On Day 9, Sunday April 19, Dad and I had spent the day in camp at the mouth of Whitetail Canyon. Feeling refreshed, both in body and spirit, and the horses and Clancy being well rested from a day of rest, we were ready for the trip across the desert to Safford, Arizona. Joshua Jensen and Al Smith, our capable guides through the Chiricahuas, had left us with a new supply of 200 pounds of Equidyne pelletized alfalfa for the passage across the desert. The saddle sores that had been starting to show on Daisy’s back were healing up after four days of being ponied bareback. We were in good shape. Our only concern now was being able to find water. We had about 80 miles across some very flat, dry desert country before we reached our next destination, Joshua’s place in Safford.
We had a good morning and it looked like for the first time we would be able to make an early start. Just as we were getting ready to mount, a fellow wanders into camp and we get to chatting. It was interesting conversation. The fellow was a local conservationist and birdwatcher. I neglected to take down his name and have forgotten it. It was he who had made the rock cairns we tried to follow on Saturday. Anyway, we talked too long and didn’t make it out of camp again until about 9:30am.
I was riding Lizzy, and, as usual, she set a pretty good pace for us. We left the mountains and joined Nolan Road and headed north, keeping just off the road to avoid vehicular traffic. Our goal was to reach San Simon, where we would cross under I-10 and find a place to make camp.
Somewhere along the route between Whitetail Canyon and San Simon on Nolan Road, we passed the 100-mile mark of our trip.
About half way to San Simon we found a water hole where we took a break and let the horses graze on some nice grass we found there, while Dad and I ate our lunch. For the entire trip our lunches consisted of a few bites of beef jerky, a Cliff Bar, raisins, and a bit of trail mix. We seldom stopped for lunch, usually eating a little at a time as we rode. As small as our lunches were, it was sufficient and we fared well. We were definitely hungry by the time we made camp in the evenings, though.
Our breakfasts and suppers consisted of dehydrated meals, made from ingredients mixed and matched from a food storage kit we bought from Walmart for the purpose. We had a variety of vegetable soup, creamed potato soup, corn chowder, and various combinations of those. Breakfasts included dehydrated eggs, the occasional packet of oatmeal, potato shreds, and some bacon bits. We cooked everything over a single coleman burner on a small propane can. Quite frankly, I don’t remember well what we ate most of the time. I’m sorry to say that some of the food wasn’t all that appetizing. Dad and I lost quite a bit of weight on the trip. I think the thing we missed most, in our suppers and breakfasts, was the fact that the dehydrated food kit included absolutely no meat! The imitation meat was also imitation tasty.
By nightfall, after 22.6 miles on the day, we made San Simon. We stopped by a ranch house, and finding nobody home, we helped ourselves to a spigot to water our horses and fill our canteens. We met a good friend of the rancher the following day, who happened to stop by for some friendly conversation, so we passed on our thanks for the use of the water spigot.
Finding no good place for a camp, we pulled off into a thicket that offered some concealment from the locals and made a dry camp. It was dusty, dirty, and full of thorny brush. We hit the hay early and departed early as well. Josh and Al stopped by in the morning on their way through town and helped us get loaded up and started. We then went back to the ranch where we watered the evening before and watered our stock. On our way back into town we ran into the fellow I mentioned above, Ron Mahan, who was able to give us some good directions for getting us into a wash, the San Pedro River, and under I-10 without having to concern ourselves with road traffic.
On this day we headed up the San Pedro River bed (otherwise known as a dry wash), which ran generally in our direction. We stuck to that for several miles, but knew we needed to find water for the horses. We struck a road heading east-west that Mr. Mahan had told us about. We followed it west about a mile and found two or three houses and a very nice pond. The pond had bass and panfish in good numbers. I suspect the locals had stocked the pond for their own fishing and eating pleasure. Strangely enough, our horses weren’t very thirsty. We left there and got back into our wash and continued northward.
As we were passing through a part of the wash that was thick with brush, I heard a muffled grunting and looked around to see what it was, knowing the area was prime for Javelina. I spotted a little pig no larger than a small puppy rooting and playing in the grass. We tried to get a picture of it, but the darn thing was so well camouflaged that when we saw the pictures we couldn’t find the little Javelina in it! The mother was nearby, so we let them be. An angry javelina is nothing to mess with. We moved on.
Shortly thereafter the wash became rather problematic to follow. It became deep, to where we could no locate ourselves with regard to the mountains and we could not see to find the next waterhole we were aiming for. It was also so choked with mesquite that it was tough, and painful, to get through in places. We climbed up out of the wash and began to head overland on higher ground. Once on top, we spotted in the distance what looked like a cottonwood tree, which often indicates a well or water hole, so we headed that way. It was, in fact, a cattle watering tank, but it hadn’t been maintained in a few years. It was choked with algae and moss. The horses drank from it, but not deeply. They didn’t like it.
