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

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

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight

Red sky in the morn, sailor’s be warned.

Sailor’s proverb

Got an early start this morning. Sunrise is beautiful but ominous. Growing up with family from coastal New England I was always taught the old saying “red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky in the morn, sailors be warned.” The sun illuminated a giant cloud bank red this morning before rising into it. I packed up and started double timing it below the Four Peaks, enjoying the rare glimpses of light shining on the peaks when possible but trying to both beat the rain and my friend from Phoenix to Roosevelt Lake. The hike seems endless at points, rolling through drainages in precipitously steep terrain where the trail seems the only flat surface around. My phone died with a couple miles left, so I had to write this retroactively, and the rain hit in the last 30 or so before making it to Roosevelt Lake. After feasting (after such a long period in the wilderness, food was pretty good to have), I got a lift to Tonto Basin to pick up my packages and wait out what will likely be several days of rain.

(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.)

Sunrise over Tonto Basin, backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains near the Four Peaks
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunrise over Tonto Basin, hiking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains near the Four Peaks
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunrise over Tonto Basin, backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains near the Four Peaks
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunrise over Tonto Basin, hiking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains near the Four Peaks
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Moon and clouds in the Mazatzal Mountains, backpacking the Arizona Trail beneath the Four Peaks
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Light on the precipitous slopes of the southern Mazatzal Mountains, hiking the AZT below the Four Peaks
Light on the precipitous slopes of the southern Mazatzal Mountains, backpacking the AZT below the Four Peaks
Surviving stands of pine in a Lone Fire burn scar, seen hiking on the slopes of the southern Mazatzal Mountains north of the Four Peaks
Backpacking the Arizona Trail through the southern Mazatzal Mountains above Roosevelt Lake
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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The Four Peaks come into view, hiking the Arizona Trail in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the southern Mazatzal Mountains with the Superstitions framed in the distance, backpacking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the Four Peaks, seen hiking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rays of sunlight cross Amethyst Peak, backpacking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rays of sunlight cross the Four Peaks, hiking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains.
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
The Four Peaks, seen backpacking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains.
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of sunlight on the Four Peaks, view hiking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains. From left: Amethyst Peak, Sister Peak, Brother Peak, and Brown’s Peak, highest in the Mazatzals.
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of sunlight on the Four Peaks, view backpacking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains. From left: Amethyst Peak, Sister Peak, Brother Peak, and Brown’s Peak, highest in the Mazatzals.
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Remnant pines from the Lone Fire, view hiking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the Four Peaks, view backpacking in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the Four Peaks & southern Mazatzal Mountain foothills, hiking view from the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the southern Mazatzal Mountains, view backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Tarantula in the Mazatzals, seen hiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains around the Four Peaks, view backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
The first saguaros of the trail appear, hiking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saguaros become a common sight backpacking south on the Arizona Trail toward Inspiration Point & Roosevelt Lake
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saguaros along the Arizona Trail hiking south toward Inspiration Point & Roosevelt Lake
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saguaros dot the hillsides as the Arizona Trail descends from the Four Peaks toward Inspiration Point & Roosevelt Lake
AZT Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” 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). The Four Peaks, the highest points of the Mazatzals, tower above the Arizona Trail with a jagged face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. As the name suggests, there are indeed four Peaks – Amethyst Peak, Sister Peak, Brother Peak, and Brown’s Peak, in increasing elevation. Brown’s is the highest point in the Mazatzals and Maricopa County, while Amethyst hosts the only commercial amethyst mine in the United States. This passage passes through the southern half of the full Mazatzal range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Lone & Bush 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

National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

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 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.

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.

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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 21 (Four Peaks)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)19
SeasonMarch-May, September-November
Potential Water SourcesPigeon Spring (Mi 421.6 NB, 421.6 SB)
Bear Spring (mi 400.6 NB, 422.5 SB)
Shake Spring (mi 392.5 NB, 423.4 SB)
Granite Spring (mi 391.5 NB, 431.3 SB)
Buckhorn Creek (mi 390.5 NB, 432.9 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Lone Pine Saddle
South: Theodore Roosevelt Lake
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access; via graded dirt road
South: Vehicular access (parking at Roosevelt Lake Marina)
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsPhoenix (north end)
Roosevelt Lake Marina (south end)
Farther, Globe and Tonto Basin
ATA-Rated DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Precipitous terrain limits options, but there are some spots around Mills Ridge Trailhead & the Chillicut Trail junction
Ecosystems TraversedArizona Upland
Interior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
Highlights Four Peaks
Views of Tonto Basin & Roosevelt Lake
SOBO, first saguaro appearance on 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
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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