Davey Gowan’s Grave

Mazatzal Mountains

Wearing my Glasgow Celtic shirt at Davey Gowan's Grave on Deer Creek in the Mazatzal Mountains.
Wearing my Glasgow Celtic shirt at Davey Gowan's Grave on Deer Creek in the Mazatzal Mountains.

I had planned to hike West Bear Canyon this week, despite the fact I would be a week ahead of when fall colors usually peak there, the last day or two of September.

But I hiked Crackerbox Canyon last week, and was not overly enthused about doing upper Mogollon Rim canyon hikes two weeks in a row. Plus, I figured more of the same would bore my massive viewing audience. 😜

Complicating matters, I woke Friday morning at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night — you read that right — and would need to be at Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub with the Phoenix Celtic Supporters Club at 4:00 a.m. this morning, Saturday, for the kick off of Celtic’s match against Sevco. (Sevco were formerly known as Rangers, who are now in liquidation: It’s a long story.) Sleep would be at a premium, so I did not want to travel two or three hours to do a hike, dragging in at 8 p.m. after another two or three hours on the return trip. 😴

It’s been over five years since I last hiked Deer Creek Trail #45, when I was part of a crew that volunteered to restore the grave of Arizona pioneer legend Davey Gowan. And over the past year or so, it’s occasionally crossed my mind that I ought to go back, and see how things are holding up. The best part is, it’s only an hour north of Phoenix.

Lots of cat claw lining Deer Creek Trail #45.
Lots of cat claw lining Deer Creek Trail #45.

Celtic, who finished last season undefeated, won 2-0, but honestly, it was not near that close. We stumbled into dawn at 6:00 a.m., hitting the Beeline Highway north towards Payson. We arrived at the Deer Creek Trailhead, opposite AZ-188, and I was on the trail by 0730.

Deer Creek Trail #45 heads north, over a small rise. It crosses Ridge Trail #47, a wash, then passes through Gate #1. The actual gate is laying a few yards away, so just walk on through. The trail crosses South Fork Trail #46, then descends a rather rocky section of trail down to Deer Creek.

The next two miles, and change, of Deer Creek Trail #45, all the way to Davey Gowan’s Grave, are along the south bank of Deer Creek. There are many cairns, though they are not really necessary, unless you continue past the grave, to his cabin, another five miles up canyon.

At Deer Creek, the trail crosses a decent size wash, then turns west, past a dry well and fallen windmill. Gate #2 is just past the windmill. It was confusing whether the trail was on the south or north side of the fence. After a few minutes, I figured it was on the north, passed through the gate, and continued west.

There’s a fair amount of shade along the south side of Deer Creek, but there is also quite a few grab & stabs, particularly between Gate #2 and Gate #3.

I was surprised to find any fall color.
I was surprised to find any fall color.

There were very, very few flowers on this hike, the majority of which were that purple flower with the yellow middle I see everywhere else in Arizona. Cripes, I wish I could remember what it is called. A few trees’ leaves were just starting to turn lime green.; they might have some good color towards the end of October. The prickly pear cactus had some very healthy looking fruit. But what color there was was mostly provided by a number of bushes whose leaves were already into orange, and even some red. Closer to Davey Gowan’s grave, as the elevation approaches 3500 ft., there are even a few evergreen (juniper?) with clusters of small purple fruits.

What elevation gain there is, 300 ft. or so each way, is mostly due to crossing spurs between washes. No big deal.

West of Gate #3, on the final half mile to Davey Gowan’s grave, Deer Creek Trail #45 becomes wider and smoother. (Other than some washed out areas on the spurs, which require caution to avoid an embarassing tumble.) The vegetation also changes, with the increased elevation. In addition to a few evergreens, there are plenty of manzanita, scrub oak, and other leafy bushes. (Plus, of course, cat claw.)

Davey is buried at the junction of Deer Creek and Bars Canyon, at the bottom of Shake Ridge. Mazatzal Peak in the distance.
Davey is buried at the junction of Deer Creek and Bars Canyon, at the bottom of Shake Ridge. Mazatzal Peak in the distance.

Five and a half years ago, Wild Bill’s crew put in a good shift cleaning up Davey’s grave. I brought a hand saw, so I did brush clearing. Other folks pounded posts, raked, gathered rocks, etc. We had it looking really nice.

Time, and inconsiderate visitors, have seen Davey’s grave begin to deteriorate. One rail was broken, and several others had damage. Bits and pieces lay scattered on the ground. It looked to me like some folks had tried to climb over the railing, failing to take into account their fat asses. Grass had also grown up between the rocks, and bushes had started to intrude.

Not having any tools this time, I cleaned up as best I could. I pulled away some branches. I gathered the bits of railing, piling them on the old bed frame that has been there forever. I propped up the broken rail on a rock. It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do.

I had hauled a bottle of Glengoyne 21 Year Highland Single Malt with me, that I originally acquired on our 2014 trip to Scotland, so I fished that out of my pack to toast Davey’s memory. What better way to remember a Scot, than a whisky? 🥃

Davey Gowan's grave, with broken railing and old bed frame.
Davey Gowan’s grave, with broken railing and old bed frame.

After putzing around the grave site for 45 minutes, I hauled ass back to the trailhead. I made the 3.16 miles in about an hour and five minutes.

On the way back into the Valley, we stopped at the Fountain Hills Mickey D’s for my absolute favorite post hike meal: A Filet-O-Fish and large fries (with lots of salt).


While working on this blog, I realized Davey did not have an entry on FindAGrave.com. So I added one. If you could give Davey Gowan’s FindAGrave.com memorial a visit, and vote on “How famous was this person?” (bottom of the page), I would appreciate it.

Note, for a famous person to get listed as actually famous, the more votes, the better!

Davey Gowan's head stone. His birth year is incorrect: He was actually born in 1840.
Davey Gowan’s head stone. His birth year is incorrect: He was actually born in 1840.

Directions: From the intersection of Shea Blvd. and AZ-87, head north on the Beeline Highway for 45 miles to the intersection with AZ-188. Instead of turning east, towards Roosevelt Lake, instead turn west. The trailhead is just around the corner of the car drivable dirt road. Note, there is no pit toilet, and the rest stop on the east side of AZ-87 is often closed.

GPS File: Davey_Gowan_Grave_Deer_Creek_Trail_45

Distance: 7.05 mi.

AEG: 675 ft.

Time: 2h 47m


Hiking Video

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