Jackson Cabin/Muleshoe Ranch Road FR #691, Arizona
Willcox, Arizona (Cochise) Technical Rating: 2-5
Last Updated: 02-15-2018
Redington Pass / FR# 371
Coronado National Forest/Safford Ranger District
Jackson Cabin/Muleshoe Ranch Road FR #691, Arizona Highlights
Jackson Cabin / Muleshoe Road is one of those iconic trails for which the reward of the journey rivals that of the destination. The Nature Conservancy maintains the riparian areas at the beginning of the trail and has graciously allowed access to these wonders. You will see amazing views of rock cliff faces, mountain vistas, desert springs, seeps and abundant plant life where springs have pushed up from below nourishing abundant wildlife such as coatimundi, deer, javelina, and a wide variety of watchable bird life.
The views of the rhyolite rock formations along the western face of the Galiuro Mountains could very well challenge the scenery experienced in the canyon country of southern Utah. The start of this trail is about 110 miles from Tucson. It's a long day to get to the end but it's certainly worth it for the payoff is a 100-plus-year-old cabin, teeming with history. Bring your tent, bring your camp stove, bring your ice chest because this is a fabulous place to turn into an overnight adventure. In fact, the position of the sun on the way in (afternoon setting reds) and the way out (morning freshness) completely changes the views and makes this almost two different trips.
Technical rating: (2-5) Easy-Moderate
Rutted and/or rocky road. No shelves. Rocks up to 12" and water crossings up to 12" with possible currents. Passable mud. Moderate grades to 15 degrees. 6" holes. Side hill to 20 degrees. 4WD required. No width problems.
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Directions to Trailhead
Because there are multiple ways to approach this trail, the trailhead is the intersection of Three Links Road and Muleshoe Ranch Road. From this point, all approaches merge and continue to Jackson Cabin on the only route.
- If you prefer the mostly dirt route, from Tucson, proceed on the Redington Pass Trail to Redington, AZ. Turn southeast on the well-graded dirt San Pedro River/Cascabel Road for about 20 miles until you reach the very short paved section. (about 1,000 feet of pavement) and turn left onto Three Links Road. From here it's only a short 16 miles on Three Links Road, which is very well maintained dirt road until you reach the trailhead. Three Links Road climbs up out of the San Pedro River and crosses over a pass, where you'll soon drop down into the actual ranch property and continue through all the cattle guards until you reach the intersection with the Muleshoe Ranch Road. From mile 0.0 on Redington Road to Jackson Cabin is 89.5 Miles
- From Benson, head east to Mile Maker 303 exit for the Benson. Travel through the town, and the road becomes 4th street Follow 4th street a short distance until you turn left at Pomerene Road. (about 3.7 Miles) Take this north (about 20 miles) until you reach the intersection with Three Links Road. Continue on as in the 1st option about 16 miles to Muleshoe Road. The total distance from the Interstate 10 exit in Benson is about 38 miles.
- This final option is likely the quickest way to get to the trailhead. From Willcox: Head southeast from Interstate 10 Exit 340 at Rex Allen Drive, turn right on Bisbee Avenue and head south for about 1 mile (past the high school - Home of the Cowboys!). Turn right onto Airport Road, up and over the interstate turn left at the Airport Road, which becomes Cascabel Road/Airport. Follow this for several miles (17.3 from your start point) until you reach Three Links Road/Muleshoe Ranch road intersection.
The road starts out wide and smooth for the first 14 miles. (1-2) You will travel over mostly flat prairie land through a sprinkling of historic ranches until you finally drop down into Hooker Hot Springs Canyon and the Muleshoe Ranch. From the sign-in entry kiosk, the road ahead becomes rougher and requires at least a high clearance vehicle. There are seven year-round running streams in these canyons, and you will cross one in the bottom of Bass Canyon.
For the first portions of the climbs up out of the canyon, some enterprising rancher used concrete to fortify the road. These come in handy for several hill climbs/descents as the concrete is scored to aid with traction.
