Hiking Amazing Arizona: Barnhardt Trail, Mazatzal Wilderness (Tonto NF)

Took about a 3 mile detour this morning to see some magnificent chevron folding exposed in Barnhardt Canyon. The Barnhardt Trail runs through the Mazatzal Wilderness in the canyon of the same name, connecting the Tonto Basin with the Arizona Trail on the Mazatzal Divide and exposing some of the finest geology around. The full trail is 12 miles long, 6 each way, but you can get a pretty good experience on even just the upper 3-4 miles if you are coming from the Arizona Trail headed north or south. The AZT crosses the upper end of Barnhardt Canyon just south of Chilson Spring. Some of the finest exposed geology in the Mazatzals is ready to be seen a short distance to the east in the form of exposed chevron folds on sheer cliffs.

Hiking in Upper Barnhardt Canyon in the early morning
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Moon over Barnhardt Canyon on the Mazatzal Divide, hiking in the Mazatzal Mountains
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Upper Barnhardt Canyon panorama, viewed hiking the Barnhardt Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Maples along the Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Hiking along Barnhardt Canyon with views of chevron folds in the Mazatzal Mountains
Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking along Barnhardt Canyon with views of chevron folds in the Mazatzal Mountains
Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

About the area: This stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Sunflower in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size and surrounds the Mazatzal Mountains. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. Formed during an orogeny (a term referring to the process that creates mountains) when Arizona was a coastal region on the margin of what became North America, the Mazatzals gained their rugged nature as tectonic collisions compressed rock, lifting it and thrusting it above other rocks (overthrust). We’ll see the resulting folding in the next entry during a short side hike on the Barnhardt Trail. Mazatzal Peak, the highest point of the Northern Mazatzals, towers 1700 ft above the trail with a jagged west face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. This passage passes through the northern half of the full range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Willow & Sunflower Fires, which burned much (though not all, as we will see) of the old ponderosa forest that had made the mountains one of the most popular long-distance stretches of the Arizona Trail. Yet the incredible geology, solitude, sunsets, and views remain for the hardy and prepared souls who venture into this special place. Bagworms spin magnificent webs here, and temperatures are relatively tolerable outside of winter, when snow can make stretches impassable for those without adequate preparation.

Relive Video
Barnhardt Trail & Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Barnhardt Trail
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)6 one-way
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesChilson Spring on upper end, short distance north along Arizona Trail (Mazatzal Divide Trail)
Barnhardt Creek on lower end
TrailheadsLower: Tonto Basin
Upper: Arizona Trail (Mazatzal Divide Trail) near Chilson Spring
Trailhead AccessLower: Vehicular. 4 mi dirt/rock road from AZ-188 to trailhead
Upper: Foot access only
WildernessYes
Possible Loop Combo?Y Bar Trail
Special considerationsManzanita present – wear pants & sleeves
Dog-friendly? Yes
Ecosystems Traversed in areaInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
FeaturesGeology
Views
Ecological diversity
Waterfall, in wet months
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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
Northern Mazatzal Mountains ecology. Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part 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

Delayed departure this morning due to job applications and an interview with Shawnee NF in Illinois. One of the interviewers did a detail here on the Tonto National Forest so when I describe my current experience he’s very familiar with it. I soak in the majestic Rocky Ridge view one final time then ultimately hike back down to camp and get packed by mid afternoon.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s backpacking solitude is disrupted today. I ran into four NOBO section hikers first, which contributed to some degree but also provided an enjoyable conversation. The primary disruptive event was the 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. Something to look into, perhaps. 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. At Chilson, where I encounter and end up having dinner with an American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew working on area trails. Something I’ve always thought about participating in, and of course they are curious about my work too, so we pick each other’s brains over food. With camp all set up near the upper end of Barnhardt Canyon, and after a chance encounter with two other potential thru-hikers it’s time to rest for a hopefully early start tomorrow.

