The parking lot sign said "Horses only." That sounded pretty darned horse-friendly! So we rode up to the hitching rail. We'd just finished tying up when sounds of gunfire erupted from a shootout on Main Street. Behind us, a train mournfully whistled from a narrow-gauge railroad track, while a cowboy singer belted out George Strait tunes on the balcony above us.
Welcome to Goldfield, Arizona Territory in 1893. The tourist ghost town of Goldfield, Arizona is located about 30 miles east of Phoenix, near the Superstition Mountains. The Goldfield Mountains lie north of Goldfield, Arizona in an undulating expanse of saguaro cactus, palo verde, and mesquite trees.
Riding trails in the Goldfield Mountains snake throughout washes, up and around mountains, and down into gullies. There's a seemingly endless variety of gorgeous desert riding in the Goldfield Mountains.
There's more than just scenery to attract folks; history runs a deep vein here. This is the place of legends. One world-famous legend is that of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, featured in books and films. Dozens of people have searched for the mine; many have died in their efforts.
When we entered the town of Goldfield, we pulled our rig into the parking lot on the left. You can park here for day rides. You can also rent a corral and camping spot from Goldfield for overnight stays.
One can easily get an idea of what Arizona was like in the 1890s by spending time in Goldfield. Meander up dirt streets, and check out the old wooden buildings with their sagging porches and swinging doors.
Ride an old narrow-gauge train, take a buggy ride, pan for gold, visit an old mine, tour historical museums, watch gunfights (on weekends), and even ride to church on Sundays.
You may also ride your horse into town, tie up at hitching rails at the Mammoth Saloon, and have an ice-cold drink!
Our young Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, Cowboy and Nate, were chomping at the bit to get some riding in. We were also excited to get out and ride the washes, rolling hills, and rugged area of the Goldfield Mountains north of town.
A word about trails in this area. There are no trail names, no trail numbers, and no directions. But there's a plethora of cross-country riding, and trails often crisscross each other. This is adventuresome, "explore on your own" trail riding!
That said, the riding is safe. It's difficult to get lost. You can often look back and see the hilltop town of Goldfield. You can also see the Superstition Mountains, which loom beyond town. Use these for reference points.
There are two ways to ride out of town. One is to the right past the Mammoth Saloon parking lot and through a fence gate. Another is to the left of town, out of the trailer-parking area.
Our friends, Jerry and Murielle Johnson, guided us on our first ride in the Goldfields, which was to Cottonwood Springs. They also have Fox Trotters.
We gaited out of Goldfield, along old roads and trails that twisted through saguaro and palo verde lined hills.
Be on the alert for an old shed to the northeast. At this point, work toward your left, and you'll find a desert "postcard" route to the west.
Eventually, our trail came to an old 4-by-4 road. We reined to the right on this road, which led us straight north over a rocky pass. Ride for another couple of miles, and watch for cottonwoods in the draw on the right. This is Cottonwood Springs, a verdant oasis and a great picnic spot.
We trailered out for one ride at Coon Bluff trailhead located 30 miles northwest of Goldfield on the Salt River. Trip leader on this adventure was Steve Pint from Iowa. Our goal was to see wild horses that make this portion of the Salt River drainage their home.
We worked our way east of the parking lot and along the Salt River. Steve led us to a great view of the river with looming 100-foot cliffs on the far banks.
Eventually, we did see a small herd of wild horses in the brush across the river. They took note of us, then meandered off into the underbrush.
Our last ride was on the night of a full moon. Just before dusk, we mounted up and rode through a gate into the desert for our return ride to camp. It was a magical journey. We rode toward Goldfield and the rock massif of the Superstition Mountains. A full moon climbed over the mountains, dipping the saguaros in gold.
For your treasure trip to Goldfield country, contact Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona Territory 1893, 4650 E. Mammoth Mine Rd., Apache Junction, AZ 85119; (480) 983-0333; www.goldfieldghosttown.com.
Seasoned trail riders and equine photojournalists Kent and Charlene Krone enjoy sharing their riding adventures in the United States and Canada.