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

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 55 on the Arizona Trail. I spent the morning on job applications for next summer, my highest priority region in the Pacific Northwest/Alaska. I still managed to get a few miles of backpacking in today beneath the incredible Four Peaks. 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.

Two campers left a campfire smouldering in 1996 near Lone Pine Saddle without extinguishing it properly. Hundred year old pine trees were burned. For 11 days, the fire burned, consuming much of the Four Peaks Wilderness, greatly changing its characteristic experience from one focused on the old growth forest to one centered on, say, the views provided of the Peaks, Mazatzals, and Roosevelt Lake within Tonto Basin. Ultimately over 61,000 acres burned – then the largest fire in Arizona history. More recently, the Bush Fire in June 2020, another anthropogenic (human caused) fire, began at the intersection of Bush Hwy and AZ-87, going on to consume 193,455 acres, and hold the dubious distinction of being the largest fire actively burning in the US.

(If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Panorama looking north from backpacking the AZT near Pigeon Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking view toward Roosevelt Lake & Tonto Basin from near Pigeon Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Entering the Four Peaks Wilderness
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Crest of the Mazatzal Mountains north of the Four Peaks, view backpacking the AZT near Pigeon Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Roosevelt Lake, in Tonto Basin with the Sierra Ancha behind, seen backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Panorama of Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake and the Sierra Ancha Mountains, viewed hiking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset over Roosevelt Lake in Tonto Basin, seen backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall colors, hiking the AZT on the precipitous Mazatzal Mountain slopes
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall colors and surviving pine trees from the Lone Fire on the precipitous Mazatzal Mountain slopes, viewed backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset on the Arizona Trail near the Four Peaks
Arizona Trail, Passage 20 (Four Peaks)
Four Peaks Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” 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). The Four Peaks, the highest points of the Mazatzals, tower above the Arizona Trail with a jagged face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. As the name suggests, there are indeed four Peaks – Amethyst Peak, Sister Peak, Brother Peak, and Brown’s Peak, in increasing elevation. Brown’s is the highest point in the Mazatzals and Maricopa County, while Amethyst hosts the only commercial amethyst mine in the United States. This passage passes through the southern half of the full Mazatzal range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Lone & Bush 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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Passage 21 (Four Peaks)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)19
SeasonMarch-May, September-November
Potential Water SourcesPigeon Spring (Mi 421.6 NB, 421.6 SB)
Bear Spring (mi 400.6 NB, 422.5 SB)
Shake Spring (mi 392.5 NB, 423.4 SB)
Granite Spring (mi 391.5 NB, 431.3 SB)
Buckhorn Creek (mi 390.5 NB, 432.9 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Lone Pine Saddle
South: Theodore Roosevelt Lake
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access; via graded dirt road
South: Vehicular access (parking at Roosevelt Lake Marina)
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsPhoenix (north end)
Roosevelt Lake Marina (south end)
Farther, Globe and Tonto Basin
ATA-Rated DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Precipitous terrain limits options, but there are some spots around Mills Ridge Trailhead & the Chillicut Trail junction
Ecosystems TraversedArizona Upland
Interior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
Highlights Four Peaks
Views of Tonto Basin & Roosevelt Lake
SOBO, first saguaro appearance on trail
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

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

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

Cresting the climb up Boulder Creek, the Arizona Trail emerges onto FR 422 and begins to roll through the south-central Mazatzal Mountains. The vast majority of the route is in shrubland and allows magnificent views of the Mazatzals as well as Tonto Basin and the Sierra Ancha to the west. Sandstone spires rise above the trail, reminiscent of the landscape of Joshua Tree (albeit without the namesake trees). The rock seems to glow somewhat. The trail rolls through a basin and then the legendary, magnificent Four Peaks emerge over the ridgeline ahead. As the trail winds along the crest, the whole mountains appear, and one can look down off the mountains to the west into the Valley of the Sun and Phoenix, and to the east into Tonto Basin. I reach Pigeon Spring trailhead and encounter a couple from Phoenix out camping for the night. They refill my water to get me to Roosevelt Lake and invite me to eat with them while sharing stories from the trail. As night falls, I head partway back and find a pull off along the trail to sleep for the night. It’s striking how exceptionally dark the sky on the mountains and the Tonto Basin side remains despite how bright the light in the Phoenix sky is and how sprawling the development in the Valley is. I’m guessing that in addition to the topography helping block the light pollution, the lack of humidity in the air helps contain it as well (clouds tend to absorb and reflect/reemit light pollution, which is why light pollution is worse on cloudy nights than clear nights). Going to be great to see the views as the trail wraps around the Four Peaks themselves tomorrow.

