I've wanted to explore the side canyons of the Mogollon Rim for years now, and after this last trip, I know I'll be exploring them for years to come.
No trail, no route. Simply following what game trails can be found, pushing your way through thick manzanita, berry bushes and everything else that comes your way. Down and out steep ravines holding to themselves their own secret kingdoms of life, then up the steep cliffs to the rocky outcroppings that top out to the 8,000 ft Mogollon Rim. I saw more elk than I could count, came upon a newborn even that scurried off. Had it not jumped up four feet from me lying at 7,000 ft in the sun, I never would have seen it. A bald eagle soaring above me, an Arizona Rattlesnake I nearly stepped right on top of. Everywhere I looked wildlife was there, alert of my presence, but generally not caring. After several hours the elk had seen me working my way across the valley and canyons, and just kept a few hundred feet away, and eventually they became my guide to the only remotely accessible ascent to the top.
I ran .6 miles on the Highline Trail before I took an unexpected left turn into the woods. I wasn't planning on it, I just did it and almost 4 hours later I was on the top of the Rim, but had only covered a little over 3 miles.
I spent the rest of the day wandering through the forest. Quite literally, with no intent on mileage or direction, just walking through the woods alone. I came back out to the edge of the Rim and found another elk trail leading down the face of the Rim towards the railroad tunnel. What started out as a well used trail turned into a "how in the hell do elk go up or down this????" trail. Eventually I made it down the rock pile and then went on the Mogollon Monster course for about 100 yards under the powerline before breaking off into the woods again to follow the river downstream to the Washington Park trail head where my truck was. I found a game trail, and then a more worn trail that pushes through marshes and small streams before opening up into a beautiful field of waist high ferns.
One of the most incredible routes I've ever done.