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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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Saddle Mountain, Part II (Day 54, Passages 22 & 21)

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

This stretch takes me from just south of McFarland Canyon past Saddle Mountain and down, completing Passage 22 and entering Passage 21, Pine Mountain and the southern Mazatzals. The trail traverses the mid slopes of the south-central Mazatzals, which seem more separated from one another than the continuous chain that made up the mountains until now. The views remain incredible, probably partially as a result of the fire resulting in a much more shrub-based vegetation community predominating. Sheep Mountain and Saddle Mountain make notable appearances, and there are glimpses of Tonto Basin as the backpacker (or hiker) makes their way along the trail. Multicolored cliffs – appearing to be sandstone – rose above the trail. Backpacking south, the trail exits the Mazatzal Wilderness for the final time and descends toward Sunflower and AZ-87, passing another mid-passage access point on the way. As it does, the vegetation changes – barrel cactus make an appearance, showing the warmer and drier ecology of the lower slopes of the mountains. Sunflower is more a community than a full town, it appears, at least from a services perspective. If you need supplies from here, your best options are probably metro Phoenix, Payson, or Tonto Basin. I had a box shipped to the latter; now the question becomes whether it is best to stop there now, or try and hitch a ride from Roosevelt Lake at the south end of the Mazatzals? After consideration, I opt for the latter. We’ll see if it proves to be the right choice. There’s a resupply box at AZ-87 before crossing through a tunnel under the road and entering Passage 21; I took advantage and then made the crossing. Camp comes near Sycamore Creek, a great water source just south of 87 before beginning the climb into the southern Mazatzals. Unlike yesterday, there are no playful foxes – but there’s another beautiful sunset to wrap the day.

(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.)

Camping in the shadow of Mazatzal Mountain cliffs
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail hiking toward the col connecting to Saddle Mountain. Can you spot the mountain through the pass?
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain rises above the Arizona Trail & its connecting col
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains & surrounding foothills, viewed backpacking the Arizona Trail on the slopes of Saddle Mountain. Pine Butte at center. Relict conifer forest predating the Sunflower Fire in foreground.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain peak rises above, viewed hiking the Arizona Trail on the midslopes
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking views of the central Mazatzal Mountains from the lower slopes of Saddle Mountain on the Arizona Trail. Pine Butte rises center-left; Tonto Basin visible at left.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Cliff outcrops rise above the Arizona Trail hiking through the central Mazatzals
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Multicolored outcrops of sedimentary rock are seen backpacking through the central Mazatzals near Mormon Grove Trailhead
Arizona Trail Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall continues to linger in spots, hiking through the central Mazatzal Mountains on the Arizona Trail near Mormon Grove Trailhead
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Barrel Cacti make a debut as the Arizona Trail descends toward Sunflower
AZT Passage 22, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
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Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Pine Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking views of the rugged southern Mazatzals at sunset. Boulder Mountain in background.
Passage 21, Pine Mountain
Tonto National Forest
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About the area: Part of this stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest, and all lies within the Mazatzal Mountains. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness 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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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.

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 47: 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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Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesThicket Spring (Mi 402.3 NB, 386.4 SB)
Sycamore Creek Canyon (mi 400.6 NB, 388.1 SB)
Creek (mi 392.5 NB, 396.2 SB)
Wash (mi 391.5 NB, 397.2 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 390.5 NB, 398.2 SB)
Rock Spring (mi 388.9 NB, 399.8 SB)
Hiker box at AZ 87 (mi 386.7 NB, 402 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Mt Peeley Trailhead
South: Arizona 87 near Sunflower
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from dirt road trailhead
South:
Wilderness50%
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)There are a number of options, particularly on the southern third of the passage. There are also good sites in the area around McFarland Canyon and a few sites just south of that point.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
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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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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Saddle Mountain, Part I (Day 53, Passage 23)

Featured

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

This stretch takes me from the Mount Peeley Trailhead past Thicket Spring to McFarland Canyon. The views of the central Mazatzals, including Mount Peeley & Sheep Mountain, are magnificent. Framed views of the Four Peaks in the southern Mazatzals also present themselves. The trail climbs out of McFarland Canyon and back onto the mountain slopes, revealing more magnificent views of other sub peaks and ranges of the Mazatzals – including Mt Ord, Cypress Peak, and Edwards Peak. From McFarland Canyon for about 6 miles south the trail returns to the Mazatzal Wilderness before exiting it for good and descending from the mountain flanks to AZ-87.

One of my favorite wildlife encounters on the trail occurred at the end of the evening following this day. I was lying in my sleeping bag under the stars after a classic Arizona sunset when I heard a sound near the foot of my sleeping bag. I picked up my headlamp and turned it on to see a Mazatzal fox scurrying around the campsite and trail. When it saw my light, it looked up a then lay down on the ground as if it thought that would get it out of the light and make it invisible before running off. The cycle repeated several times; it seemed quite playful.

