Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

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

I camped at Polk Spring last night and woke up for sunrise this morning. A clearing with only scattered mesquite trees proved a good spot; on the far side, a little stream trickles down from the spring beneath towering sycamore trees golden with their fall plumage. Mesquite trees are really cool – their leaves are incredibly photosensitive. They actually fold up overnight (see below) and then open during the day as light levels increase until radiation peaks before beginning to close again and repeating the cycle the following day.

Mesquite trees with leaves folded, spotted camping at Polk Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Mesquite trees at Polk Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Polk Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest

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.

North Peak (ahead) and Red Hills (right) viewed from Arizona Trail hiking down to East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
North Peak, Mazatzal Mountains (left) & Red Hills (ahead), viewed from Arizona Trail backpacking toward East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Advertisements
Bear scat. No bears seen yet on this backpacking trip, though.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of North Peak, Mazatzal Mountains (left) and Red Hills (ahead) above East Verde Valley, hiking toward the river
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest

On reaching the East Verde River valley, there’s a sign pointing the way to the otherwise unmarked crossing. Quite faded from the Arizona sun, the sign gives the distance to Mexico now as 440 miles. (Note: for someone heading nobo, the crossing point might be easier to identify since there is more of a bank on the north side and thus the point where the trail climbs the bank to begin the ascent up Whiterock Mesa). I greet two hikers going north as they cross, then do likewise. Note: this is the same river that I crossed several times and backpacked along the banks of during the descent off the Mogollon Rim to meet the Highline Trail at Washington Park. Needless to say, the River is much bigger here, and since there’s no fixed crossing as there is for the other three rivers that the Arizona Trail crosses, care must be made in the crossing.

Hiking across the East Verde River – 440 miles to Mexico
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
East Verde River Reflections
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Advertisements
East Verde River panorama
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores glow in the morning light backpacking south on the AZT after crossing the East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest

New plants crop up as well as the AZT follows the sandy floodplain of the East Verde River before winding its way through a tricky stretch (from a navigational perspective) and beginning to climb up into the foothills. The rest of the day will be spent climbing. I pass a trail volunteer out working on rebuilding a stretch, who says he gets out here twice a year to work, fall and spring, avoiding the summer. As we look up into the Red Hills, you can see the trail climbing up to the ridge line above. In addition to being steep, it’s also very exposed. Some exposed conglomerate rock is around, too, though I suspect that geology may change as we climb higher. Well, nothing to do but get hiking! Next time, we’ll see the ascent into the Red Hills and get ready for the backpacking traverse through them into the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Hiking out of the East Verde River valley toward the foothills of the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking into the Red Hills & looking back toward the East Verde River valley, tip of Whiterock Mesa, and the Mogollon Rim beyond, through the juniper and prickly pear
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Advertisements
Red Hills, seen hiking out of the East Verde River valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Brilliant fall foliage seen backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Geology of the area – representative rocks of the East Verde River valley & Red Hills foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest

Advertisements
Advertisements

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

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

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)

Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Advertisements
Passage 25Passage 24
Trail SurfaceDirt trailDirt trail
Length (Mi)22.710.9
Elevation Change (ft)2411 ft
SeasonOctober-AprilOctober-April
Potential Water SourcesBradshaw Tank
Oak Spring Canyon
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
East Verde River
East Verde River
TrailheadsNorth: Passage 26 at Pine Trailhead (AZ-87)
Midpoint: FR 194
South: East Verde River (south). Inaccessible to cars
North: East Verde River (north). Inaccessible to cars (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Red Hills Trail Junction
Trailhead AccessibilityNorth: Vehicular
Midpoint: Vehicular
South: Hiking only (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
North: Hiking only (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Hiking only (5.75 mi hike from vehicle-accessible City Creek TH)
Ecosystems traversedRiparian
Scrubland
Riparian
Scrubland
Rocky Mountain montane conifer forest
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mogollon Rim to 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

Day 39 on the Arizona Trail. It’s another chilly morning, camped directly on the Mogollon Rim. I’ll be dropping several thousand feet today to the base. I make a short deviation back to General Springs Cabin and spot a historical sign relating to a local conflict between early settlers and native Apaches. (There’s another marker for the same battle further north, by the canyon that passed through on Clear Creek yesterday.) After checking out the cabin and packing up, it’s time to head down off the rim. The descent passes a cool railroad tunnel on a short spur, and since the temperature warms as the elevation drops, fall is still lingering on the descent. A sizeable stream, the start of the East Verde River, also runs along the trail all the way down to Washington Park at the base.

