Mule Trails and Mule Shoes

Grand Canyon's Hermit Basin and Southern Arizona's Muleshoe Ranch - April/May 2008

On the Silver Bell Trail
Some history research led me to the Grand Canyon's little-known Silver Bell trail. This was prospector Louis Boucher's original trail down to Dripping Springs in the Hermit Basin in the 1890s (he named it after his favorite mule). The trail was abandoned after the Hermit Trail was built in 1912, but it can still be followed with some difficulty.

Don't Make'em like they Used To
One of the scarier spots on the old abandoned trail was this 'staircase' of loose rock piled up to get from one ledge to another with a sheer cliff to the side (going over it was actually even scarier than it looks). You can also see how overgrown the trail is now with weeds.

A Hermit's Oasis
After path finding, pushing through sticker bushes, and scrambling across washed out sections of trail, it was great to finally get to the cool oasis of Dripping Springs. A small seep spring in the roof of the alcove creates a constant trickle of water into the small pool below. Boucher had a small tent camp here for tourists early in the early 1900s - now it is a popular day trip for hikers on the Hermit Trail.

Limbs on the Rim
The Grand Canyon probably has more old gnarled dead trees on the edge of scenic vistas than any place on Earth. This one was along the rim trail just east of the lodges. The trail from Indian Gardens out to Plateau Point can be seen below.

At Least the Security Lines Are Short
Now abandoned and largely forgotten, this 1927 hanger was part of the Grand Canyon's original airport. During its prime in the 1920s and 30s, it saw daily service by Ford Tri-Motors and visits by famous tourists and pilots including Charles Lindbergh.

Ghost Ranch
A few weekends later, I joined some friends in a trip to Muleshoe Ranch near the remote Galiuro Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The ranch was once part of a large cattle empire ran by Henry Hooker - a friend of Wyatt Earp during the Tombstone days. Today it is run as a preserve by the Nature Conservancy. Visitors can stay in this old adobe ranch house (which I lit up in this picture by walking around the courtyard with a halogen headlamp on)

Big Dipper, Big Palm
Over an hour drive from the nearest highway or town, Muleshoe has some of the darkest skies in Arizona. The Milky Way is almost blinding. Here the Big Dipper floats over one end of the courtyard.

Cool Night, Hot Water
After a long day of hiking the ridges and canyons, nothing beats relaxing in the natural hot springs in the wash below the ranch buildings. Water from a couple of the springs is diverted into galvanized metal cattle watering tanks which serve as frontier-style hot tubs. The moisture from the springs also creates a swampy area that is thick with trees, grass, wildflowers and constantly singing frogs.

The Last Round-Up
Over the ridge sits the crumbling remains of the Patterson Ranch. In the 1930s, Muleshoe was owned by a Mrs. McMurray and her friend Mrs. Patterson. After a falling out, Patterson setup her own place.

Arizona Jungle
One of the many things that makes Muleshoe special is that many of the canyons have some water year-round creating a lush riparian habitat and even home to rare native Arizona fish.

Light Refreshments
The ranch courtyard is often thick with hummingbirds who come to enjoy the feeders and the flowers in the gardens. The sun was perfectly placed behind one feeder just as this hummingbird and hornet were both heading in for a snack.

Using a 400mm telephoto lens and a fast film speed, I could capture the hummingbirds in mid-flight around the feeders and flowers. Looking at the photos, it was interesting to see the variety of body, wing and tail contortions they use to maneuver themselves in flight.

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