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

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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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
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the 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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

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

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

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

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Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesHorse Camp Seep
Hopi Spring
Chilson Spring
Bear Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Red Hills Trail Junction
South: Mount Peeley Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 5.75 mi from City Creek Trailhead
South: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from trailhead.
WildernessMost
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)6.7, 9.4, 19.4, 22
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsMazatzal Mountains
Geology
Extensive views
Diverse ecology
Dramatic, rugged terrain
Mazatzal Peak
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the 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

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

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

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

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

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Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesHorse Camp Seep
Hopi Spring
Chilson Spring
Bear Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Red Hills Trail Junction
South: Mount Peeley Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 5.75 mi from City Creek Trailhead
South: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from trailhead.
WildernessMost
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)6.7, 9.4, 19.4, 22
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsMazatzal Mountains
Geology
Extensive views
Diverse ecology
Dramatic, rugged terrain
Mazatzal Peak
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the 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
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 41, Part II – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

The trail continues to roll across the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, the impressive and distinctive southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, where the elevation jumps around 4000 ft in elevation. The Highline continues to define itself as a diverse landscape where the species of the desert below and the pine forests above mingle.

The Mazatzal Mountains – the next major hurdle once I make it to Pine – loom in the distance as well, and ironwood line the more open stretches of path across the Highline, where the Dude Fire burned the forest in 1990.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Highline Trail, Part II (Passage 27, Highline)

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

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Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesHorse Camp Seep
Hopi Spring
Chilson Spring
Bear Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Red Hills Trail Junction
South: Mount Peeley Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 5.75 mi from City Creek Trailhead
South: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from trailhead.
WildernessMost
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)6.7, 9.4, 19.4, 22
HazardsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs 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. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

FR 708Fossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt road Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (Mi)About 20
Elevation Change (Ft)16251625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil CreekFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs-Irving Trailhead
Waterfall Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs-Irving Trailhead

FR 708 continues its ascent of the walls of Fossil Canyon from the Waterfall Trailhead. The views down into the canyon are superb, and splotches of color from gamble oaks, Arizona sycamores, and more add to the spectacle. Spectacular vistas emerge as the road climbs to the canyon rim.

Fossil Canyon foliage, viewed hiking along the edge of the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon foliage, viewed hiking along the edge of the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon hiking view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon hiking panorama
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

I reach the top around sunset and collect my stuff. The sunset itself is spectacular, one of the best ones yet for certain, and one of the best in a while on the trail. Some people are packing up from the day, and I manage to secure a ride back to Strawberry with a recent transplant to Arizona out exploring for the day. I stopped by a good Italian place and then stop across the street at a bar that was recommended to me for having simple things like toothbrushes available. One of the waitresses there, on hearing my story, offers me a ride back to the AZT, so I’m now crashed for the night back atop Whiterock Mesa. I’ll add the details on dinner stop to my Pine entry. Tomorrow, heading toward the Mazatzals.

Sunset after a long day of hiking
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Sunset after a long day of hiking
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Sunset after a long day of hiking
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Clear Creek to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 38 – Blue Ridge Ranger Station to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

Fossil Springs 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. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

Waterfall TrailFossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (Mi)1.3About 20
Elevation Change (Ft)2491625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil CreekFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs-Irving Trailhead
Waterfall Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs-Irving Trailhead

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 Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Riparian foliage along Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall Trail along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Reaching the waterfall, a large mineral deposit appears to the side. There’s another family here having fun as I pause to relax a bit. I also passed several groups on my way in going both in and out. I can imagine this can get substantially busier during peak season, so be sure to be prepared and have your permits done before coming. Heading back to FR 708, the route turns uphill and begins to follow the long climb on the closed road to the rim of Fossil Canyon. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of those shots, including a spectacular sunset that put the final touches on an amazing day before returning to Strawberry, Arizona for dinner.

