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

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

Day 45 on the AZT (46 south of the Utah line). Why do downhill grades never feel like such when hiking long distances? The elevation chart says almost all of today was downhill yet much felt level at best. It’s was warmer tonight near Polk Spring; I only have my shell layer on my sleeping bag.

It’s been humid the last few days but I didn’t have to dry out my footprint this morning so it must not have been quite as humid as it has been. I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River. The first few miles, the former end of Passage 26 and under the recent reorganization now the middle of Passage 25, were on a packed gravel road, then the trail headed onto older roads surfaced with large pieces of volcanic basalt and progress slowed. (Logistical data at the end).

Mileage sign, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 26: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Tarantula on the trail, backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 26: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Hiking across Whiterock Mesa, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest

Once passing through a herd of cattle on the trail – carefully – I pass 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. Shortly thereafter, the trail moves away from the rim again. The pinyon-juniper forest continues – a mental challenge to any backpacker on the trail since it offers no sign of a destination, although North Peak in the Mazatzals does occasionally poke above the trees.

Hiking through pinyon juniper forest atop Whiterock Mesa, backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Fruiting prickly pear cactus along the Arizona Trail atop Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Mazatzal Mountains (left, behind) and Red Hills (in front, parallel ridges), viewed backpacking the AZT on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking through pinyon juniper forest atop Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Texture of the basalt surface of Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
The white rock surface of Whiterock Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Hiking across Whiterock Mesa, the North Peak (left) and Mazatzal Peak (right) in the Mazatzal Mountains rise above the pinion juniper forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Upon hiking to the end of Saddle Ridge and descending to Whiterock Spring, an excellent panorama unfolds of the valleys of Rock Creek and the East Verde to the Mazatzals, Red Hills and Tonto Basin.

Mazatzal Mountains (center-left) & Red Hills (ridges running to right), seen from backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains & Red Hills, seen from hiking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa, wide angle. North Peak center-right.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
North Peak & Mazatzal Mountains above the pinyon juniper forest, backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains and the Red Hills from Whiterock Mesa, wide angle. North Peak center-left. View hiking the AZT on Whiterock Mesa.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Spine of the Mazatzal Mountains from Whiterock Mesa. North Peak at center, Red Hills extending to side with main spine running along view axis.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mesquite tree on Whiterock Mesa, bacKpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest

Another beautiful sunset and moonrise also await along the steep descent to Polk Spring, where I camp for the night and fill up on water – looks like there won’t be any for at least 20 miles. Tomorrow will see me on Passage 24, Red Hills. It’s about to get geologically interesting again but a lot more strenuous. I did use as many water-thirsty foods and heavy foods as I could tonight in preparation. 

Moonrise over Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
East panorama, backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa. North Peak & Mazatzal Mountains at right. Panoramic view hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Cactus on Whiterock Mesa, backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset & moonrise from Whiterock Mesa, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
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 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Trail SurfaceVaries
Pine to Hardscrabble Mesa: Dirt singletrack
Hardscrabble Mesa: Rocky
FR 194: Packed gravel
Whiterock Mesa to descent: Dirt singletrack
Length (mi)22.7
Elevation Change (ft), north to southWhiterock Mesa: 2661 up, 87 down
Hardscrabble Mesa: 1745 up, 1263 down
SeasonSeptember-April
Potential Water SourcesOak Canyon Spring
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Pine
Twin Buttes (FR 194)
South: East Verde River (inaccessible by car)
Doll Baby
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road (AZ-87)
Middle: Graded dirt road (FR 194)
South: Foot access only
Doll Baby Trailhead accessible by car, 4 mi hike to East Verde River
Possible Resupply PointsPine
ATA-Rated DifficultyWhiterock Mesa: Easy
Hardscrabble Mesa: Moderate
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?Decent for area
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest (north of Oak Spring Canyon)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
HighlightsOak Spring Canyon
Views of Mazatzal Mountains
Logistical details
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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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