. Burton caught his off gait and I realized that the bute I had given him was not enough. I seriously considered taking him home to rest and recoup and bring Issy back. Still I wanted to give Cisco a few days to see how he responded to rest. After all I was hurt as well and could hardly walk but for me to not continue was not an option… a few days would help both of us…I hoped. Our camp ground was superb. The horses had huge electric pens with graze, we were nestled in tall pines and enjoyed the elk move across the fields. It was heavenly, except we were hurt.
With a day of rest, Cisco seemed better and wasn’t dragging his foot so I felt a light ride was in order. We hauled to Rock Creek and headed to Blue Ridge Campground just 5 miles away. Cisco acted fit and pulled against my restraint…..maybe I would be lucky. The trail was only slightly rocky and we covered it in less in 2 hours. Burton was at the trailhead waiting, hauling us back to our “heaven” camp all before noon. I dared not breathe too deeply…Cisco might just be okay. Me, well, I’m hurt but not so badly. Afternoon brought snow and high winds, but camp was surreal, a fantasy even with the cold and snow. I hobbled around camp taking asprin and enjoying the foot massages Burton gave me.
With Cisco acting willful and on the muscle I opted to ride from the General Springs Cabin to Rock Springs. It was only 9 miles and the elevation only changed 350’. Keeping my fingers crossed I asked Cisco to follow Bubba and not set the pace. He wasn’t happy…..I smiled knowing he was indeed getting better. I didn’t want to be over enthusiastic as a good horse will put his work first but I felt Cisco’s strength with every step. He was coming back…..I had my horse! Me….I am still hurt and the back of my boot was painfully hitting my heel. If I had to walk very far I would be in agony but the mechanics worked and that was what really counted…at least for me. We travelled that 9 miles in just a few hours with Burton waiting for us as we had become so accustomed. Back to “heaven” camp!
We took time to move our rigs to Gooseberry Springs not far from Mormon Lake….another “heaven” camp with tall pines, graze and the wilderness setting I craved. We still wanted to cover a few miles of trail so Burton hauled us all the way back south to where we left off and we mounted up to head to Forest Road 82 – a lovely, easy 5 mile ride but COLD! Jeri a Mena friend had given me a pair of fleece long johns and I was so very appreciative to have them. Cisco powered over the trail even as the elevation increased to 7,600’. Bubba and Kathy are perfect partners, never hesitating to go with the flow as it was hard to make decisions until we knew that Cisco was okay. Both were strong and fit and it encouraged me onward!
Burton had to take our dually to the town of Payson where they could put a new set of brakes on it so Arivd (Kathy’s husband) drove us to Bergaman Tank where we could catch the trail and ride back to Gooseberry Springs. Finding the trail was a bit of a chore as it was crossing a high line and there weren’t any markers so we wove back and forth looking. Okay, this gets a little stupid but here goes anyway….a power line worker was driving the easement, I was wearing a wool shirt, fleece long johns under my pants and was leading Cisco in the hot sun……I was getting very over heated so I unzipped the throat of my wool shirt just as the line man came up to me…..I wasn’t thinking….just hot….dam it! I am sure that fellow thought I was giving him a sign of something more exciting but honestly….I was hot and it just didn’t occur to me that the gesture could be misunderstood. So when I asked him if he knew where the Arizona Trail came in here…he responded that he was sure I would get what I needed….Good grief, I only unzipped it a few inches and after all I am a gray haired old lady who doesn’t think like that. God only knows what he told his friends…. Anyway, we did find the trail with me so flustered that I took a few minutes figuring out which way to go. Oh, yeah, the trail was wonderful and Cisco was in perfect form.