Metro Phoenix can be accessed off of FR 422 and provides the main resupply option on this passage, though there’s also a way to cut across to AZ-188 as well on the northern segment of the passage, which provides the potential opportunity to cut to Tonto Basin as well. Water supplies is limited on the crest along 422; especially in the fall it’s probably best to assume it will not be available. There are quite a few spots to camp along 422 as well, though.

(If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Roosevelt Lake in Tonto Basin, viewed backpacking in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail through the Mazatzal Mountains as the Four Peaks peek over the hill Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail beneath sandstone spires
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail through the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail beneath the rocky southern Mazatzal Mountain ridgelines
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail beneath the rocky southern Mazatzal Mountain ridgelines
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail beneath the rocky southern Mazatzal Mountain ridgelines
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail toward the Four Peaks, the highest peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Four Peaks, the highest peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains, backpacking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Sandstone boulders beside the Arizona Trail hiking south through the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Boulder Mountain panorama, backpacking view from the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
View through the Mazatzal Mountains and across Tonto Basin to the Sierra Ancha
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
North backpacking panorama across the central Mazatzal Mountains (center) and Sierra Ancha (right) Mountains visible include Boulder Mountain, Mazatzal Peak, Mt Ord, Baker Butte, Houston Mesa, Gibson Peak, Edwards Peak, Neal Mountain, McDonald Mountain, and Sheep Basin Mountain
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Four Peaks at sunset, hiking view from the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Sunset over the Valley of the Sun, backpacking view from the Arizona Trail near Pine Mountain
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Phoenix at night from the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains south of Pine Mountain
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest

The Mazatzal Mountains, themselves are an incredible place. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” 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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack (Sunflower to FR 422 near Circle M Spring)
Dirt forest road (just north of Circle M Spring to Pigeon Spring Trailhead)
Length (Mi)19.8
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesSycamore Creek (mi 384.8 NB, 403.9 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 382.5 NB, 406.3 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 382.3 NB, 406.4 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 380.8 NB, 407.9 SB)
Boulder Creek pools (mi 380.5 NB, 408.2 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 380.1 NB, 408.6 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 379.7 NB, 409 SB)
Circle M Spring (mi 377.8 NB, 411 SB)
Little Pine Flat (mi 376.2 NB, 412.6 SB)
Pigeon Spring (mi 367.1 NB, 421.6 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Sunflower
South: Pigeon Spring Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access; immediately off paved AZ-87.
South: Vehicular access via graded dirt road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsPhoenix
ATA-Rated DifficultyDifficult (Boulder Creek segment)
Moderate (FR 422 segment)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Sycamore Canyon is ideal near the start. Options are limited to virtually nonexistent in places on the rugged climb thereafter. There are good options along the ridgetop traverse once the climb abates but you may have competition from Phoenix residents at times since that stretch follows a dirt forest road with a direct connection to suburban Phoenix.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Semidesert grassland
HighlightsViews of Mazatzal Mountains, Sierra Ancha, Roosevelt Lake, and Phoenix
Geology
Passage 21 Logistics
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

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

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: THIS SECTION OF THE ARIZONA TRAIL HAS SINCE BEEN CLOSED AS A RESULT OF THE BUSH FIRE IN SUMMER 2020 AND IS EXPECTED TO REMAIN CLOSED UNTIL APRIL 2021, AT WHICH POINT THIS WARNING WILL BE REMOVED.


