Message from the Flying M

Message from the Flying M

by Kit Metzger

The other day while shoveling a break in one of our ditches where the rain and snow water had run too high and washed it out, I got to thinking. We have talked about our ditch systems and the other waters on the place but maybe never really shared how dependable they are and how we use them. So here is the long and short of how they function and why they are so important to this open space.

Northern Arizona is a pretty dry place (no news to anyone) and when it comes to water, the Flying M lands are no exception. Even though we are “on top of the hill,” so to speak, we don’t have very many “natural” permanent waters. This ranch has only two such waters; both are springs and are down in very steep rocky canyons. All of the other “natural” waters, blow out lakes, small water holes in the big canyons, and pot holes in the draws, only hold water for a short time. They are totally dependent on how much moisture we receive, and the timing of the precipitation. Our predecessors in the livestock business on this land started working on bettering the waters as soon as they got here.

Let’s start with springs. Anderson Spring is the largest and is owned and maintained by Flying M. It is the water that supplies the ranch headquarters and a few tubs through pipelines. Anderson Spring was developed in 1911 when a pipeline was put in from the spring to the then-headquarters of the Harlow Yeager Sheep Company. This spring collection system has been rebuilt at least four times, and soon the six miles of pipeline will need to be replaced again. The spring runs anywhere between 40 to 80 gallons per minute, depending primarily on the weather cycle and winter precipitation.  Before it was collected in the spring, water used to just dribble down into the floor of Anderson Canyon and disappear in the rocks.

The other spring that seems to seep year-round, and only in the rocks, is Kinnikinick Spring, located in Kinnikinick Canyon. During wet times it may run or seep up to one-eighth of a mile in the canyon, but most of the time it is in a small pool holding maybe 500 gallons in a boulder pile in the bottom of a steep canyon. If it had been a larger and more dependable spring it probably would have been developed at about the same time so I am guessing it never was much more than it is now.

The major canyons on the ranch are Anderson, Grapevine, and Diablo Canyons. They run water in the spring with snowmelt off of Anderson Mesa, depending on the temperature and amount of snow.  They also occasionally run in the summer rains, fast and not for more than a day.
Anderson Canyon is a steep, boulder-covered canyon about 3 miles long, from the top of the rim. It will leak out most of the water running in it in that distance most years, and I think it is a major contributor to the aquifer. Diablo and Grapevine Canyons, east of Anderson, are not as steep the farther east you go, and have pools in the rocks or at the bends in the deep parts that will hold water for a month or so after the running water quits. These pools are not very accessible from the surrounding area, with steep trails into the canyons that can be a mile or so up or down stream.

Kinnikinick and Anderson Canyons have ditch systems that take water out of the canyons up high near the rim of the mesa. The Kinnikinick ditch system transports that water to various dirt stock ponds off to the east, in our winter country, and the Anderson system takes water north and south. The ditch on the south side of Anderson Point flows through Flying M filling stock ponds on us then continuing on to the Raymond Wildlife Area (AZ Game & Fish Department).

Kinnikinick Canyon has the first dam and ditch clear up west of Kinnikinick Lake that takes water out of a natural drainage to Kinnikinick Lake, that spills into Morton Lake, which then spills out into a draw, Morton Canyon, which flows into Kinnikinick Canyon.

Are you confused yet?

In the bottom of Kinnikinick Canyon there is a small dam that takes water out at the confluence of Morton and Kinnikinick Canyons and the Morton ditch starts there. The Morton ditch runs out of Kinnikinick Canyon along the foot of Anderson Mesa to the north. With several head gates along it, water can be diverted into three different draws. Down these draws and side ditches we can put water into 15 different stock ponds across our winter country. The farthest stock pond is 23 miles from the first diversion where it was taken out of the draw.

In the spring snowmelt runoff, we juggle the water from draw to draw to get as many stock ponds full as possible. In most years we can fill all but the furthest away, and in a great year like this one, we will be able to fill all of them twice if not more. We usually spend February and March moving water around. With the water storage in the lakes on the mesa we can also let water out of those lakes and run water to the stock ponds in a dry year. It is not a fail-safe system, but keeps this ranch from solely depending on wells.

We have six wells on Flying M. The deepest is 1100 feet, and the shallowest is 575 feet. All have great water but because of their depth they require submersible pumps. To get the volume of water needed our generators pump 22 to 25 gallons per minute, and that cannot be done with windmills or solar pumps.

We don’t have very many miles of buried pipeline at this time. In most places we would like to run pipelines it’s difficult to rip one in or to find enough dirt to cover the pipe – we would be scraping off a whole lot of country to find the dirt! We do have some above-ground lines that we can run to storage tanks most of the year. Only if we are going to get below 15 degrees do we drain the lines. The pipe is thick-walled and can stand a lot of cold, but we have to have all the valves and vents well-insulated.

We are intending to put in another three miles in the next year to help with water distribution on the State and private lands out east of the mesa. We are looking into a well on private ground at Ashurst Run, but the cost is a little daunting. If we had a well there, we could possibly add a pipeline on the Forest land, which would be a great help in the dry years. The water really gets short on the mesa, or is nonexistent during the dry years, and the road systems are not really good enough to haul everywhere.

On Anderson Mesa we have stock ponds; some are in the blow out lakes and some are in draw bottoms, places that will hold water. Some of the Dry Lakes, formed mostly by wind blowing dirt out, will hold water from snow melt for a period of time, depending on what type of winter we have. They rarely will catch water in summer rains. If we get one of those windy springs like last year you can literally watch the water disappear in those open lakes. Most of the larger “lakes” on Flying M’s portion of the mesa that hold water have a man-made dam out the outlet, i.e. Yeager Lake and Corner Lake. Mud Lake was created when the road was built to Kinnikinick.

Most of the waters on this ranch were enhanced, developed, and ditched to in the last 100 years to form the Anderson Mesa water system that our livestock and wildlife depend on today.   Flying M has 104 stock ponds, on private, Forest, and State lands. A location was picked because it was the best place to catch water in a draw or it was the lowest place in a dry lakebed. Sometimes it was even just, “I wonder if we can get that little flat to hold water if we build a dam across it.”

If you were a homesteader or an early rancher/sheepman, getting water in many places was your goal. The “high-tech” equipment at the time was a “tumble bug,” basically a big, horse-drawn shovel. Using a team, a couple guys could scrape dirt out of a low place and take it a little ways away and dump it. This contraption could not dig a very deep hole, so most of the little “puddles” created dried up fast and had to be re-dug often.

Not too sustainable.

It wasn’t until after World War II that big equipment, like gas and diesel caterpillars, really made dependable “big” dirt tanks or lake dams that would hold water for most if not all of the year.

So there is a sort of quick-n-muddy run-down on the water system. When we think of water in the Southwest we need to remember that most of the waters we are familiar with today have been developed and maintained by someone, and the landscape would look different and have different critters on it if it were still “natural.”

Kit Metzger, Flying M Ranch
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