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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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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0579-1.jpg
“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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a57cfd0e-1a74-45dd-9dc3-d563f4e5a03e.jpg



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, 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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