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 of it – the history associated with the trail.
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 early 1880s. Babe settled the land near today’s Tonto Fish Hatchery, homesteading it in 19<> DID HE HOMESTEAD IT?
In 1918, western author Zane Grey came to the 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 Beehunter” as a magazine serial in four issues of Ladies Home Journal. This novel focused quite a bit on Edd Denmeade, the beehunter, who was based on Babe’s son, Edd. This magazine serial was published the following year as Under the Tonto Rim, ensuring 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. 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 and Zane Grey’s day. The same fire that wiped out Zane Grey’s legendary cabin, the 1990 Dude Fire, also burned over 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 Museums website at www.rimcountrymuseums.com, and click on online exhibits.
For more blasts from the past visit www.discovergilacounty.com
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Story was written by Tim Ehrhardt