Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (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

Well, I lost most of yesterday to a round of applications for work for the spring. I did get a beautiful sunset with the Mogollon Rim absorbing and radiating the color splendidly at the end of getting all my applications in, though.

This morning, I pack up and continue south (in name; west in reality) along the AZT toward Pine. 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, affording more open areas and direct sunlight, shifting the plants that grow in those locations.

Ironwood along the AZT on the Highline, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from the Highline, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

The Mogollon Rim continues to loom above as the trail heads toward Milk Ranch Point, which juts out from the rest of the Rim. In addition to the Dude Fire impacts – opening up clearings in the flora and affording different plants opportunities than they would have gotten or get today in the remnant forest- the impact of minor fluctuations in sun angle, water availability, shade, elevation, and other factors affecting microclimates continue to be quite evident. Ironwood dominates the more exposed sections. In the warmest and driest microclimates, succulents like yucca, agave, and prickly pear cactus can be found. In the draws, which are cooler and reduce sun angle, trees appear. Gamble oaks, ponderosa pines, and blue spruce all make appearances depending on the sun angle, moisture availability and apparent temperature.

Ironwood, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains from the Highline, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gamble oaks & ponderosa on the Highline, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Highline segment of AZT passing pines and gamble oaks
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage backpacking on AZT Highline segment
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gamble oaks in fall foliage, hiking along the AZT Highline segment
Fall foliage on AZT Highline segment
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim rises above the pines, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage on AZT Highline segment, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Blue Spruce along the Highline, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Spruce needles
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

Approaching the Geronimo Trailhead and West Webber Creek – probably the deepest draw encountered since the East Verde River – a new tree appears as well, the Arizona sycamore. I stop to have some food and refill my water here for the push around the Point to Pine. The reflection of the trees in the water of the Creek adds yet another dimension to the passage.

Mogollon Rim through the pines, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Oaks, pine and spruce, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores on the Highline, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores on the Highline, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores on the Highline, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores amid pines on the Highline, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
West Webber Creek, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

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, 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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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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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
Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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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 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 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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

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

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 General Springs Canyon, 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.

Climbing out of Clear Creek, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Cooler and tamper conditions on the north-facing walls of Clear Creek Canyon are evidenced by the flora growing there, like this young spruce spotted backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
The flora on the north-facing wall of Clear Creek Canyon is better attempted to cooler and wetter conditions than that on the south-facing canyon wall which was more adapted to sun and warmer temperatures
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Massive strands of lichen, reminiscent of Spanish moss, drape off the ponderosas on the north wall of Clear Creek
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Back on the plateau section south of Clear Creek, backpacking through the ponderosas once more
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Ponderosa forest on the south side of Clear Creek, hiking on the AZT across the Mogollon Plateau
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through ponderosa forest on the south side of Clear Creek on the Mogollon Plateau
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking into General Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through the bottom of General Springs Canyon, evening
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Frozen pools show the microclimates at the bottom of General Springs Canyon. The orientation and depth of the Canyon, combined with the season, mean that these pools have not melted even after a full day.
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
General Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Moon over General Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
More legacy of the wet spring, now dried out from the summer
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest
Moon over the Mogollon Rim
Arizona Trail, Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Coconino National Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical.

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.

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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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Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)15.4
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesBlue Ridge Ranger Station (292 SOBO, 496.7 NOBO)
Elk Tank (292.9 SOBO, 495.7 NOBO)
Blue Ridge Campground (293.4 SOBO, 495.3 NOBO)
Rock Crossing Campground (297 SOBO, 491.7 NOBO)
East Clear Creek/Blue Ridge Reservoir (298.7 SOBO, 490 NOBO)
Stock Tank (299.6 SOBO, 489.2 NOBO)
General Springs Canyon (306 SOBO, 482.7 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: AZ-87
South: Mogollon Rim at Colonel Devin Trail
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access (paved road)
South: Vehicular access (Graded dirt road)
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible sites, particularly south of Blue Ridge Reservoir, within General Springs Canyon & on Mogollon Rim
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

Lightning
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
HighlightsBlue Ridge reservoir crossing for ecological diversity
Largest ponderosa pine forest in world
General Springs Canyon
Mogollon Rim
Permits Required?No
Cell service?Limited. Top of Blue Ridge and south end of passage at Mogollon Rim is best.
Passage 28 Logistics (sources: personal experience, Guthook Guides, ATA Guide to the AZT)
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* 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* 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
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state.

For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin Mountain, climbs onto and crosses the Kaibab Plateau, crosses the Grand Canyon and Coconino Plateau. It skirts the mighty San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and the town itself, and then runs to the southeast past Mormon Lake to the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping off and running beside the rim to the town of Pine, it passes within miles of the Fossil Creek Wilderness area before crossing several mesas and the East Verde River. It climbs into the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and traverses them to Roosevelt, then crosses the Superstitions and desert canyons to eventually reach the Sky Islands near Tucson. Climbing across Mount Lemmon and Santa Catalinas, it drops to Redington Pass before rising again through the Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park. It again enters desert but soon climbs again into the Santa Rita Mountains, passing directly below 9400 ft Mt Wrightson. Crossing the Canelo Hills, it makes a final climb into the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately drops to its southern terminus at the US/Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial.

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“The Arizona Trail”
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The hallmark of the Arizona Trail is diversity. Many long distance trails simply follow mountain ranges and focus on views. The AZT, by contrast, focuses on crossing each of the state’s ecosystems, from deserts to ponderosa forests, Sky Islands to riparian areas.

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Of course, this means that the challenges vary greatly along the trail; depending on the area and recent conditions, terrain, elevation, water availability and access to resupplies may all be challenges.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



On September 21st, I set off to conquer this trail, adding 45 miles at the start through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to access the northern trailhead.

I have chosen it for three reasons: I wanted one that was unique, that relatively few people successfully achieve. The diversity appealed to me, as it is a novel approach to a trail. And I wanted one that would give me the confidence that no matter what I follow it with, I could do it. And, I’m already in Arizona after wrapping up my season at Grand Canyon. I also hope to raise funds for the Arizona Trail Association and National Park Foundation.

So, I’m coming for you, Arizona. Let’s see just what we are both truly made of.

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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.

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.

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