Hiking south from Sycamore Creek, the Arizona Trail enters Passage 21 (Pine Mountain) and begins to climb into the southern Mazatzal Mountains through Boulder Canyon on the rugged Boulder Creek Trail dominated by Interior Chaparral landscapes. The warmer and drier features observed on the lower slopes of the north-central Mazatzals yesterday continue today. Sycamore Creek, near the northern end of this passage at Sunflower, offers an excellent camp spot with flowing, relatively reliable water. The climb to the top of the ridge from here is prolonged, exposed, and rugged; it’s recommended to drink up before setting out. The next best opportunity may not come again until the opposite end of the passage at the Pigeon Forge Trailhead. Rocky Mazatzal foothills dominate the early miles of the passage, with their tan rock accented by splashes of green. Views of Crabtree Butte, Boulder Mountain, Mount Ord, Eagle Peak, and more can be enjoyed on this stretch, as can the northern Mazatzals across Kitty Joe Canyon, particularly Saddle Mountain as one backpacks closer to the ridgeline ahead and looks north toward the northern Mazatzals. Mount Ord, the source of cell service in the area, rises to the east. Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall you may spot wildflowers among the rocks as well. Small forests of sugar bush can be found on the more gradual lower slopes but fade away into other shrubs as the grade picks up. It’s easy to tell that seasonal Boulder Creek flows in this valley – looking down on it from the mid-to-upper slopes, there’s significantly more greenery in the valley than on the surrounding slopes.

As I noted in my past entry, Sunflower is more a community than a full town, it appears, at least from a services perspective. If you need supplies from here, your best options are probably metro Phoenix, Payson, or Tonto Basin. I had a box shipped to the latter; I now decide that I will probably try to push through to Roosevelt Lake and then return to Tonto Basin for the package, since I might be needing it more at that point, although I have another box going to Roosevelt Lake so I’ll probably wind up mailing some stuff ahead to Superior or Kearny, two of the next main resupply points I’ve either considered or planned on, It seems like it’ll be easier to get there from Roosevelt, so rather than cut across to Tonto Basin from here, which could slow me down a day or so – at a time when a substantial storm, the first major front of the winter, is supposed to hit – and only add to the load I’m carrying. Plus, with the chance for storms, I may need to take a zero or two in town given that areas like the Superstitions were badly burned in the Woodbury Fire and therefore carry a significant flash flood risk (considering the trail that the Arizona Trail uses to climb into the Supes follows the route of a creek known for flooding.) And Tonto Basin only makes sense as the logical place to pause and rest should that occur. (In retrospect I might have skipped the box to Tonto Basin altogether but we’ll see how that turns out.)

(If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Moon over southern Mazatzal foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of moon over southern Mazatzal foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Mt Ord rises over northern Boulder Canyon backpacking into the foothills of the southern Mazatzals. To the right, Eagle Peak, Mt Ord and Little Mt Ord dominate the scene. In the distance to the left is Pine Butte and Mazatzal Peak.
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Moon over Crabtree Butte & southern Mazatzal Mountains foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Moon above the Arizona Trail & Crabtree Butte, hiking into the central Mazatzal Mountains south of AZ-87
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Moon above the Arizona Trail & Crabtree Butte, hiking into the central Mazatzal Mountains south of AZ-87
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail into the southern Mazatzals
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers seen hiking into the southern Mazatzal Mountain foothills on the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking through sugar bush clusters on the Arizona Trail in the southern Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers seen hiking into the southern Mazatzal Mountain foothills on the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain and the central Mazatzals, seen across Kitty Joe Canyon backpacking the Arizona Trail ascent into the southern range
Arizona Trail, Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Tonto National Forest

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” 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), perhaps best seen on the far northern and southern segments of the range, around the Mazatzal Divide and the Four Peaks. 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. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Willow & Sunflower Fires in the northern range and the Lone Pine Fire in the southern range, 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. The Mazatzals remain one of the most significant and dominant stretches of the AZT, with the proper range and Red Hills occupying 5 passages of the entire trail, more than any other single mountain range across its entire length, and more than any geographic feature other than the Colorado Plateau, which is crossed by passages occupying 1/3 of the entire trail. Bagworms spin magnificent webs in the higher elevations here, and temperatures are relatively tolerable outside of winter, when snow can make stretches impassable for those without adequate preparation, though Passage 21 is less impacted than the rugged and higher elevation Divide and Four Peaks (passages 23 and 20.)

