The horses had a rest day yesterday at the camp, while I prepped for our next riding section by leaving some water drops at places where I planned to camp. I also consulted with some park rangers regarding a section of the trail that is not recommended for stock and the alternate suggested by the AZT. The rangers reinforced the reason that the AZT did not endorse taking stock along the regular hiker trail, as it involved some dangerous switchbacks, and they said a horse had recently fallen off the trail in that area. But the suggested alternate was a boring dirt road that avoided Sabino Canyon and added miles to the day, so I wasn't excited about that either. Finally, they pointed out another possible alternate; they weren't sure why the AZT didn't show it as a choice, and the ranger who suggested it hadn't actually walked it personally, but at least it avoided the obvious disadvantages of the other two options: risking switchbacks didn't seem wise with a pack horse and I really wasn't eager for a long roundabout route on a dirt road. As it turned out, the choice I made was not ideal by any standard.
We started the day by trailering to the American Flag trailhead, where we got on the trail and then climbed and climbed our way up to the top of Oracle Ridge. We then traversed the ridgeline all the way to Mt Lemmon, where there is a super cute little town called Summerhaven. This is where I decided after much debate to detour around the ill-advised Romero Pass and instead took the Box Camp trail down into Sabino Canyon, which the Arizona Trail Association's detour completely bypassed. So I took the Box Camp trail so I could still see Sabino Canyon but avoid Romero Pass. It was easily the steepest terrain I've ever walked down with a horse that was considered "trail" (we've gone around obstacles on steeper ground, of course, when the trail itself is blocked; this used to happen almost every day on the PCT). It was a long five miles straight down, basically a kind of chute. It really felt like 7 or 8 miles since it took us over 3 hours, and I've never seen my horses work up such a sweat when going downhill. They were really working against the pull of gravity. Sabino Canyon was worth it, though! I'm glad I didn't take the route around it suggested by the AZT, but it made me wonder how much worst the actual trail could have been than this one that I was on . . . maybe the one they told me not to take was easier!