Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 41, Part II – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

The Highline Trail began as a way of connecting remote ranching areas below the Mogollon Rim. It continues to serve as a major transportation corridor today, stretching 54.7 miles. The Arizona Trail doesn’t overlap the entire length but it does overlap more than half. The Mogollon Rim, as perhaps noted previously, is the southern border of the Colorado Plateau and the driver of phenomena such as the southwest monsoon in the same way that the Tibetan Plateau drives the Indian Monsoon – albeit with less dramatic effects since the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas are much higher than the Mogollon is. More to come on this in a separate entry, perhaps.

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical. Basalt outcrops emerge, a contrast to the red soil of the passage to this point. The tread on this stretch is more similar to the area above the Mogollon than it is to the prior stretch of the Highline below it, in a sense.

Green ferns still remain along the Highline on the Mogollon Rim, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Basalt Outcrops, seen hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Rock outcrops and Gambel oaks among ponderosa pines seen backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

As the trail winds toward the southernmost reach of Milk Ranch Point, it passes by Pine and Red Rock Springs, two unreliable sources. Views open of the Mogollon to the East, and both agave and yucca reappear in places. There are also continually improving views of the Mogollon to the East, looking directly down the rim. The greater sheltering of these areas from recent wildfires is evident as well; unburned areas present in immense ponderosa and mature oaks in full fall color.

Mogollon Rim, east view near Milk Ranch Point, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, east view from near Milk Ranch Point, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Agave Cactus growing among ponderosas, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage seen hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Arizona sycamore in fall foliage, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, east view from Milk Ranch Point backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Mogollon Rim from Milk Ranch Point, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oak, view hiking backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage viewed hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Milk Ranch Point, east view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Mazatzal Mountains from Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, viewed backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage in draws, seen hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage seen backpacking the AZT below the Mogollon Rim
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage amid rock outcrops below the Mogollon Rim hiking along the AZT Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage amid pines below the Mogollon Rim backpacking the AZT Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

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Passage 26 (Highline)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)20.2
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River (mi 309.2 SOBO/479.6 NOBO)
Creek (mi 311.9 SOBO/476.8 NOBO)
Chase Creek (mi 312.6 SOBO/476.1 NOBO)
North Sycamore Creek (314.1 SOBO/474.7 NOBO)
Bray Creek (mi 315.4 SOBO/473.3 NOBO)
Bear Spring (mi 316.8 SOBO/472.0 NOBO)
Pine Spring (mi 322.1 SOBO/466.6 NOBO)
Red Rock Spring (mi 323.2 SOBO/465.6 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Mogollon Rim (mi 292.1 SOBO, 496.7 NOBO)
South: AZ-87 near Pine (mi 328.1 SOBO, 460.6 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
South: Paved road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsPine
DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible locations throughout
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Lightning
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
HighlightsMogollon Rim, southern boundary of Colorado Plateau
Fall foliage
Ecological diversity
Extensive views
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail.
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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