Cow Flat Trail is sufficiently long and passes through so many different areas that it is known by several names. Alternately it is referred to as the Bear Valley, Government Mesa and Ladron Springs Trail. Actually, it leads to or through each of those different forest locations. That portion of the trail which lies within the boundary of the Alpine District winds along the top of the Mogollon Rim through mature park-like stands of ponderosa pine alternating with pinyon-juniper woodlands on the high plateaus of Cow and Campbell Flats. Along this stretch of the trail it connects with several other backcountry trails that offer almost comprehensive access to this diverse area.
The Cow Flat portion of Trail #55 is well defined and easy to follow. As the trail traverses Bear Valley and crosses Government Mesa, it becomes more difficult to follow. While you're keeping an eye out for blazes and rock cairns you might notice the remains of an old wagon and a few outbuildings that bear testament to the fact that this valley was farmed during the turn of the century. After the trail leaves Bear Valley, it's as rough and tough as three cowboys who once lived here. Pappy (who lived in a cave) Smokey (who loved his mules) and Buster (a cowboy stone mason) added a bit of their spirit to this wild area. You may find yourself calling on them to help you find your way.
At Auger Tank a well-used game trail heads down the drainage. Don't follow this trail. Look across the creek to a couple of crude corrals where Trail #55 heads up out of the drainage to the west. The going is rough here but some excellent views provide a payoff. Another stretch that is hard to find, especially when coming from Blue River, is where a steep descent enters Sycamore Canyon across from another old corral.
Below Ladron Springs the trail hugs a bedrock slope across a steep chute where pack animals once needed to be unpacked to cross. One unfortunate animal fell to its death here in 1980. In 1983 a forest crew received authorization to take motorized equipment into the primitive area to drill and blast a wider passage to the great appreciation of those using this trail on horseback. Ladron Springs emerges at the base of a large walnut tree as a constant and powerful water source. Several small waterfalls mark its drainage between the spring and trail's end at the Blue River.
Notes: No mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) permitted in Primitive Area.
0.0 Junction with Bonanza Bill Trail #23 at Bonanza Flat.
0.7 Junction with S Canyon Trail #53.
1.2 Junction with Franz Spring #43.
1.4 Junction with Lanphier Trail #52.
1.6 Junction with a shortcut trail to Franz Spring.
3.6 Junction with WS Lake Trail #54.
5.2 Junction with Little Blue Trail #41 at corral at the lower end of Bear Valley. Elevation 6,600 feet.
5.3 Bear Valley Cabin.
5.4 Trail heads west out of Bear Valley.
6.4 High point on trail at junction with an unmaintained trail to Little Blue Creek.
8.9 Rock cairn marks unmaintained trail to the south to Winter Cabin.
9.9 Auger Canyon, another unmaintained trail, leads from here to Winter Cabin.
11.1 Sycamore Canyon at old corral.
11.6 Ladron Spring.
12.1 Blue River.
USGS Maps: Bear Mountain, Dutch Blue, Alma Mesa
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.
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.