Travertine deposits along Fossil Creek – the formations that trap the namesake fossils of the creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall, Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Rapids, Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall, Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Rapids on Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

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

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Flume Trail

For those who may have missed it yesterday, Fossil Springs 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. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting. Note, too, that Google says Fossil Creek Road between the Irving & Fossil Creek (Bob Bear) trailheads is closed April-October, but in fact it is closed indefinitely due to hazardous driving conditions on the road.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

Flume TrailFossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrackDirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Type of hikeOut-and-backLoop
Length (mi)4.6 one-way About 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)8231625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs – Irving TrailheadBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
Permits required?Yes, seasonallyYes, seasonally

From the Fossil Springs diversion dam remnants, the Flume Trail begins and heads down Fossil Canyon. The Diversion Dam, as the name suggests, diverted water from Fossil Creek into flumes that carried it four miles down Canyon to the Irving Powerhouse; these flumes were calibrated to drop 1 ft of elevation for every 1000 ft in distance in order to develop the requisite hydraulic gradient for power generation.

Fossil Springs diversion dam waterfall, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Springs diversion dam interpretive sign, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Flume interpretive sign, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

The trail follows the route of this old flume that used to carry water from the diversion dam down to the hydroelectric plants located further downstream in areas that were more accessible and easier to build in than the area around the dam itself. The trail rises high above the valley floor as its elevation drops at a much more gradual rate compared to the floor of the canyon, providing fantastic views without impacting the fragile riparian zone within the Canyon.

Fossil Creek riparian zone from Flume Trail above, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, downcanyon view, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek riparian zone from Flume Trail above, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Flume Trail, view backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

The trail ultimately steadily descends to the canyon floor in a wider section and passes by the remains of the old powerplant that was located here. (If you are heading in the opposite direction, that will be your major climb on the trail.) A concrete ford of the creek itself crosses over to the parking lot – this appears to be a popular spot for cooling off; a family was splashing around. You’ll probably have to take your shoes off for this crossing. Once across, I took the chance to soak my feet in the water a while here and found a nice cascade just downstream as well. From here, the trail rises to the parking lot. Tomorrow we will cover the final leg, including the Waterfall Trail and the return on the closed stretch of Fossil Creek Road (FR 708).

Crystal clear Fossil Creek under fall foliage at crossing between parking area & old Irving powerplant site, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Cascades just downstream of old crossing between parking area and Irving powerplant site, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Cascades just downstream of old crossing between parking area and Irving powerplant site, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Does Fossil Creek help brighten your day in these times? If so, let me know in the comments below! See you tomorrow for more tracks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (mi)About 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)1625
SeasonAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

Fossil Springs 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. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

Fossil Springs TrailFossil Springs Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Length (mi)4.6 mi one-wayAbout 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)14261625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsBob Bear Trailhead, unless combined with Flume TrailBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
Permits required?Yes, seasonallyYes, seasonally

The trail descends from the Fossil Springs trailhead to the bottom of Fossil Canyon, a 1600 ft deep canyon carved over time into the Mogollon Rim. Upon reaching the canyon floor, it passes a junction with the Mail Trail, which ascends the Mogollon Rim (honestly, this would be a sweet potential alternate route for the AZT) and then traces the Canyon to reach the former site of the Fossil Springs Diversion Dam.

Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Descending into Fossil Canyon, view back up to Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Descending into Fossil Canyon, view back up to Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Pools in Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
View to Mogollon Rim from bottom of Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Diverse vegetation in Fossil Canyon, including yucca
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view back toward Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall alive and well in the diverse riparian zone within Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall alive and well in the diverse riparian zone within Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

