Walk The Edge

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From nearly any vantage point in the Rim country, one can see the Mogollon Rim. Residents on hilltops can enjoy a panoramic view of the many distinctive landmarks along the escarpment. There are few vantage points where one cannot see at least part of the Rim.

I was startled by the view while exploring in the Sierra Ancha last year. I stood at the foot of Soldier Camp Mountain and there, through a break in the rugged range, I saw the snow-covered Rim. I readily identified Milk Ranch Point, Baker's Butte, Bray Creek, the East Verde canyon, the Dude Fire burn and Myrtle Point. It behooves Rim country-lovers to know their landmarks along the Rim.

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The Mogollon Rim towers nearly 8,200 feet above the forest floor at its highest point an extinct volcano called Baker's Butte. All points of the Rim, however, provide visitors with some of the most breathtaking views in Arizona.

Reading from left to right, one observes the Milk Ranch Point, jutting out like a crooked finger into the foothills east of Pine. The name had an implausible beginning. In the late 1880s, the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad began building a spur line from Flagstaff, which was to proceed over the Rim through a tunnel at the East Verde River, through Payson and on to Globe.

To provide dairy products for the rail workers, the resourceful Pine family of Rial Allen established a dairy on the Rim near the point of the crooked finger. Trails conveniently led up the side of the mountain from Pine, and the Allens grazed cattle up there from spring to autumn. The dairy was part of their Rim-top enterprise, and it did not take long for the crooked finger to be known as Milk Ranch Point.

Just to the right of Milk Ranch Point is the most prominent landmark on the Rim, Baker's Butte. At 8,182 feet in elevation, it is the highest place on the Rim and can be observed from any point on the compass. Actually, the "butte" is a small, extinct volcano perched on the edge of the Rim.

In May 1868, Col. Thomas Devon led his cavalry troop from the Verde Valley, over the Rim past Baker's Butte, down the East Verde canyon, eastward to Tonto Creek and then into the Tonto Basin. As the troops built a switch-back trail over the Rim, Devon called it "the jump off."

Some days later, while camped along Tonto Creek, he sent his pack train and chief packer, John C. Baker, back to Fort Whipple for supplies. While the pack mules climbed back up the Rim, they were attacked by Tonto Apaches, and John Baker died in a storm of arrows.

Soldiers from the cavalry escort buried him on the spot, and the pack train continued its way west along the edge of the Rim. Soon the troops glimpsed a great butte rising up before them, and as they proceeded around its northern slopes, they named it Baker's Butte in honor of the martyred packer. The name stuck, and was soon added to military and civilian maps.

In 1886, Baker's Butte became one site in an extensive heliograph network established by General Nelson Miles as he pursued the last of the outlaw Apaches. This simple and mobile way of communication directed rays from the sun through shutters that spelled out messages in Morse code. From one mountain peak to another, messages could be quickly relayed all the way from the Rim to Fort Huachuca near Mexico.

The heliograph was short-lived, but in 1922, the U.S. Forest Service placed a wooden fire observation tower on Baker's Butte. This was replaced in 1933 with a metal cab built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the fire season, the occupant keeps a close eye out for fires above and below the Rim, and visitors climbing the relatively short tower can, on a clear day, see as far as the Painted Desert.

If we continue to scan the Rim, our eyes will detect a V-shaped barren spot, fanning out from the base of the precipice and cresting the top. This was caused by the Bray Creek Fire in early June of 1990, a month before the mighty Dude Fire. If you look closely, you can see a small canyon that indicates the headwaters of Bray Creek.

Here, nestled under the Rim, is a lovely irrigated valley that was settled early in this century by folks who raised produce for Payson and the local mines. A fellow named Bray was the first, and gave it his name. The fire, started by campers, left its ugly scar as a reminder for humans to take care.

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When you're in the Rim country, you're never far from the wonders of nature. Here, the Mogollon Rim towers over the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world.

The evidence of the Bray Creek Fire is nearly halfway between Milk Ranch Point and the East Verde canyon. The headwaters of this major drainage called the East Verde River begin in an obvious cut where the Rim fades back to the north.

The life-giving stream works its way into the Rim and its foothills, cuts through the Little Diamond Rim, meanders through valleys cut by its tributaries, and forces itself across the mighty Mazatzal wilderness to become lost in the Verde River to the west.

At this point on the Rim, Fred Haught, the first of that illustrious tribe to enter the Rim country, came over and settled. Here is where Apaches attacked General Crook as he surveyed his now-famous military road.

And here Apaches killed Chief Packer Baker. Just above the canyon, at General's Springs, military parties and travelers camped and enjoyed the refreshing water and view. This is the spot where New York financial moguls thought they could put through a railroad tunnel, and failed.

Here, in modern times, the Phelps-Dodge Mining Company also tried to build a tunnel to carry Blue Ridge water over the divide. The effort failed, and crews dug a pipeline over the divide. The scar is still visible, 35 years later.

The Rim was traditionally called The Black Mesa by the native Apaches. Indeed, the Rim looks black much of the time because of the thick ponderosa growth that covers its rocky core.

It was a short-term Spanish governor who lent his name to these mountains, which span to eastern New Mexico. His name was Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon, and he was in office from 1712 to 1715.

The proper pronunciation is Mow-go-lee-own, but we locals say Mug-ee-own.

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