Note: Since this hike, the Bush Fire burned this area again in 2020. While the area will eventually rebound – slowly, this being a desert – the images here now serve as documentation of the area as it was before the fire. It’s important to note that unlike the ponderosa forest in the north, chaparral is not a fire-adapted (let alone fire-dependent) landscape, and is extremely vulnerable during times of high fire danger. Please keep fire warnings and regulations in mind and don’t put these landscapes, as well as the communities – of humans and animals – that live in them at risk. This section of the trail remains closed as a result of the Bush Fire and is expected to stay closed until April 2021.

Advertisements
Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

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

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

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

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

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Passage 21 (Pine Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack (Sunflower to FR 422 near Circle M Spring)
Dirt forest road (just north of Circle M Spring to Pigeon Spring Trailhead)
Length (Mi)19.8
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesSycamore Creek (mi 384.8 NB, 403.9 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 382.5 NB, 406.3 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 382.3 NB, 406.4 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 380.8 NB, 407.9 SB)
Boulder Creek pools (mi 380.5 NB, 408.2 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 380.1 NB, 408.6 SB)
Boulder Creek (mi 379.7 NB, 409 SB)
Circle M Spring (mi 377.8 NB, 411 SB)
Little Pine Flat (mi 376.2 NB, 412.6 SB)
Pigeon Spring (mi 367.1 NB, 421.6 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Sunflower
South: Pigeon Spring Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access; immediately off paved AZ-87.
South: Vehicular access via graded dirt road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsPhoenix
ATA-Rated DifficultyDifficult (Boulder Creek segment)
Moderate (FR 422 segment)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Sycamore Canyon is ideal near the start. Options are limited to virtually nonexistent in places on the rugged climb thereafter. There are good options along the ridgetop traverse once the climb abates but you may have competition from Phoenix residents at times since that stretch follows a dirt forest road with a direct connection to suburban Phoenix.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Semidesert grassland
Passage 21 Logistics
Advertisements
Advertisements
Interior Chaparral Semidesert Grassland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* barberry
* Catclaw acacia
* Desert hackberry
* Graythorn
* ocotillo
* One-sided juniper
* velvet mesquite
Common grasses* Curly mesquite
* fluff grass
* grams grasses
* slim tridens
* tanglehead
* Three awn
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
* banana yucca
* barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* brown spined prickly pear cacti
* cane cholla
* Englemann prickly pear cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* hedgehog cacti
* pancake prickly pear cacti
* Parry’s agave
* soaptree yucca
* stool
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Saddle Mountain, Part II (Day 54, Passages 22 & 21)

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

This stretch takes me from just south of McFarland Canyon past Saddle Mountain and down, completing Passage 22 and entering Passage 21, Pine Mountain and the southern Mazatzals. The trail traverses the mid slopes of the south-central Mazatzals, which seem more separated from one another than the continuous chain that made up the mountains until now. The views remain incredible, probably partially as a result of the fire resulting in a much more shrub-based vegetation community predominating. Sheep Mountain and Saddle Mountain make notable appearances, and there are glimpses of Tonto Basin as the backpacker (or hiker) makes their way along the trail. Multicolored cliffs – appearing to be sandstone – rose above the trail. Backpacking south, the trail exits the Mazatzal Wilderness for the final time and descends toward Sunflower and AZ-87, passing another mid-passage access point on the way. As it does, the vegetation changes – barrel cactus make an appearance, showing the warmer and drier ecology of the lower slopes of the mountains. Sunflower is more a community than a full town, it appears, at least from a services perspective. If you need supplies from here, your best options are probably metro Phoenix, Payson, or Tonto Basin. I had a box shipped to the latter; now the question becomes whether it is best to stop there now, or try and hitch a ride from Roosevelt Lake at the south end of the Mazatzals? After consideration, I opt for the latter. We’ll see if it proves to be the right choice. There’s a resupply box at AZ-87 before crossing through a tunnel under the road and entering Passage 21; I took advantage and then made the crossing. Camp comes near Sycamore Creek, a great water source just south of 87 before beginning the climb into the southern Mazatzals. Unlike yesterday, there are no playful foxes – but there’s another beautiful sunset to wrap the day.

