The jagged peaks of the Galiuro Mountains tower over the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Area, which is home to many animal species, including coatimundis, black bears, javelinas, white-tailed and mule deer, mountain lions and desert bighorn sheep.
© Tom Vezo
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Hot Springs LoopCoatimundis, running water and a healthy dose of history are just some of the reasons to explore this Nature Conservancy property in Southern Arizona.
By Brendon Borell
the tranquility of Southern Arizona's Bass Canyon belies its brutal history. Nestled between the remote Galiuro Mountains and the San Pedro River, the canyon harbors one of seven year-round streams in the 49,200-acre Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area, home to abundant plant and wildlife. Coatimundi tracks zigzag along the sandy stream banks this peaceful winter morning. It's hard to picture Melvin Jones stepping out from the brush and gunning down physician Glendy King for this property in 1884, yet I can understand why Jones and others formed such a dangerous attachment to Muleshoe.
Our hike begins just downstream from the aluminum-lined hot tubs at Muleshoe Ranch headquarters. Heading northwest we climb up unpaved Jackson Cabin Road. As we crest our first hill, we're already shedding layers of clothing and stashing it in our bags. Bass Canyon is just a mile away, and we can see its distinctive formations in the distance — dimpled rock that looks like carved soap. Two million years ago, volcanoes coated the landscape with ash and rock, likely wiping out all of the plants and animals in the area. But this tuff erodes easily, and over time, has formed the undulating cliffs and spires that loom over the streambed.
Along Bass Creek's edge, we poke at globs of algae and hunt for lowland leopard frogs, which have just begun laying their eggs for the season. Suddenly, there's a rustle upstream and a mule deer leaps 10 feet across the water before vanishing into the brush.
We continue downstream and pass the only trail marker on this undeveloped rocky streambed route, which follows a path created by thousands of years of running water. Geologists say the existing mountains in the area are too small to collect the kind of rain needed for such a task, and believe the water that originally blazed the trail dates to the last ice age.
As we approach the confluence with Hot Springs Creek — which we will follow another mile for the last leg of our hike — we spot more paw prints. This time, it's a mountain lion. The tracks follow the stream for 30 feet before they disappear. Did it leap across the water? Or clamber across this log to that gully? The cats around here must know how to be sneaky; Hot Springs ranchers used to pay $25 for every scalp. Twenty-two were killed in one year alone, and Johnny Jones, Melvin's brother, once devised a scheme to exterminate them entirely. He failed.
Melvin, the killer, didn't get Bass Canyon, either. Instead, Dr. King's property went on the auction block, after his brother failed to produce proper documentation. Colonel Henry Clay Hooker bought the land, adding it to his famous Sierra Bonita holdings. The next year, Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches went on a yearlong rampage in the area, hiding in its many canyons, staging attacks and rustling cattle.
By the 1890s, however, wealthy guests were traveling by stagecoach from Willcox to bathe in these legendary springs, among the hottest in the state. Back at ranch headquarters, we did the same — climbing in, sinking up to our chins and listening for the sound of spurs and the click of a trigger. But everything we heard was peaceful — a whimsical bird and the rustle of the cottonwood trees towering above us.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Getting There: From Tucson, drive east on Interstate 10 to Willcox (Exit 340). Go south to Bisbee Avenue and turn right. Continue past the high school and turn right (north) onto Airport Road. After 15 miles, bear right onto Muleshoe Ranch Road. Follow this road for another 14 miles. The Muleshoe Ranch CMA Headquarters is at the end of this road on the left.
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