The road continues up and over hills, and across broad open flat areas as you skirt the foothills of the Galiuro Mountains.
Once you reach the Redfield Wilderness area, the road condition degrades considerably and there will be portions requiring 4 wheel drive low to traverse comfortably. You will encounter steps, off camber hill climbs and descents, and a few rocky sections that will require good traction. The last half mile is the most challenging of all,(5) requiring the navigation of a shelf road that descends sharply into Jackson Canyon at the end of the trail. This part of the trail has big rocky sections to climb over, off camber sections and long drop-offs on the north side of the road. Once at the bottom of this seemingly endless hill, you will cross the rocky creek and be at the cabin.
1: Trailhead: Three Links Road - Airport Road - Muleshoe Ranch Road Intersection (0.0mi)
Turn left (north) This major intersection of three wide dirt roads, Three Links Road, which leads up from the San Pedro River Valley, Airport Road, which leads east from the Cochise County Airport and Muleshoe Ranch Road. This is a triangular intersection and depending on your direction of travel, it is equally accessible from the eastern or western shortcuts onto Muleshoe Road. The road ahead is wide (50+ feet) and smooth as there are significant cattle operations along it that likely maintain it. The ranches you will encounter include the Warbonnet, Winchester, Antelope and finally Muleshoe at the end of the smooth section.
2: Muleshoe Ranch Boundary - Cattle Guard (13.5mi)
Continue straight (north) You are at the head of a pass that overlooks Hooker Hot Springs Canyon and the Hooker Hot Springs wash. The road is split here by a cattle guard and is marked by an obvious sign denoting entry into the Muleshoe Ranch. The road will descend here into thick mesquite thickets, but remains very well maintained.
3: Hooker Hot Springs -Hiker Staging Area (13.8mi)
Left turn (west) leads to a small staging area for the hiking trail (nature trail) maintained by the Nature Conservancy. There is an information kiosk here with several pamphlets explaining the area. This is well worth the short stop to pick up some good reading/background material generously provided. This is only a short spur (150 feet) off the main trail so you will return to Muleshoe Ranch rd and turn left.
There is a sign here forbidding "Off Road Trailers" but one would suspect they are referring to "Rig Carrier" type trailers that people leave behind when deploying their offroad vehicles. There's not much room to turn a trailer around in this spot anyway.
4: Hooker Hot Springs - Muleshoe Headquarters (Closed) (13.9mi)
Continue straight (north) This is the gate the leads down to the Muleshoe Ranch Headquarters. This was once a resort that provided travelers with the 'healing waters' of the Hooker Hotspring. The Nature Conservancy maintained a small museum there until funding shortages prevented staffing it and it is now closed to the public. Only Nature Conservancy members can rent one of the casitas and access the historic location. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the "amazing restorative powers" of Hooker Hot Springs water was widely known. Hooker Hot Springs Wikipedia.
Forrestine Hooker, a famed western lore author, lived here and wrote about it. She also wrote of the other history swirling around this area including the "Buffalo Soldiers" and Wyatt Earp. (His younger brother James Earp, though not a participant in the gunfight at the OK corral in Tombstone, lived in nearby Willcox and was once ranch manager of the Muleshoe). James did participate in the famed "Earp Vendetta" ride, hunting down the killers of his brother Morgan Earp.
5: Sign in Kiosk - TrailHead of FR691 4x4 (14.0mi)
'S' turn stay right (northwest). The road doesn't have any unlocked turn offs here but for some, this is considered the "Trailhead" for the Jackson Cabin trail. This is the first place you encounter the FR#691 designation and a few warning signs about the conditions ahead. The trail ahead includes hill climbs and descents, but nothing intensely challenging until you reach Waypoint 14, the Redfield Wilderness Boundary. The road is not suitable for any vehicle without high ground clearance or 4 wheel drive beyond this point. You must sign in here in order to have permission to pass through the private lands (two sections) ahead.
