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Big Saddle Cowboy Trail, AZ
mini location map2015-07-21
21 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Big Saddle Cowboy Trail, AZ 
Big Saddle Cowboy Trail, AZ
Hiking avatar Jul 21 2015
Hiking4.30 Miles 1,658 AEG
Hiking4.30 Miles   7 Hrs   52 Mns   0.55 mph
1,658 ft AEG15 LBS Pack
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Headed to the North Rim Grand Canyon for 10 days of car camping and day hiking to escape the Phoenix heat. My first stop was to explore a mystery trail at the head of Crazy Jug Canyon. I found this trail on a previous trip 3 years ago but never followed it down into the canyon. Thanks to Dave1, I have since found out that this is an old ranching trail called Big Saddle Cowboy Trail which was constructed to provide a route for driving cattle to and from the esplanade along the east side of Crazy Jug Canyon. http://www.sixtymile.x... I set up camp on an old little used forest road which led to the edge of the rim from where I could see down the length of Crazy Jug Canyon and the esplanade. (Yes, the road is approved for "All motor vehicles" on the North Kaibab Motor Vehicle Use Map.) My campsite was in the Kaibab National Forest although it was just a few steps away from the GCNP Boundary. I ended up staying here for four nights and did not see another person. :GB:

I started off down the trail, which was a short distance from camp, at 8:00 am. My plan was to proceed several miles south along the esplanade looking for old cowboy camps that are supposed to be in this area and also look for any sign of an old trail which according to one account runs south along the esplanade all the way to Mauv Saddle near Powell Plateau. The trail was in good shape and must get some maintenance from random hikers to at least keep it clear of brush. When I was here three years ago there was evidence of recent brush pruning but I did not see any fresh cuttings on this trip. At about 0.6 mile down the trail I came to the old watering trough. The sides have collapsed and water no longer flows from the pipe. I could find no dates inscribed in the concrete. It may not be as old as it looks having crumbled due to poor construction rather than age. The 6 inch thick walls had a thin inner and outer layer of concrete with the space between filled with gravel and then capped with another thin layer of concrete making it look like it had massive concrete walls. This type of construction obviously would not hold up well to cycles of freezing and thawing in the winter and to the abuse from cattle hooves. Maybe the builders were trying to do the best they could with a very limited amount of concrete.

At about 0.9 miles I came to what I call the "water cache tree". Three years ago someone had left a quart plastic soda bottle filled with water in the fork of the trunk of a Juniper tree. This time the tree held a quart of water in an Ocean Spray bottle but the water was so old it was growing some green stuff in the bottom. At the base of the tree there were a couple pottery sherds and pieces of flaked rock possible from tool making. These had been collected by someone and left on top of a rock. I scanned the area for more sherds with no luck.

After leaving the "water cache tree", the trail starts to switch back down a steep cliff sided ravine to the esplanade below. The trail is fairly easy to follow until it reaches the bottom of a small drainage which had a trickle of water running down it. This water most likely originates from springs in the canyon wall above, one of which is named Crazy Jug Spring. After crossing the bottom of the drainage the trail soon disappears and some bushwhacking through Manzanita is required which slowed me down considerably. By noon I had reached the top of a knoll on the edge of Crazy Jug Canyon where I hoped to find Indian Ruins but no luck. Although only 1100 ft below the canyon rim, the temperatures were starting to get uncomfortably warm for strenuous hiking. At this point I decided to call it quits and head back trying a different route across the esplanade that avoided most of the manzanita thickets and was probably the route of the esplanade trail if there ever was one. I never did see any sign of cowboy camps. On the way back I spotted a ledge along the cliff near the trail that appeared to have some alcoves possibly big enough for cliff dwellings. I decided to come back the next day and explore along this ledge looking for the source of those two pottery sherds left at the base of the water cache tree. The climb back up out of the canyon in the heat of the day was tiring and I ended up going through 5 quarts of water on this relatively short hike. This area has some great views with complete solitude. It would be interesting to do some more exploring along the esplanade in cooler weather.
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