Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Looking across Larkum Canyon on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

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

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42).

Backpacking the Arizona Trail SOBO through PJ scrubland
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Exiting the Buckskin Passage of the Arizona Trail, on to Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the continuing pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest landscape, so this will be brief. After a crossing of the Old Spanish Trail and long meadow section that ends near Government Reservoir, there’s a brisk climb to the end of the day after 14.3 miles.

After the better part of the last day or so of hiking through pinyon-juniper (PJ) Forest, today the trail starts to break out into open ricegrass and blackbush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south with the Arizona Trail leading ahead through fields of ricegrass and blackbush
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
While the rice grass in the meadows is mostly browned out from the lack of a monsoon, in some places microclimates or the lingering evidence of the wet winter can still be seen with a green tinge.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking across ricegrass & blackbush meadows toward another of Arizona’s mountain ranges, potentially the Moccasin Mountains to the NW or Buckskin Mountains behind on the trail, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking back while hiking along the Arizona Trail through the rice grass & blackbush meadows and pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest of the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking along the AZT, looking across the rice grass meadows and PJ forested hills of the extreme northern Kaibab Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North

Some immense Kaibab Limestone outcrops are the highlight glowing gold in the evening light. I’ve broken into ponderosa forest and spotted some Gamble Oaks with tinges of fall color. It’s still pretty warm but fall is on the way.

Hiking south & climbing onto the main portion of the northern rim of the Kaibab Plateau, ponderosa pines take precedence on golden limestone. A cluster of Gamble oaks starting to break into fall foliage sits beside the trail.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
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Backpacking through the ponderosa pines
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest
Sunset from camp, seen hiking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest



The shift from PJ to ponderosa forest represents the first major ecosystem change on a trail famed for its diversity, and it is indeed quite the shift from a landscape perspective. Instead of shorter trees and intermittent shade, interspersed with meadows offering more direct sunlight, the landscape now features mature ponderosa and widespread shading and much more filtered light.

I should be to Jacob Lake in time for dinner tomorrow evening (and hopefully breakfast the following morning) before heading into the central Kaibab. Looking forward to my first real meal in 1-2 weeks.



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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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Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.816.4
SeasonMarch-November. Lower elevations hot in summer with little shade.Spring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesSeasonal tank (mi 4.1 SOBO/784.6 NOBO)
Seasonal tank (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Rock Creek Apron (mi 13.3 SOBO/775.4 NOBO), off trail
Government Reservoir (mi 17.8 SOBO/770.9 NOBO), off trail
Ponderosa Trick Tank (mi 20.0 SOBO/768.7 NOBO), off trail
Umbrella Tank (mi 20.3 SOBO/768.4 NOBO)
Orderville Trick Tank (mi 21 SOBO/767.7 NOBO), off trail
TrailheadsNorth: Utah border at Coyote Valley (mi 0 SOBO/788.7 NOBO)
South: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
North: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
South: US-89A east of Jacob Lake
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheadsNorth: Vehicular access (dirt road)
South: Vehicular access (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsNoneJacob Lake
DifficultyEasyEasy to moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near summit of Buckskin Mountain, after initial climb out of Coyote Valley/just before final descent into Coyote Valley. Developed campsite at Utah state line in Coyote Valley.Good LNT-compatible sites through National Forest. I liked a spot right at the northern end of the ponderosa forest, at the north tip of the Kaibab itself.
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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
Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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? NoNo
Cell service?Limited Limited to nonexistent
Ecosystems traversedGreat Basin Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail. Note that due to wildfire, Passage 43 is currently closed to access by the Bureau of Land Management.
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Big sagebrush
* Fernbush
* Fremont barberry
* Gambel oak
* Hopbush
* Mormon tea
* Rabbitbrush
* Serviceberry
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Junipers
* Piñon pine
* 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* Cutleaf
* Phacelia
* Wild onions
* Buckwheats
* Bladderpods
* Evening primrose
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Grasses such as muttongrass & squirreltail
* Groundsel
* Indian paintbrush
* Locoweed
* Phlox
* Pinque rubberweed
* Sedges, such as clustered field sedge & western sedge
* Wild cabbage (unusual, thick stemmed)
* 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* Banana & Bailey’s yucca
* Beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 1 (AZ/UT Day 8, Part 4)

Northern Terminus of the Arizona Trail

The Dragoos give me a lift from Wire Pass to the Arizona Trail Northern trailhead at Stateline Campground in Coyote Valley. Much appreciated!

The starting point of the Arizona Trail is well marked by several monuments and a large BLM sign. On one of the monuments sits a plaque inscribed with a poem about the trail written by Dale Shewater, the “Father of the Arizona Trail.”