6: El Paso Gas Line Closed to Motorized Use (14.3mi)
Continue straight (north)
You encounter a fairly significant intersection next. The El Paso Gas line crosses over here from northeast to southwest. The gate to the southwest is locked with a padlock. The gate to the northeast was propped open (this may not be the normal state but leave as you find usually is best). There is an open gate two-track road just to the north on the right that heads east over some rolling hills. (Shown in the third photo) This road appears to dead end at a small structure and a wash just a few miles out on a ridge line, paralleling the gas line road.
Just past this point as you crest the hill, look off the right as there is a small spring fed pool here (which is not hot spring fed) but is about 7' deep. As you continue on, look over to your right as you descend the switchbacks into Bass Canyon and look for the old Bass Canyon Cabin (Now abandoned and in ruins).
7: Bass Canyon - Cabin/Riparian Area 15.0 (15.0mi)
Continue straight, zig-zagging through the riparian area and crossing the stream twice. This is a beautiful area and it's likely that you will want to park near the Bass Canyon Day Use area sign and walk around for a bit. There is also a "No Hunting" sign here. If you park here you can walk about 200 yards to the east and visit the Bass Cabin. Be careful of rodents as it's possible that their droppings are contaminated.
This is a great area to stop for lunch. At the second stream crossing, you can see fish swimming in the water.
8: Rig Rock - Public Land (15.5mi)
As you begin your ascent out of the canyon bottom, you will cross into public land near Rig Rock. Rig Rock is so named as it's a fun place to drive your rig out onto the rocky prominences and take a picture. There isn't really a defined path from the main road out onto the rock, so be careful that you don't trample any sensitive plants on the way there. The amazing rock formations around you will keep you occupied for more than a few minutes as this is a terrific photo spot.
9: Unknown Forest Road - To Abandoned Browning Ranch Double D Canyon (17.6mi)
Stay left (north). A small descending road leads to the right, down into Double D Canyon where once stood the Browning Ranch buildings. Nothing remains except a few ruins but a usable camp spot can be found down here. The canyon stands out because it's choked with tall vibrant green cottonwood and sycamore trees that you can see for the next mile off to your right framed by the far canyon wall, which is a deep rocky cliff face. This road has no sign designating it nor is it shown on the topo with a Forest Road number.
10: Entering Private Lands (17.9mi)
A sign identifies the land ahead belongs to the Nature Conservancy. You will be on the preserve until Waypoint 12. You will not be able to camp in this area. Frequent sightings of Mule or Whitetail deer can occur in this area.
11: Pride Ranch Cabin Site & Windmill (20.1mi)
Stay right (northeast) There are several roads that lead off to the west, but they are loops or spurs that lead to what was once the Pride Ranch. There were two cabins, one made of cinder block, the other a ranch house bordered by a pool. The Ranch house was built about 1921 but was demolished, piled up and dumped into the pool in 2010. The Nature Conservancy demolished these two structures to avoid vandalism to these historic structures. The is a spinning Aeromotor Windmill here that is not connected to the well rod. It's a fun spot to stop and look around. Please leave any artifacts you might discover where you found them.
12: Entering Public Lands (20.7mi)
Continue straight (north) This is the last boundary of the private land you will encounter. Beyond this point, camping is permitted in established dispersed camping spots. There are many places to camp, but the major recommended ones are described below.
13: Cherry Spring Canyon Campsite (21.0mi)
At the head of the Cherry Spring Canyon, there is a wide flat area surrounded by stunning rock cliff faces and rolling hills that could accommodate a large group of campers. There are at least two acres of open ground to set up tents, off road trailers, etc.
14: Redfield Canyon Wilderness Boundary (21.5mi)
The road makes a sharp turn right here and starts a long descent down some rough switchbacks. From this point, the road is better traversed in 4 Low, but it's not a requirement. There is a rock prominence here off to the left that reminds one of a sitting Labrador Retriever, so think of it as "Lab Rock". The rock's dog shape appears more obvious when you return and ascend this hill. Expect to encounter climbs and descents, off camber rocky outcrops, shelf roads, and wash out shelves/steps for the next 5 miles.
