Archive for the ‘Tonto – High Desert’ Category

Skunked Tank

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

First, some housekeeping. So ya know, complimenting my site in a obviously vague way followed shortly by a link to a commercial site (particularly an adult site) will still be considered spam. Also, spelling counts.


[Continuing our series of behind-the-hikes from Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest}

Skunk Tank Loop

This hike in the Cave Creek / 7 Springs trail complex took two attempts. I have drafts of the hike description written for both clockwise and counterclockwise. (The clockwise version is the one in the Guide).


DATE: 13 November 2007


START TIME: 1:30pm


ACTUAL MILEAGE: Unknown (about 11 miles)

I never really learned my lesson about late starts, though after this one I should have.

I initially missed the ramp going out of the wash, and followed the wash instead. Lost within the first hour of the hike. I found actual trail at the top of the saddle, after bushwhacking my way up and around the side of the ravine. You’d think I learned a lesson about that sort of nonsense after this hike, but I didn’t.

By the time I reached the actual Skunk Tank, the sun was sinking behind the hills, and I had to dig up my headlamp out of my pack.

The switchbacks are slow and treacherous going by the 10′ range of an LED headlamp. The three river crossing were even more exciting. The batteries burned out on the GPS, which would have recorded an incorrect route anyway, plus I did at least half the hike in the dark. I’d have to come back…

HIKE # 2

DATE: 19 November 2007


START TIME: 10:45 am (He can be taught…)

END TIME: 5:15pm (It all goes faster in daylight…)


This hike went much better. All the electronics worked, I stayed mostly on the trail, and I started and finished in daylight.

I also went counter-clockwise, which meanting starting south down Cave Creek Trail (left), doing the three crossings, and then going up the switchbacks.

Here’s a secret – since you’ve gotten this far into the post: I never did a hike specific to the Cave Creek Trail. My description of it in the guidebook is derived from notes taken on this hike and the Cottonwood / Cave Creek Loop.

Bongo enjoying a break at third crossing

Obviously, most of the photos are from the second trip.

Going back down the other way, I found the trail I should have been on in the first place during my first circuit, and duly recorded them in my still working GPS.

Either direction, Skunk Tank itself marks your half-way point.

My record after this hike was 2-2 vs the Tonto National Forest and/or my own stupidity. I was beginning to wonder if I could really finish the book at that rate. Happily, though, my win percentage steadily improved.

Trail #8 – a cautionary tale

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing Behind The Hike series for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

Trail #8 taught me a lot of lessons – all the hard way.

My first attempt was with Ben, and we hardly got there:

HIKE #1:

DATE: 1/19/08


ACTUAL MILES: Unknown (we got so lost, I stopped taking such notes)

TIME: Unknown (about 5 hours)

We got a late start, and underestimated the drive time. I further assumed I could drive to the trailhead – which is not the case in a Buick sedan.

In the guidebook, I advise NOT taking the  little side road on the far side of the first hill. GAFDE.

That road, we learned, leads to a little horse coral. Past that corall, still on dirt road, we climbed a fairly steep hill, ate some lunch, and wondered why we hand’t found a trail. Pulling out my topo map, I figured out that we were still a good mile south of it.

Later, we tried to bushwhack bach to FR602. Don’t do this. The road is the only place you are safe from catclaws. You won’t save any time (or skin) going cross country here.

We finally found the trailhead, and pushed on up the hill to the saddle.

So I had the hike all along.

But there was more trail. So I went back…


DATE: 4 April 2008

COMPANIONS: Carolyn and Jayson (though Jayson only drove).


TIMES: Unknown

This was at the tail-end of a 4WD drive expedition. Jayson doesn’t hike recreationally and stayed with the vehicle, playing with his kite and HAM radio.

Carolyn, as you may remember from Fish Rock Pass, doesn’t mind getting lost.

We actually pushed quite a distance past the saddle, but I wouldn’t recommend venturing into that valley unless you’re trying to evade law enforcement. What follows is beyond what I chronicled in the guidebook, straight from my notes:

Past the saddle, the trail goes down into the juniper/prickly-pear/catclaw wilderness that defines this elevation. The trail is rocky and a little washed out, but the grade is gentle.

About a quarter mile past the saddle, the trail cuts in and out of the drainages, and can be difficult to locate. Catclaw has overgrown the path in some places – foreshadowing – as you pass through a haunted forest of skeletal trees.

The catclaw grows in some places in jungle-like profusion, and often at eye level. It is particularly troublesome in drainages.

Trail stays north of the wash for the duration. If you cross the wash (as we did a couple of times) you are no longer on the trail. If the catclaw gets too much for you, you can follow the riverbed and make similar rate of progress. While the catclaws will rip relentlessly at all exposed clothes and flesh, a bushwhack through the rock-choked creek-bed will abuse your feet and knees. Pick your pain.

