High Country Solitude


(Before I describe the hike, I need to give a caution about the road up to the trailhead.  FR201 is an 8-mile very narrow and twisty mountain road which in dry weather is easily passable with a typical short-wheelbase SUV.  It is NOT SUITABLE for a long wheelbase pickup, or a “dually”.  REGARDLESS OF YOUR VEHICLE, DO NOT attempt this road after a rain or snow storm.  Once you commit to the drive there are very few points where you can bail out and turn around, and if slippery any spin out would almost certainly lead to loss of your vehicle.)

Having said all of that, the road is generally well maintained, has a smooth surface, and will not be a problem in dry weather.  Your passengers (driver, you keep YOUR eyes on the road) will enjoy breathtaking views at every turn.  The trip up this road is visually stunning.

This hike has been on my bucket list for two years now, ever since George, Peter, and I scouted both ends of it back in the spring of 2012.

Yesterday 6 of us (Tony, Mark, George, Ken, Peter, and I) hiked the Arizona Trail “Passage 22″ from Peeley Mountain to the trailhead at Cross F Ranch.  This 12 mile route takes you over connecting segments of several trails in the Mazatzal mountains (#86, #95, #88, #91, and #244).

We don’t know what happened to this guy, but not all junctions are well marked, and some sections of the trails are pretty sketchy, so this is a “pay attention to your map” hike.


Here are the particulars of the route as recorded by my Suunto GPS Track Pod.

Peeley Summary

Peeley Map

(You can see a larger version of the map above and an interactive version of the elevation charge below at  http://www.movescount.com/moves/move26710694)

Peeley Elevation

I’d classify this hike as strenuous, primarily because of the length. As you can see, overall this is a downhill hike.  While there is a fair amount of elevation gain it is early in the hike when your legs are fresh, and is distributed between downhill or flat segments so you have a chance to rest your legs.  Pace yourself and carry a good supply of water.

The hike starts at about 5,600 feet altitude and is above 4,000 for almost the entire route, so this is a candidate for a spring day when it is too warm to hike down here in the valley.

This is a visually interesting hike, but not “pretty” in the traditional sense.  Most of this area has been involved in the “Sunflower Fire” of 2012 and the “Willow Fire” of 2004.  Smokey the Bear wouldn’t like this place!

The dominate “vegetation” all along the route are the reminders of those fires.


Sometimes mountainsides are a mottled mix of dead and live Ponderosas. The stark white skeletons in the foreground are the bleached remains of Mountain Holly.








Speaking of burned out old timber, here is a view of three specimens who hiked with me.  (Tony and Mark forged way ahead of us out of camera range.)  Left to right, “Lonesome George” (who did the Lewis and Clark work for this trek), “Bandana Pete”, and “Cactus Butt Ken” (ask him).


Not all the scenery is so bleak, however.

A lot of the hike is on high ridgelines, so broad vistas are commonplace. All of the prominent landmark features in a 50-mile radius, like Mount Ord, Weavers Needle, 5057, Flatiron, Four Peaks, the Mogollon Rim, and others were visible at one time or another.






This was a fun hike with a small group.  Other than my 5 companions, no other human was seen all day, and the solitude was the kind to put you into a contemplative mood as the miles passed away under your boots. For example, you could wonder “why would a fella leave a perfectly good hiking cap lying on top of a trail-marking cairn way out here in the wilderness.


Or “why is there a rock inside this bigger rock and how the heck did it get there?”


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Gila River Passage

Today a small group of us, just 7 hikers, took a fun little hike on one of the newer sections of the Arizona Trail near the town of Kelvin out in copper country south of Superior.  The three frames below give the “details” as recorded by my track pod.

Kelvin Summary


Kelvin Map


Kelvin Elevation




The first two miles of this trip was an excellent trail, built by the Arizona Trails Association, which climbs on a rolling route above the Gila River which has a fairly decent flow of water at this point.







The spring flower bloom has started in these hills, and it’s great to see the color returning.  This hillside of Mexican poppies will be golden with a blue counterpoint of lupine in a week or so.



Here are some more examples of the variety of flowers which we enjoy every spring.







At about the 2 mile point the trail starts a descent down to the river, surrendering all the elevation we had gained.  On the downslope there were a couple examples of crested saguaro.  This one was close enough to the trail to get a nice look at the mutation.

