Member Trip Report



Muleshoe Ranch, Arizona
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April 3-7, 2012

Trip Leader and Author: Bill Priedhorsky

Participants: Melissa Bartlett and Bill Priedhorsky

At this stage of life, our adventures are not longer restricted to the wilderness, but we still seek out places that are at the dead end of a long dirt road. After years of trying and at least one cancelled reservation (family emergency), we finally visited the Nature Conservancy’s Muleshoe Ranch. Our 4-night stay was over spring break, at the beginning of April 2012. We were looking for hiking, vistas, cool streams, and wildlife, with a comfortable place to stay. We found it at Muleshoe.

Muleshoe is an oasis amid arid grasslands. Riparian cottonwoods and sycamores start at the ranch, where the Hooker Hot Springs flow into the eponymous Hot Springs Wash. One arrives at headquarters from upstream, so the vegetation around headquarters is the first greenery since Willcox, 30 miles away (19 of them graded dirt). Hot Springs Wash is just one of seven flowing streams on the 49,000 acre Muleshoe Cooperative Management Area, shared between the Conservancy, the Forest Service, and BLM. We visited three streams in easy day hikes.  Temperatures were in the mid-70’s, only a little warmer than we would have liked. When we return, we might target late November, when the days are about 10° cooler.

Ranch headquarters (white buildings) are along Hot Springs Wash,
just where the stream starts flowing thanks to the incoming springs.

We stayed in one of the Conservancy casitas, which are remodeled from the original ranch buildings. Our casita, the King, was the largest and entirely comfortable with adobe walls, saltillo tile, and a full kitchen, although the bathroom fixtures were turquoise holdovers from the 1960’s. Casita residents have access to a spacious common area, with overstuffed leather chairs and couches. The view from inside the common room and the deck out front was to the east, giving afternoon shade and later a view of moon rise across the wash. Being an oasis, the obligatory palm tree – one – marked the middle of the U-shaded courtyard.  Hummingbirds were a constant presence around at least 3 feeders, and orioles, cardinals, finches, white-crowned sparrows flocked to sunflower seeds of their own. Signs warned us to keep casita doors shut unless we wanted a rattlesnake as a bedmate. Our casita cost $741 for the four nights.

No food is available at the ranch so, forewarned, we stocked up at the Willcox Safeway, a small-town supermarket with fewer choices than the Los Alamos Smith’s but plenty to feed us for 4 days. Kitchen facilities included a full-sized refrigerator and oven. A larger kitchen in the common areas is available for $100 a day and is included without charge for parties that rent all four courtyard casitas. A fifth casita, separate from the others, is the only one that allows children under 16. This restriction is lifted if the whole courtyard compound is rented.

Muleshoe is at the end of the graded road, as far as my Prius could take us. We left it parked from the evening we arrived to the morning we left. A sturdy four-wheel drive, however, could take you farther north into Muleshoe, opening other possibilities for backcountry hiking. The drive from Los Alamos is 500 miles, most of it interstate, requiring about 8 hours behind the wheel plus stops.

The Muleshoe stretch near headquarters is sere grassland, with the usual thorny things – prickly pear, barrel cactus, ocotillos, spiny bushes. It lies just at the edge of the saguaro country, with perhaps the easternmost saguaro in Arizona a mile from our casita. The rock is a volcanic conglomerate, which sticks out in peaks that look taller than they actually are. The elevations around headquarters ranged for 4000 feet at the stream to 5000 feet atop the crags. The thorny things are spaced far enough apart to allow cross-country hiking with care. A few flowers were blooming this somewhat dry spring, particularly patches of white, yellow, and orange poppies.

Spring desert flowers come with the rain. In wet years the hillsides
are covered with gold; in this drier spring, we saw some beautiful little patches.

We hiked both developed trails that depart from headquarters. The 3.5-mile Bass Creek – Hot Springs loop is the must-do of the area, and was featured as the April 2012 hike-of-the-month in Arizona Highways online. The loop starts with a mile up and down the northbound road, crossing a ridge, then turns down Bass Canyon, which flows perennially in most stretches, to the confluence. The streamside is a striking contrast to the desert a few yards away. Downstream hiking is a thrash if you leave the trail, thanks to the thickness of the vegetation. Pools were filled with native Arizona fish, although the only desert pupfish that we saw were in a pond back at the ranch. The final mile up Hot Springs wash alternated between dry gravel and a pleasant trickle, in the shade most of the way thanks to overarching trees.

Flowing water in the desert, like this stream in Double R Canyon,
is a special thing about Muleshoe.

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