Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

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

Job application day starts. I hike further along the trail to get service and encounter Jake (trail name, Don’t Panic). We talk for a while, and then I get the applications in that I can over lunch. The second third of the climb commences, but I seem to have gotten my mountain legs under me somewhat. Combined with a lesser grade, the climbing portion of today’s hike takes a matter of hours rather than the better part of a day that yesterday’s hike took. The trail rolls through the Hills, which aren’t exactly shy about the reason for their name.

Setting out today, hiking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Can you see where the Hills get their name?
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Toomey century plants in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Emory Oak
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest

Most of the trail passes through scrubland but there are remnants of the ponderosa forest that existed in the vicinity before the Willow Fire (2004) and Sunflower Fire (2012) burned through the area. The Willow Fire burned 119,500 acres; the Sunflower burned 17,618. Dominant vegetation in parts of the area impacted by the fires has been transformed from ponderosa pines to primarily desert scrubland and pinyon juniper forest due in part to disturbance and increased solar exposure, changing the hiking experience through it, though some parts, particularly on the south end of the passage, were not impacted and retain legacy pines. Some more northerly plants like blue spruce can be found in shadier drainages. Views are extensive of both the Hills themselves and of the mesas and Mogollon Rim to the north, where another fire appears to be burning. The Red Hills passage ultimately concludes at the Red Hills Trail junction, where the Arizona Trail hiker (or backpacker) imperceptibly enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide – the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness, one of the most incredible passages on the trail, and the topic for the next entry.

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Juniper in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Pinyon pine in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic view of the Red Hills, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Cacti in the Red Hills, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Clusters of Toomey’s century plants seen backpacking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Blue spruce seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Diverse vegetation in the Red Hills, including legacy ponderosa pines, survivors of past wildfires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) & cacti in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Reminders of past fires in the Red Hills, such as the Willow and Sunflower Fires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Tail leading the hiker ahead through scrubland in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
View back through the Red Hills to the Mogollon Rim. Wildfire smoke on the horizon. Backpacking south, just past this point, the AZT passes the Red Hills trail junction and enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide.
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

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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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

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.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.9
SeasonAll year but snow may impact higher elevations in winter and heat can impact lower elevations in summer.
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River
Brush Springs
Seeps
TrailheadsNorth: East Verde River (north). Inaccessible to cars (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Red Hills Trail Junction. Foot access only.
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 4 miles from vehicular access at Doll Baby Ranch
South: Foot only. 5.75 mi from vehicular access at City Creek
Wilderness?Yes
Possible Resupply PointsNone
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Precipitous terrain limits options, but there are some spots above the climb/descent into the East Verde Valley, on the ridge traverse; and in the basin and south end near the Red Hills Trail junction
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral (north end)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of the northern Mazatzal Mountains
Sunsets
Red rocks
Ecological diversity
Passage logistics
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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
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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