wild west holdout
This is an off trail hike to a large alcove known as "Black Jack Cave", in the Big Lue Mountains, along the Arizona-New Mexico border. A secluded location and nearby spring water made Black Jack Cave an ideal refuge for both the Mogollon people and outlaws.
The history: During the mid 1890's, William "Black Jack" Christian and his brother Bob formed a gang known as the "High Fives". The High Fives roamed western New Mexico and southern Arizona, robbing trains, stagecoaches and banks, and killing lawmen who attempted to apprehend them. After a bloody, two year crime spree that spanned from Arizona to Oklahoma, the gang turned their attention to robbing trains in the Clifton, Arizona area. Graham County deputy sheriff Ben Clark soon formed a posse, and set off to ambush the gang, who were hiding out in a cave, in what later came to be known as Black Jack Canyon. At first light on the morning of April 27, 1897, the posse ambushed the High Fives gang, as they headed down the canyon. "Black Jack" Christian was killed, and another gang member was mortally wounded, while the rest escaped.
The hike: Where Arizona highway 78 crosses the forest boundary at milepost 165.1, there is a pull out area along the south side of the highway. This is about a tenth of a mile before the Apache National Forest sign. You will need to cross through three closely spaced barbed wire gates, and then head southeast from the pull out area, toward Black Jack Canyon.
One tenth of a mile from the highway, a shallow side ravine provides an obstacle free descent to the bottom of Black Jack Canyon. Once at the bottom, there is a well trodden cow path that heads up Black Jack Canyon, along a narrow, grassy shelf, on the north bank of the creek.
At 0.45 miles, the path arrives at a small flat above the creek, near the location of Black Jack Spring. There are some old, crumbling rock walls of unknown origin in this area. Beyond this point, the path continues up canyon along the north bank. The local cattle have done a fine job blazing a trail through the copious catclaw.
At about 0.6 miles, the path leads through another small flat, which is well shaded by evergreen oaks. At the edge of the flat, the path drops into the creek bed, and disappears. Keep going upstream, and in another 0.1 miles, you will arrive at a small side canyon on the left, where a strong spring flows out of the bank. At this point, the old trail reappears, and travels up the side canyon for a few hundred yards, before arriving back at Black Jack Creek again, having bypassed a short, (yet hike-able) slick rock section.
Once you are back in Black Jack Creek, start scanning the south canyon wall for Black Jack Cave (33.04158 N, 109.10792 W). The Cave is a little over 0.1 miles past the spring, and just before Black Jack Canyon boxes up. It is visible from the creek bed, about 30 feet up the south slope. Scramble up the slope to the big alcove (cave). It is approximately 60 feet wide, 50 feet deep, and 20 feet high. The ceiling is blackened from fires. Tiny pottery sherds litter the ground. Do not take any. Depressions in the cave are the work of pot hunters, who, unfortunately, have thoroughly looted the site.
A couple of hundred feet to the west is another small, shallow alcove. There is nothing to see there, though.
Enjoy the view from the mouth of this historic cave. Return the way you came.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.