Most of the developed camps were still closed and didn’t open until mid- May but usually there was at least one faucet on for early trail hikers or equestrians. I found that true as we travelled north on the Arizona Trail. Today we left Gooseberry Springs crossing Hwy 3 and then following Fulton Canyon towards the west side of Mormon Lake. Mormon Lake was founded by Mormon sheepherders and is the largest natural lake in Arizona but today it is dry with only a bit of water in the middle. Being shallow and fed by intermittent springs it has been dry for about 15 years but the locals say it is filling back up again…I only saw a long narrow swath of water, but the town had a grand lodge (hosting a wedding at the time) cabins and was the quaint, scenic and friendly town I had expected. While Kathy and I rode Burton found a laundry mat and did the laundry, then trailered up to Double Springs to wait for us. The elevation stayed around 7,000’ only getting to 7,800’ after Navajo Springs in a nice pine forest. It snowed and the elevation took a toll on both horses. Kathy and Bubba were now a true team, with Kathy trusting Bubba more and Bubba stepping up to the challenge of watching the trail instead of Kathy dictating every move….what an improvement for them both! The snow kept coming so we donned our rain gear but the trail footing was great as it was mostly an old railroad bed. There signs which told of the hard working railroad crew setting the rails. Rocks were limited to just before Double Springs Campground and generally we found the trail delightful, including the snow. There wasn’t any horse water along the way except at Double Springs so they drank several buckets when Burton met us.
Pine Grove Campground
Today we started at Double Springs and continued on towards Pine Grove Campground. The trail was absolutely beautiful and bridle path like. We basically rode the side of the old railroad base. The elk were moving and we enjoyed seeing several small herds. A hiker was heading south from Utah and I was able to inquire about the snow conditions on the trail into the Grand Canyon as I had been worried about getting all the way into the Canyon but then getting snowed out trying to get to the North Rim.
Burton dropped us off at Horse Lake just up from Pine Grove Campground and we levelled off along the Anderson Mesa. We caught sight of the San Francisco Peaks covered in snow, were treated to a herd of elk with a buck who watched us and kept moving his herd along the same northerly direction. We passed by the trail to Prime Lake which is known for the migratory birds passing through. We had to bypass the lake as equestrians were routed along the outer perimeter fence but were treated to many ducks coming and going. Kathy was in the lead and she took a loop trail that led to an overlook of Upper Lake Mary; the view was incredible and then we came to Lowell Observatory’s Perkins Telescope site and Cisco knew that the high fence enclosed a few friends of his…He neighed and called and waited for a response…funny to experience this with him….finally we crossed Forest Road 128 at Marshall Lake where Burton was waiting to haul us back to base camp. A word about Burton…..many times he would have to travel hours to get us picked up and along some very “interesting” roads or at least they are called roads; so grateful that he is willing to give me this time and effort. Got to love that guy!
The snow and ice were accumulating and we had to get our rigs out of the forest so we took the 2 horses on to Crockett Ranch just north of Flagstaff on Hwy 89, the road was covered with snow and both Kathy and I were concerned but Burton took our driving instructions with a deaf ear and we arrived safe where the horses had a shed and small pen to move around in. Back to the rigs we went and with all 3 trucks in 4 wheel drive we pulled them out of the slush and mud. You could hear the mud hit the pavement as we went. Flagstaff was pretty clear as the snow had turned to rain and we parked the rigs hooking up to electricity for the first time in weeks. The ranch even had a FLUSH toilet and garbage containers! We had phone reception, internet and what fun to have civilization for a few days! Subway, here I come! Burton and I actually ate at the Horsemen’s Lounge and the food was good but our tastes had changed and our capacity to eat a big meal was lost so we had left over food to eat for a couple of days, but is was sure fun to have someone wait on us and I loved the fresh salad.
Walnut Canyon, under I 40 and on to Hwy 89
I didn’t let know Kathy about the challenges ahead of us today: Interstate 40 tunnel, railroad crossing complete with trains and then on to cross Hwy 89….well, so much for enjoying civilization! Actually, the trail was delightful with Walnut Canyon being one of my favorites. We were just a few miles from Flagstaff but we could have been hundreds. Starting right off we dropped down to Sandy Canyon with Kathy jumping off the open most of the gates. We hoofed up and down from 7,200’ to 6,000’ more than once but the trail was easy and delightful. We found water in a wildlife tank and the horses drank several buckets I hauled to them with Bo drinking right from the forest service tank. From Walnut Canyon Monument we continued on to our first tunnel under Cosnino Road and we just passed right through. On to the tunnel under I 40 and we never slowed but when we got through it we were confronted with the railroad tunnel including a long container train. Kathy was holding her breath and I calmly rubbed Cisco as he watched the train, whistle and all pass. It took forever and I felt that Cisco just needed any excuse to blow up but he stayed firm with his 4 feet planted as I asked. Bubba followed Cisco’s behavior and we safely entered the tunnel with 2 wide eyed horses. Knowing that we were right on top of Flagstaff I expected houses, vehicles and fast traffic. Nothing, we could have been in the wilderness except for the trains, and traffic noise. We paralleled the tracks for several miles complete with the frequent trains but both horses found green grass much more interesting so the passing locomotives were a nonevent! Who could have imagined! We saw ponderosa pines, pinon-juniper trees and few people. The trails around Flagstaff were well groomed, allowed bicycles, hikers and horses and there weren’t any adverse interactions among any.
