Deep in Oak Creek Canyon, a trail meanders among the crumbling remains of some stone buildings. Mostly forgotten and partially consumed by vegetation, these former buildings were the home to some unusual occupants and visitors.
In the 1870s, before there was even a road through the canyon, Jesse Jefferson “Bear” Howard constructed the first cabin on the site. Howard was a hunter who moved to the area to settle a score with the local wildlife. His friend was mauled to death by a bear in the canyon and Howard vowed to kill every bear in the region in retaliation.
A legendary figure in the early days of Flagstaff, Arizona’s settlement, Howard was said to have stood 6-foot-4-inches tall and frequently hunted his quarry armed with just a knife. Mostly reclusive, he only went into town to sell his bear meat to butchers, restaurants, and encampments of railroad workers. Thankfully, Howard was unsuccessful in exterminating bears from the local ecosystem. He reportedly kept up this profession until he was 90 years old.
The next inhabitants of the cabin were the Thomas family, who engaged in somewhat less violent pursuits. They expanded the cabin, added some other structures to the property, and planted an apple orchard. It was during this time that famed Western novelist Zane Grey visited and was so inspired by the area that he set his novel, The Call of the Canyon at the location.
Grey’s novel was adapted into a silent movie that was filmed around the area. The production team hired a local photographer, Carl Mayhew to help with the project. He was so enchanted by the cabin and its surroundings that he purchased the property in 1923. Mayhew spent the next few years renovating and expanding the cabins and opened the Mayhew Lodge in 1926. It acted as a bed and breakfast for passersby and tourists. Over the subsequent decades, notable guests at the cabin included former President Herbert Hoover and Hollywood figures Walt Disney, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart.
In 1968, the lodge closed and the Mayhew family sold the property to be added into the Coconino National Forest. In 1980, a wildfire severely damaged the cabin complex, leaving for the most part only a scattering of foundations and walls, a chicken coop, and a recess dug into the canyon cliff likely used for food storage.
Know Before You Go
The ruins of the Mayhew Lodge can be accessed from the West Fork Trailhead in Oak Creek Canyon, only 0.3 miles from the parking area.
There is an $11 fee to use the National Forest parking lot. The scenic trail meanders seven miles further into the canyon beyond the lodge, but if you plan on doing this hike bring appropriate footwear, as it includes several stream crossings.