From Coral Nuevo to Peck Canyon, Hells Gate, Beehive Canyon and Apache Pass.
Thursday, January 27, 2011, I did a 9 mile hike with the Green Valley Hiking Club in the Atascosa Mountains, some 20 miles north of the Mexican border and west of Highway 19. This is an area that is rich in history as well as scenic beauty. Here is a little information and history of the area I think you will enjoy:
The Atascosa Mountains are a small mountain range of western Santa Cruz County, Arizona. It is sandwiched between the larger Tumacacori Mountains to the north, and a small east-west border range to the south, the Pajarito Mountains.
The highest peak is Atascosa Peak at 6,440 feet; adjacent to the northeast is Ramanote Peak, 6,047 feet. Pena Blanca Lake, on Ruby Road, is part of the Atascosa’s southern border. Ruby Road continues beyond the west of the Atascosa’s and Peck Canyon Road borders the north, but accesses highest elevations in the ranges’ center and north.
PECK CANYON HISTORY
BACKGROUND – Artemus Peck was born in New York in 1848 and moved to Kansas in his early youth. He eventually ended up in Sonora, Mexico working silver mine claims. During this period, he hired peaceful Apaches to help him work his claim and had always treated them fairly and had gotten along well with them. He was known to these Apaches as “Red Arms” due to the fact that he always wore red long johns that were very evident when he rolled up his sleeves to work. After a few years, he met and married a Mexican-Irish girl named Petra and they moved back to Kansas. They were not very happy there and after their first born died of yellow fever, they moved to Southern Arizona. They built a one room, dirt floor adobe house in what was then called Agua Fria Canyon. They also had a well, a garden and a small corral. Petra’s 12-year-old niece, Trinidad Verdin, or “Trini” was also living with them to help with the chores since Petra was pregnant.
Geronomo was the notorious chief of a band of Apaches. He was described by Lt. Britton Davis as “a thoroughly vicious, intractable, and treacherous man, his only redeeming traits were courage and determination. His word, no matter how earnestly pledged, was worthless.” In 1883, he had surrendered to General Crook and he and his people were living on the San Carlos Reservation. On 17 May 1885, Geronomo and three other Apache Chiefs (Nana, Mangus and Chihuahua) departed the reservation with their followers and headed for Mexico. After having been pursued in both the United States and Mexico, Geronomo surrendered to US forces under General Crook in Northern Sonora in March of 1886. After hearing rumors that he and his followers would be hanged when they were returned across the border, Geronomo and about 20 followers, including some women, snuck back to their Mexican hiding places. In April of 1886, they struck back across the border into the Santa Cruz Valley on what was to be their last incursion into the United States. We will finish the story at the Peck Memorial in the Canyon.
MEMORIAL – This monument was built in 1967 by Doug Cummings with help from what was called the Green Valley Riding Club in memory of what happened here on April 27th, 1886. Petra and Trini had prepared breakfast for Artemus Peck and Charlie Owens who was a part time employee at the ranch. They had left the house at daybreak and went up the canyon to round up maverick cows for branding. The Apaches came down the canyon from the West and came upon Peck and Owens up at the Corral. Peck was on horseback and had just roped a maverick bull and had his end of the rope wound around his saddle horn. Charlie Owens was trying to topple the animal so he could wrap the legs when he saw the Apaches. He yelled to Peck and took off across the stream. Owens only rode a hundred feet or so and was shot through the leg with the bullet also passing through his horse. In about a hundred yards, the horse fell and the Apaches killed Owens. Peck tried to free his rope from the saddle horn but the Indians were upon him quickly and knocked him to the ground. They then began to beat him and strip off his clothes. He was wearing red long johns. When they saw his long johns, one of the Apaches shouted something to the others and a short conversation ensued. Whereupon they finished stripping him and quit beating on him, the Apaches departed with all of Peck’s clothes and with Owens’s spurs, boots, gun belt and one chap. As they rode off toward the Peck Homestead, one of the Apaches spoke to Peck in Spanish and told him not to return to his house or he would be killed.
