5. PRESCOTT TO CAMP APACHE.
Leaving Prescott on the 10th of November, main party No. 2 took the road leading out through Agua Fria Valley, and crossing the Black Hills descended into the valley of the Verde River. The mountains limiting this valley are quite high; and very rugged. The eastern range may be considered as the edge of the vast elevated plateau already spoken of, and the summit once gained, the scene presented is nearly the same as that farther to the west. The prevalence of loose volcanic matter, scattered over the country, constituting what are termed Malpais Plains, renders the traversing of this section a very difficult matter during the seasons of rain; the same irregular formation of mesa ridges is observed here as to the west of Bill Williams' Mountain.
Sunset Crossing was reached on the 17th of November; just before reaching this point, and while on the summit of a slight rise in the mesa, the view in every direction showed only the vast rolling table-land, with occasional ridges, except toward San Francisco Mountain to the north, which appeared to rise up abruptly from the plain.
The Colorado Chiquito was followed as far as Leroux Fork, where the road to Camp Apache leaves the Santa Fé road, and, turning to the south, breaks through the Mogollon Mountains, reaching the valley of the Salt River and its tributaries. These mountains constitute the watershed between the Little Colorado and Salt Rivers, and may be described, generally, as a low, rolling range, covered with loose volcanic matter, and heavily wooded with pine. The appearance of this range changes entirely when viewed from the south, as the elevation of the plateau to the north is so great that the descent from it to the lower country of the Salt River and tributaries,
At Camp Apache the Colorado plateau proper was left by my party, and thence to the Gila the trail leads over the Natanes mesa, and the Apache and Pinal ranges of mountains. The country to the southwest of the camp is rough, and broken by deep cañons, which have their outlets in the Salty or Prieto, River; the latter is the name given to the Salt River above the point where its course lies through the salt-beds that completely change its character. At the point where the trail crosses it, the river breaks through a deep cañon, the southern bank being 1,950 feet above the water; reaching the summit, a broad, rolling plateau is seen, which is a continuation of the Natanes Mountains. To the west, the irregular line of the opposite wall of an extensive box cañon was readily discerned, where the river's course is extremely tortuous. The walls appeared to be red sandstone; the country beyond, to the west, was very much broken and cut up by vast cañons, which headed off in the direction of the Sierra Ancha, and particularly near Sombrero Butte. The confusion created by nature was truly wonderful.
The Natanes mesa is a broad rolling platean, cut up by cañons leading into the Salt River; these are in most places practically impassable and have to be headed. Descending, the trail leads down into the valley of the west fork of the San Carlos River, which heads within a few miles of the Salt River and empties into the Gila. Crossing this, a steep, rugged range, known as the Apache Mountains, was next crossed, and again we were in the country drained by the tributaries of the Salt River.
The Apache Mountains form a short range, which extends from the mouth of Pinal Creek about twenty miles to the east, slightly turning to the north. The slopes on both sides are extremely steep, and the foot-hills terminate in long, gently sloping ridges, formed by the deep washes which run toward the branches of the San Carlos on the north and Pinal Creek on the south.
In June last, while making a reconnaissance in this country with Captain Evan Miles, Twentyfirst Infantry, the region where the mountains head, on Salt River, was visited; the range was found to continue unbroken to within a few miles of the river, where a remarkably steep slope leads down to a broad, sandy wash, running off to the west, and reaching the river nearly due south of Sombrero Butte. Pinal Creek was followed up to where it heads in the mountains of that name, which were crossed by an extremely difficult trail leading across Papoose cañon on Pinto Creek. The trail then leads through a rough, broken country, covered with granite rocks and bowlders, to Camp Pinal, (abandoned,) which is situated on the head-waters of Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Gila. Onward from this point, the evidences of volcanic agency were everywhere encountered. The cañons of Mineral Creek are 200 or 300 feet deep, and form almost perfect types, in places, of what are known as ‘‘"box cañons;"’’ their walls are nearly vertical, and the rock in which they are formed is generally basalt, occurring in huge columns, while the surrounding country is strewn with lava and immense bowlders. Everywhere the eye, at first glance, sees only broken, rocky ridges and deep gulches, which appear impassable by the ordinary means of transportation. After leaving the Pinal Mountains, which have a regularity of form quite remarkable, the ranges crossed were much broken, being cut up in all directions, with no regular trend. This character extends through to the Mazatzal Range, and in fact nearly to the Verde River.
Superstition Mountain, about twenty miles west, is remarkable from the peculiar marking of the stratification by broad bands of various colors, which extend for miles and maintain an almost perfect parallelism. The face of this mountain is formed in regular steps or terraces, often several hundred feet in height.
The valley of the Gila is through a gravelly mesa, and varies in width from a few hundred yards to several miles. I have seen sections through this mesa cut by the water up near the mountains, and for thirty feet the sand, gravel, and rocks were arranged in regular order, the gravel and rocks being cemented together, so that the walls were nearly vertical.
From Florence, where I first struck the Gila, the road to Tucson, via the Picacho, was taken. The so-called Picacho Pass is a broad opening between two separate ranges of volcanic mountains, having no relation to each other, except the accidental circumstance of having their axes in nearly the same line. The pass, without doubt, is merely an extension of the mesa. The mountains rise abruptly from the plain, having no foot-hills, and no signs are visible of anything like a connection between them having ever existed. The well at the station, eight miles from the Picacho, is nearly 200 feet deep, and the proprietor informed me that the water-vein very much resembled an underground river of considerable size. As this is near the old line marked down as the underground course of the Santa Cruz, it is quite likely that the well, by good fortune, has struck it.
From this point the road passes over a vast plain, having small alkali flats scattered along it, until reaching the Santa Cruz River, which it crosses and follows to Tucson. The hills and mountains in the vicinity have a rugged, volcanic aspect, and, as a general thing, rise abruptly from the plain, with no foot-hills of any importance.