(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
Rounding the eastern flank of Mt Peeley, Sheep Mountain around corner. Backpacking view on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Mt Peeley, backpacking view from the AZT.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Snake encounter at Textile Spring, backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Sycamore Creek backpacking view from the Arizona Trail below Thicket Spring
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage hiking in the bed of Sycamore Creek below Thicket Spring
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail view in the central Mazatzal Mountains along Sycamore Creek ravine; Sheep Mountain at left
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
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Crossing bed of Sycamore Creek hiking on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage along Sycamore Creek, backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Sheep Mountain view backpacking away from Sycamore Creek on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains, viewed hiking the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at left, Mt Peeley at right
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail crossing the rolling Mazatzal hills below the spine
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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One of two potential halfway points of the Arizona Trail, depending on routing
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking across rugged canyon-carved foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking view out of McFarland Canyon in the central Mazatzals to the Four Peaks in the southern Mazatzals. Brown’s Peak, the highest of the Four Peaks, is the highest mountain in the range.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Lingering survivor pine trees in the central Mazatzal Mountains backpacking the Arizona Trail near McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Impressively, fall colors continue to linger in the central Mazatzals, hiking the Arizona Trail in McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Indian Paintbrush backpacking the Arizona Trail in McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains, hiking out of McFarland Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at center.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains near sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at left, Mt Peeley center, Mazatzal Peak at right.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain at sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Edwards Peak (left center) and Cypress Peak (right center), viewed backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mt Ord at sunset, seen thruhiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Sunset panorama backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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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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.

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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.

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

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. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine Ridge to FR 194 (Passage 26, Whiterock Mesa)

I finally get off around 11:30 & run into Matt and a female friend near East Tank. I’m glad for the company and we walk together for a while. The road condition is terrible – lots of loose basalt – and the going is slow. I finally reach the split to Strawberry and encounter them again, and their friend who picked them up flags me down and brings me a beer. Some more trail magic! I think my biggest challenges are becoming the pack weight and the solitude. I head for a short side trip to Fossil Creek.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

The trail first rolls through the pines and passes Pine Creek (dry) and Bradshaw Tank on its way to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa, which provides an excellent overlook of Oak Spring Canyon, the highlight of the passage, before dropping to the bottom. Like on the Highline, foliage still lingers in the warmer Canyon. I also spot some cool geology in what appears to be dikes in some of the rocks.

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

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.

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Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesThicket Spring (Mi 402.3 NB, 386.4 SB)
Sycamore Creek Canyon (mi 400.6 NB, 388.1 SB)
Creek (mi 392.5 NB, 396.2 SB)
Wash (mi 391.5 NB, 397.2 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 390.5 NB, 398.2 SB)
Rock Spring (mi 388.9 NB, 399.8 SB)
Hiker box at AZ 87 (mi 386.7 NB, 402 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Mt Peeley Trailhead
South: Arizona 87 near Sunflower
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from dirt road trailhead
South:
Wilderness50%
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)There are a number of options, particularly on the southern third of the passage. There are also good sites in the area around McFarland Canyon and a few sites just south of that point.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
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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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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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

The trail continues to roll across the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, the impressive and distinctive southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, where the elevation jumps around 4000 ft in elevation. The Highline continues to define itself as a diverse landscape where the species of the desert below and the pine forests above mingle.

The Mazatzal Mountains – the next major hurdle once I make it to Pine – loom in the distance as well, and ironwood line the more open stretches of path across the Highline, where the Dude Fire burned the forest in 1990.

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

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Clear Creek to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 38 – Blue Ridge Ranger Station to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

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Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

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Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

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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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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part I

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

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff. Most are near the Island Trail that rings a peninsula of rock that Walnut Creek bends around, connected to the north rim of a canyon by a narrow ridge of rock, giving the peninsula the appearance of an island. Each room, built under limestone ledges, might have housed a family. The ledges afforded protection from the elements – they kept the dwellings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They were also easier to defend against invasion. Prior to building the cliff dwellings, the Sinagua lived and cultivated areas on the rim of the canyon. In a dry, semi-arid landscape – though not as harsh as some found further south – the communities relied on the intermittent flow of water in Walnut Creek for sustenance. It is not clear why the dwellings were abandoned around 1250, but suspected reasons include drought and relations with neighboring tribes. National Monument also protects natural resources, including 387 species of plants as well as marine fossils remaining from when the area was located under a sea. 

Starting in the 1880s, theft and looting became an issue at Walnut Canyon as construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad brought more people to the region. By 1915, alarm among local citizens led President Wilson to establish Walnut Canyon National Monument, first under the US Forest Service as part of Coconino National Forest, then the National Park Service starting in 1934. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and buildings, stabilized the walls of various cliff dwellings, and led guided tours. Further expansions of the site in 1938 by President Roosevelt and 1994 by President Clinton added additional stretches of the canyon into the monument, bringing it to its current 3600 acres of protected resources.

Relive route for today
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View into Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument
View along Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Panorama of upper Walnut Canyon from hiking on the upper Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
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Cliff dwellings visible from hiking the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings hiking along the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings hiking along the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings hiking along the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings hiking along the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings hiking along the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument

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Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. After doing a full resupply yesterday to get me through to Pine, where my next box has been shipped, and replacing some gear, including a new pair of boots and new sleeping pad, today started with breakfast with Oscar at Tourist Home, … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

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Rim TrailIsland Trail
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Trail SurfacePaved trailPaved Trail
Length (Mi)0.71
SeasonAll yearAll year. Stairs may get icy in winter. Snowy & icy conditions can lead to closure of the trail.
Major attributesGood view of variety of cliff dwelling structure remains throughout the central portion of Walnut Canyon. Rim-top pueblo.Loop trail providing close-up view of cliff dwellings in inner canyon
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor CenterWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
TrailheadsVisitor CenterVisitor Center
Trailhead AccessVehicular (paved road)Vehicular (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
DifficultyEasyStrenuous. 185 feet descent into canyon at 7000’ elevation.
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Hiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of parkHiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of park
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Accessible?YesNo
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