(If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Camping in the shadow of Mazatzal Mountain cliffs
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail hiking toward the col connecting to Saddle Mountain. Can you spot the mountain through the pass?
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain rises above the Arizona Trail & its connecting col
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains & surrounding foothills, viewed backpacking the Arizona Trail on the slopes of Saddle Mountain. Pine Butte at center. Relict conifer forest predating the Sunflower Fire in foreground.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain peak rises above, viewed hiking the Arizona Trail on the midslopes
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Backpacking views of the central Mazatzal Mountains from the lower slopes of Saddle Mountain on the Arizona Trail. Pine Butte rises center-left; Tonto Basin visible at left.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Cliff outcrops rise above the Arizona Trail hiking through the central Mazatzals
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Multicolored outcrops of sedimentary rock are seen backpacking through the central Mazatzals near Mormon Grove Trailhead
Arizona Trail Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall continues to linger in spots, hiking through the central Mazatzal Mountains on the Arizona Trail near Mormon Grove Trailhead
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Barrel Cacti make a debut as the Arizona Trail descends toward Sunflower
AZT Passage 22, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Pine Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking views of the rugged southern Mazatzals at sunset. Boulder Mountain in background.
Passage 21, Pine Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements

About the area: Part of this stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest, and all lies within the Mazatzal Mountains. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness 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.

Advertisements

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.

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!

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesThicket Spring (Mi 402.3 NB, 386.4 SB)
Sycamore Creek Canyon (mi 400.6 NB, 388.1 SB)
Creek (mi 392.5 NB, 396.2 SB)
Wash (mi 391.5 NB, 397.2 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 390.5 NB, 398.2 SB)
Rock Spring (mi 388.9 NB, 399.8 SB)
Hiker box at AZ 87 (mi 386.7 NB, 402 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Mt Peeley Trailhead
South: Arizona 87 near Sunflower
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from dirt road trailhead
South:
Wilderness50%
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)There are a number of options, particularly on the southern third of the passage. There are also good sites in the area around McFarland Canyon and a few sites just south of that point.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Saddle Mountain, Part I (Day 53, Passage 23)

Featured

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

This stretch takes me from the Mount Peeley Trailhead past Thicket Spring to McFarland Canyon. The views of the central Mazatzals, including Mount Peeley & Sheep Mountain, are magnificent. Framed views of the Four Peaks in the southern Mazatzals also present themselves. The trail climbs out of McFarland Canyon and back onto the mountain slopes, revealing more magnificent views of other sub peaks and ranges of the Mazatzals – including Mt Ord, Cypress Peak, and Edwards Peak. From McFarland Canyon for about 6 miles south the trail returns to the Mazatzal Wilderness before exiting it for good and descending from the mountain flanks to AZ-87.

One of my favorite wildlife encounters on the trail occurred at the end of the evening following this day. I was lying in my sleeping bag under the stars after a classic Arizona sunset when I heard a sound near the foot of my sleeping bag. I picked up my headlamp and turned it on to see a Mazatzal fox scurrying around the campsite and trail. When it saw my light, it looked up a then lay down on the ground as if it thought that would get it out of the light and make it invisible before running off. The cycle repeated several times; it seemed quite playful.