Marshall Lake to Walnut Canyon
Starting at Marshall Lake at 7,122’ the trail traversed a flat wooded area of ponderosa pines and oak. We dropped to Sandy’s Canyon and enjoyed the small canyon while the horses ate a snack. The scenery was exquisite and it was hard to believe we were almost at Flagstaff. We travelled the canyon and were drawn into a canyon below Fisher Point. I couldn’t help myself…..I had to ride a couple of miles deeper as it was so beautiful. I lack the words to describe the beauty, wishing I was more articulate so others could envision the splendor. Finally, we had to turn around and get back on the Arizona Trail only to be rewarded by an ascent to sights even more grandeur. Travelling for 3 more hours we found Burton sitting there with the trailer already turned around ready to load us up.
Sandy Seep to Snow Bowl
The Sandy Seep Trailhead was located just down the road from our great base camp at Crocket Ranch so we left at 9 making an easy morning. What we forgot was to water the horses before Burton pulled off with the trailer. I was concerned but knew we would have water at Schultz Tank about 7 miles ahead. We followed the sandy trail where there had been much traffic but we didn’t encounter but a few people. Ahead we came to Little Elden Springs which was dry but I opted to ride into Little Elden Camp and luckily there was a faucet on. The horses drank and grazed for several minutes and then we were off to Schultz Tank 4 miles further. The forest was marked for timbering thinning but I thought it was already sparse. There were signs of previous fires and I supposed the forest service was hoping to get the burnable fuel to a minimum. Sad to see they were going to remove those old grand ponderosa pines, but the timber company was doing a great job of restoring the forest by burying the stumps, and dragging the ground so no signs of trucks or timber haulers could be seen. Arkansas could learn a lesson about that. Because of the timbering the forest service had a temporary detour in place which directed us to a wonderful canyon ride. We followed well maintained Schultz Creek enjoying the both the trail and the canyon. The detour didn’t add but a ¼ mile or so to the length of our ride but it was lovely. We pulled away from Schultz Creek to pass under some ponderosa pines and cross several old forest roads. We were treated to the San Francisco Peaks (named Kachina Peaks by the native people) at 12,633’…the highest in Arizona and we circled below them at 9,000.’ Kathy and I enjoyed riding among the many aspen tree groves. Both Cisco and Bubba were slow and feeling the effects of the elevation but we were soon loading up on Snow Bowl Road where we found Burton.
Snow Bowl to Cedar Ranch
We saw lots of snow at 9,000’ and the trail had not been maintained as well as the previous trail closer to Flagstaff. We encountered a downed tree right in the middle of a bird nest of downed trees. Somehow I got off without my saw so I had to walk through the debris while Kathy held Cisco. I finally saw a way around and we tip toed through the pickup sticks of tress to gain the trail once again. Kathy lead for a while and when she came to some snow she let Bubba traipse right through, of course he went right down in a hole but didn’t fall, so Cisco and I walked around the pile. It reminded me of my first snow encounter in the Sierra Mountains in California where both Issy and I almost went down the mountain. Experience….. On the far side of the mountains we came to a wonderful meadow with the mountain peaks skirting the edges. Picture perfect and with a lovely lake! Further north we crossed several roads and a storm challenged our ride. We put on our rain gear and it hit hard, soaking and driving so hard the horses didn’t want to continue. I reined Cisco to some trees with branches low enough to protect his face from the driving rain which was turning to sleet. He had no issue with just standing there until the driving bullets stopped. Kathy and Bubba danced around trying to find a hole to hide in but by the time they got settled the worst was over. We were all cold and pretty wet so we found Burton in record time parked at the Cedar Ranch Trailhead.