By nightfall, we had again traveled about 18 miles. We camped that night at Butte Well, located just about a half-mile east of Orange Butte. There was a decent water trough for the horses, but nothing for us. Again, the water was full of green algae. At this camp we had to watch for cactus, because there was a low-growing species of prickly pear that you really had to watch out for. This area was very dry, with few trees even tall enough to tie the horses to. Again, not a very hospitable camp. This day, Clancy’s feet got pretty sore and I ended up with him on my saddle for several miles. The mileage we were making was getting to him. I ended up with him on my saddle quite a bit over the following few days. That night I checked his paws and found a mesquite thorn about 3/8″ long stuck all the way up in one pad.
The following morning I attempted to filter some of the water from the trough, with my Katadyn gravity-feed water filter, to fill our canteens. Lesson learned: Don’t try to filter filthy water! The algae plugged my filter before I had gotten a quart of drinkable water. That was a problem, since we didn’t have a spare filter. That meant we had no means of replenishing our drinking water until we reached Safford, another 40 or so miles farther along the trail. Well, we could have boiled water in a pinch, but that takes propane and time.
We got back on the trail the following morning and followed a two-track ranch road westward. About five miles farther along we came to a solar-powered well with running water. We were able to fill our canteens, but the water tasted salty. The horses were fine with it, though. We ended up doing a lot of cross-country bushwhacking that day. It was a long one. Around lunch time we located another waterhole that was apparently privately owned. There were a few improvements around it, such as a pathway and a small picnic area. We watered there then went a mile or so farther on, where we found some good grass. We let the horses graze for about an hour, while Dad and I ate lunch and rested.
We crossed the San Simon Fan area that day, which is a stretch where the government build low spreader dams to spread out the rain runoff to control erosion and spread the water over a wider area to benefit the local ecology. What it did, however, was to spread very fine silt over a very large area. Here’s a video that shows the area. It took us several hours to cross it. Here’s a video.
We made camp at Bailey Well that night, after having made a total of 21.2 miles. We had hoped to make Tanque, but would have arrived long after dark and we were completely bushed. We were tired!
Bailey Well was another solar-powered well, but we arrived after the sun was setting behind Mount Graham, so we obtained no water for our canteens. Horses were watered well, though. We ran out of drinking water the following morning, having just enough to make a breakfast.
The next day, Day 14, Friday , April 24, we headed north on a dirt road. Safford was about 20 miles away, so we hoped to make it all the way. We made Tanque around noon. We were lucky enough to find it a running well, so we were able to fill our canteens. The water tasted a bit better than the water we got from the previous well.
We followed dirt roads the rest of the way to Josh’s place, which was lucky for us, because it got us through the numerous cholla forests in the area. The cholla was flowering, so it was quite beautiful, but cholla is a true hazard for one traveling by horse. It is also commonly called “jumping cactus” because it grows in clumps, little balls of spines, that break off and stick when one brushes up against them. The plants propagate in this way, so the cactus grows in patches, or forests, as the case may be. We passed by several “cholla forests”.
We made Josh’s place late that afternoon, after a day of 20.8 miles. It was good to release the horses into a corral and feed them hay. Josh and his family were not home for the weekend, but left us the use of the house. He also left us the use of his pickup, so we headed into town immediately after tending the horses, to look for a water filter for my Katadyne filter. No such luck, so I contacted Outfitter’s Supply in Wyoming, from whom I purchased the filter, and they overnight expressed two filters to me.
That evening, Josh’s neighbors, the Bodines, brought us a home-cooked meal of wild turkey. Their 14 year-old boy, Evan, had killed the turkey during the spring hunt. Jessica Bodine cooked it up with dumplings. It was heavenly!
The best part of the evening, though, were the showers at the end of the day! In order to not abuse the hospitality shown by Josh and his wife, Dad and I made our beds in the garage. We really didn’t want to get their house filthy. We availed ourselves, however, of their washer and dryer. It was wonderful to feel clean and have clean clothing again.
On Saturday morning, the Bodines brought us a very tasty breakfast, Al came to put shoes on our mule, Honey. After he arrived, we headed for town to buy shoes and some other supplies. While we were driving around town, Al took us for a drive to sort of scout out a route past Safford. We located a power line that offered a decent route. While we were scouting, another of those little helps from heaven happened. We met Clay Gomez, who owns a ranch through which that power line runs. He owns the only gate in the fence for many miles. He was very cordial and gave us permission to pass through his gate. When we arrived there later that evening, he had left the gate unlocked for us.
By the time we arrived in Safford, we had traveled about 170 miles. Our mule, Honey, had been barefoot all that way. She started getting tender on Wednesday, so we had Al put shoes on her. We also re-stocked with the last of the Equidyne feed we had stashed with Josh before we started the trip. Our Katadyne filters arrived via UPS by 9:30am. Amazing! We got ourselves packed up and hit the road about 11:30am. We followed the powerline route, as planned, and made good time. We passed through several fences, but none was locked. We ended up making it about 19.8 miles that afternoon and made camp on the Gila River, just north of a small town named San Jose.
The following day was Sunday, our rest day. We had a nice camp, with water, grass, a place to tie our horses, and a nice spot for our bedding. It was a good day to pass the Sabbath. We needed it, as the mileage we made over the past few days was starting to show on the horses. They needed a rest. So did Clancy. So did we.
Stay tuned for days 16 and 17 later this week, and some trail stories you are sure to enjoy.