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Robbers Roost Canyon - New River Mesa, AZ
mini location map2019-02-11
18 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Robbers Roost Canyon - New River Mesa, AZ 
Robbers Roost Canyon - New River Mesa, AZ
Hiking avatar Feb 11 2019
Hiking5.20 Miles 1,007 AEG
Hiking5.20 Miles   7 Hrs      0.74 mph
1,007 ft AEG20 LBS Pack
1st trip
Partners none no partners
The plan for this hike was to check out another section of what I call the "New River Mesa Mystery Walls". This section is in Robbers Roost Canyon which is one of several canyons which cut into New River Mesa on its northwest side and drain NW into New River. This was a continuation of my earlier investigations of these walls in March and Nov of 2018. [ photoset ] [ photoset ] [ photoset ] [ photoset ] [ photoset ] After my March trip I got in contact with a former TNF Ranger who worked for 23 years as the range conservationist on the Cave Creek Ranger District which includes New River Mesa. She had seen these rock walls while checking out the range with an old rancher. He told her the walls were a fence built for sheep by Charley Cook for whom Cook's Mesa was named. This probably would have been sometime in the late 1800s. I have not been able to corroborate this story and was hoping I might find some evidence to lend more credence to it. My search of historical data bases have not turned up a Charley Cook in the New River Mesa area during the late 1800s. However I did discover that a William W.(Billy) Cook had patented land on upper New River near Cooks Mesa in 1919 and had established a cattle ranch at that location which is now "Upper Ranch" on current maps but is shown as "Cooks Ranch" on old maps. This cast doubt on Cooks Mesa being named for a Charley Cook. Historical accounts and an obituary for Billy Cook gave no indication he had ever been into sheep ranching. A search of Billy Cooks family using found no relations or siblings named Charley in this part of AZ during the late 1800s or early 1900s. So the mystery continues.

I set up a base camp for 3 nights a short distance off FR41 on the bank of New River near the mouth of Robbers Roost Canyon to give me time to further explore this area. New River actually had water flowing in it which I had never seen on all my previous visits to this area. After a couple of short exploratory hikes the first day and a restful night in camp I embarked on the hike up the canyon. Rather than attempt hiking up the boulder and brush choked bottom of the canyon, I chose to follow a ridge top on the canyon's east side to the upper part of the canyon where the wall is located. It was a pleasant off-trail hike hindered only by scattered low lying cats claw bushes but these were enough to make it worth wearing my kevlar snake gators. I checked out some likely locations for signs of ancient Indian habitation along the way and found a small ruin on top of the ridge as well as some petroglyphs in a cluster of boulders. Nearing the north end of the rock wall (fence) I encountered the remains of a woven wire fence of the type typically used for sheep. Most of the fence posts had been completely burned by a wild fire but the wire was still laying on the ground. I followed the wire and determined that this section of wire fence had connected the rock fence on the east side of the canyon to sections of wall on the west side. This east side rock wall section was approximately 315 yds long. A section of woven wire fence at the walls south end connected that end to another rock wall going up the side of the canyon. Finding all these woven wire fences integrated with the rock walls to make a long continuous fence gives a high degree of credibility to these fences being built for sheep. But who actually built the fence? and for who if it wasn't Charley Cook. It would have to have been cheap labor. The alternatives that come to mind are 1) Mexican laborers 2) Chinese originally brought to this country to build the railroads or 3) Basque sheep herders. I went back to camp that night not feeling much closer to unraveling this mystery.

A couple days later I drove up to the Upper Ranch on New River near Cooks Mesa hoping that the old abandoned ranch house there might provide some answers. As I approached the ranch I encountered a young rancher who was there to chase some of his cattle out of the private property surrounding the old ranch house. Some conversation revealed that he was the ranch manager for an outfit having grazing leases on public lands all the way from the T-Ranch near I17 to FR24 north of Seven Springs and including New River Mesa. He had seen the rock walls on New River Mesa and had been told by his boss that the walls had been built by Basque sheep herders but didn't know who they had been working for. So I keep getting a little closer to finding out who had those walls built but perhaps that little bit of AZ history will remain forgotten.
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