Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (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

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 well as, more controversially among some, bikes are prohibited. The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within 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.

If today is any indication, the Mazatzals are one of the best examples of wilderness around.

The Arizona Trail heads south from the Red Hills trail junction and through an area known as “The Park” in the shadow of North Peak where remnant ponderosa pines survived the Willow Fire. The Park provides a welcome source of shade and landscape shift from the primarily scrubland coverage that had lasted from the East Verde River. Hiking on from the The Park, the trail winds and climbs out of Maverick Basin to the top of Rocky Ridge as the day wears on.

Red Hills, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Red Hills panorama, backpacking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northwest view hiking across the Red Hills and East Verde River valley to the Mogollon Rim and beyond. The shadow of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff is on the horizon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
San Francisco Peaks from the Arizona Trail hiking out of the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak and the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains from the Arizona Trail backpacking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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The red rock that gives the Red Hills their name, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northeast view across to the Mogollon Rim, seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak and Rocky Ridge in the Mazatzal Mountains from the Arizona Trail backpacking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking along the AZT through the Red Hills toward North Peak and the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Outcrops of red rock tinted with green scrubs show off the Red Hills, seen hiking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North panorama from the Arizona Trail hiking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak (left) and Rocky Ridge panorama from The Park, backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rocky Ridge from the Arizona Trail hiking out of The Park & the Red Hills and into the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rock samples in the northern Mazatzal Mountains, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall colors seen hiking the Arizona Trail climbing into the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

Hiking through afternoon and into evening, Rocky Ridge provides the most memorable experience of the day. The silence and solitude are incredible – I could hear the wings of a raven flap as it flew in front of me, and one could hear single birds cry and echo among the hills. Magnificent. Sunset proved epic too. The colors alone were great, but you could also see the crepuscular rays coming up from the horizon. It looked like someone stretched the Arizona flag across the sky – only the second time I’ve used that description, and first in 5 years. Just magnificent. Needing water, I push on to Horse Camp Seep and filter some from a pothole there. Interview tomorrow, then on southbound.

North view from hiking the Arizona Trail ascending Rocky Ridge, entering the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail leading the hiker toward the summit of Rocky Ridge
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North view from summit of Rocky Ridge. Red Hills in the foreground; Mogollon Rim & San Francisco Peaks in the background.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
San Francisco Peaks, view from hiking Rocky Ridge on the Arizona Trail entering the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of Rocky Ridge and the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains in evening light, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Crepuscular rays at sunset from Rocky Ridge hiking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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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.

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.

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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.

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 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
HazardsHeat – 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
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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Arizona Trail, Day 19: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch & 34, San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 25)

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

(Note: If you enjoy this blog, please help support it by clicking separately on each post. Follow along for account of national park, public land, hiking, and cycling travels across the country!)

Heading down the trail from the central Ranch provides more of the same early on – great views of the Peaks, but little else. I stop for a break and water at Tub Ranch, the first water source since Lockwood Tank (where I hadn’t stopped) and then continue south.

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Crossing through Babbitt Ranch among hills of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona Trail
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San Francisco Peaks, including Humphreys Peak, highest in Arizona at 12633 ft, from the Arizona Trail
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The Arizona Trail winds through pinyon-juniper scrubland toward the San Francisco Peaks, including the highest in Arizona, Humphreys Peak at 12633 ft

A note about the Peaks, since the views are so good of them here. They are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. They are a product of a volcanic hotspot under northern Arizona that formed what we know of today as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cluster of lava fields, around 600 cinder cones, and lava domes surrounding Flagstaff. The most prominent feature are the Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex. San Francisco Mountain erupted around 400,000 years ago in a lateral blast (think Mt St. Helens). The eruption carved a hole in the northeast side of the mountain and is estimated to have lowered the height of the mountain by approximately 6000 ft. At an estimated height around 18000 ft prior to the eruption, had the eruption not taken place it would be the highest peak in the continental United States today. The view from the top reaches into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a minimum. I’m not sure if you can see the southwest corner of Colorado. The most recent eruption in the San Francisco volcanic field was Sunset Crater, now contained within Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and probably one of the most unexpected places for many visitors in the United States where one can walk on and get a hands-on experience with lava. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 AD, meaning there is human documentation of the event from native people.

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The Arizona Trail crosses ranchland toward the northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, cinder cones that are a legacy of the hotspot that created the iconic San Francisco Peaks. SP Crater is the leftmost (northernmost) in the image.
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The San Francisco Peaks tower above the Arizona Trail on the plateau to the north. From this angle, the blown-out northeastern side can start to be made out. The former San Francisco Mountain erupted in a lateral blast about 400,000 years ago, much like Mt St Helens. The mountain lost up to 6K ft in elevation in the eruption (meaning at one time it could have been the highest in the modern contiguous United States.)
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Rabbitbush blooms in front of the San Francisco Peaks and northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35.
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Virga, a desert phenomena where moisture precipitates from clouds but evaporates before reaching the ground. Also known as “jellyfish clouds.” Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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Virga and showers in the evening light over the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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Virga and showers over the northeastern San Francisco Volcanic Field in the afternoon light. Arizona Trail Passage 35.

Late afternoon finds me entering Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks, and finally off the Ranch roads. The trailhead also marks the entry to the Coconino National Forest. Some trail angel left beer and candy at the resupply box here, much appreciated. The Peaks are just towering above at this point. I encounter Timmy, a friend of Boates from the Canyon, and we talk and hike together for a while. I leave first (for once) but he catches me speaking with some day trippers heading out and we hike together for much of the rest of the evening. Showers pass along with virga, a desert phenomenon where precipitation falls but evaporates before reaching the ground, comes in the evening, ultimately making for a spectacular sunset as we head into the thick of the northern San Francisco Volcanic Field. I leave him to climb Missouri Bill in the hopes of seeing the sunrise from the top. In the dark, clusters of lights become evident on the reservation to the west – Kayenta, Cameron, Tuba City. It’s that dark, individual towns can be identified with just a rudimentary knowledge of the area.

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Virga illuminating crepuscular solar rays as the Arizona Trail enters Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
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Crepuscular rays on virga along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
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Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
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Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)

Water availability and access varies over this stretch.

Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceGravel RoadDirt Road
Water Sources (Potential)Cedar Ranch (supply box)
Rabbit Canyon (unnamed tank)
Cedar Ranch (supply box)
East Cedar Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical info for stretch hiked today
Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceMixed, mostly gravel roadMixed, dirt road and singletrack
Length24.5 miles35.3 miles
SeasonAll yearSpring-fall primarily
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch trailhead supply box
Rabbit Canyon
Tub Ranch water tank
Lockwood Tank
Cedar Ranch Trailhead supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical details for full length of all passages involved today (whether hiked today or not)
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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.

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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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