CREST 2The descent into the river valley brings us to this picturesque old railroad bridge.  It still serves an active railway which serves the coppermines to the east of us.  We at our lunch near this bridge.



I guess we were a bit lazy today, so rather than return via our inbound route up in the higher country we ambled back to the trailhead area over the flat railroad bed.



All in all, not a dramatic trek, but it was a fun and scenic break from some of the more aggressive routes I’ve hiked lately.



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Tonto National Monument Upper Dwelling

About 75 miles away, above Lake Roosevelt and overlooking the Tonto Basin is the Tonto Ruins National Monument.


There are two main “villages” at Tonto, and numerous minor sites scattered on the 1,100 acres.

The “lower” site is a short walk from the headquarters building and is easily accessible to the public.  Here’s a view of those ruins as seen from the parking lot.


The second main dwelling, the “upper” site is located about a mile and a half from the “lower” site and is not generally open to the public.

The park rangers lead limited numbers of hikers (15 persons, on three days of the week). These hikes are always interesting, not only for the opportunity to see “close up” some very well preserved ruins, but also to gain knowledge from the park ranger “tour guides” who always give great insight into the peoples who lived here, how the lived, and other information unavailable if you just “hiked through”.

I was fortunate to reserve two dates this winter, and today was the first of those hikes (the second will be March 7th).

The route to the upper ruins starts with a trek of about 3/4 of a mile in narrow Cave Canyon.  This canyon contains year-round spring, so with plenty of water the canyon bottom is shaded and cool with a profusion of vegetation and trees.











When the trail breaks out of this short canyon walk, the upper ruins become visible in an alcove high above you.  In the view below, the ruins are the light colored area in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center.  From where you stand here, the hike looks pretty daunting, but there is a well thought out trail of switchbacks and a few rock stairs which takes you up quite easily.



Here is a view of the ruins as the trail approaches them at the top of the slope.




This set of dwellings (it was home to several families) was built in the early 1200′s and occupied into the late 1300′s.  Given its’ age it is remarkably well preserved.  Our ranger guide today gave us about 90 minutes of time exploring the ruins, and gave a very detailed picture of the significance of various rooms and artifacts.

Below for your enjoyment is a selection of photos taken at the dwelling.


















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Peralta Trail to Fremont Pass

Today we hiked the Peralta Trail to Fremont Pass, then continued on to the “lone pine tree” overlook.

On this hike I carried a new toy, a Suunto GPS Track Pod, which records your movement and which you then download to give a report of your hike.  Below is some of the output describing our hike today.

Peralta hike summary

Peralta hike map

Peralta hike elevation


This is a fairly aggressive ascent, but the trail is well routed so the grade is mostly quite gradual so less tiring than the numbers might suggest.

The bulk of the hike is inside Peralta Canyon, a beautiful environment of steep walls, hoodoos, and a variety of vegetation.  Here is an assortment of scenes on the trip to the pass.







The real payoff of this hike is the views at the pass, especially the signature formation of the Superstition interior, Weavers Needle.  Here a couple shots from today.





Finally, a note about hiking safety, especially proper attire and strong footwear.

The uncertain footing on these backcountry trails can instantly turn into a twisted ankle, a slip on an incline, or any number of other serious injuries.

With that in mind, how many of you guys noticed that this hiker, rather than sturdy boots, was wearing tennis shoes!




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Black Cross Butte

Wednesday the group did three hikes.  A few (nut cases) headed south to the challenge of climbing Picacho Peak, and the rest of us headed up the Apache Trail past Tortilla Flat to Forest Route 80 and the “trailhead” above Horse Mesa Dam.

There we did a bifurcated hike, with half the group hiking down into Fish Creek Canyon (“Grand Canyon of the Superstitions” — see my blog from January of 2012) and the rest of us heading uphill to the top of Black Cross butte.

“You take the low road and I’ll take the high road” — below you see the canyon group heading down FR80 which will take them about 2.5 miles and 900 feet down to their turnaround spot.


Our route will be uphill, about 1.5 miles with about 1100 feet of elevation gain over the route.  Our destination is the top of the butte seen at top center in the photo below, and the trail will NOT be a smooth one! Basically the route takes us to the bottom of the cliff in the foreground, then left and “off screen” and up and around on a path with some “edgy”  segments with “ball bearing” footing that would have turned me around for home a few years back.  Slow and easy does it!