Grandview Tower to Tusayan
We got dropped off at Grandview Tower where a hiker was camped close to the vault toilet and the Arizona Trail Trailhead. We rode along the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve seeing elk, mule eared deer, rabbits and white tailed squirrel. Another interaction was not as pleasant: a cowboy was heading a cow and her calf back to his herd riding a pretty palomino but unfortunately was a very aggressive rider. His horse had it’s head high but cabled down, long spurs seemed to pierce it’s side and his rider wasn’t shy about using his rolled lariat rope as additional motivation. Our horses were very concerned with the violent way the rider communicated with his horse and both Kathy and I jumped off and tried to calm them. Sad to see such a pretty horse struggling with the abuse; but before we could get through a gate to separate us from the trauma our cowboy “friend” tore up the forest floor in a high speed run towards us. Almost barreling into us he said “did you see any cattle & close that gate” to which Kathy replied “we always leave the gates as we find them if closed…we close them” as for me I was trying to keep my mouth shut and not take up the cause of abusive riding but did manage to say we hadn’t seen any other cattle and then I knew I would need to sit on my tongue to keep it from rattling off some nasty comments about his lack of horsemanship skills. I kept walking away…..ready to jump down his bandana covered throat if he said one more word. Keep it shut Sue, keep it shut Sue, I kept saying to myself; after all we were miles from anyone and he sure knew this terrain better than we did….keep it shut Sue, keep it shut Sue. Bo was off hunting so he wasn’t any help and I knew if challenged the spur driver probably had a gun and wouldn’t be afraid to use it on a protective dog. Quickly I hastened my step and somehow kept my self-righteous mouth closed. We were heartened by the trail turning away and putting distance between us and “yahoo – man” I did notice a few more cattle well out of his sight and chuckled that he might not see them any time soon. The terrain was open, pleasant and easy going…..until….the helicopters: 15 or 20 of them flew right over us, one at a time causing lingering anxiety that the rotors and noise would unseat us. Both Bubba and Cisco noted the overhead chaos but didn’t respond to it. I could see the color of eyes of the passengers and then it seemed that the first pilot must have radioed the rest and told them that there were some “horseys below so circle and let your passengers see them!” Well, maybe not but it sure seemed that they got closer and closer with each passing. The trail we were on had a lot of bicycle loops off it and most of the loops went up and over some lovely rock outcrops but to have taken any of the loops we would be even closer to the helicopter route and add that to our 16 mile ride we opted to just stay in the canyon. We finally found the tunnel under Hwy 64 and worked our way to where Burton was parked. Long day!
The Grand Canyon – south rim South Kaibab Trail to north rim North Kaibab Trail
The next 21 miles caused me more apprehension than the entire Arizona Trail. I hate (cold sweat fear) heights but I was determined to continue on the trail towards Utah. While we drove to our base camp I refused to even look at the canyon holding my eyes steady on the road ahead. I knew if I really looked at the trail I might just crawl into a hole and never come out. Kathy wisely decided not to do this passage as Bubba was still a bit reactive and there was no room for that kind of behavior on the canyon wall. This section is considered the “Crown Jewel” of the Arizona Trail….I happen to think the crown jewels are lower….wait a minute…. (never mind) anyway, I was saddled up and waiting for the “up” canyon traffic to finish as I was told the way should be clear around 1. Luckily, Cisco called to some mules and I was able to find the South Rim Stables where the wranglers Kevin and Hap were most informative. They were waiting for 3 different stings coming out – the packers, the drag outs (as the people who walked down and but didn’t have the strength to get back out were called) and lastly the riders who hired mules to ride in and out. Cisco was very interested in the mules, the grass, the buses loaded with tourists but which blew exhaust brakes as they came along side of us and a lone elk who didn’t seem fazed by any of it. To enter the Grand Canyon you had to have a