(If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Relive route for today
Rounding the eastern flank of Mt Peeley, Sheep Mountain around corner. Backpacking view on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Mt Peeley, backpacking view from the AZT.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Snake encounter at Textile Spring, backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Sycamore Creek backpacking view from the Arizona Trail below Thicket Spring
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage hiking in the bed of Sycamore Creek below Thicket Spring
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail view in the central Mazatzal Mountains along Sycamore Creek ravine; Sheep Mountain at left
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Crossing bed of Sycamore Creek hiking on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage along Sycamore Creek, backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Sheep Mountain view backpacking away from Sycamore Creek on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains, viewed hiking the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at left, Mt Peeley at right
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail crossing the rolling Mazatzal hills below the spine
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
One of two potential halfway points of the Arizona Trail, depending on routing
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking across rugged canyon-carved foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking view out of McFarland Canyon in the central Mazatzals to the Four Peaks in the southern Mazatzals. Brown’s Peak, the highest of the Four Peaks, is the highest mountain in the range.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Tonto National Forest
Lingering survivor pine trees in the central Mazatzal Mountains backpacking the Arizona Trail near McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Impressively, fall colors continue to linger in the central Mazatzals, hiking the Arizona Trail in McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Tonto National Forest
Indian Paintbrush backpacking the Arizona Trail in McFarland Canyon
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains, hiking out of McFarland Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at center.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains near sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail. Sheep Mountain at left, Mt Peeley center, Mazatzal Peak at right.
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Saddle Mountain at sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Edwards Peak (left center) and Cypress Peak (right center), viewed backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mt Ord at sunset, seen thruhiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Sunset panorama backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset hiking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset backpacking the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 21, Saddle Mountain
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.

Advertisements

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?

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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)

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Passage 22 (Saddle Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesThicket Spring (Mi 402.3 NB, 386.4 SB)
Sycamore Creek Canyon (mi 400.6 NB, 388.1 SB)
Creek (mi 392.5 NB, 396.2 SB)
Wash (mi 391.5 NB, 397.2 SB)
Stock Pond (mi 390.5 NB, 398.2 SB)
Rock Spring (mi 388.9 NB, 399.8 SB)
Hiker box at AZ 87 (mi 386.7 NB, 402 SB)
TrailheadsNorth: Mt Peeley Trailhead
South: Arizona 87 near Sunflower
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from dirt road trailhead
South:
Wilderness50%
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)There are a number of options, particularly on the southern third of the passage. There are also good sites in the area around McFarland Canyon and a few sites just south of that point.
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Mazatzal Divide, Part V (Day 53, 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

Today’s hiking route takes me from the high ridge that I camped near last night through the Mount Peeley Trailhead, the southern end of passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide, and beyond into passage 22, Saddle Mountain. This stretch of the Divide was clearly less impacted than the areas farther north when it came to the Willow and Sunflower fires; it’s a noticeable difference here on the south side of the ridge. Mount Peeley and several other unnamed adjoining peaks tower over most of the passage, with framed views of Mazatzal Peak as well as views into the Verde Valley to the west. From the east slope of Mt Peeley, the view stretches clear down the Mazatzal spine to the Four Peaks and Superstition Mountains behind. While the trail briefly leaves designated wilderness for the first time in over 20 miles toward the end of the passage, the solitude does not diminish and it will shortly pass through another stretch thereafter, through the Saddle Mountain Wilderness en route to Sunflower and the AZ-87 crossing to the southern Mazatzals. (If you missed my description of the Mazatzal Mountains, you can find that as well as logistics and ecology reports for the passage after the photos.)

