My family owns a cabin in Northern Arizona.
We call her the Apple Tree House, and while she isn’t a lot to look at when I was a kid there was just about nothing better than going to the cabin. My cousins and I would spend entire days playing in the creek, leaving right after breakfast and running home so we wouldn’t be late for dinner. For a city kid, who grew up in a time when you didn’t just let your kids run around the neighborhood alone, the freedom of the Cabin was magical.
Now that I have a son of my own, Angie and I have worked really hard to make sure he goes to the Cabin as much as possible. He made his first trip in September when he was still just a baby.
But the Jack-a-mundi is a toddler now, and toddlers need cabin trips. With his Grandma and Grandpa in town from California, Angie and I decided it was the perfect time to show them what some Arizona living is all about and head for the hills.
As any reader of this blog will know, I am physically incapable of being in one place for more than a day. I am also a maximalist with an affinity for puns. Combined this made the idea of absconding with the dogs for a day of hiking the Cabin Loop trail while staying at the at the Cabin irresistible.
The Cabin Loop (or really, loops) is a collection of trails that roughly form a heart shape when taken as a whole. Having hiked the entire loop many, many times and being fairly close the the trailhead, I decided to mix things up and hike in from Washington Park via the Col. Devin Trail.
Leaving Washington Park, the Col. Devin Trail is nothing spectacular. Essentially a maintenance road for power lines originating at Blue Ridge Reservoir, this “trail” is broad, muddy, and frankly pretty boring. However, it wasn’t always that way.
TRIGGER WARNING: History/Geography Below
In the late 1800s the U.S. Government had a breathtakingly simple (and breathtakingly stupid) strategy to manage their newly acquired Arizona Territory. Essentially it can be summed up in one word: forts. The hope was that if many big forts were built the local people would be so shocked by the power of their new neighbors (read: overlords) that they would immediately throw down their arms and passively allow European-Americans to settle the area. As covered in Hamptom Sides truly amazing book on the period, this is a uniquely dumb plan. In particular, the peoples the U.S. Government was most worried about, the Apache and Navajo, had spent eons building a life centered around flexibly moving through Arizona’s landscape. These people’s did exactly what you would expect them to do: not go where the army was.
If this wasn’t a big enough problem for the Army, the forts posed unique logistical challenges. The whole point of the fort system was to build forts where you needed to project power, and therefore these forts were, by their very nature, poorly connected and over extended. This all changed when, in 1871, General George Crook was placed in military command of the Arizona Territory. Crook had some different ideas about how to subdue the local people, primarily focused on taking the fight to them. He pioneered the use of using Native American scouts— essentially hiring Native Americans to help you fight other Native Americans– and, perhaps more important to the long term infrastructure of Arizona, decided it would probably be a good idea to connect all these forts with roads.
This plan to build roads, while simple, had its own problems. Laying between Fort Verde, in central Arizona, and Fort Apache, in eastern Arizona, is the Mogollon Rim. A giant cliff structure that stretches more than 200 miles, the Rim is nearly 8000 ft at its highest point, drops straight off to 5000 ft at its base, and produces giant canyons the entire way. Don’t believe me? Imagine this…
…for 200 miles.
Now, when you build a road along a cliff you basically have two choices: put it on top, or put it on bottom. To facilitate moving between these two possible routes Gen. Crook needed to build a path from the bottom of the Rim to the top, an unenviable task that fell to Col. Thomas Devin. The route Devin devised still carries his name to this day.
END OF VERY EXCITING HISTORY SECTION
Congratulations! You survived reading almost 500 words on U.S. History. You must be exhausted. Now back to the hike!
After a boring, slowly ascending for an hour I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. This isn’t so hard, I thought. Then suddenly the trail went up…
…400 vertical feet in a 1/8 of a mile up.
My extra-fat state made this exhausting, and the power lines constantly ruined the view. This made me grumpy. But, at the top though we came to our destination, the Cabin Loop Trail. This made me less grumpy. LET THE DAY OF MANY CABIN PUNS BEGIN.
Update: Portions of the trails described here were burned in the 2016 Pinchot Fire. I have not been back to the area since the fire and cannot attest to trail conditions. Proceed at your own risk. For more details on the fire, click HERE.
TRIGGER WARNING: EVEN MORE HISTORY
JK, I’m not going to make you read more history. If you care about GIANT BATTLES, WIERDO’S USING SHEEP SHEERS TO CUT THEIR HAIR BECAUSE THEY ARE LONELY, and MYTHS OF GIANT HUMANOID MONSTERS, which you should and all of which this area has, read about them at these links.
END OF COMFORTABLY BRIEF HISTORY SECTION
Leaving General Springs, Honey, Gus, and I took off down the Fred Haught Trail. Part of the larger Arizona Trail, this section of the Cabin Loop is wonderful and also somewhat famous because it is the site of one of the largest battles of the Apache Wars, the Battle of Big Dry Wash. Fortunately for us, the wash was big, but not dry.
There were a couple of stream crossings, which Honey took on with minimal bravery.
But she’s cute, so we let her get away with it.
Eventually the AZ and Fred Haught Trails diverge, with the AZ Trail going west towards Blue Ridge Reservoir and Fred Haught continuing on the Cabin Loop towards Pinchot Springs.
Our final destination, the remains of Fred Haught Cabin, actually lay a little ways off the trail. Leaving the trail behind and finding a nice photogenic spot I set up the tripod and tried to get a good picture of the three of us.
Then I confused the dogs when I made them do it again…
Once at the cabin’s remains we sat down and had lunch. Despite sharing my sandwich with them, the dogs repaid me for the repetitive walking by refusing to look at the camera.
Jerks. See if you get an delicious sandwich next time.
The hike back was more of the same: big meadows, tall pines…
…except this time I avoided the steepness of the last section of the Col. Devin Trail and took the slightly longer Rail Road Tunnel Trail…
…and after seeing views like that I spent the rest of the hike being angry at myself for not taking the Rail Road Tunnel Trail on the way up.
Back at the Apple Tree House all was well. The Day of Many Cabins complete, I settled in next to the fire, tired from a good day of hiking and confident we had gotten the Cabin addiction started early for the Jackamundi.
The Cabin Loop is comfortable all summer and ranges from easy to difficult depending on the trail selected. Specifically, The Fred Haught Trail, hiked here, is easy, kid friendly, and can be accessed from General Springs when FR 300 is open.
The Col. Devin Trail and Rail Road Tunnel Trail is probably too hot to hike comfortably in the summer, but very comfortable in the Spring and Fall.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.