The Diversion Dam, as the name suggests, diverted water from Fossil Creek into flumes that carried it four miles down Canyon to the Irving Powerhouse, built in a much more accessible spot; these flumes were calibrated to drop 1 ft of elevation for every 1000 ft in distance in order to develop the requisite hydraulic gradient for power generation. The dam was built in 1916, entirely by hand at 25 ft tall and 5 ft thick; it makes for a great waterfall today with the top 11 ft removed to allow the creek to flow freely again. On the opposite bank from the trail, but accessible by a spur trail, is a natural feature called the Toilet Bowl, a rounded out area of the rocks separated by a rock wall from the main channel of the creek, but with an underground connection between the two – so in a sense, anything that ends up in the “bowl” winds up being “flushed” into the main channel. Swimming in the Bowl is not recommended. Foundations related to the flume or dam structures are nearby as well, and travertine formations abound, encasing fossils within – hence the name of the area.

Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam, panorama
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Remains of structure associated with the Fossil Springs Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Fossil Creek Dam waterfall
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, downstream view from site of former Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Meanwhile, the trail takes its name from Fossil Springs itself. Releasing 20,000 gallons/minute – or 30 million gallons daily – into the Canyon at 70°F, they are prolific and can be witnessed close to the main trail.

Fossil Springs
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek Dam mistbow
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Springs Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall & rainbow at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Crystal clear water at Fossil Springs, source of Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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)

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.

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Day 44 on the Arizona Trail. Up early but a slow start after I discover some unexpected condensation beneath the footprint, requiring some additional drying out and some subsequent online distractions. They are getting harder to resist when there’s a connection given the solitude I’ve been going through for 5-7 weeks now. 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 secure in the knowledge that Matt will cache some water for me at the end of the Passage. A friendly driver gives me a lift over to the Fossil Springs Trailhead. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, so I make camp near the trail and get set to head down in the morning. Tomorrow I hope to be in the Mazatzals.

Southeast view off Whiterock Mesa to the Mazatzal Mountains
Fossil Creek Wilderness
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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.

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.

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Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Trail SurfaceVaries
Pine to Hardscrabble Mesa: Dirt singletrack
Hardscrabble Mesa: Rocky
FR 194: Packed gravel
Whiterock Mesa to descent: Dirt singletrack
Length (mi)22.7
Elevation Change (ft), north to southWhiterock Mesa: 2661 up, 87 down
Hardscrabble Mesa: 1745 up, 1263 down
SeasonSeptember-April
Potential Water SourcesOak Canyon Spring
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Pine
Twin Buttes (FR 194)
South: East Verde River (inaccessible by car)
Doll Baby
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road (AZ-87)
Middle: Graded dirt road (FR 194)
South: Foot access only
Doll Baby Trailhead accessible by car, 4 mi hike to East Verde River
Possible Resupply PointsPine
ATA-Rated DifficultyWhiterock Mesa: Easy
Hardscrabble Mesa: Moderate
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Lightning
Permits Required?No
Cell Service?Decent for area
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest (north of Oak Spring Canyon)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
HighlightsOak Spring Canyon
Views of Mazatzal Mountains
Logistical details
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Day 43 on the Arizona Trail. Late start after an immense and slow breakfast at Early Bird Cafe. I retrace my steps to the Pine Trailhead and then turn south. The trail first rolls through the pines and passes Pine Creek (dry) and Bradshaw Tank on its way to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa, which provides an excellent overlook of Oak Spring Canyon, the highlight of the passage, before dropping to the bottom. Like on the Highline, foliage still lingers in the warmer Canyon. I also spot some cool geology in what appears to be dikes in some of the rocks. Dikes are volcanic intrusions – formed when magma forced into cracks in surrounding rock and then cools in place. Yet more examples of the little-known volcanic history of the area. The unfortunate part? It’s followed by a steady climb out to the top of Whiterock Mesa (namesake of the passage). The basalt returns as the trail ascends and the trail is again covered in loose rock. I ultimately find a somewhat flat spot to camp and then return to the bottom to get some water from Oak Spring before heading to bed. The breakfast was so filling, in fact, that I can get by with a relatively light dinner, at most. May not even need much of any dinner.

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