Relive route for today
Moon over the Mazatzal ridgeline
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains hiking views
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Central Mazatzal Mountains backpacking views
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northern Mazatzal Mountains. Mazatzal Peak at right, North Peak right-center, Red Hills center. San Francisco Peaks on the horizon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Backpacking views of the Verde Valley from the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views of the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views on the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking views on the AZT in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Backpacking views on the AZT among relic pine forest in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic hiking views of the central & southern Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rugged backpacking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking the descent from the spine ridge toward Mount Peeley
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Scrubland grasses along the AZT traversing to Mount Peeley. These are still surprisingly green; perhaps it hasn’t been as dry here.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Verde Valley views backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rugged hiking views in the central Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking view of Mount Peeley
along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of the core of the central Mazatzal Mountains, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements
Central Mazatzal Mountains, backpacking view on the AZT on the slopes of Mount Peeley
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking out of the southern border of the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Mazatzal Mountains, Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Backpacking around Mount Peeley on the Arizona Trail, views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking around Mount Peeley on the Arizona Trail, views of various central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, as well as the Four Peaks, Mount Ord, and more.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail traversing the slopes of Mount Peeley in the central Mazatzals
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mileage sign for the Arizona Trail, showing 404 miles to Mexico & 396 to Utah. 4 miles from the midpoint!

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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)

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
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
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Mazatzal Divide, Part IV (Day 52, 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

The trail wraps precipitously around the west flank of Mazatzal Peak, with 1700 foot cliffs rising above the trail. Portions are slightly overgrown with manzanita and finding places to rest is difficult. Patches of old growth ponderosas are found among the burned out groves left from the Willow and Sunflower Fires of 2004 and 2012. Most has still been replaced by chaparral, at least for now. Reaching Bear Spring, I fill up with a couple liters of water and encounter Ash (Voodoo) as I am leaving. Turns out she’s also from NOVA and we talk for several hours. I make it about 1.5 miles further to camp for the night. The alpenglow on Mazatzal Mountain is magnificent as I top out on my highest elevation along Passage 23. Hopefully will get a nice sunrise tomorrow and another early start – this time with no detour.

Backpacking the rugged Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking under the cliffs of the Mazatzal Mountains below Mazatzal Peak
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking across the Western Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak panorama
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak panorama
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Mountains east panorama, Mazatzal Peak at left, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
View into Tonto Basin from hiking the AZT south of Mazatzal Peak
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak peeks over the trees, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking the rugged Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak, seen hiking through the trees burned in the Willow & Sunflower Fires
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset light on Mazatzal Peak, seen backpacking through the
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset light on Mazatzal ridges
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset light on Mazatzal Peak, seen backpacking through the
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mount Peeley in the Central Mazatzals at sunset, seen backpacking through the
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Sunset light, seen backpacking through the
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

Advertisements

Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

The Arizona Trail continues through massive groves of mature aspen and across rice grass meadows below the San Francisco Peaks. Contouring around below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest in Arizona, the view of the Peaks themselves and the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, over to Kendrick Peak and Bill Williams Mountain near Williams, is wide-open and magnificent.

Arizona Trail, Day 21: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

As the trail ascends again to traverse the mountain flank, the ponderosas transition further to aspens and mixed conifer forest again. These seem to be slightly past peak in places, but many are still quite magnificent. The trail passes through mature forest and rice grass meadows as it contours along the lower slopes of the mountains below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest peaks in Arizona. The weather is perfect, and the aspen leaves glow in the high elevation light. I’ll let some of their beauty again speak for themselves here, before continuing on in the next entry.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
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
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 52 – Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide, 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

Ran into Kristoff and Lissa, who were pretty out of it last night but much more alert and engaging this morning. They’re also hiking SOBO toward Mexico. Then it’s back on the regular AZT route hiking south. The trail wraps precipitously around the west flank of Mazatzal Peak, the highest point of the Northern Mazatzals with 1700 foot cliffs rising above the trail. It had also been believed to be the highest point of Gila County until a couple higher spots were found along the Mogollon Rim, and it remains the highest peak in the county. Portions of the Arizona Trail in this area are slightly overgrown with manzanita and finding places to rest is difficult. Protective clothing – hiking pants, windbreaker – is important here to avoid getting scratched. Patches of old growth ponderosas are found among the burned out groves left from the Willow and Sunflower Fires of 2004 and 2012. Most has still been replaced by chaparral, at least for now. Still, the views and exposed geology are outstanding as the trail cuts across steep slopes toward Bear Spring.