The East Verde is the second of four rivers crossed by the Arizona Trail, and the only one to be crossed twice. I’ll encounter it again in a few days starting the ascent into the Mazatzal Mountains. (The other three rivers are the Colorado, in Grand Canyon; the Salt, east of Phoenix, splitting the Mazatzals and the Superstition Mountains; and the Gila, southeast of Phoenix in Pinal County.)

At this point, the trail completes its lengthy traverse of the Coconino National Forest (which the trail had passed through almost exclusively since north of the San Francisco Peaks) and enters the Tonto National Forest. More to come tomorrow about the beginning of the traverse across the magnificent Highline Trail from Washington Park to Pine, with its incredible views of the Mogollon Rim.

Relive Video for today
Morning light on the ponderosa forests of the Mogollon Rim, hiking the AZT south
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Morning light on the ponderosa forests of the Mogollon Rim
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Battle of the Big Dry Wash historical marker on the trail where it hits the Mogollon Rim. The actual site is in the vicinity of where I crossed Clear Creek yesterday. The inscription reads “Seven miles north of this point a band of Apache Indians were defeated by United States troops on July 17, 1862. A group of tribesmen from the San Carlos Apache Reservation has attacked some ranches in the vicinity, killing several settlers. Cavalry and Indian scouts were immediately sent into the field in search of the hostile a. Five troops of cavalry and one trip of Indian scouts converged on the Apaches. Surrounding them at the Big Dry Wash, the resistance of the Indians was broken after four hours of stubborn fighting. The casualties numbered two soldiers and more than twenty Apaches.”
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
General Springs Cabin. A USFS sign reads, “Built in 1918 by Louis Fisher and used for years as a fire guard station, a small spring near here was named after General George Crook, who uses the spring while traveling the old Fort Apache-Camp Verde Military Road.”
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Beginning the descent off the Mogollon Rim. 2 miles to the bottom, 481 to Mexico. Backpacking south on the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Coconino National Forest/Tonto National Forest border
View south off the Mogollon Rim as the trail descends. Hiking south on the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Corbin Canyon & the Mogollon Rim, backpacking south on the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
View back up to the Mogollon after only a half mile or so of descending through Corbin Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
The Mineral Belt Railroad tunnel, just off the AZT below the Mogollon Rim; interior view. According to Hike Arizona, the MBR was intended to cross the state from north to south, from Nogales through Globe and across the Mogollon to the Utah border near Lee’s Ferry (my starting point for this hike). The tunnel was supposed to be 3100 ft; construction began in August 1883. It was never completed due to funding issues. But several yards excavated at the entrance remain.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Railroad Tunnel Spur
Tonto National Forest
The Mineral Belt Railroad tunnel, just off the AZT below the Mogollon Rim; exterior view. According to Hike Arizona, the MBR was intended to cross the state from north to south, from Nogales through Globe and across the Mogollon to the Utah border near Lee’s Ferry (my starting point for this hike). The tunnel was supposed to be 3100 ft; construction began in August 1883. It was never completed due to funding issues. But several yards excavated at the entrance remain.
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Railroad Tunnel Spur
Tonto National Forest
The Mogollon Rim from Corbin Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
The Mogollon Rim from Corbin Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Small waterfalls on Mogollon Rim stream among golden leaves, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora – and intense greenery, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Crossing the East Verde River in Corbin Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest
Fall on the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, among a diverse assortment of flora, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 27, Highline
Tonto National Forest

Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements