Muleshoe Ranch, Galiuro Mountains
By Robert Stieve
In the movie Tombstone — the 1993 version starring Val Kilmer — Charlton Heston plays Henry Hooker, a wealthy rancher who gives refuge to Doc Holliday while Wyatt Earp rides off for an epic showdown with Johnny Ringo. In real life, Henry Hooker was a wealthy rancher who bought a chunk of land originally homesteaded by Glendy King. King was a pioneer, and also an entrepreneur of sorts. His most notorious vision was to open a spa on his land in the early 1880s, which he did. As unlikely as a spa in the middle of nowhere in the days of Geronimo might sound, the property included a natural hot spring, which was enough to draw people in. However, as in all good Westerns, King was eventually gunned down, and his homestead fell into the hands of Henry Hooker. Years later, it was obtained by The Nature Conservancy.
Today, Hookers Hot Springs are still enjoyed by guests who make their way to the Conservancy's Muleshoe Ranch, and the surrounding area is great for day hikers. In addition to an incredible amount of wildlife — deer, squirrels, coatimundis, javelinas, foxes, coyotes, six species of hummingbirds, seven species of owls, and 14 species of hawks and eagles — the preserve protects seven permanently flowing streams, and the combined 12 miles of running water provides some of the best remaining aquatic habitat in the Southwest. The easiest way to experience this lush habitat is along the Bass Canyon-Hot Springs Loop.
The trail begins at The Nature Conservancy visitors center. From there, walk up the driveway to the gate you passed on your way in, turn left, and continue for 300 yards to Jackson Cabin Road. This is a four-wheel-drive dirt road, so you might encounter a vehicle or two, but it's highly unlikely. The loop trail follows this road for about a mile, and after 15 minutes you'll get some terrific 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The best views, perhaps, are behind you, looking back toward the ranch. Just beyond this viewpoint, you'll top a ridge and get even better views into Bass Canyon. At the bottom of the hill, a wooden sign marks the day-use area and the trailhead.
Before you begin your trek into the canyon, keep in mind that there isn't an actual trail. Because of the floods that race down Bass Creek, it's impossible to maintain a path. That's the nature of Mother Nature. That said, The Nature Conservancy does a terrific job of marking the route with blue ribbons, which seems appropriate. This is, without a doubt, one of Arizona's blue-ribbon trails.
As you make your way along the stream, the thing that'll strike you most is the enormity of the canyon's cottonwood trees. Ditto for the Arizona sycamores. They're all spectacular.
After about a mile of bushwhacking through the gorgeous preserve, you'll come to Pipeline Road, just beyond which is the intersection of Bass Canyon and Hot Springs Canyon. You can't miss the junction. It's wide open and especially sandy. Although Hot Springs Wash is usually dry at this junction, you'll start seeing water again as you get closer to the ranch headquarters. To get there, simply hang a left and follow the wash to complete the loop. Like Bass Canyon, Hot Springs Canyon doesn't have an established trail, but as long as you hug the wash, you can chart your own course. As usual, be aware of weather conditions and the possibility of flash floods.
The hike up Hot Springs Wash will take about an hour, and along the way you'll intersect the Muleshoe Preserve Nature Trail and the Vista Trail, a route for horses. You can detour onto either one, or continue up the wash. Either way, you'll get where you're going, and if you're lucky enough to have room reservations at the ranch, Henry Hooker's hot springs will be waiting. It makes a perfect ending to a blue-ribbon hike.
PHOTO: Bass Canyon is located in the Galiuro Mountains of Southeastern Arizona. | Tom Vezo
Length: 3.5 miles round-trip
Elevation: 4,087 to 4,200 feet
Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east for 80 miles to Willcox. Exit in Willcox onto Rex Allen Drive. At the first traffic light bear right onto North Bisbee Avenue, and then turn right onto Airport Road. Follow Airport Road for 15 miles to its junction with Muleshoe Ranch Road (look for a row of mailboxes), turn right and continue 14 miles to the ranch headquarters.
Vehicle Requirements: High-clearance and four-wheel-drive required after heavy rains
Dogs Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
USGS Map: Soza Mesa, Hookers Hot Springs
Information: The Nature Conservancy, 520-212-4295 or www.nature.org/arizona