Wildflowers, backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic view hiking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Relict pine forests on the ridge lines of the Mazatzal Mountains, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Western slope of the Mazatzal Mountains, viewed hiking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Western slope of the Mazatzal Mountains, from backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak, west face from hiking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rocky, rugged peaks and canyons topping precipitous slopes characterize backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Precipitous slopes rise above, hiking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
View off the upper slopes of Mazatzal Peak to the west, backpacking the AZT in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mazatzal Peak panorama, hiking the AZT south in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Quartzite rock shows on the slopes of Mazatzal Peak
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Advertisements

Advertisements

Arizona Trail, Day 18: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 24)

Well, I’ve officially found my least favorite part of the trail so far. The first 5 miles today from Moqui Stage Station to the border of the Kaibab National Forest are nice…and then the views disappear and a long roadwalk down a valley begins where one crosses into the Babbit Ranch Passage (Passage 35). The … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 18: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 24)

Arizona Trail, Day 17: Passage 36, Coconino Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 23)

Today began with a continuation of the southward trek along the Coconino Rim. The rolling hike along the rim of the Coconino Plateau passes through a combination of ponderosas and, through the trees, views off the plateau toward the Navajo Nation. As the trail rises slowly back to the top of the rim and heads … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 17: Passage 36, Coconino Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 23)

Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 15: Passage 37, Grand Canyon South Rim

Hiking across more limestone ridges on the Coconino Plateau past rice grass meadows, scrub, and pines with gambel oaks. The trail ultimately passes through an area that seems the subject of a recent prescribed burn shortly before I call it for the night. The oaks aren’t quite the aspens but they are putting on a good show as well.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

In the land of ArizonaThrough desert heat or snowWinds a trail for folks to followFrom Utah to Old MexicoIt’s the Arizona TrailA pathway through the great SouthwestA diverse track through wood and stoneYour spirit it will testOh, sure you’ll sweat and blisterYou’ll feel the miles every dayYou’ll shiver at the lonelinessYour feet and seat will … Continue reading Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

Grabbed a few things at the general store on the North Rim of Grand Canyon today, then packed up camp. The park has a number of special sites at the campground, available first-come, first-served, to those who hike or bike into the park. I then proceed over to the Backcountry Information Center, and get put … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

Advertisements
Advertisements
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
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

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
Advertisements
Advertisements
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
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements

Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Grand Canyon National Park Boundary to Lindbergh Hill (Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim)

To the south lies the San Francisco volcanic field, topped by the majestic San Francisco Peaks rising above. I’ll go into it in more detail as I approach them, but for now I’ll note that were it not for the canyon, the Peaks would be the most famous geological feature in Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point, stands at 12,633 feet. The Arizona Trail will reach and wrap directly around their flank on the journey south. The city of Flagstaff lies immediately beyond, at the foot of the mountain on the south side. Through the trees one can make out the rim of the canyon, but the dominant view in the foreground is the aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Grand Canyon National Park fills the foreground with aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Heading back down the road, I head west on the AZT to the park entrance and then south through the aspens toward the Rim.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 6, Part I: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South

I’m on the trail early, hiking south toward the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park. As I noted in an earlier entry, one of the perils of combining being a seasonal ranger and thruhiking in the offseason (or shoulder seasons) is that one must make oneself available for interviews in sometimes inconvenient times or places. I owe a park a return call at some point today. Based on the tip I received from a nobo hiker yesterday, I hope to have service at the East Rim Overlook about 2 miles south of my campsite last night. Hiking south, the trail passes through even more glorious aspens as well as beautiful subalpine conifer forest on its way to the overlook . Logistics and ecological details follow the photos.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part II: Southern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 40), Part I

Hiking south on Passage 40, the backpacker crosses Telephone Hill, where the pines and aspens offer a respite from the Kaibab winds. Dropping down the back side, the trail passes Crane Lake and proceeds south through a meadow before gradually ascending into aspens and pines once again. Aspens dominate the remainder of the route, rolling across hills hiking south toward Little Round Valley. Trail journal and logistics for Passage 40 of the Arizona Trail.

Advertisements
Advertisements
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
Advertisements
Advertisements
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.
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisemen