Imagine having the opportunity to ride right past the grave of the famous Apache, Cochise? No one actually knows where his grave is, but somewhere in the Dragoon Mountains, his bones rest in secrecy. During his 12 years of frustrating the Army’s attempt to rein him in, he and a small band of Apaches hid in what is now known as the Cochise Stronghold. This trail takes you to the Stronghold Divide, which separates the eastern and western portions of the Dragoon Mountains.
In mid-December, our neighbor Jim once again served as our trail guide. He is a wealth of information. Not only is he a history buff, but he has been riding in this area for 5 years. The temperature was 55 degrees, and it was sunny with a minimal breeze. We rode 8.5 miles with a 1451 foot elevation gain. It took us about 3 hours, and the trail was rocky, as usual.
Parking and trail use
About a mile before you get to the Cochise Stronghold Campground, there is a pull-out area for horse trailers. A few weeks after I rode this, my sister-in-law and I hiked it. We didn’t get going as fast as we should have, so we parked at the campground as most of the hikers do. We had to pay an $8 fee to park there. If we had more time and were game for another couple of miles, we could have parked at the horse area.
As it was, we made it to the spot where we had lunch on the horseback ride, but not all the way to the top. Before we knew it, the sun was dropping behind the mountain. We booked it back! Not only did we want to be back before dark, but the temperature drops like a rocket when the sun goes down. (Photo from the hike, not the horseback ride!)
Both times that I have done this trail, I haven’t encountered many people. The dogs did not go when we rode, as Jim was concerned about them technically needing to be on-leash. They did go when we hiked it. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, when we encounter people, we pull off to the side of the trail. The dogs all lie down and stay put until the hikers (or horses) have passed.
There is one gate to get through, and someone has to dismount to do it. Shortly after that, the Middlemarch Canyon trail heads off to the left. The next time I hike the Stronghold, I plan to take that trail. Jim has taken us on another ride that has the option of heading down that trail from the opposite direction. There is apparently a 4-foot boulder that he isn’t too sure about traversing on a horse. I promised him I’d hike it and give him my two cent’s worth…
A tricky area on the trail
Fairly early on, there is a somewhat tricky rocky area. In fact, our camp hostess/owner had a severe accident at that spot a year or two ago. She was riding with a friend, and they were both hurt. Her friend was airlifted out, and our hostess rode out I believe. I haven’t asked too many details… it is still a traumatic experience. Her friend came over here to ride a couple of weeks ago… I think it was her first ride since the accident?
On the way to the trailhead, you pass a helipad. It is the second one built in the area. This latter landing site has lighting and is more user-friendly at night. The first helipad is located right next to the equine trailhead. Hmmm… is that a coincidence?
The tricky area involves making a sharp left turn (on the way out) and immediately scaling a 2-foot boulder. From there, a sharp right turn over solid rock, followed by a shimmy to get on the trail, but avoid getting your right leg smashed into yet another boulder. Simply reverse that sequence on the way back.
Here is a short video of the trail. The tricky section is at the end, and it is hard to do it justice. Perhaps this will give you some idea…
“C’mon, Mom, hurry up!”
We had lunch at a beautiful spot, about 10 minutes from the end of the trail. Most of the photos below were taken at lunchtime. The horses were tied to the trees. While we were eating, I heard a peculiar noise. I looked over at Kadeen, and he was, well… looking weird. Nonetheless, he was standing quietly. As I approached him, he rolled his eye back to look at me, but didn’t move his head! I still couldn’t see a problem…
However, as I approached his head, I could see that he had caught his halter/bridle combo on a tree limb. The browband was pulled over his ear, and he was stuck. He couldn’t move his head because of the offending branch! He was patiently waiting for me to intervene. I fixed his problem, and let him finish my apple slices because he was such a good boy.
He has a heavy winter coat, although he’s not as hairy as he would be in Kansas. It was a relatively warm day, and he was sweaty. A couple of the hikers we encountered on the way home questioned if I had worked him to death!
Sadie is still a bit of a work-in-progress. As soon as we head for home, she’s a jiggin’ fool. We are working on that… As we headed back on this ride, she accidentally got her left rear foot briefly lodged between a couple of rocks. She and Alan were behind me, so I didn’t see it. But apparently, as she heaved her foot out of the boulders, the energy propelled her butt into the air. Her head ducked under the reins. Alan was a bit surprised but stayed put. We love our Aussie saddles… just sayin’!
Here is a great article about this trail. It talks about Halfmoon tank, and Cochise Spring, which was almost non-existent. Either the influx of people (and the drilling of wells) have seriously impacted the water table, or the horrible dry season is to blame. The article is a very easy read and discusses the vegetation you will encounter. Here is another good article..
After I hike Middlemarch Trail, I will report back! Stay safe as you ride… no one wants to have a wreck. Are you prepared in case you do? I believe that all riders should have medical emergency information on their person (not their horse) in the event of an accident on the trail.
Enjoy these photos!