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Butteful views, beefy history
Chevelon Butte is a fairly isolated basalt formation that rises about 700 feet above the surrounding sedimentary geology that makes up most of the land from the Mogollon Rim northward. Along with the nearby East and West Sunset peaks, basaltic rock from this time period is unique in this part of the state, more commonly found south and west of Flagstaff, and on the native lands in northeastern Arizona.
Located about halfway between the Mogollon Rim and Winslow, Chevelon Butte is situated on private property just north of the Sitgreaves National Forest boundary. The property is part of the 4C Ranch (Chevelon Canyon Cattle Company), whose owners, the historic O’Haco family, permit access through a partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department – See detailed access instructions below.
The hike starts on an old closed roadbed before meeting up with a modern road used to access communications towers on the summit. (The modern road is not open to public use). The hike passes by an old quarry before reaching an outcrop with a benchmark stamped “East Chevalon” and an impressive rock wall. This outcrop requires an easy scramble to reach.
The road leads west from the outcrop up to and along the top of the mostly flat butte toward three separate communications towers. The last is on a small square island of national forest property.
The north half of the butte features a vertical cliff with outstanding views to the east, north, and west, depending on your location. A small cemetery lies near the edge, the final resting place of members of the O’Haco family.
Explore the views across the butte and head back down the road the way you came. (Scott Surgent reports a summit register dated 2007 placed by McLeod and Lilly, but not signed again until his visit in 2016. I did not find it on my visit in 2019.)
Through a pact with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the O’Haco Ranch is open to recreational access annually from August 16 through December 1. Keep in mind that this access can be revoked at any time, so please respect the land and any posted signs. You must fill out an online permit, print two copies, keep one in your vehicle, and another on your person at all times. The permit can be found at the following link: https://www.azgfd.com/landowner-compact/ohaco-ranch-access/ (Since links break over time, you may need to search for “AZGFD landowner compact”).
The hike does not begin at a check-in gate, so to be in compliance, you should drive to an entrance gate on either the west or east side of Chevelon Butte, fill out the register and take a numbered pass. You’ll have to sign out and return the pass at the end of your time on ranch property.
Keep in mind that ranch access is given primarily for hunting. So you may wish to check the season dates for the various hunts in unit 4A. If it matters to you, do your homework!
The Chevelon Name
Will C. Barnes, who wrote an excellent book on Arizona Place Names, attributes Chevelon to a story told to Lorenzo Sitgreaves on an 1851 expedition of an early trapper named Chevelon, who ate a poisonous root along the banks of the otter and beaver filled creek that now bears his name. According to the story, the other trappers told Sitgreaves, Chevelon died immediately, right on the banks of the creek where he ate the root. There are several spellings of Chevelon across the area, but the National Board of Geographic Names has settled on this one. Interestingly, the name record for Chevelon Butte was entered into the NBGN in 1930 by none other than Will C. Barnes!
The O’Haco family must have been gracious hosts to USGS surveyors because they stayed in the area long enough to cement two separate benchmarks just 3/4 mile from the other! Add three reference marks and an azimuth mark, and they were very productive here on Chevelon Butte!
O’Haco Ranch History:
The Chevelon Butte area has been the historic home base for the O’Haco family. Much information has been written about the O’Hacos, but the basic details are as follows. Fourteen-year-old Michel Itacho immigrated to the US in 1898, born into a sheepherding family in the Basque Pyrenees of southern France. From Ellis Island, Michel made his way to Phoenix, where he worked for his sheepherding uncle in Wickenburg for three years, saving up money and building credit before buying 3,000 sheep in 1905. In the early 1910s, Michel purchased land around Chevelon Butte, including the old Creswell and Bargman homesteads. The lands allowed him to migrate sheep between the higher lands to the south on the Mogollon Rim (where the O’Haco Lookout and the O’Haco cabins still stand today) and the lower elevation near the butte.
In 1923, Itacho formed the Ohaco Sheep Co. with three Basque partners, forming the largest sheep ranching operation in Arizona, which prospered through the depression and into the 1940s. During this time, Itacho continued to purchase homesteads in the Chevelon Butte area. Many had tried to ranch the land, but problems with a consistent water supply made ranching here very difficult.
In 1920, Itacho’s only son was born (cited as “Michel” on his gravestone, but referred to as Michael, Mike, and MJ in various accounts). MJ changed the spelling of his name to O’Haco and attended the University of Arizona before heading off to serve in World War II. Shortly before the war ended, MJ was shot in the back, leaving him unable to walk. The senior Itacho began to divest the landholdings fearing that his son’s injuries would render him unable to ranch.
After 5 hears of rehab however, MJ was able to ranch again. He married his Army nurse in 1946 (Teresa Savinsky), and they had 8 children together on the ranch below Chevelon Butte. During this time, the ranch transitioned from sheep to cattle, and in 1953 the family moved closer to Winslow so the children could attend school. In 1974, the O’Hacos purchased the Hutcheson Ranch and formed the 4 Cs (Chevelon Canyon Cattle Company).
Mike and Teresa’s son Jim took over the day to day operations of the ranch when Mike died in 2001. Other family members still contribute when they can, notably Jim's brother Mike, who took a job with the railroad in the 1990s after drought caused tough times on the ranch.
Sustainability, Water, and Power:
The O’Haco Family has been active in sustaining the land for ranching. A key component was to create ample water sources to improve range conditions, so animals spread farther and do not over trample vegetation in the same places. Early on, this meant creating cattle tanks wherever possible. In recent times it meant partnering with AZGFD, USFS, and the State Land Department, to build a 1350 foot deep well in 1998 that provides 60,000 acres with troughs that are continually supplied with clean water via gravity feed via 42 miles of buried pipes. The water sources are maintained for wildlife even when there are no cattle located in the area. Additionally, the ranch has restored grasslands to over 20,000 acres by removing invasive species.
By the end of 2020, the ranch is slated to host the Chevelon Butte Wind Farm, a power project that will install as many as 164 wind turbines, each reaching over 600 feet high, and a new 345kV transmission line. So the views in the photos before the wind farm are likely to change significantly! The wind farm should have minimal impacts on the land, and it will continue to operate as a ranch.
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.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.