Two Short Trips Around
Horseshoe Mesa

Fri-Sun, Dec. 11-14, 2020
& Fri-Sun, Feb. 19-21, 2021

by Dennis Foster

Section of 1903 map with points of interest highlighted.

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     Auckland ......  note of.


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240 by 180

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     Aland ......  note of.


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An old wheelbarrow  240 by 320

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240 by 320

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     From December 11 to 14, 2020, I was camped on the Tonto plateau just north of Horseshoe Mesa in the Grand Canyon for three nights. There were some projects I wanted to do as day hikes. This short post is on one of those projects – the old trail into Cottonwood Canyon.

     On the Vishnu Quadrangle map, published in 1907 (based on the survey work of Francois Matthes and Richard Evans of the U.S.G.S.) includes trails that have been lost to time, but were once passable by pack animals.  One that I had never been on descends off the Tonto in the west arm of Cottonwood Creek to meet up with the main bed below the Tapeats. Finding this old trail/route was one of my projects.

     The trail leaves the Tonto on the west side of this arm, no doubt due to a couple of problematic pour-offs in the bed. There were many good opportunities and I picked one that seemed reasonable. On my way down to the bed I stumbled upon a small cairn and found myself on a rather well defined ramp. I didn't really see signs of a trail, but this route certainly felt right and it took me right down to the bed of this arm, where there was another small cairn.

     The trail on the map is shown as going down to the bed and then following it to the junction with the wet/east arm of Cottonwood. Consequently, I did not expect to see any signs of an old trail here as it would have been long washed away. But, it was not difficult to walk down the bed to the junction.

     On my way, I began to wonder why there was a trail here. Today, it is really cool to be able to get below the Tapeats and enjoy the idyllic little creek with cottonwoods dotted along its banks. But, why would this be done 120 +/- years ago? You don't need to get below the Tapeats to reach water and the upper part of this creek is, to my mind, just as attractive.

     I thought maybe this trail went to some unusual site - old ruins, maybe? I kept my eyes peeled for this possibility. As I neared the junction I could see that there were nice areas at the base of the Tapeats that were protected by overhanging ledges. So, I checked these out. Sure enough, I came across a single, solitary ruin - the bare remains of an old granary. I suspect there was more here in the past, but now is gone.  Or, I will need to do more exploring if I can return.

     A bit upstream was a very nice overhang and I could see a walled structure. That turned out to be something more current, from the days of the prospectors.  Perhaps these stones were once used for an older structure (like the Beamer cabin at the LCR).

     While this is not some earth-shattering find, it was great to be able to add this piece of the Grand Canyon puzzle to my own experiences. If you are interested in more, here is a link to my presentation on "Old Maps and Forgotten Trails in Grand Canyon," given at the Grand Canyon History Symposium in 2019:


Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Here is a portion of the old Vishnu quad, where I have highlighted the trail segment I was interested in finding.

My Spot hiking map. The arrows show my hike along the old trail segment. The triangle shows my camp on the Tonto.

Where the Tonto Trail crosses the west arm of Cottonwood.

Along the trail on the west side of the west arm where I placed a small cairn where the old trail appears to start.

 Looking down the general route to the bed from the Tonto.  There is a nice slope leading all the way to the bed.

A cairn I found along this route.

Looking back up to the Tonto it sure looks like an old trail.
Another old cairn I found along this route.

On the route heading to the bed.

In the bed was this small cairn set atop a larger boulder.

Easy walking down the bed through
the Tapeats.

I left the bed as I neared the junction with the east arm and stayed along the bottom of the Tapeats.  This is the view looking farther downstream.

The remains of a solitary granary at the base of the Tapeats that I found in this area.

Close-up of the granary.

Looking up the main/wet arm of Cottonwood from below the Tapeats.  Under the circled ledge is the old miner’s camp.

Crude rock walls tucked under an overhang probably served as a prospector's camp. A large can sits nearby attesting to its use.

The front page of the local paper, the Arizona Daily Sun, that ran my article about this hike, which included this project.


     Aland ......  note of.


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