permit and that often took months to obtain, I was able to get one a few days ago as a walk in (ride in) since they held a few open for thru hikers/riders so today was the day if I was to go at all but the wait for the strings to climb out did give me confidence…if all those people could safely get in and out, well, Cisco and I could as well. Our time had come…..I walked determinedly to the cliff wall and immediately saw the drop was farther than I could see…..look at the trail, good trail, four feet wide trail, don’t peek at the edge, go! I led Cisco hoping to give me the illusion that that I was just walking on any other trail and not one where there was 5,000’ drop (7,203’ down to 2,429’ in less than 7 miles) The path had years of wear and each step was a drop and mostly off a 2 foot riser worn by the hundreds of mule hooves pounding. There was little level ground, it was down with a capital “D” and soon my sore heel was throbbing and my toes were being pushed into my boot box smashing my toe nails with almost every step. The front of my legs was so sore that I often had to rest. The one good thing was I was saving Cisco from my weight pounding on his front legs…how those mules make this trip every day is amazing. We got to Cedar Ridge at a mile and half (could have been twenty) and I was so hot I pulled my long sleeve shirt right off and put my brightly colored butterfly shirt on (that way they could see me as I flailed over the edge –not!) and enjoyed the little bit of level ground there was for a few minutes. This brutal trail going all downhill was taking a toll but I just couldn’t go back…..the next rest was at Skeleton Point at 3 miles and then I would be half way down. People passed to the inside and were very courteous and inquisitive about Cisco…was he a mule?...how could a horse do this? Why are you walking instead of riding? I answered as politely as I could with one German lady saying why bother with a horse if you just walk….my answer was “Utah” – I’m sure she had no idea what I was talking about. I saw the Colorado River miles below and then I saw the BRIDGE! Oh, god, a suspension bridge (the one the packers told me swayed when you walked it) I thought I would faint! I knew about it but to see it in person put it all in perspective…..then the tunnel came into view and I knew I was doomed. The tunnel was curved and completely dark and when you came out the first step was onto THE BRIDGE. A hiker caught up to us and told me Cisco was walking funny on his hind foot and sure enough there was a rock in the front of his boot. So there I was on the side of the cliff trying to remove this rock and then it occurred to me that maybe the hiker would help me get through the tunnel, with the rock removed and me almost ready to faint (? me?) the hiker talked continuously and Cisco just marched right in! Black and no light for a few seconds but then we caught sight of the end. Cisco resisted a bit before stepping on to the wide planks making up the bridge floor and as they were sturdy and firm he followed me. My heart was in my throat….The Bridge did sway but only slightly and Cisco stayed right up close. We hurried to the far side and I thanked the wonderful hiker who made this part happen so much easier. My feet and legs were on fire so I quickly mounted up and enjoyed the level trail along side of the Colorado River and on towards Bright Angle Campground. Passing hundreds of tents, a few cabins from the famous Phantom Ranch we traipsed on, hoping to get to our night camp spot at Cottonwood Campground before dark. The trail from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood was lovely, gaining only slightly in elevation and Cisco and I sure needed that. We were able to get water from Bright Angel Creek and Cisco got a few munches of grass and I refilled my canteen. The scenery was spectacular…so very glad I found the courage to drop into the Grand Canyon! Cisco was strong and moving with gusto so we made it to Cottonwood well before dark. There was a group of hikers from Boston who were hiking rim to rim and one offered to haul my 5 gallon bucket of water back to Cisco as I am sure I was a pitiful sight limping and moaning as I went. This fellow grew up in Connecticut….funny to hear about Ct here in the canyon. The forest service had a large pen I was able to use and Cisco was delighted to be able to roll and munch the bit of graze freely. I set my tent right at the gate of the pen and enjoyed the sun setting on the canyon walls. What a day!
