“You did what with my stove?”
Life on the frontier, as they say, could be rough. Those who set out to explore beyond familiar surroundings and make a new home literally in the middle of nowhere had tenacity. Shift into 4WD and venture more than 100 years back in time as we follow the Casner Mountain Trail and re-live stories of the Casner family.
We were in central Arizona in the Red Rock District of Coconino National Forest. We’d gathered a group of 10 rigs for a day of backcountry exploring, taking in some scenic vistas and local history. Mark and Tami Longfield in their 2012 Jeep Rubicon were our knowledgeable trip leaders for the day.
We started our route in the dirt on Loy Butte Road southwest of Sedona and headed north across high desert just west of Windmill Mountain. Following F.S. 525C, we were aiming toward Casner Mountain in the distance, which would ultimately take us to elevations just a few hundred feet shy of 7,000.
The Casner Mountain Trail was established by the Casner family in the 1880s. The family used this trail to move their grazing herds of cattle between the Verde Valley area and the higher elevations of the Mogollon Rim during the warmer months. Today, the trail serves partly as an access to modern power lines and partly to an 8-mile forest section that requires a USFS Special Use Permit. This access is granted for one trip a week during the months when the area is not frozen or snowy. The trail is open to 50-inch and smaller vehicles year-round without a permit. Find more information on this trail on the Coconino National Forest website.
In 1875 traveling by covered wagon, Riley Casner and his wife Rebecca arrived in Jerome, Arizona. They essentially lived as nomads in their wagon carving an existence out of the countryside until 1889, when they finally established a homestead. The story goes that Rebecca had cooked off a campfire for some number of years, but eventually saved enough money from selling eggs and milk to buy a cook stove. One day, Riley traded her hard-earned stove for a horse, forcing her to once again save the funds to replace it, all the while feeling scornful towards the husband who had taken a vital part of her kitchen. Rebecca eventually outlived her husband. According to his obituary in the December 10, 1909, issue of The Coconino Sun newspaper, Riley passed away at age 67. He was credited with being the first orchard planter in the Verde Valley.
Riley’s brothers Dan and Bill ran sheep herds in the area. Like many stories of successful western settlers, there are tales of their demise at the hands of robbers. Another brother, Mose, is rumored to have buried caches of gold coins in the area, and died before he could pass on their whereabouts.
The thin trail we followed knifes between two fairly large wilderness areas: Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. Native peoples, including the Sinagua, Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mogollon, populated this area before settlers arrived from the eastern United States.
Loy Butte is another mountain in the Secret Mountain Wilderness named after a pioneer. In 1876, Samuel Loy settled in the Verde Valley area just to the south. In and about this period, the Apache Wars and similar incidents were taking place, and it was the start of considerable gold mining in Verde Valley, especially near the town of Jerome.
Our trek took us from the high desert up switchbacks to the top of the Casner Mountain mesa. On a clear summer day, we could see for tens of miles across huge valley expanses and diverse landscapes. We were glad to be able to access such remote beauty and enjoy a great day on the trail with old and new friends without having to use a covered wagon.