Relive Video
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Moon above Rocky Ridge in the Mazatzal Mountains, viewed hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North panorama from Rocky Ridge, backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
View along Rocky Ridge toward North Peak (left), seen hiking on the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

About the area: This stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Sunflower in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size and surrounds the Mazatzal Mountains. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. Formed during an orogeny (a term referring to the process that creates mountains) when Arizona was a coastal region on the margin of what became North America, the Mazatzals gained their rugged nature as tectonic collisions compressed rock, lifting it and thrusting it above other rocks (overthrust). We’ll see the resulting folding in the next entry during a short side hike on the Barnhardt Trail. Mazatzal Peak, the highest point of the Northern Mazatzals, towers 1700 ft above the trail with a jagged west face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. This passage passes through the northern half of the full range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Willow & Sunflower Fires, which burned much (though not all, as we will see) of the old ponderosa forest that had made the mountains one of the most popular long-distance stretches of the Arizona Trail. Yet the incredible geology, solitude, sunsets, and views remain for the hardy and prepared souls who venture into this special place. Bagworms spin magnificent webs here, and temperatures are relatively tolerable outside of winter, when snow can make stretches impassable for those without adequate preparation.

View back up to the summit of Rocky Ridge from Horse Camp Seep Bear Deadman’s Canyon, seen backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Deadman’s Canyon and surrounding mountains, seen hiking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Deadman’s Canyon, viewed backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Deadman’s Canyon and side canyons, northeast view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Deadman’s Canyon, viewed backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic west view from the AZT showing Deadman’s Canyon & Rocky Ridge, seen backpacking in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Banana yucca, seen hiking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
East view from the AZT backpacking in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
The AZT takes the backpacker toward the jagged west face of Mazatzal Peak
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak and the southern half of the central Mazatzal Mountains rise above the AZT, SE view from hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak’s jagged west face rises above the Mazatzal Mountains, SE view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Mazatzal Peak’s jagged west face rises above the Mazatzal Mountains, SE view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak and the southern half of the central Mazatzal Mountains rise above the AZT, SE view from hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from the AZT, backpacking in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
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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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
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsMazatzal Mountains
Geology
Extensive views
Diverse ecology
Dramatic, rugged terrain
Mazatzal Peak
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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 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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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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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 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 – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

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 45 on the AZT (46 south of the Utah line). Why do downhill grades never feel like such when hiking long distances? The elevation chart says almost all of today was downhill yet much felt level at best. It’s was warmer tonight near Polk Spring; I only have my shell layer on my sleeping bag.

It’s been humid the last few days but I didn’t have to dry out my footprint this morning so it must not have been quite as humid as it has been. I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River. The first few miles, the former end of Passage 26 and under the recent reorganization now the middle of Passage 25, were on a packed gravel road, then the trail headed onto older roads surfaced with large pieces of volcanic basalt and progress slowed. (Logistical data at the end).

Mileage sign, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 26: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Tarantula on the trail, backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 26: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Hiking across Whiterock Mesa, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest

Once passing through a herd of cattle on the trail – carefully – I pass 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. Shortly thereafter, the trail moves away from the rim again. The pinyon-juniper forest continues – a mental challenge to any backpacker on the trail since it offers no sign of a destination, although North Peak in the Mazatzals does occasionally poke above the trees.

Hiking through pinyon juniper forest atop Whiterock Mesa, backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Fruiting prickly pear cactus along the Arizona Trail atop Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Mazatzal Mountains (left, behind) and Red Hills (in front, parallel ridges), viewed backpacking the AZT on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking through pinyon juniper forest atop Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Texture of the basalt surface of Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
The white rock surface of Whiterock Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Hiking across Whiterock Mesa, the North Peak (left) and Mazatzal Peak (right) in the Mazatzal Mountains rise above the pinion juniper forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Upon hiking to the end of Saddle Ridge and descending to Whiterock Spring, an excellent panorama unfolds of the valleys of Rock Creek and the East Verde to the Mazatzals, Red Hills and Tonto Basin.

Mazatzal Mountains (center-left) & Red Hills (ridges running to right), seen from backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains & Red Hills, seen from hiking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa, wide angle. North Peak center-right.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
North Peak & Mazatzal Mountains above the pinyon juniper forest, backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains and the Red Hills from Whiterock Mesa, wide angle. North Peak center-left. View hiking the AZT on Whiterock Mesa.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Spine of the Mazatzal Mountains from Whiterock Mesa. North Peak at center, Red Hills extending to side with main spine running along view axis.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Mesquite tree on Whiterock Mesa, bacKpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest

Another beautiful sunset and moonrise also await along the steep descent to Polk Spring, where I camp for the night and fill up on water – looks like there won’t be any for at least 20 miles. Tomorrow will see me on Passage 24, Red Hills. It’s about to get geologically interesting again but a lot more strenuous. I did use as many water-thirsty foods and heavy foods as I could tonight in preparation. 

Moonrise over Whiterock Mesa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
East panorama, backpacking the Arizona Trail on Whiterock Mesa. North Peak & Mazatzal Mountains at right. Panoramic view hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
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Cactus on Whiterock Mesa, backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset & moonrise from Whiterock Mesa, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto National Forest
Sunset from Whiterock Mesa, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa
Tonto 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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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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

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Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Trail SurfaceVaries
Pine to Hardscrabble Mesa: Dirt singletrack
Hardscrabble Mesa: Rocky
FR 194: Packed gravel
Whiterock Mesa to descent: Dirt singletrack
Length (mi)22.7
Elevation Change (ft), north to southWhiterock Mesa: 2661 up, 87 down
Hardscrabble Mesa: 1745 up, 1263 down
SeasonSeptember-April
Potential Water SourcesOak Canyon Spring
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Pine
Twin Buttes (FR 194)
South: East Verde River (inaccessible by car)
Doll Baby
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road (AZ-87)
Middle: Graded dirt road (FR 194)
South: Foot access only
Doll Baby Trailhead accessible by car, 4 mi hike to East Verde River
Possible Resupply PointsPine
ATA-Rated DifficultyWhiterock Mesa: Easy
Hardscrabble Mesa: Moderate
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?Decent for area
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest (north of Oak Spring Canyon)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
HighlightsOak Spring Canyon
Views of Mazatzal Mountains
Logistical details
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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 – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

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 43 on the Arizona Trail. Late start after an immense and slow breakfast at Early Bird Cafe. I retrace my steps to the Pine Trailhead and then turn south. 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. Dikes are volcanic intrusions – formed when magma forced into cracks in surrounding rock and then cools in place. Yet more examples of the little-known volcanic history of the area. The unfortunate part? It’s followed by a steady climb out to the top of Whiterock Mesa (namesake of the passage). The basalt returns as the trail ascends and the trail is again covered in loose rock. I ultimately find a somewhat flat spot to camp and then return to the bottom to get some water from Oak Spring before heading to bed. The breakfast was so filling, in fact, that I can get by with a relatively light dinner, at most. May not even need much of any dinner.

AZT Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa) Relive Video
Heading back into the pines, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Hardscrabble Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
View down Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
View across Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Dikes (volcanic intrusions) in rocks, Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Ironwood berries, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Whiterock Mesa ascent, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon ascending Whiterock Mesa hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Moon at sunset over Oak Spring Canyon & the Mogollon Rim, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Moon at sunset over Oak Spring Canyon & the Mogollon Rim, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Sunset near top of Whiterock Mesa ascent, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. After doing a full resupply yesterday to get me through to Pine, where my next box has been shipped, and replacing some gear, including a new pair of boots and new sleeping pad, today started with breakfast with Oscar at Tourist Home, … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