But the views are worth it!  Soon you gain some altitude above the surroundings, and long horizons over the wilderness are the order of the day.  The formation at the left horizon is the Flatiron, I’d guess about 15 miles distant.


Here are some more views seen on the ascent.



From time to time on these hikes we come across curious sights which cause you to scratch your noggin and try to imagine “what is this about?”.  Here, shortly after we reached the flat top of the butte, we came upon the scene below.  This circle is about 8-10 feet in diameter, and someone(s) spent a lot of energy in this remote spot to “make their mark”.

Note:  After publishing this hike, my “Lil Sis” Carolyn suggested that this circle might be a Native American medicine wheel.  After googling up some images, I’m certain that she’s right.  Thanks!


Before heading back down we wandered around the rim of the plateau admiring the views.

In the scene below the foreground is Fish Creek Canyon at the point that it enters the Salt River Canyon.  This is where our “downhill hike” companions will lunch and turn back to the cars.

Upstream on the Salt (out of view towards middle right of the photo) is Horse Mesa Dam which forms Apache Lake.  Lower center of the photo you can see a cluster of homes for the workers who take care of the dam.  It’s a long drive over twisty cliffside roads to the corner store for a loaf of bread!


Here are some more views from our lofty lunch perch down into the surrounding wilderness.





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LaBarge Narrows — Under different light

This hike seemed easier to me this year than last.  Eleven miles and 1,800 feet of elevation gain (accumulated) is a challenge, but the weather was nice in the 60′s with good breezes, and hazy overcast for good light conditions. The hike starts from First Water trailhead (a familiar place for us this year, it seems!) and follows Second Water trail eastward to Boulder Canyon.  The scenes as you descend into that canyon are spectacular under any light, even clouds! 01 At the end of Second Water trail, the route turns south on Boulder Canyon trail.  The canyon comes by its’ name honestly!  The trail boulder-hop-crosses the creek 11 times.  Last year all crossings were over flowing water, this year only a couple crossings were wet.  It’s a dry winter in the Superstitions. 02 After a trek up canyon (2 miles of so?) we abandon the established trails and follow a faint and gnarly “use” path up and over a saddle on Battleship Mountain.  This is the toughest link in the route (and you have to do it both directions) because of the steep grade and inconsistent footing.  Wild country! One the way up over the pass there was a recent rockfall off to our right.  Below is a “zoomed” shot showing the fresh break in the cliff and debris below. 03 Topping the saddle, you begin the descent into LaBarge Canyon.  The view below is looking “down canyon” as it opens on it’s path northward towards the Salt River. 1 Our destination is “up canyon”.  In the photo below note the dark basalt rock in the right of the scene.  That is the core of an ancient volcano, and the “narrows” is a narrow slot canyon which pierces that formation.  Lacking 3D capabilities, it’s not easy to see in this shot. 13 When you reach the canyon floor the Narrows is to your right.  The floor of the slot is smooth, almost polished in appearance, the result of millenniums of water flow which carved this path, and the walls are 4-500 foot cliffs of jagged basalt. 2Huge boulders choke the canyon upstream, many the size of large buildings. 5 8 6 10 11 15One can’t help wonder at the changes that this monolithic head has observed over the eons it has sat deep in this canyon. 9

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Hackberry Springs Loop

I was surprised that I can’t find a previous description of this hike in my blog.

It’s a fun hike, about 5 or 6 miles, over easy ground starting from the First Water trailhead.  The first segment of the trail is the familiar trek up to Garden Valley to the ruins at the Black Mesa trail junction.  The remainder of the loop is on “un-named” trail going north across Garden Valley, then dropping into a canyon and proceeding westward to the area of the spring.  It is situated near a narrow slot canyon cut by a creek, and that area is lush with trees and grass.

Overall you get a wide variety of scenery including gorgeous cliffs, the meadow-like environment of Garden Valley, a narrow canyon, and a lot of “long horizon” views of the interior of the the Superstitions.

Today we were blessed by “photographer friendly” skies, broken and hazy clouds, which always seems to add a special touch to the “look and feel” of the beautiful Superstitions.

Enjoy the pictures!



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