Archive for November, 2008

Thursday, Nov 20 – Coyote Hills, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Another late start. There were just oodles of things to accomplish this morning and it sucked the entire forenoon. But, it was worth it, because we now have permission to hike an area the Battalion thought was particularly beautiful. AND, while we’ve decided to not hike in the Republic of Mexico, we have arranged to drive to the significant sites, survey them and get them photographed. In all, it was a productive morning - just frustrating to go so slow.

The complication of finding a legal way in and out of today’s area of interest required me to use the ATV again (that’s only the sixth time for those of you keeping track). Denny and Jerry checked some other sites while I bumped a few miles to the end of the road. I hop off and start hiking. This place is just a couple miles west of where Denny and I were yesterday when I got off track.

What looks like no progress on the tracking website is WONDERFUL progress. The GPS tracking routes make it seem like we’ve been going in circles – and in truth, we have.

But those circles have led us to an excellent candidate for a Battalion site. The first water the pilots found after leaving Soldier’s Farewell mountain was a weak spring (not a lot of flow) located at the east end of a ridge, didn’t have much standing water – enough among the rocks for the officers and their mules but little for the men, was almost in their line of march through the Coyote Hills and finally, the surrounding rocks had holes that could contain some small pools of water after rains. According to the journals, the location should be between 12 and 15 miles from the playas dry lake beds.

Lawrence, one of the property owners, suggested Livingston Spring last night. After hiking my way over a ridgeline that looks too difficult to cross with wagons, I top the saddle and there’s the spring, just as described. The spring has been covered and the water piped to a nearby tank, but all the criteria are met, one by one, as I clamber over the rocks, down the arroyo and examine the location.

To me, the interesting thing is that even though my route planning had me go right past this location, without the local expertise and knowledge, I’m not sure I would have recognized this as the possible location they were describing. Lawrence’s long experience here made the difference in finding or not finding what was obvious 160 years ago but has been modified so that today, it’s not easily seen.

You can see our hiking (and occasional ATV) route at:

The time is far spent and with little remaining, I opt to not try crossing the “dry” lake bed. There’s been so much moisture this year, I fear the bed is wet and without time to mess around in the mud, we head back to the barn for dinner and to prepare for tomorrow’s hike with the Scouts from the area.

Much to do and it’s now almost midnight, so I’ll post these updates, get a few hours of sleep and report on Sunday about our two day hike over into the Animas Valley.


(ps - Gentle Reader, HAD I gone through the wet lake bed late this afternoon, would I now be Mud Blogging?)

Wednesday, Nov 19 – Coyote Hills, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Arrrrrghhhh!!! We just can’t seem to get going in the morning lately.

Between working on route updates, loading routes into the GPS unit, breakfast, equipment repairs, etc., etc., etc., we don’t seem to be able to leave before 10 AM.

Now that shouldn’t surprise anyone, because even the 1846 group had troubles some days getting started before mid-day. Still, it’s a frustration at times and today was one.

Mostly it’s because the journals for this area are confusing. Distances don’t correllate well and the landmarks are not specific enough to allow us more than a general idea of where they went. Being here should help add some clarity to their descriptions.

Because the few public access roads don’t go the directions we need to penetrate the area, we’re left to use the ATV to probe into the hills. I thought we were at the Brockman Hills when in fact we were almost in the middle of the Coyote Hills – but I don’t figure that out until evening sitting at the computer looking at the images. Just as well, it lays the foundation for our work tomorrow.

In the evening Russ Richins introduces me to the property owner on whose lands we’ll be travelling tomorrow. The ranch is fairly large and when I meet Lawrence at 7 PM, he’s just finishing his outside work day by trailering some animals. His hands are chewed up and bandaged on every finger from the work he’s been doing. I don’t normally notice such things, but this is a working cowboy/ranch owner and this life ain’t for sissies.

We do the necessary legal paperwork and Lawrence is kind enough to listen as I explain what the men say about their route in the area. The weak spring of water they found (and at which they hardly get any water) is of interest as it will help define their route though the area. There are about five criteria any spring must meet in order to be a possible match.

After explaining the criteria, Lawrence suggests Livingston Spring as the best candidate then takes the time to draw me a map to the location. That is an example of just how well these men know their ranches. They know the history, the locations, the people involved, weather, botany, water flow rates and all the stuff that makes it interesting. And Lawrence cares about it to boot. He’s invested – heavily - heart and soul – in this land, his home.

Russ brings me back to Battalion Trek Headquarters and I plop down in front of the computer to realign my hike for tomorrow. Happily, it seems my original plan takes me close to Livingston Spring – in fact, I’d planned on hiking right by it but turning up a different draw after passing it. Tomorrow will tell.

Tuesday, Nov 18 – Separ, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

This morning was spent cleaning up last nights’ situation wherein I struck and killed a cow.

This afternoon I’ve spent catching up on the blog and making preparations down-trail. We help Jerry get the RV ready to move, then head westward, leaving the other Gerry behind. He’s been a wonderful host and we have thoroughly enjoyed the time here at Cow Springs.

Denny accomplished all the hiking today and the woman is a trooper. Wind was kicking up in her face at about 10 mph and she’s in a pioneer dress. Now mind you, I NEVER asked Denny to come and hike. This was her decision entirely, but I’m grateful she’s here and willing to participate in all aspects of the Trek.

Monday, Nov 17 – Soldier’s Farewell Mountain, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Norm and Anne are leaving, heading back to Utah. We will miss them. As a parting gesture, we drive up to the ridge where I believe Col Cooke decided to turn west. In full dress with pack and musket, we take photos of us all in front of Soldier’s Farewell mountain where I’ll end the day.

There are a MULTITUDE of trails in this area. There are so many traces and partial traces of wagon, 2-tracks, cow trails and the like that it’s complete confusion. Gerry Billings has lived here for awhile and after reading the journals, he’s of the opinion the Battalion may have gone further south before turning westward. There’s merit to his arguments for the route and in keeping with my policy of listening to the local folks, I revised my route last night to look over this possible pathway. There are faint evidences of trail here badly eroded like the Mimbres to Cow Springs section. The wind has done a number on the sandy soils, removing many inches of topsoil. Unless the Battalion’s trail was deepened by subsequent use, the forty or so wagons couldn’t have made a lasting impression on this place.

I make it over to Thorn Ranch about 3 PM, then drive twenty miles over to Separ for a meeting. Separ is a mostly deserted gas stop along I-10 between Lordsburg and Deming New Mexico. Russ Richins and I go over the maps and the itinerary for his Scouts this coming weekend.

On the way back in the dark, a black cow heads across my line of travel and sadly, I nail the poor thing with the truck before I can stop. The dust cloud was so thick I literally could not see anything for thirty seconds – no wind at all. When the air finally clears, the cow is down along the road and can’t get up. There’s nothing I can do really, so I offer it my sympathy, get back in the truck and head to camp to tell my sad tale.

Gerry listens, tries to cheer me up and decides he will take care of the cleanup in the morning. I want to help – it’s my mess after all, but typical of these ranchers, he runs interference for me with his neighbor, calls the sheriff and makes suggestions for dealing with the insurance company. Apparently, cow strikes are not terribly uncommon out here on the free range but it still is disappointing to kill something even if it’s accidental.

Sunday, Nov 16 – Cow Springs, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Church in Deming today.

We make lots of contacts to help us the next couple of weeks. Lots of the folks down here are related in some way which makes for a nice opportunity to get connected across state and national borders. Many of these good folks and their families have been here for generations and they love their land, what they do and each other. We’re privileged to be here and meet them.

Again, I’m sorry for the short shrift blog entry today. Lot’s to do and this will have to do for now.

I am YHS -

Saturday, Nov 15 – Ojo de Vaca, Cow Springs, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Today, I hiked a section we didn’t do yesterday – but I hiked it backwards – from the west towards the east. This would save many miles of backtracking the vehicle to pick me up – about 70 miles if the property gates were open – but alas, they were not, so hiking it backwards, away from the Cow Spring Ranch was a good choice.

I was on my own for twelve miles of red, sandy soil, yucca plants, mesquite thorns and various cacti. The trail is deeply eroded across this section. The sand is loose, removed easily by both wind and water. Soil has been blown and washed away and with it, much evidence of the old trail.

The surprise of the day was a pack of javelin that I scared up while walking. There were about seven individuals in the group – one of them a fairly large male. Happily we all got along famously but it did set my heart racing for a few minutes. Got a couple great photos.

It was here that Col Cooke had a smoke signal sent to call in local people that might provide some guidance. The Janos (or Yanos as some wrote, but it’s pronounced “HAN-ohs”). Road had been a primary Spanish road from the copper, gold and silver mines down to Janos. The trail is almost completely eroded away for most of its length. Gerry says some is visible to the north, but for this trip I don’t have time to go see it.

In fact, I’m so busy I don’t get to climb the smoke signal mountain. Denny and her dad use the ATV to get a panorama set of photos for us. Happily, I have enough time to get my Saturday shower before church.

Friday, Nov 14 – Mimbres River valley, NM

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Last evening, Norm and Anne Erickson arrived from Utah, meeting us at Deming then following us out to Cow Springs Ranch. The ranch will be our base of operations through the weekend.

Anne is the Mormon Battalion Women’s Association president and a descendant of David Pettegrew. Norm is her counterpart. the Mormon Battalion Association’s president. While Denny hikes with Anne, Norm and I ride the ATV back to Cooke’s Canyon. Denny and I discussed it last night and we want them both to see what the original Battalion had to deal with. After we return, I take Anne back to the pass as well. It seemed to impress them as much as it did Denny and I yesterday.

We don’t get all the way to the Mimbres River itself. Denny and I get stopped by the lateness of the day, so we hop on the ATV and drive back to highway 180 near Deming. Norm and Anne gather us up and we get back to the ranch very late in the evening.

Our host is a local rancher by the name of Gerry. He’s “mostly retired”, busy as he ever was and willing to spend hours helping us get to where we want to be. We discuss everything from politics to history to well, whatever. Gerry is gregarious, gracious and just plain good for us – especially Jerry with whom Gerry hits it off quite well. It’s the Gerry and Jerry show. These two have so much in common it’s fun to watch and listen to them interact.

Sorry for the short blog entries but I’m quite stretched for time to get all the route planning done, entered into the GPS unit, hike what we need to and the other living things. With any luck it will all be in the book.

Thursday, Nov 13 – Cooke’s Canyon, NM

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Denny and I unload the ORV for use today going across Cooke’s Pass. It’s so rough that we dare not take Jerry’s 4-wheel Suburban. Denny hikes while I scout the route ahead. We pass the ruins of Fort Cummings, the pump house of Cooke’s Spring, then head up canyon. She’s trying to preserve my ankles, bless her heart.

Folks, Cooke’s Canyon is almost unbelievable. This pass is steep up, down and sideways. Denny and I are aghast at the thought of pulling wagons through this place. That ten years later the Butterfield Stage route followed the Battalion’s route is equally astounding. SURELY there was a less rigorous route!

We note the grinding holes used by tribal natives, the petroglyphs and the “straight” canyon the Coray’s took a hike in after they camped. It’s not windy today as it was in 1846 when the young couple took an afternoon stroll.

\Photography can do a lot of things, but we cannot easily reproduce for others the 3-D spatial relationships that are seen with the human eyes. In short, we cannot do justice to this place. You have to see it to believe it. And, it is so remote that I doubt many Battalion enthusiasts have been here. Their loss. To see this area is to begin to appreciate the magnitude of their building the wagon road. Perhaps someday we can create a virtual reality that can match this place, but it won’t be anytime soon.

There are deeply eroded wagon rut swales paralleling the modern two-track trail. Just below the crest, a boulder field is much like the area the advance pioneering company would have had to deal with, improving the road for the following wagons. Very impressive area.

Wednesday, Nov 12 – Cooke’s Spring, NM

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

In the morning, Jerry heads off to the Hyatt Ranch at Florida (prn: Floor-E-dah, not like the state). Turns out one of the Hyatt’s is on team Rainbow Ranch and his grandmother is headed down to see her grandson at the Working Cowboy Rodeo championship.

Back at Macho Creek, Denny and I meet Phil Barrus, one of the owners of the ranch. We explain our project and ask to tour the area to take photos and permission is granted. I also describe the goal of pinning down which canyon matches the journal entries and ask if Phil knows of an old structure that fits the description. He suggests I look down canyon.

Up at the creek, I spend a half hour photographing the area; stream, a small mill dam, leaves on the water, the trees and sky. Working my way upstream, I find a side road and wonder if the old foundation might still be visible on the other side of the creek. Soon I find a NO TRESPASSING sign and after looking over the fence, decide I can’t do any better here.

On my way back out, Phil drives up and tells us his father remembered a place matching the description of the old building. We pile into his truck and he takes us to a fairly large pasture, through a fence and to a low mound.
Here we find a set of stones laid out in a square almost exactly 36 feet by 36 feet square. It’s kind of exciting to stand exactly where Battalion members stood, to contemplate the purposes of this ruin and to know we’ve located their camping area. Kind of cool.

After we document the site, Denny heads back to the Hyatt Ranch and I start hiking south along the eastern base of Cooke’s Range. This is the first day the trail has been so faint that I’ve had to resort to using GPS to keep me on track. There are faint shows of what appears to be a road, but only a “ground truth” examination will confirm or refute this trail.
Yep – it’s trail. Within the first quarter mile I find old glass fragments. Further on I find a couple of horse shoes. Even further down the trail, it becomes a two-track road but badly overgrown. It seems the BLM is taking the opportunity to try and preserve the area.

Erosion has done a job on this trail, covering some sections by flash floods and by wind eroding the soil and blowing the tracks away. But, enough trail sections exist to make a good “road map” of the probable route from Macho to Cooke’s Spring.

Just as the sun sets, I arrive at the Hyatt Ranch, less than a mile from Cooke’s Spring which we will visit tomorrow.

Tuesday, Nov 11 – Macho Creek Spring, NM

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Alas! It’s the end of a hard hike day.

The Scouts were up early, made breakfast and were joined by some sisters and a mom.

Phil Treadwell, one of the ranch owners stopped by on his way to the pastures. We got introduced and shared details of our plans for the day. Phil is one of those cowboys that actually works his ranch and can do just about anything. Evidence? He, his brothers and a buddy won the 2005 Working Cowboys Rodeo national title. They compete again this coming weekend out in Amarillo Texas.

Off we went, back to Foster’s Hole which the TorC group hadn’t been to before. We hiked down canyon to the water holes and over and around the area for a couple hours. Then we piled back in the vehicles and returned to the Rainbow Ranch. We grabbed our gear, had a quick potty stop and struck out west for Macho Creek canyon.

Our navigating today was using map and compass based upon my research into the Battalion’s route. We know they passed north of Round Mountain and were headed towards Cooke’s Peak, but they detoured to the west to get to water in a small arroyo. The Peterson study of 1971 proposed that Macho Creek was the place the Battalion camped. But was it?

There are three arroyos with flowing streams that could fit the distance estimate. There would have been grass at each. The only difference is that the arroyo we’re looking for has the ruins of an old house. It was in ruins when the Battalion passed this way and if we find it, we know it’s the canyon they camped at. That’s one of my goals here.

The Scouts and families want to hike the historic trail. And hike it they do. We knocked out the twelve miles in about 5 hours and then we all went home – the Scouts back to civilization, Denny and I back to the ranch.

Phil stopped in later with his daughter. We chatted and he told us about their operation. their rodeo work and hopes for the weekend competition. Good luck to the Rainbow Ranch team.