Back at the house, Trini saw the Indians riding down the canyon and immediately warned her Aunt Petra who was inside the house. Petra was not concerned since it had been nearly 10 years since there had been any problem with Apaches in the Santa Cruz Valley so she picked up her 2 year old and went to the door. She was immediately shot by one of the Indians. Trini was then captured and the baby was picked up by the heels and smashed against the stone fireplace.
Peck ignored the Apache and made his way downstream to his house where the Apaches were taking everything of value they could carry and burning much of the rest. He saw Trini sitting on a horse behind Geronomo and asked her where his family was. When she told him they were all dead, Peck fell to his knees in shock as the Indians rode off. As a side interest item, when Geronomo’s band left the Peck Homestead, they rode back up the canyon and over to Yank’s Springs where they killed a cowboy before heading back into Mexico (The club has two hikes that start from Yank’s Springs). Peck, Completely naked, made his way the 8 or 9 miles to Calabasas where he came across George Wise and George Atkinson who gave him some clothing and took him to Nogales for medical attention. The remains of the three dead were retrieved and buried in Nogales. Trini lived with the Apaches until late June 1886, when she was rescued by Mexican Militiamen and subsequently reunited with her parents. Doug Cumming’s grandfather served on the Coroners jury involving both the Peck’s killing and the Cowboy at Yank’s Springs
Peck sold his ranch to a Polish immigrant named Joe Piskonski for $500. Peck put the money in the only safe in Nogales, in a saloon. The next day, both the bartender and the money vanished. Peck ended up in Tombstone where he remarried in 1887 to a girl named Carmen Canez and they moved to Nogales. He made enough money mining silver in Tombstone to buy a livery stable in Nogales where he became a prominent businessman. Peck died in 1941 at the age of 93, never having returned again to the canyon where the massacre occurred.
So, would you like to see a little of this place? The hike started at Coral Nuevo, about 2 or 3 miles east of the Ruby/Averica Road which is near the head of Peck Creek. Ruby Road is a rough dirt road from Pena Blanca Lake if you are coming in from Nogales but is passable with a passenger car in most places. The unmarked Peck Canyon Road is just a dirt jeep trail that is passable with a SUV to the Coral Nuevo end.
As this is range land, there are the remains of an old windmill and water tank along the now dry Peck Creek. Peck creek still had a little water in a few deeper pools but is now a very seasonal creek. Fifty years ago, the weather was different and there was pretty much a year-around flow.
As there wasn’t a trail, we hiked down Peck Creek for a couple of miles, picking our way over the rocks and skirting pools of brackish water. Along the creek we saw the remains of an old 4-inch steel pipe line. This line followed the creek for 10 to 15 miles to the old mining town of Ruby. One of the hike leaders mention he had seen pictures of mules, one on each end of a section of pipe, packing them into this remote area. As the mine needed more water that could be found nearby, it was an amazing engineering and construction feat to have strung and anchored that pipe for so many miles.
We finally came to a place that is indicated on the USGS quad maps as Hells Gate. There are a couple of prominent peaks on each side of the creek. There is a little red rock along the base of the closer mountain and it was quite striking.
At one point we came to a deeply under-cut rock and upon close inspection it did look like there was a little Indian rock art on it.
Not far from there we came to a side creek called Beehive Creek. It was pretty narrow at the start but soon it opened up into some upland grasslands and it was easy to see why ranchers would love to run cattle here. After about a mile we came to a small concrete dam that was constructed for stock watering. Here is a native bean plant that I’ve heard had food or medicinal possibilities.
After a lunch break at Beehive Dam we started up the westerly fork of the creek and bushwhacked to the ridge. There were some very cool rock formation on the way up.
After we broke over the top there were more. Looking west, we could see Bartolo Peak and the Apache pass area. We went cross-country, down a ridge and over the next one. We saw a lot of very interesting rock outcrops. I’d love to go back and do a loop over to Apache pass or even into the top of Bartolo Canyon.
We finally hit a jeep trail and followed it a couple of miles or more. Finally we left the jeep trail and followed a small creek bed back down to Coral Nuevo.
It was an interesting hike that really gave me a feel for the land and the rugged beauty of the mountains.
I hope you have enjoyed this adventure and continue to explore the beauty and adventure in your world.