The Babe Haught Trail, also known as Tonto National Forest Trail #143, snakes up the Mogollon Rim near the Tonto Fish Hatchery. While this trail is great because of the scenic views and healthy workout it provides, there is also another important aspect to it -- its history.
The trail was originally built by Anderson Lee "Babe" Haught to pack supplies over the Rim to Winslow. Babe came to Arizona on the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1897 at the urging of his cousin Fred Haught, who had come to Rim Country in the 1880s. Babe settled the land near today's Tonto Fish Hatchery, homesteading it about 1920.
In 1918, Western author Zane Grey came to Rim Country for the first time. Word of Babe Haught's hunting ability was known throughout the land, and Grey hired him and his sons Edd, Lee and Richard to lead his hunting party while they were in Rim Country.
In 1925, Grey published "The Bee Hunter" as a magazine serial in four issues of Ladies Home Journal. This novel focused quite a bit on Edd Denmeade, the bee hunter, who was based on Babe's son Edd. This magazine serial was published the following year as "Under the Tonto Rim," ensuring the Rim Country's place in Zane Grey lore.
Naturally, any story about the Babe Haught family had to talk about the gorgeous Rim that encircled the homestead as well as the trail that led out of the deep canyon -- the trail that is now known as the Babe Haught Trail. Here's Grey's description of the Rim and its now famous trail:
"Westward along the Rim vast capes jutted out, differing in shape and length, all ragged, sharp, fringed, reaching darkly for the gold and purple glory of the sunset. Shafts and rays of light streamed from the rifts in the clouds, blazing upon the bold rock faces of the wall. Eastward the Rim zigzagged endlessly into pale cold purple. Southward a vast green hollow ran like a rive of the sea, to empty, it seemed, into space. Beyond that rose dim spectral shapes of mountains remote and detached. To the north the great wall shut out what might lie beyond.
"How unscalable it looked to Lucy! Points of rim ran out, narrow, broken, sloping, apparently to sheer off into the void. But the distance was far and the light deceiving. Lucy knew a trail came down the ragged cape that loomed over Denmeade's ranch. She had heard some one say Edd would come back that way with the pack-train. It seemed incredible for a man, let alone a burro. Just to gaze up at that steep of a thousand deceptive ridges, cracks, slants, and ascents was enough to rouse respect for these people who were conquering the rock confined wilderness."
That was the trail when the weather was calm -- a challenging trail for a person, much less a burro packed full of goods. Yet the trail was also occasionally traveled in harsh weather. Grey typically spent time in Rim Country in the heart of fall and early snowfall, particularly up on top of the Rim was not out of the question. Later in "Under the Tonto Rim," Grey shows how bad the trail could be when Mother Nature was doing her worst:
"This mornin' Dave was ridin' through. He lets his hosses range up there. Said he'd run across Edd about fifteen miles back down the Winbrook trail. Shore now Edd can drive a pack-train of burros. But they're loaded heavy, an' Edd will spare the burros before himself. I reckon he'll hit the Rim just about dark. An' if the storm breaks before then he'll have somethin' tough. Rain down here will be snow up there. But he'll come in to-night shore."
"Wind held us back all afternoon," replied the son. "An' some of the packs slipped. Reckon I'd made it shore but for that. The storm hit us just back from the Rim. I'll be doggoned if I didn't
think we'd never get to where the trail starts down. Hard wind an' snow right in our faces. Shore was lucky to hit the trail down before it got plumb dark. I led my hoss an' held on to Jennie's tail. Honest I couldn't see an inch in front of my nose. I couldn't hear the bells. For a while I wasn't shore of anythin'. But when we got down out of the snow I reckoned we might get home. All the burros but Baldy made it. I didn't miss him till we got here. He might have slipped over the cliff on that narrow place. It shore was wet. Reckon, though, he'll come in. He was packin' my camp outfit."
Today the scenery from the trail is much different than in Babe Haught's and Zane Grey's day. The same fire that wiped out Zane Grey's legendary cabin, the 1990 Dude Fire, also burned through the Babe Haught Trail. Yet while the scenery is different, it is still beautiful as Mother Nature regenerates itself.
The trail is still as challenging as ever and one can't help but ask themselves a question when they hike it: "How did Edd and those burros manage to make it up and down in any weather, much less the terrible weather described in ‘Under the Tonto Rim'?" The answer -- People like Edd Haught and those early pioneers were one of a kind in a very good way.
The Babe Haught Trail is accessible via the south end at the Hatchery Trailhead on Forest Road 289. It is accessible from the north end from Forest Road 300 in the Coconino National Forest. It is a difficult trail and you should bring plenty of water with you if you choose to hike it.
If you'd like to see more photos of the trail, visit the new Rim Country Museum's website at www.rimcountrymuseums.com, and click on online exhibits.
I want to take a moment to talk about Jayne Peace Pyle's upcoming book, "Cooking for Zane Grey Under the Tonto Rim." I've had a chance to go through a draft of this book and can tell you that this is one that everyone is going to want to have.
There is terrific information on a number of different families. Have you had trouble keeping all the different Haught families straight like I have? This book will help. It'll also give you a chance to learn more about people like Elam Boles and the Bowmans.
The recipes are also sure to keep your interest.
This book will be released Oct. 15 during the Sixth Annual Western Heritage Festival at Green Valley Park. With the holidays fast approaching, it's never too early to start thinking about gifts. This book would make a great gift for a city slicker friend of yours who has a second place in Rim Country. It'll also be a book that you'll want to have on your shelf.
I also want to remind you about the Heritage Festival. Entertainment for it will kick off at 9:30 a.m. with the Sandovals playing prior to the Zane Grey Cabin dedication at 10 a.m.
Immediately following the dedication, numerous crafts people will be showing their wares in the park and the museum will have free admission that day.
Musicians will be playing throughout the day, including Jinx Pyle with his guitar. Chuck Jackman and the Hashknife will be out again and that's always fun.
Also, the local Boy Scouts will be barbecuing and if you can beat some others to it, there's space between a couple trees by Zane Grey's Cabin that would be a great spot to lay out a blanket and picnic. I've been eyeing that spot for a while so you'll have to beat me to it.
Best of all the festival's another great excuse to get out and enjoy the Rim Country that we all love so much.