15: Natural Rock Bridge (23.4mi)
Not shown on the topo and oft missed by travelers passing here, is the Natural Rock Bridge. As you approach this waypoint, look off to the left and look for the light coming through the hillside. This is visible only at certain times of the day (Usually afternoon) which generally corresponds to the journey and arrival time in this area. It's a short hike from the parking spot near a small tree, through Lechegilla cactus (ankle daggers) littered hillsides to reach the portal through the rocky outcrop. It's worth a stop and a look.
16: Water Tank & Decommissioned Windmill (25.4mi)
There is another Aeromotor tower here, but no blades on the windmill. There is a small circular rock tank to the left (now silted in) and a large concrete tank to the right, which you loop around to continue on the trail. Between the small rock tank, and the large concrete tank, a spring still gushes water out onto the road, and a fairly good mud puddle forms here. Use caution as just past the tank the road drops into a drainage with a 1-2 foot shelf drop off.
17: Sycamore Canyon Camp Site(s) (26.0mi)
At the bottom of the Sycamore Canyon, you will be surrounded by oaks, hackberry, sycamore and mesquite trees. If you are seeking a very sheltered/shady area for a camping spot, Sycamore Canyon doesn't disappoint. There are two small flat open areas on either side of the road with fire rings and abundant shade. These campsites are about 4-6 tent spots size each. Continue through both of these as you begin your ascent out of the canyon. (Look for the Smokey the Bear sign as your signal that the climbing is about to begin in earnest). At this point, you will also be departing the Redfield Wilderness and returning to the Coronado National Forest.
18: Jackson Canyon/Cabin View Saddle (26.9mi)
Once you have fully climbed out of Sycamore Canyon, you reach a saddle that overlooks Jackson Canyon and a view down onto Jackson Cabin itself, nestled on the right side of the wide open area. From here the road hugs the eastern slope of mountains that are to your west. This looks pretty intimidating from the saddle as you'll be descending quite a bit along this shelf road. The last half mile is the toughest part of this entire trail. You should strongly consider letting your engine brake you down this decline in 4 low.
19: Jackson Cabin - Trail End (27.6mi)
This point is the end of the trail.
At the bottom of the road, the trail makes an S turn and crosses the creek. About 100 yards further on you reach the Jackson Cabin with about an acre of flat spots for tents/offroad trailers, etc. There's room for about 10 rigs down here, but factor in accommodations space requirements when planning your trip. You can sleep in the back room of the cabin and on very cold nights, the fireplace in there can be very inviting.
This is as far as the road goes. From here you can continue on foot along the West Divide Trail that leads off to Hooker Cabin or down Redfield Canyon back to Redington. There is a three room cabin here that has been in place since the 1890's. Today it is an important way stop for hikers transiting the Galiuro mountains and Wilderness. Behind the cabin, the trail leads up to Basset peak.
You will find a variety of artifacts including log books, water jugs, cans of food, beds, etc that previous visitors have left for others. If you took out some of the empty water jugs and replaced them with full ones, no one would complain. You might even play a part in saving some poor destitute hiker's life.
There is an outhouse behind the cabin and a bear food box near to a large central campfire spot.
If you aren't camping here, this is where you turn around and head back.
Parts of this trail cross over the Muleshoe Ranch which is private land managed/owned by the Nature Conservancy. It's important that you sign in at the beginning of the FR691 portion as not doing so makes you a trespasser. The Nature Conservancy maintains this road as open to sportsmen under an agreement with the Arizona Game and Fish department. There are no permits required other than the initial sign in.
Camping and Lodging
There are several camp spots along the trail after you pass by the private land portions. Two very nice spots can be found at Waypoints 13 and 17 or at the Jackson Cabin trail end. There are also hotels in Benson and Willcox that are 50 miles away.
Lodging at the Muleshoe Ranch is available for members of The Nature Conservancy during 11 select weekends from October through April, Thursday through Mondays. Casita rentals are not offered during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays. A three-night minimum stay is required.