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, “Father of the Arizona Trail”
Northern Terminus of the Arizona Trail
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0579-1.jpg

Judging by everything I’ve heard about the trail and know about the area, it seems an extremely fitting description of the trail and it’s experience. It’s time to put the literature to the test.

We take the obligatory starting point photos, and I head out. I make it about 5 miles onto the start of the AZT, where I encounter some section hikers and camp near Buckskin Mountain. The sunset is spectacular as remnants of a tropical storm coalesce above Coyote Buttes to the west. Unfortunately my phone died coming out of the canyons so I didn’t capture a picture, but I am sure it won’t be my last or only spectacular sunset on the AZT. I get sprinkled on a little overnight but manage to stay dry for the most part. The true long trek to Mexico has at long last begun. The slot canyons were incredible, gorgeous, amazing – pick any superlative you want. But they are done, and the remainder of the Arizona Trail proper now awaits.

Northern Terminus of the Arizona Trail
Coyote Buttes from the trail hiking up Buckskin Mountain from Coyote Valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
Coyote Buttes from the trail backpacking up Buckskin Mountain from Coyote Valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
Coyote Buttes from the trail hiking up Buckskin Mountain from Coyote Valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
PJ (pinyon-juniper) scrubland is the dominant landscape on Buckskin Mountain, a dramatic shift from the alternately bare and green riparian corridor of the slot canyons in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
Hiking through PJ scrub on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
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Backpacking through blackbush and PJ scrub on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Hiking through blackbush & PJ scrub on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Looking back on Coyote Buttes and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail ascending Buckskin Mountain across Coyote Valley.
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
Hiking through blackbush and PJ scrub on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
A rather macabre sight…
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
As an open grazing area, one must always be careful of livestock when passing through this stretch of the AZT, as well as other stretches on USFS or BLM land.
Arizona Trail, Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)

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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 43 (Buckskin Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt
Length (Mi)10.8
SeasonMarch-November. Lower elevations hot in summer with little shade.
Potential Water SourcesSeasonal tank (mi 4.1 SOBO/784.6 NOBO)
Seasonal tank (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Utah border at Coyote Valley (mi 0 SOBO/788.7 NOBO)
South: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheads
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsNone
DifficultyEasy
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near summit of Buckskin Mountain, after initial climb out of Coyote Valley/just before final descent into Coyote Valley. Developed campsite at Utah state line in Coyote Valley.
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedGreat Basin Conifer Woodland
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail. Note that due to wildfire, Passage 43 is currently closed to access by the Bureau of Land Management.
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Big sagebrush
* Fernbush
* Fremont barberry
* Gambel oak
* Hopbush
* Mormon tea
* Rabbitbrush
* Serviceberry
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Junipers
* Piñon pine
Common herbaceous plants* Cutleaf
* Phacelia
* Wild onions
* Buckwheats
* Bladderpods
* Evening primrose
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Grasses such as muttongrass & squirreltail
* Groundsel
* Indian paintbrush
* Locoweed
* Phlox
* Pinque rubberweed
* Sedges, such as clustered field sedge & western sedge
* Wild cabbage (unusual, thick stemmed)
Common succulents* Banana & Bailey’s yucca
* Beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (AZT Approach Day 8, Part 1)

Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Broke camp early in Buckskin Gulch this morning and headed out. I make better time than I expect, and encounter the Dragoos from Oklahoma about 1.5 mi from Wire Pass. I’m surprised that I’m that close to the Pass, since I hadn’t expected to make it for several miles. We have breakfast together and hike out, and find another large petroglyph panel at the junction between Wire Pass and Buckskin. After a tight squeeze through the Wire Pass narrows – I had to take my pack off and pass it through separately – and a water fill up and interesting conversation with Pete from Brockton, Massachusetts, they give me a lift over to the AZT.

Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
View up to surface from within Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

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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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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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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Trail SurfaceRustic (the river is the trail)
Length (Mi)45 (Lee’s Ferry to Wire Pass via Buckskin Gulch)
38 (Paria Canyon, Lee’s Ferry to White House)
20 (Wire Pass to White House via Buckskin Gulch)
22, approx. (Buckskin Gulch to White House)
1.8 (Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch)
SeasonFall-Spring. Brutally hot in summer.
Potential Water SourcesSprings. Unless informed otherwise by a BLM ranger, there is likely no water in Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River should be considered undrinkable even when filtered. Know how to recognize desert springs.
TrailheadsParia Canyon North: White House
Paria Canyon South: Lee’s Ferry
Buckskin Gulch Middle Exit
Buckskin Gulch West
Wire Pass
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheads
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsNone
DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near springs. Some higher-water campsites in north, south of Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon confluence.
ThreatsFlash flooding – Extreme hazard here. Know the forecast daily (an inReach or other satellite communicator helps with this). Know how to recognize the signs of a flash flood and how to react. You cannot outrun a flash flood; you must climb above it. This is not possible in Buckskin Gulch – do not enter it if storms threaten.

Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Because there is no trail, there are places where boulders must be climbed around or over and at least one spot where your pack must be hauled over a boulder jab. Flash floods change the trail, shifting obstacles around, removing some and adding others. Expect the unexpected.
Permits Required? Yes. 20 people max per night issued on BLM website.
Miscellaneous Leave No Trace is different in the desert. Know desert principles and carry wag bags. One will be provided with your permit.
Cell service?Nonexistent
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Backpacking Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (AZT Approach Day 8, Part 2)

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Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

I make better time than I expect, and encounter the Dragoos from Oklahoma about 1.5 mi from Wire Pass. I’m surprised that I’m that close to the Pass, since I hadn’t expected to make it for several miles. We have breakfast together and hike out, and find another large petroglyph panel at the junction between Wire Pass and Buckskin. After a tight squeeze through the Wire Pass narrows – I had to take my pack off and pass it through separately – and a water fill up and interesting conversation with Pete from Brockton, Massachusetts, they give me a lift over to the AZT.

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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

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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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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Trail SurfaceRustic (the river is the trail)
Length (Mi)45 (Lee’s Ferry to Wire Pass via Buckskin Gulch)
38 (Paria Canyon, Lee’s Ferry to White House)
20 (Wire Pass to White House via Buckskin Gulch)
22, approx. (Buckskin Gulch to White House)
1.8 (Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch)
SeasonFall-Spring. Brutally hot in summer.
Potential Water SourcesSprings. Unless informed otherwise by a BLM ranger, there is likely no water in Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River should be considered undrinkable even when filtered. Know how to recognize desert springs.
TrailheadsParia Canyon North: White House
Paria Canyon South: Lee’s Ferry
Buckskin Gulch Middle Exit
Buckskin Gulch West
Wire Pass
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheads
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsNone
DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near springs. Some higher-water campsites in north, south of Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon confluence.
ThreatsFlash flooding – Extreme hazard here. Know the forecast daily (an inReach or other satellite communicator helps with this). Know how to recognize the signs of a flash flood and how to react. You cannot outrun a flash flood; you must climb above it. This is not possible in Buckskin Gulch – do not enter it if storms threaten.

Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Because there is no trail, there are places where boulders must be climbed around or over and at least one spot where your pack must be hauled over a boulder jab. Flash floods change the trail, shifting obstacles around, removing some and adding others. Expect the unexpected.
Permits Required? Yes. 20 people max per night issued on BLM website.
Miscellaneous Leave No Trace is different in the desert. Know desert principles and carry wag bags. One will be provided with your permit.
Cell service?Nonexistent
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Arizona Trail Approach Day 2: Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Today was an absolutely exhilarating day. I climbed around countless rapids and waterfalls heading up Paria Canyon further into the wilderness area in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The soil around here can be cryptobiotic – essentially, living – so I stayed in the stream whenever possible to avoid damaging living soil. The canyon has started to narrow from its wide open nature at the bottom in Glen Canyon NRA and the lower section of the wilderness in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I spotted petroglyphs a mile or two into the hike. It’s still very hot and sunny, so I went through water a bit faster than anticipated. Since it’s not usually advised that one drinks from the Paría (even filtered), I ended up rationing water until I made it to the first reliable spring where the canyon breaks out of the Chinle Formation and into the Navajo Sandstone. The clay and mudstone that make up the Chinle don’t hold water particularly well, so there are no reliable springs for the first 15 miles of the route. I decided to camp at the spring for the night since it gives me a reliable water source and cuts back on how much I may have to carry tomorrow. (Relive video follows photos below.)

Relive video for UT-AZ Day 2
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Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Lower Paría Canyon, upstream view
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Colorful Chinle Formation rocks in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs in Paria Canyon (location undisclosed)
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs in Paria Canyon (location undisclosed)
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Chinle Formation and Navajo Sandstone layering in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Colorful Chinle Formation and Navajo Sandstone in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River flowing around boulders in Paría Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Sacred datura, a poisonous perennial, flowering
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River flowing around boulders in Paría Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River flowing around boulder pools in Paría Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River flowing around boulder pools in Paría Canyon Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon near sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon at sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paría River rapids
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon at sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon sunset
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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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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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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