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Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Trail SurfaceVaries
Pine to Hardscrabble Mesa: Dirt singletrack
Hardscrabble Mesa: Rocky
FR 194: Packed gravel
Whiterock Mesa to descent: Dirt singletrack
Length (mi)22.7
Elevation Change (ft), north to southWhiterock Mesa: 2661 up, 87 down
Hardscrabble Mesa: 1745 up, 1263 down
SeasonSeptember-April
Potential Water SourcesOak Canyon Spring
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Pine
Twin Buttes (FR 194)
South: East Verde River (inaccessible by car)
Doll Baby
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road (AZ-87)
Middle: Graded dirt road (FR 194)
South: Foot access only
Doll Baby Trailhead accessible by car, 4 mi hike to East Verde River
Possible Resupply PointsPine
ATA-Rated DifficultyWhiterock Mesa: Easy
Hardscrabble Mesa: Moderate
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?Decent for area
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest (north of Oak Spring Canyon)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
HighlightsOak Spring Canyon
Views of Mazatzal Mountains
Logistical details
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* 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* 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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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. I want to note that this hike was completed before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it has left me with quite a bit of time in quarantine to write up my experiences on the trail.

Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I hike south. I’ll return for the petroglyphs here tomorrow. The trail continues through scrubland to a small trailhead off of old Route 66 east of Flagstaff. After 14.3 miles in about 4-5 hours, one of my best paces yet, I Uber back to Flag for dinner. I’ll come back out here afterwards, or in the early morning if I opt to spend the night at the Grand Canyon Hostel in downtown, which given the time, might be likely.

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

Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Juniper berries along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset panorama on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.

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

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water availability and access varies over this stretch.

Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceGravel RoadDirt Road
Water Sources (Potential)Cedar Ranch (supply box)
Rabbit Canyon (unnamed tank)
Cedar Ranch (supply box)
East Cedar Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical info for stretch hiked today
Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceMixed, mostly gravel roadMixed, dirt road and singletrack
Length24.5 miles35.3 miles
SeasonAll yearSpring-fall primarily
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch trailhead supply box
Rabbit Canyon
Tub Ranch water tank
Lockwood Tank
Cedar Ranch Trailhead supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical details for full length of all passages involved today (whether hiked today or not)
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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 3

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part II

Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 420 national parks in the National Park System, protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part I

Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Looking across Larkum Canyon on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

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

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42).

Backpacking the Arizona Trail SOBO through PJ scrubland
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Exiting the Buckskin Passage of the Arizona Trail, on to Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the continuing pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest landscape, so this will be brief. After a crossing of the Old Spanish Trail and long meadow section that ends near Government Reservoir, there’s a brisk climb to the end of the day after 14.3 miles.

After the better part of the last day or so of hiking through pinyon-juniper (PJ) Forest, today the trail starts to break out into open ricegrass and blackbush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south with the Arizona Trail leading ahead through fields of ricegrass and blackbush
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
While the rice grass in the meadows is mostly browned out from the lack of a monsoon, in some places microclimates or the lingering evidence of the wet winter can still be seen with a green tinge.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking across ricegrass & blackbush meadows toward another of Arizona’s mountain ranges, potentially the Moccasin Mountains to the NW or Buckskin Mountains behind on the trail, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking back while hiking along the Arizona Trail through the rice grass & blackbush meadows and pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest of the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking along the AZT, looking across the rice grass meadows and PJ forested hills of the extreme northern Kaibab Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North

Some immense Kaibab Limestone outcrops are the highlight glowing gold in the evening light. I’ve broken into ponderosa forest and spotted some Gamble Oaks with tinges of fall color. It’s still pretty warm but fall is on the way.

Hiking south & climbing onto the main portion of the northern rim of the Kaibab Plateau, ponderosa pines take precedence on golden limestone. A cluster of Gamble oaks starting to break into fall foliage sits beside the trail.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
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Backpacking through the ponderosa pines
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest
Sunset from camp, seen hiking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest



The shift from PJ to ponderosa forest represents the first major ecosystem change on a trail famed for its diversity, and it is indeed quite the shift from a landscape perspective. Instead of shorter trees and intermittent shade, interspersed with meadows offering more direct sunlight, the landscape now features mature ponderosa and widespread shading and much more filtered light.

