Exploring Rucker and Pinery Canyon in the Chiricahuas in Monsoon Season

July 13-15, 2017

Sometimes all your plans get rained out and you still have a grand adventure! I was getting a bit stir-crazy, with the monsoon long overdue and work keeping me inside much more than I liked. So with an ominous forecast, we still opted for a quick trip to the Chiricahuas aka "Monsoon Central". We chose Rucker Canyon, an area I last visited nearly 15 years ago. According to the Forest Service, it's one of the most popular recreation areas in the Chiricahuas, and we should get there early if we wanted a camping spot. But driving the slow 27 miles from route 191, we were surprised that we did not see a single car. As we climbed into the high country, ours was the only set of tracks in the mud. In fact, the whole area appeared deserted. Of course, Rucker Canyon Lake silted in after the Rattlesnake Fire of 1994, but the nearby Bathtub and Rucker Campgrounds were invisible — either overgrown or washed out. The one functioning camping area — Rucker Forest Camp — was empty. With a storm brewing we retreated downhill to camp in a high clearing a safe distance from the creek.

Rucker Canyon Storm
The morning skies were still leaden, so we reluctantly concluced that our planned hike into Rucker Canyon would have to wait for drier conditions.
I hadn't seen one of these signs in decades! Did we slip into a time warp?
Scouting around for a rainy day alternative, we decided we would try to find Camp Rucker. Fortunately, it is well-hidden and therefore still remarkably well-preserved. In 1876, the Chiricahuas Apache Indian Reservation was abolished. Military patrols were sent to round up any Indians who resisted relocation to other reservations. To support the patrols, Camp Supply was established near the Mexican border, but when the Governor of Sonora protested, the camp was relocated to White River Canyon in 1878. It was renamed "Camp Rucker" in honor of a lieutenant who perished in a flood in white River Canyon.
The officers' quarters. Enlisted men were housed in canvas tents.
Ranching began with a squatter's claim by Michael Gray, a JP from Tombstone, in 1883. Theodore and Mathilde Hampe, German artists, purchased Camp Rucker Ranch in 1896. Perhaps they were the ones who built this charming adobe ranchhouse.
Silver nightshade.
The kitchen steps down into a lovely front room with a stone fireplace.
An addition with windows a fireplace and windows on four sides must have been a lovely place to watch a summer storm.
The ranch would change hands a few more times before the property was transferred to the Forest Service in 1970. A subsequent owner, Mary Rak, would describe life on the ranch in two books entitled, "A Cowman's Wife" and "Mountain Cattle", published in 1934 and 1936, respectively. Camp Rucker was abandoned in 1880, but used sporadically by troops through 1896.
The old ranch includes a very well-build pole barn with a perfect "Mr. Ed" half door.
Rucker Canyon Road follows the White River, at one point crossing over it on an ancient wooden bridge. There is a well-worn path beside the bridge, indicating that many motorists prefer to take their chances in the wash.
Dennis has always wanted to drive over his very expensive camera. Today was the day!
Prickly poppies soaking in the morning dew
While we waited for the storm to pass, we drove a backroad north to Pinery Canyon. The weather cleared just enough for a hike up Pinery Trail toward Jhus Horse Saddle.
The trail was in much better shape than we expected, and passes by what appears to be an old turquoise mine.
But dark clouds were piling up on the horizon, so it was time to break camp and head home. More sweet memories of the wild and wooly Chiricahuas.