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

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

After getting a ride back to Roosevelt Lake from Walter, owner of one of the inns in Tonto Basin, I did a short hike back up to Inspiration Point above the lake on the north side of the Salt River. The morning light on the rocks and saguaros is gorgeous. I then followed the trail back south across the bridge at Theodore Roosevelt Dam and onto passage 19, the Superstitions. Climbing out of the canyon of the Salt River, it winds among the foothills of the Superstition Mountains before reaching the old Roosevelt Cemetery and the actual side trail to Roosevelt Lake. I drop my pack near here for a bit and head down the road to explore Tonto National Monument, which will get its own entry as a national park.

This short stretch bridges the Mazatzal and Superstition Mountains. The Mazatzal Mountains 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). 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, while the Four Peaks, iconic mountain landmarks of Phoenix, are the highest in the range and include a rare active amethyst mine legendary for its quality. Unfortunately both regions of the range have been greatly impacted by recent fires. The Willow and Sunflower Fires burned much of the northern portion, while the Lone Pine and Bush Fires have burned much of the southern. This hike was completed before the 2020 Bush Fire, so the area will have changed since the following images were taken. Much of the old ponderosa forest that had made the mountains one of the most popular long-distance stretches of the Arizona Trail has been lost in these burns, 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.

The Superstition Mountains, by contrast, are volcanic in origin. The current mountains are the eroded remnants of the resurgent lava dome of a supervolcano similar to Yellowstone but on a smaller scale – comparable to Yellowstone’s “little brother,” in a sense. The caldera boundary can still be seen within the mountains today. The name comes from the various superstitions that surround them – legends such as that of the Lost Dutchman mine, and a belief among some Apaches that the road to the lower world is located there. More to come on these mountains as we enter them shortly.

Mesquite trees in the morning, with the leaves folded. As the sun rises and the light gets more intense, the leaves will unfold, and then close again in the afternoon toward nightfall.
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
Tonto National Forest
Following AZ-188 toward Theodore Roosevelt Dam, the Superstition Mountain foothills bristle with saguaro cacti in the morning light
Saguaro cacti bristle on the slopes of the Superstition Mountain foothills along AZ-188 in the morning light
Saguaro in the morning light in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains along AZ-188
Inspiration Point in the Mazatzal Mountain foothills rises above Theodore Roosevelt Bridge over the Salt River at Theodore Roosevelt Lake
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
Tonto National Forest
Ancient saguaro cacti in the Superstition Mountain foothills. It can take 75-100 years for a saguaro to grow a single arm. This one is hundreds of years old.
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Mountains)
Tonto National Forest
Crossing Theodore Roosevelt Bridge over the Salt River, one of four rivers the AZT crosses (the others are the Colorado, East Verde, and Gila)
Arizona Trail, Passage 20/19 (Superstition Wilderness/Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Saguaro Cacti rise above the AZT in the southern Mazatzal Mountain foothills above the Salt River.
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Desert Marigolds bloom in the Arizona sun
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Saguaro and prickly pear coat the south-facing slope of the Salt River canyon as the Arizona Trail enters the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The Superstition Mountains rise behind.
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Theodore Roosevelt Dam and Bridge, with the southern portion of Theodore Roosevelt Lake and Tonto Basin behind.
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Theodore Roosevelt Lake and the Sierra Ancha behind, with the northern Mazatzal Mountains at left; north view near Inspiration Point
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of Theodore Roosevelt Lake and Tonto Basin from near Inspiration Point on the AZT. The Sierra Ancha rise across the Basin and the northern Mazatzals are at left.
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Theodore Roosevelt Lake and Bridge, with the Sierra Ancha behind, south view descending from Inspiration Point.
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Tonto National Forest
Ocotillos green up after the recent rain along the AZT Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
Tonto National Forest
Saguaros crowd the hillsides beside the AZT on the south side of the Salt River
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
Tonto National Forest
Roosevelt Lake, north view from the AZT climbing above the Salt River
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
Tonto National Forest
Desert Marigolds bloom in the Arizona sun
Arizona Trail, Passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness)
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

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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Arizona UplandInterior 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 Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Well, the first major winter front has passed through. Clearly, the seasons are shifting.

The sun did not come out for three days straight. The mountains that had towered over the town of Tonto Basin completely disappeared in the cloud bank (see picture below).

Three days of constant rain.

To make matters worse, the grill at the hotel I’ve been staying at was broken, and a rolling blackout power outage closed a second place I tried to eat, leaving me with just one option from a food perspective. I don’t care how good a place is – if you have to eat there 2-3 times a day for three days straight, it’s going to get a bit old.

Having said that, the dusting of snow the mountains received looked pretty nice – though I am really glad I was not hiking through it. The food in Tonto Basin was also pretty good. The hotel, while dated, had a special rate for AZT hikers and offered a free drink at the bar for all customers. It was also located right next to the post office. People were friendly – indeed, when the owners of Big Daddy’s, the pizza place that I had walked to for 30 minutes in the rain only to find they were closed due to the blackout, learned that I was hiking the trail and had gone out of my way to try and stop by, they gave me some of what they had free and gave me a lift back to where I was staying. Much appreciated.

For those doing a resupply at grocery stores, there’s an IDA grocery and ACE hardware store that sells food as well as alcohol and canisters for stoves. Better selection than the marina in Roosevelt Lake.

Obviously the main problem with using this town as a resupply point is geographic location (located both off-trail and along a less-traveled road than many alternatives, such as Globe and Payson. The easiest way to reach Tonto Basin is seemingly to cut across on forest roads through the central Mazatzals off of Passage 20 (Pine Mountain) or to get a ride from someone at Roosevelt Lake Marina who may live there. In either case, the big problem is getting back. After a decent walk to the place, Walter, the owner of a second inn down the road, was kind enough to provide that lift, otherwise just the walk from Tonto Basin to the marina to pick up the trail again would have bee; the better part of a day – and as noted, the road between the two (AZ-188) is less traveled, meaning fewer opportunities to hitch, even if you are a hiker accustomed to hitching. Which may not be the case, particularly for those from the U.S. east coast, where hitchhiking is often both relatively taboo and illegal.

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