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2011 Trip Report - Mapping Old Roads Again

Mapping Old Roads Again

by Neal Johns

This time it was an impromptu three day mapping of the Cooke Mormon Battalion Route (1846-47) near Lordsburg, NM. I kept looking at the weather forecast to see if it was raining so I could cancel out, but blue skies were forecast and seen. The hook was the temperature – colddddd. We were in the area of two famous mountains; Soldier's Farewell and Bessie Rhodes. Bessie was named from an inscription placed on it by one of the troops manning a Heliograph Station on the summit. The Heliograph (a mirror to reflect the sun) was introduced into the area in 1886 to help communications during the Geronimo Campaign. Soldier's Farewell was named after the Butterfield Station of the same name where soldier's turned south on the Janos, Mexico road.

     We have been mapping this area for a long time but things are a little confused with many old roads not readily visible. Google Earth is our friend but is not very smart. Why can’t it just label the old roads with their names? :-) That way we would not have to walk all those miles to find artifacts old enough to date the roads to Emigrant time. Most of the land was flat plains and the trail(s) were not readily visible to the eye due to rain and dust leveling them to merge with the surrounding land. When there is a slope, the rain usually turns the trail swale into a gully easily seen. It does not help that most plains have few rocks to show the rust left by iron rimmed wagon wheels.

     Our first stop was the Pitchfork Ranch owned by a Mr. Cole. We needed to get permission to roam around his land looking for the Cooke route. Wow! Was he ever a find! Most ranchers are busy trying to stay afloat raising cattle and have only a casual interest in who passed by 165 years ago. Here was a man that had some trail books that we did not. Several walls were covered with books about the west, many being first editions.

     He had a few cows on the land but they were secondary to the improvement of the land. Cole was a former Lawyer and was more interested in changing his land and the creek and cienega that ran through it to the pristine, un-eroded condition it used to be in. We spent a most interesting hour with him and of course, received permission to look for the Cooke Road. We left him a few copies of old maps of the area.

     Our mapping efforts were a mixed bag. We spent a day on what turned out to be a very faint old ranch road. The several artifacts we found were all dated to 1900+ times. Another day we retraced what was previously looked at and did find a few miles of old road before it pooped out (probably because it turned somewhere). We were using very faint Google Earth images to indicate where it might be. Another day was inconclusive. Such are the days of an Old Trail mapper. The fourth day, we traveled over nearby Cooke's Pass and visited nearby Fort Cummings and Cooke's Spring.

Check out the photos that Neal posted!