9.5 mi :: 7 hr :: 2130 ft
Today we will switch canyons, and the navigation is uncertain. We have a sheet with vague directions like “find the unmarked pass” where there must be several unmarked passes. We will also have to find one of the springs running to refill our water bottles. The day starts with a little joke – our little camp perched in the weeds among the cottonwoods was less than a quarter-mile from the end of the fist stand of trees, where the canyon opens up into a multitude of clear tent sites.
We haven’t gone too far when a sunny spot by water flowing in the wash beckons us to stop for breakfast. We decide to do a major water resupply here, since the GPS tells us the final springs are less than a mile away. We drink our fill and load up with five liters each, enough to finish the loop even there is no more water.
We enter another cottonwood grove, and soon reach a spot where the main canyon is completely choked with vegetation. We guess that a trail up a side canyon will loop back, which it does. Over a small saddle are the trees that mark Cottonwood Springs. There are enormous piles of burro manure everywhere, but no burros. Beyond is large basin, which we start across. There are lots of scant burro trails to follow. At one point we notice that a burro has left its foot in one of the manure piles, and we wonder what kind of tale could be behind it.
The water is heavy, the basin seems endless, and our maps have made us uncertain where to climb over the ridge into Dead Horse Canyon. At midday we reach another metal sign, which is no help at all, but a marvelous place to soak up some sun. After bouncing between directions that reference an invisible 4200′ spring and a trail on the DeLorme map that crosses straight over a 1200′ ridge, we opt for the clearest route on Ann’s 7.5′ USGS topo. We follow our plan with one minor mistake, and drop directly into Dead Horse canyon around 3 pm.
Dead Horse is tight and often bushy, but there are small trails along the sides. We see a huge cottonwood further up, and pass a trickling spring on our way down. Since we have plenty of water, we skip it.
We see no dead horses in this canyon, but there are remains of several bighorn sheep. Ann was impressed with the quality of the teeth on this skull.
Below the skull we are surprised to find a small frozen waterfall. If there were much more ice it would be difficult to climb down, but now there are big steps on the side.
We find a nice flat spot to camp when it gets dark, but neither of us are really ready to stop yet. We do anyway. The moon is so bright we could have easily continued by its light. As it is Ann has trouble sleeping. She hears some large animal crashing through the brush during the night.