Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs 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. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

FR 708Fossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt road Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (Mi)About 20
Elevation Change (Ft)16251625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil CreekFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs-Irving Trailhead
Waterfall Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs-Irving Trailhead

FR 708 continues its ascent of the walls of Fossil Canyon from the Waterfall Trailhead. The views down into the canyon are superb, and splotches of color from gamble oaks, Arizona sycamores, and more add to the spectacle. Spectacular vistas emerge as the road climbs to the canyon rim.

Fossil Canyon foliage
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon foliage
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, panorama
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

I reach the top around sunset and collect my stuff. The sunset itself is spectacular, one of the best ones yet for certain, and one of the best in a while on the trail. Some people are packing up from the day, and I manage to secure a ride back to Strawberry with a recent transplant to Arizona out exploring for the day. I stopped by a good Italian place and then stop across the street at a bar that was recommended to me for having simple things like toothbrushes available. One of the waitresses there, on hearing my story, offers me a ride back to the AZT, so I’m now crashed for the night back atop Whiterock Mesa. I’ll add the details on dinner stop to my Pine entry. Tomorrow, heading toward the Mazatzals.

Sunset, Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Sunset, Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Sunset, Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), Boulder Creek Trail

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 Arizona Trail – Highline Trail, Part I (Passage 27, Highline)

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

Day 39 on the Arizona Trail continues. At Washington Park, the Arizona Trail joins the Highline National Recreation Trail (the namesake of the AZT passage here.) The trail turns west and begins to roll along the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, with diverse plants that vary depending on aspect (the direction the slope points), elevation, sun angle, and proximity to water, as the trail passes a number of springs and streams that flow off the rim. Even seemingly subtle shifts change the species represented. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite passages so far. The diversity of the species encountered, the magnificent views of the Mogollon reminiscent of hiking within Grand Canyon and looking up at the rim, the brilliant red earth contrasting with the blue sky and green plants, and the views off the foothills toward the next major challenge – the Mazatzal Mountains – combine for an incredible experience.

Backpacking westbound on the Arizona Trail across the Highline. Mogollon Rim in distance.
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim above the ironwoods, brush grass and pines, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim above the ironwoods, brush grass and pines, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim above the ironwoods, brush grass and pines, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail westbound; Mogollon Rim rising above. View backpacking the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, seen from the Highline above diverse plants. View hiking the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail through diverse flora communities; view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Blue Spruce, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail SOBO
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Array of trees along the Highline – oaks, pines, spruce, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gamble oak in fall colors, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gamble oak in fall colors, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim through the pines from the Highline, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Pines and oaks along the Highline, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Blue Spruce, indicative of cooler, wetter microclimate; spotted backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Diverse plant communities along the Highline; spotted hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
How many different plants can you name in these images?
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
South-facing slopes are sparser in vegetation, and those growing here are acclimated to warmer, drier temps; view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim peeks above the vegetation, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline (AZT)
Again, you can see the vegetation change as the slope tilts toward the prevailing sun
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, viewed hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

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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)

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: 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.

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.

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Passage 26 (Highline)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)20.2
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River (mi 309.2 SOBO/479.6 NOBO)
Creek (mi 311.9 SOBO/476.8 NOBO)
Chase Creek (mi 312.6 SOBO/476.1 NOBO)
North Sycamore Creek (314.1 SOBO/474.7 NOBO)
Bray Creek (mi 315.4 SOBO/473.3 NOBO)
Bear Spring (mi 316.8 SOBO/472.0 NOBO)
Pine Spring (mi 322.1 SOBO/466.6 NOBO)
Red Rock Spring (mi 323.2 SOBO/465.6 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Mogollon Rim (mi 292.1 SOBO, 496.7 NOBO)
South: AZ-87 near Pine (mi 328.1 SOBO, 460.6 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
South: Paved road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsPine
DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible locations throughout
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Lightning
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
HighlightsMogollon Rim, southern boundary of Colorado Plateau
Fall foliage
Ecological diversity
Extensive views
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail.
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