It is a mere six miles (but 20 minutes) from our home to the Dragoon Mountain Range. We often ride or hike the Cochise Stronghold trail, or the Middlemarch trail. But we access it from the east side of the mountain range. To get to the west Dragoons, it takes a long and arduous drive. We were up for something new the other day, so we headed north… and then west… and then south… and then east.
First you plan…
My thought was to ride the Middlemarch trail going up the west side. I poured over trail maps and topographical maps, charged my Garmin and bought a $4.99 Avenza map of the area. We headed out with general plans but totally flexible about how it actually unfolded.
It takes about an hour to get from our location on the east side of the Dragoons to the intersection of Middlemarch Road and AZ-80. Middlemarch Road is affectionately labeled as an “undeveloped road.” It takes 30 minutes to go about 10 miles to Forest Road 687. Trust me, it is not mislabeled as a “forest road.” Middlemarch Road is a paved superhighway compared to FR687. It took us another 20 minutes on FR687 to get to where we parked. We were in our F350 and pulling a 2-horse bumper pull trailer.
This was our second time at this spot. We rode to Council Rocks last year. We didn’t want to repeat that ride exactly, so we set a tentative route based on trails depicted in Avenza. We started off on a trailhead that led to Slavin Gulch. However, the AllTrails description I read when I was planning the ride told me this probably wasn’t a horse-friendly trail. We planned to cut off on another trail that went north towards the west branch of the Middlemarch trail.
Because FR687 is so challenging, we stopped quite a ways short of the horse parking area for the Middlemarch trail. At least, it appears so on the map. Some day we’ll start earlier, leave old dogs at home, and see how far it is to the trailhead. This area is beautiful, (at least it was before the fire hit… more on that shortly.) We were fine just exploring on our own. Additionally, there are ample parking spots all along FR687.
And then you punt…
This screenshot of my Avenza map will help explain our route. We parked fairly close to the red pin. We rode to the Slavin Gulch trailhead (where the red and blue lines start.) I wanted to follow the red line but we ended up on the blue line. You can see the trails marked, although there are dotted lines and gaps evident! When we got back to the road, we attempted to go north and pick up the red line there, but we ended up making a small loop and landing back on FR687. We came back the same way…
We did briefly overlap our previous ride to Council Rocks. The green line is the west branch of the Middlemarch trail.
We had 3 of our 4 dogs with us. Our old girl, Leah, always wants to go but she is definitely slowing down. Her health is stable so far, as evidenced by monthly bloodwork. (See her story here.) Finn and Kara could go much farther, but we limit our distance when Leah is along.
I rode Sadie and Alan rode Kadeen. I keep talking about improving Sadie’s collection and frame, thereby improving the comfort of her trot… but to make that happen, I need to ride her more consistently! So I have resolved to get on her at least 4-5 times a week for short training sessions.
Kadeen was all over Alan when we stopped for lunch. Anytime a bag rattles, Kadeen thinks there might be a treat for him. You can see from these photos how beautiful this country is… or was…
Fire burns the west Dragoons
Given that this was a nearly 2-hour drive for us, we didn’t get home until about 5 PM. We were pulling out of our parking spot at 3 PM. At 10 PM when we turned on the nightly news before heading to bed, we heard that the Slavin Gulch area was on fire!
The fire was reported around 5:45 PM. When we were there, we saw 4 or 5 large off-road vehicles roaring along the forest roads. We also saw several campers way back where we parked, as well as some large 5th wheels right at the intersection of Middlemarch Road and FR687. All campers were evacuated when the fire started. We heard that at least one camper was not allowed to take the time to hook up his camper… he was instructed to leave immediately.
As of this writing, the fire has burned over 455 acres and is 40% contained. No structures are in danger at this time. However, it saddens Alan and me to think about the beautiful country that we just explored being marred by fire. Every day we look upon the charred ground next door from the fire we experienced a month ago. We are beyond tired of being impacted by wildfires every time we turn around. And I might add… our horses wear their ID tags all the time.