Night fall and the seclusion set in and the Canyon trip soon turned into a nightmare. I was in my sleeping bag when I heard some water running. I thought to myself that I must be closer to another water source than I had thought. I got up to find Cisco standing as close to my tent as he could and with copious amounts of water flowing from his nostrils and mouth. He was in dire shape. At first I thought he had colic but when I did the tent test it was perfect. He was hydrated and his gun color was good. His capillary refill was perfect. What could be going on? Then he started to roll, I felt helpless but I did have injectable Banamine and I quickly IV’d a good dose…within 15 minutes he seemed better but when I walked off to sit on a rock he followed me and called me back. Not good, my horse was in real trouble and here I was hours from help and the only way to get help was to helicopter someone in or Cisco out. This was my dream not Cisco’s and I would mortgage the farm to get him out if I had to. I called Burton on my satellite phone as I had to speak to him about what our plans would need to be if Cisco made it through the night. I still couldn’t get a grip on what was wrong…..he never looked at his sides, but fluid kept running from his mouth. I lifted his tail and he released gas but it didn’t’ seem to help. After 2 hours, I finally gave him another dose of Banamine in the muscle out of desperation: it was the only thing I could do. Slightly better, Cisco’s eyes seemed to soften at least for a couple of hours. It was now 3 am and then he started to worry and kept right up close to me…what was going on. He had 3 healthy bowel movements so no blockage and he wasn’t looking at his sides, but the amount of fluid freely flowing from his mouth was awful. Then I remembered one of the gals from Boston had told me that Cisco really didn’t like a bite of grass he ate. I didn’t give it any thought at the time but now it all made sense. He was poisoned! I immediately looked at his gums again and this time blisters were forming along his gum line and on his tongue. Cisco COULD make it……if the damage wasn’t too great. I hobbled as fast as I could to the water faucet to get a big 5 gallon canvas bucket of water for him as I had withheld everything because of my confusion about it possibly being colic. Cisco drank it all in a second with fluid still pouring from his lips. I all but ran back for another and again he drank it immediately. I just didn’t have the energy to go all the way back for another bucket so I emptied my canteen into his bucket and luckily he only drank half of it. Okay, water to keep him hydrated, maybe a bit of food (mash like) and I would see how that went. He slurped the mash down all the while fluid ran from his mouth but he seemed better. 5 am and Cisco was worlds better. I called Burton and told him I would try to walk him out and asked him to try to meet us at the north rim 7 miles away and all up! I went back and got more water and Cisco drank it all again…at least I was replacing the fluid he was losing. I hurriedly packed my tent, saddled him up and left for the long trip from 4,000’ to well over 8,200’ along the canyon wall to Burton. I prayed Cisco could make it. It was 5:30 am but light enough to see the trail and I knew every mile was closer to help. I walked one mile, checked Cisco and then walked another. He seemed better on every check but was still dropping a good bit of fluid from his mouth. I walked until I just couldn’t. I was not fit for this canyon but I just couldn’t ask Cisco to carry me. After 3 miles we came to a cabin hanging on the edge of the canyon wall and we found a faucet…thank goodness it was on. Cisco immediately came over when he heard the water and drank 2 full buckets of water in a flash. His drooling slowed and he was interested in grass. Good and even better he was starting to push me as we walked. This was his habit…..it was like he was saying just get up…we can do this. Exhausted as I was I really didn’t want to ask him to carry me but he did seem better and he was impatient about my slow walking. I mounted up and that was it. Cisco powered us up the last 4 miles like he always has. My horse was back…..still drooling a bit but otherwise strong and acting fit. I couldn’t believe it. We reached 8,217’ and found the north rim trailhead to have lush grass and a large parking lot. I understood that there was a small pen for thru riders and I hoped Burton would be able to get to us with the trailer just in case Cisco had a relapse. Within an hour Burton drove up and hauled us up to the pens. Cisco was fine calling to the mules ¼ mile away. We settled in, Cisco with a blanket and a big trough of fresh water and even a light dinner. Burton and I crawled into our little trailer and I fell right to sleep with both dogs on the tiny floor. I never heard anyone (Burton or the dogs) snore and finally got up at 1 to check Cisco…he came right over so I gave him a hay bag and went back to sleep. It came easy.
Cisco seemed fine so we saddled up to ride the next 10 miles. The elevation stayed steady at around 8,500’ and wasn’t difficult. The park wasn’t open so the trail hadn’t been cleared and there were 20 or more trees we had to find our way around. Then another 20 or so, by then I was starting to feel I like I was finished for the season. I just had too much stress over the past 2 days and told Burton I wanted to go home. I was less than 100 miles from finishing to the Utah border but a bit of my nerve was lost in that canyon; I have never felt so helpless watching Cisco in pain and I needed time to regain my bravado. We drove to Jacob’s Lake, ate lunch and headed back 215 miles to get our big trailer and then to head to Mena, Arkansas.