Ice Caves Trail – or the trail that Equestrians Ruined.

I’ve thought about how to frame this post for awhile.  Wren and I hiked it back in Show Low, AZ on February 20th and the trail was in a sad state of affairs as a result of inconsiderate equestrian use.

So, do I post an angry rant?  No, I’m not mad so that would be contrived.  Somber perhaps? Mourn the death of what was once glorious?  No, neither am I sad – and honestly the trail was probably never the pinnacle of excellence.

So – what I’ll try to stick the facts:

The trail, located in the White Mountain Trail System and formally called Blue Ridge Cave Trail #608, is about 3.5 miles one way – I logged 7.1 miles on the GPS, but there was a bit of backtracking at the beginning.  The cause of the backtracking was a dearth of  blazes initially, and the futile hope that the trail we were following past the reeking un-mucked horse stalls with mountains of old horseshit ontop of the already ankle deep layer elsewhere couldn’t possibly be the right trail.

But it was the right trail.  And the sad state of affairs in the stalls did prove to be effective foreshadowing for the trail to come.

Basically, if you’ve ever wondered “What happens when a hundred horses walk through the mud along a path over and over,” I  can tell you the answer.  The trail gets wide for one.  Apparently horseback riders prefer the interstate feel to back roads.  At one point I counted 5 distinct paths one could take to cover an 100 foot distance of open woods.

The other thing is that the horses leave hoof prints up to 8 inches deep.  Impassible as this may have been when it was wet – it was hardly any better dry.  The mud had turned into rock hard clay and the ground was treacherous to walk on.

So…basically the short answer to the question about horses and muddy trails?  The trail sucks.  It isn’t fun anymore.  I would highly recommend you avoid it.  On our way out we passed a pair of mountain bikers dismounted because the trail was so bad.

Now – onto the ice cave!

It was…umm…unspectacular?  In fact – it was so unremarkable that I didn’t even stop to take a picture of it.  So we’ll have to settle for a word picture.

The ice cave is about 2.5 miles down the trail and the first thing one sees is the 9′ barbed wire-topped fence surrounding it.  Getting close it becomes clear that the cave is a 10′ or so diameter hole at the center of the fence.  And that is it.  Not very moving.

I later learned that the fence had been erected to protect the cave from intrepid explorers wandering idiots who were damaging it.  If the signs of such idiots weren’t so abundant I may have protested such a restrictive measure – but as things were I understand.

The moral of the story is simple:  If the trail is muddy, go somewhere else.  Particularly if you are riding a 1,000+ lb beast of burden.  But even if you are a hiker or biker – consider looking for dryer hikes in order to preserve the trail for those coming later.

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