Frying Pan Spring

The walk to Frying Pan Spring is surrounded by history.  The walk is on the southwestern edge of the Cooke’s Range (which is treated as an extension of the Black Range by this website).  It is a beautiful place, full of colorful flora (dozens of mature Desert Willows) and exotic fauna (Long-nosed Leopard Lizards).  But it is the human history which sets this place apart.

I first went to this area looking for petroglyphs (Mogollon Culture).  I had a photograph of a glyph from somewhere and in the background there was some of the landscape.  I knew the general location I would be looking at and figured out the approximate area I would be going to in my search for the glyphs.  Getting there proved to be a bit of an issue.  Eventually we figured out the route (not nearly as clear as the blue line below, when you are on the ground); the road video to the area is shown below.

My first trips to the area were limited to exploring the petroglyph site.  Photographs of the glyphs at that site may be seen on

As seen in the video above, the road into the Starvation Creek Check Dam left a lot to be desired at the time of these early visits.  This month (May 2018) I have visited the area twice and found that the road had been smoothed out by a road grader and the trip in was quite easy.  Note, however, that after the first rains the road will be in much worse shape with wash-outs of unknown significance.  

The purpose of these last visits was to find the Frying Pan Spring site and clarify a bit of history.  

mormon battalion 2

From page 41 of Cooke’s Peak - Pasaron Por Aqui - A Focus on United States History in Southwestern New Mexico, by Donald Howard Couchman, 1990 - Cultural Resources Bulletin No. 7 of the United States Bureau of Land Management (26.1 MB):  

"On November 17, 1846, Cooke (ed. - left Cooke’s Spring and) took up the march early but did not progress far because the guides reported no more water, except for a small spring near the west end of the canyon (today named Frying Pan Spring) and the Rio Mimbres, another 18 miles away. Accordingly a halt was called by mid-morning.  Of the march through the  canyon, Cooke grumbled: 

'Another bright morning, with a cold northwester [the wind has been shifting to the north dropping the temperature. I marched to the southwest, up a  winding valley and over the ridge, down to near the verge of the open prairie beyond; up a ravine to the right of the road (going to the north ) is the water. In this mouth of the pass I was compelled to encamp a little after ten o’clock, having marched only three miles. (ed. - The route followed is shown on the map to the right from page 40 or the referenced work.)

Cooke also noted that the ridge was covered with fine, hard, brown sandstone (Sarten sandstone) and that there were new plant varieties including an oak and Spanish bayonet. He also  observed a flock of previously unnoted slate-colored “partridges” with plumed heads (California quail) (ed. - Gambel’s Quail).  

It was fortunate that the day’s progress was curtailed so early for it provided the men an opportunity to hunt, explore, and  observe their surroundings in much greater detail than almost anywhere on the entire journey, and of even greater value, to  record what they had observed. Perhaps most important to the Mormons was the discovery of the Massacre Peak Mimbres site adjacent to their campground.  Henry Standage (Company E) wrote that:                  

'Close to our camp is some traces or proof of the Nephites once living here.  Large entrances into the rocks and several pestles and  mortars found made of rock, also some pieces of ancient crockery ware, showing that a people has once lived here who knew how to make such things, whereas the  Indians who now inhabit these parts do not understand such things. We found a great many hieroglyphics engraven in the rocks, which resembled those found in Pike Co. Illinois. I take this for good circumstantial evidence of the Divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.'

Daniel Tyler (Company C) was perhaps not as well rounded as Standage, because when he recorded that 'there were at least thirty holes cut in the solid rock, from ten to fourteen inches deep, and from six to ten inches in diameter,' he attributed the Indian grinding mortars to be 'for the purpose of catching and retaining water when showers occurred.’ Tyler also observed that mining had occurred there for precious metals. Perhaps this was a further misinterpretation of the Indian cave entrances or that the mortars might have been used for grinding ore. Tyler, however, was better informed when it came to flora and fauna, because he made much the same observations as Cooke regarding the quail, oak and Spanish Bayonet."

Fring Pan Spring Walk 2

Cooke spoke of camping at the mouth of the pass and that water was north up a canyon.  Cooke camped just east of where the Starvation Creek Check Dam (Detention Dam Number 4) is currently found.  The glyphs are nearby, allowing for easy exploration from that camp.  His route was most likely the same as that which would become the Butterfield Stage Route from Cooke’s Spring.

The walk from the Starvation Creek Check Dam site to Frying Pan Spring (shown in red above) is about 4 miles roundtrip.  It starts along the track which was the stage route and then turns north (at the approximate location of Cooke’s camp) up Frying Pan Canyon.  On our visit of May 21, 2018 we found the spring dry.

Frying Pan Spring Stock Tank

In the past, metal pipe ran from Frying Pan Spring (the capped spring site is shown below) to the 
stock tank.  Now hoses are used to transfer the water.

Just north of the spring there is a plunge site in the wash, probably very dramatic when it rains.

Now for a bit of surmising:  I suspect that the Mimbres people had a check dam at the approximate location of the current retention dam.  This would replicate the situation at the Pony Hills glyph site just 5 miles to the west.  A small check dam would have impounded enough water for the flat fields to the east of the dam.  The glyphs, mortar holes, habitation enclosures etc. found on the hillside go hand and hand with an agricultural site.

This is a nice walk with flora, fauna, and history.  There is little shade, no dependable water, and the usual poisonous creatures and carnivores may be present.  The walk is along an old road and up a wash; footing may not be stable.

© Robert Barnes 2018