I should be to Jacob Lake in time for dinner tomorrow evening (and hopefully breakfast the following morning) before heading into the central Kaibab. Looking forward to my first real meal in 1-2 weeks.



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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. I want to note that this hike was completed before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it has left me with quite a bit of time in quarantine to write up my experiences on the trail. Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Schultz Pass (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages, then opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 1977 Radio Fire. Views of Elden Mountain open up, and I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I continue hiking south.

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Arizona Trail, Day 23: Flagstaff Zero (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

Today is going to be a busy off day. I start it with a stop at Macy’s European Coffeehouse, an awesome breakfast place in downtown Flagstaff. They make particularly great waffles, but given the hiker hunger that all thruhikers suffer from, I add a smoothie and a breakfast sandwich for good measure today. I always make a point to stop here when I’m in Flag.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

The trail crosses to the flanks of Elden Mountain and continues to drop down toward Flagstaff. It crosses the Coconino National Forest border onto McMillan Mesa and into Buffalo Park, managed by Flagstaff. A wide rice grass meadow composes much of the park, crisscrossed with wide paths providing magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks. Just magnificent, especially seen now in the late afternoon.

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 2 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

The gambel oaks are glorious with the light passing through the leaves, and the views of Elden Mountain – the other side of which was “apocalyptically burned” in the 1970s Radio Fire, according to my AZT guidebook – are spectacular. Mule deer graze among the rice grass and trees. The gambel oaks continue to look incredible. It’s amazing how as I progress south I seem to be seeing the progression of the foliage across different tree species as well as within the species. Makes for an ever changing and spectacular color display.

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Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.816.4
SeasonMarch-November. Lower elevations hot in summer with little shade.Spring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesSeasonal tank (mi 4.1 SOBO/784.6 NOBO)
Seasonal tank (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Rock Creek Apron (mi 13.3 SOBO/775.4 NOBO), off trail
Government Reservoir (mi 17.8 SOBO/770.9 NOBO), off trail
Ponderosa Trick Tank (mi 20.0 SOBO/768.7 NOBO), off trail
Umbrella Tank (mi 20.3 SOBO/768.4 NOBO)
Orderville Trick Tank (mi 21 SOBO/767.7 NOBO), off trail
TrailheadsNorth: Utah border at Coyote Valley (mi 0 SOBO/788.7 NOBO)
South: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
North: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
South: US-89A east of Jacob Lake
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheadsNorth: Vehicular access (dirt road)
South: Vehicular access (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsNoneJacob Lake
DifficultyEasyEasy to moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near summit of Buckskin Mountain, after initial climb out of Coyote Valley/just before final descent into Coyote Valley. Developed campsite at Utah state line in Coyote Valley.Good LNT-compatible sites through National Forest. I liked a spot right at the northern end of the ponderosa forest, at the north tip of the Kaibab itself.
ThreatsHeat – 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
Heat – 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
Permits Required? NoNo
Cell service?Limited Limited to nonexistent
Ecosystems traversedGreat Basin Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail. Note that due to wildfire, Passage 43 is currently closed to access by the Bureau of Land Management.
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Big sagebrush
* Fernbush
* Fremont barberry
* Gambel oak
* Hopbush
* Mormon tea
* Rabbitbrush
* Serviceberry
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Junipers
* Piñon pine
* 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* Cutleaf
* Phacelia
* Wild onions
* Buckwheats
* Bladderpods
* Evening primrose
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Grasses such as muttongrass & squirreltail
* Groundsel
* Indian paintbrush
* Locoweed
* Phlox
* Pinque rubberweed
* Sedges, such as clustered field sedge & western sedge
* Wild cabbage (unusual, thick stemmed)
* 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* Banana & Bailey’s yucca
* Beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.

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