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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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

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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

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

Job application day starts. I hike further along the trail to get service and encounter Jake (trail name, Don’t Panic). We talk for a while, and then I get the applications in that I can over lunch. The second third of the climb commences, but I seem to have gotten my mountain legs under me somewhat. Combined with a lesser grade, the climbing portion of today’s hike takes a matter of hours rather than the better part of a day that yesterday’s hike took. The trail rolls through the Hills, which aren’t exactly shy about the reason for their name.

Setting out today, hiking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Can you see where the Hills get their name?
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Toomey century plants in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Emory Oak
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest

Most of the trail passes through scrubland but there are remnants of the ponderosa forest that existed in the vicinity before the Willow Fire (2004) and Sunflower Fire (2012) burned through the area. The Willow Fire burned 119,500 acres; the Sunflower burned 17,618. Dominant vegetation in parts of the area impacted by the fires has been transformed from ponderosa pines to primarily desert scrubland and pinyon juniper forest due in part to disturbance and increased solar exposure, changing the hiking experience through it, though some parts, particularly on the south end of the passage, were not impacted and retain legacy pines. Some more northerly plants like blue spruce can be found in shadier drainages. Views are extensive of both the Hills themselves and of the mesas and Mogollon Rim to the north, where another fire appears to be burning. The Red Hills passage ultimately concludes at the Red Hills Trail junction, where the Arizona Trail hiker (or backpacker) imperceptibly enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide – the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness, one of the most incredible passages on the trail, and the topic for the next entry.

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Juniper in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Pinyon pine in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic view of the Red Hills, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Cacti in the Red Hills, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Clusters of Toomey’s century plants seen backpacking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Blue spruce seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Diverse vegetation in the Red Hills, including legacy ponderosa pines, survivors of past wildfires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) & cacti in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Reminders of past fires in the Red Hills, such as the Willow and Sunflower Fires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Tail leading the hiker ahead through scrubland in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
View back through the Red Hills to the Mogollon Rim. Wildfire smoke on the horizon. Backpacking south, just past this point, the AZT passes the Red Hills trail junction and enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide.
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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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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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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Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.9
SeasonAll year but snow may impact higher elevations in winter and heat can impact lower elevations in summer.
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River
Brush Springs
Seeps
TrailheadsNorth: East Verde River (north). Inaccessible to cars (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Red Hills Trail Junction. Foot access only.
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 4 miles from vehicular access at Doll Baby Ranch
South: Foot only. 5.75 mi from vehicular access at City Creek
Wilderness?Yes
Possible Resupply PointsNone
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Precipitous terrain limits options, but there are some spots above the climb/descent into the East Verde Valley, on the ridge traverse; and in the basin and south end near the Red Hills Trail junction
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral (north end)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of the northern Mazatzal Mountains
Sunsets
Red rocks
Ecological diversity
Passage logistics
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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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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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mesquite trees at Polk Spring, camping along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Polk Spring, a great camping spot along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Bear scat. No bears seen yet on this backpacking trip, though.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
East Verde River Reflections
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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East Verde River panorama
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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.

Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking out of the East Verde River valley toward the foothills of the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Red Hills, seen hiking out of the East Verde River valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Brilliant fall foliage seen backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Geology of the area – representative rocks of the East Verde River valley & Red Hills foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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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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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 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
Great Basin Conifer Woodland, primarily
Rocky Mountain montane conifer forest (north end)
Riparian
Interior Chaparral (north end)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of Mazatzal Mountains & Mogollon Rim
Sunsets
Views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains
Sunsets
Red rocks
Ecological diversity
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