Your trip through the wild and rugged Mazatzal Wilderness on the Arizona Trail isn’t complete without a stop at the LF Ranch! The ranch was homesteaded in 1909 by the Fuller family. When the Mazatzal Wilderness was designated in 1964, the ranch was grandfathered in- 37,000 acres that straddle the East Verde River. In 1976 it was bought by the Pratt family, who own and operate the ranch to this day. They run 160 head of cattle on the Bull Springs Allotment.
There’s no easy way to get to the ranch- the closest access is a four mile hike or horseback ride from the locked wilderness boundary gate off of Doll Baby Road outside of Payson. From the north, you’ll have to hike in 11 miles on the Saddle Ridge Trail. From the south it’s 36 tough miles on the Arizona Trail from the Mount Peeley Trailhead.
This spring on my thru-hike, by the time I arrived at the LF Ranch I had been out for four days. As I neared the ranch house I heard the peculiar calls of peacocks, completely out of place in the middle of the desert. After going through a gate that says “Welcome Hikers” I was greeted by Maryann Pratt, matriarch of the ranch, and an assortment of friendly dogs, cats, peacocks, and chickens. A signpost at the ranch has the mileages to Mexico and Utah as well as signs pointing the directions to other notable landmarks on the ranch.
In addition to being a working cattle ranch, there is a small bunkhouse with showers to house weary hikers or horseback riders who arrange to stay over on their journey. It’s not fancy, but even the most spartan accommodations feel like such a luxury in the middle of the wilderness. Picket lines are available for horseback riders.
Meals are also available, but only by prior arrangement, and the ranch also accepts resupply packages. Many a weary traveler has shown up to the ranch house hoping to get a ride out to the wilderness gate or into town, but unless you’ve made prior arrangements, don’t get your hopes up. The closest store in Payson is an hour and a half drive away on a bone-jarring road. The day-to-day chores of running the LF are endless and the folks on the ranch are almost always busy.
Once at the ranch, there are many places to go exploring nearby. There are swimming holes in the East Verde River and Rock Creek and a nice afternoon can be had following the East Verde River up or downstream. Polk Spring is worth a visit- a beautiful running creek with plenty of areas to relax nearby.
Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting things about the LF is Maryann herself. Get her talking and you’ll realize the strength and tenacity it takes to run a ranch in such a remote place. The ranch is powered by solar panels scattered around the property and the occasional generator. Constant vigilance is required to shoo off predators that might want to eat at the LF Ranch Smorgasbord. Just rounding up cattle and moving them from one area to another is made challenging given the rugged nature of the landscape.
So if you’re going to be “in the neighborhood”, hiking the Red Hills #24 and Whiterock Mesa #25 passages, follow the barking dogs and peacock calls to the LF Ranch. You’ll be glad you did! For more information visit http://www.lfranch.com.
In Wildlife Rehabilitation NW Tucson news, I am so thrilled to be able to work with these animals and birds. It’s good to be back, I had to take a long break during my thru-hike and river season. Recently, we took a drive out to Arlington Wildlife Area to release some hooded skunks that had come to us as babies. It was a wonderful thing to see these guys go out into the world and they were nice enough to not stink the car up on the ride over!