Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Mazatzal Divide, Part V (Day 53, Passage 23)

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

Today’s hiking route takes me from the high ridge that I camped near last night through the Mount Peeley Trailhead, the southern end of passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide, and beyond into passage 22, Saddle Mountain. This stretch of the Divide was clearly less impacted than the areas farther north when it came to the Willow and Sunflower fires; it’s a noticeable difference here on the south side of the ridge. Mount Peeley and several other unnamed adjoining peaks tower over most of the passage, with framed views of Mazatzal Peak as well as views into the Verde Valley to the west. From the east slope of Mt Peeley, the view stretches clear down the Mazatzal spine to the Four Peaks and Superstition Mountains behind. While the trail briefly leaves designated wilderness for the first time in over 20 miles toward the end of the passage, the solitude does not diminish and it will shortly pass through another stretch thereafter, through the Saddle Mountain Wilderness en route to Sunflower and the AZ-87 crossing to the southern Mazatzals. (If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Relive route for today
Moon over the Mazatzal ridgeline
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains hiking views
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains backpacking views
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northern Mazatzal Mountains. Mazatzal Peak at right, North Peak right-center, Red Hills center. San Francisco Peaks on the horizon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking views of the Verde Valley from the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views of the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views on the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views on the AZT in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking views on the AZT among relic pine forest in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic hiking views of the central & southern Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rugged backpacking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the descent from the spine ridge toward Mount Peeley
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Scrubland grasses along the AZT traversing to Mount Peeley. These are still surprisingly green; perhaps it hasn’t been as dry here.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Verde Valley views backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rugged hiking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking view of Mount Peeley
along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the core of the central Mazatzal Mountains, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Central Mazatzal Mountains, backpacking view on the AZT on the slopes of Mount Peeley
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking out of the southern border of the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Mazatzal Mountains, Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Backpacking around Mount Peeley on the Arizona Trail, views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking around Mount Peeley on the Arizona Trail, views of various central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, as well as the Four Peaks, Mount Ord, and more.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail traversing the slopes of Mount Peeley in the central Mazatzals
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mileage sign for the Arizona Trail, showing 404 miles to Mexico & 396 to Utah. 4 miles from the midpoint!

About the area: This stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Sunflower in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size and surrounds the Mazatzal Mountains. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. Formed during an orogeny (a term referring to the process that creates mountains) when Arizona was a coastal region on the margin of what became North America, the Mazatzals gained their rugged nature as tectonic collisions compressed rock, lifting it and thrusting it above other rocks (overthrust). We’ll see the resulting folding in the next entry during a short side hike on the Barnhardt Trail. Mazatzal Peak, the highest point of the Northern Mazatzals, towers 1700 ft above the trail with a jagged west face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. This passage passes through the northern half of the full range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Willow & Sunflower Fires, which burned much (though not all, as we will see) of the old ponderosa forest that had made the mountains one of the most popular long-distance stretches of the Arizona Trail. Yet the incredible geology, solitude, sunsets, and views remain for the hardy and prepared souls who venture into this special place. Bagworms spin magnificent webs here, and temperatures are relatively tolerable outside of winter, when snow can make stretches impassable for those without adequate preparation.

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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 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesHorse Camp Seep
Hopi Spring
Chilson Spring
Bear Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Red Hills Trail Junction
South: Mount Peeley Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 5.75 mi from City Creek Trailhead
South: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from trailhead.
WildernessMost
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)6.7, 9.4, 19.4, 22
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsMazatzal Mountains
Geology
Extensive views
Diverse ecology
Dramatic, rugged terrain
Mazatzal Peak
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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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