Catclaw provides an important habitat for various species of vermin, but is nothing but a painful obstructive nuisance to large vertebrates such as human beings.

There’s water in the creek bed intermittently past Indian Springs.

We stopped at a cabin-sized boulder, past our turn-around time. Neither of us wanted any part of the catclaw jungle in the dark, so we turned around.

The few pleasant stretches of this trail do not make up for the catclaw. Had the deadline logistics worked out differetly, I might have left this hike out altogether, except the hike as far as the saddle really is kinda cool.

As I panted into my DVR:

“If I come back, I’m bringing a machete.”

Cottonwood Trail #120

Friday, April 10th, 2009

This is NOT the Cottonwood Creek Trail [247] that I wrote about earlier as part of the CCC Loop. Cottonwood #120 leads from Lake Roosevelt towards the Superstition Mountains. It is part of the AZ trail.

DATE HIKED: 23 December 2007


ACTUAL HIKE TIME: 4 hours 45 minutes


For some reason, I do not have a start and end time noted in my log, though I did note that we got a late start.  I also didn’t have a camera, which is sad, because this hike is quite scenic.

This very moment (mid April 2009) Lake Roosevelt is 100%+ capacity, and thus quite a site as you’re panting at the cattle guard.

A paragraph from my description of this hike appears in some of the marketing materials.

I actually stopped at the cattle gate, because Ben had stopped way back in the trees.  Looking forward to taking this trail the whole distance someday. It would be an easy car-shuttle assuming one vehicle is 4WD.

From my notes:

The full moon rising over the mountains on the other side of
the lake as we reached our car in twilight was the most beautiful part of the
hike – and that’s saying something.

The Ballantine Trail

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing behind-the-hike series for the Tonto Guide.]

This hike follows the Ballantine Trail around Boulder Mountain towards Pine Mountain. I hiked it twice, and there’s still ore left that I want to explore.

HIKE 1 = to be quick = On 2 December 2007 Ben and I did the Pine Creek trail to the Ballantine junction and continued about a half mile beyond. The photo in Ben’s Hiking Essentials (one of this blog’s first entries) is from this hike. That makes a super-easy kid’s hike – but not enough of a hike to justify a full entry. So I went back to hike a more substantial portion.

HIKE 2 (The Main Hike)

HIKE DATE: 20 March 2008



START TIME: 10:15 AM    END TIME: 4:45PM
The Forest Service description does not mention the cabin. I found the route through other sources. The dirt bike trail that eventually led me back to the Ballantine was a happy if accidental discovery.

I did not mention (or photograph) the more recent remains of dead cattle lying about. Don’t just casually drink any water you find in the stream.

Ballantine goes on from the turn-around I used for the guidebook to go around Pine Moutain and down to Cline TH. Cline TH needs HC/4WD vehicles to reach. If you want to do the entire trail, a fairly heroic quest, start from the Cline side, because that starts with a steep and sporadically marked ascent that you want no part of with fading daylight. The western portions of the Ballantine, though, particularly the Deer Creek spur would not prove too troublesome by flashlight.

My son is still mad that I went back and finished this trail without him.

Cottonwood / Cave Creek Loop

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

This was supposed to be an overnight hike circumnavigating the Cave Creek Complex, but it took two different hikes.

Hike 1

DATE HIKED: 8+9 mARCH 2008


START TIME: Noon 3/8

END TIME: about 11 AM 3/9


Ben and I started the tough but rewarding hike up (and I mean up) Cottonwood Creek trail with every intention of completing the loop back to Spur Cross. The late start is instructive – uphill most of the way, middle-aged man and junior aged boy made little better than 1.2 miles an hour, and consequently, it was well past dark when we finally decided we were lost, and we might as well camp at the next good spot.

In the morning, that spot turned out to be 50′ from the trail.

It also became apparent that I had a serious chest infection, with accompanying fever, and that hiking uder load was not improving it any at all. So we made for the campground near the Cave creek trailhead, and some nice campers gave a ride into Carefree, where we loitered pathetically at the Circle K until my wife could pick us up.

Second Hike

A day hike – an arranged car shuttle, going down Cave Creek trail back to Spur Cross. Just pretend, as I did writing the guidebook, that this was the second day of the overnight.

DATE HIKED: 19 April 2008

COMPANIONS: Ben (against his better judgement – more below) (And Jayson, who helped with the car shuttle)


END TIME: 6:49pm

ACTUAL MILES:  11.45 miles

Ben had hurt his foot the week before. We (mostly he) thought it was all better, but halfway down the trail we realized that was increasingly untrue. I applied a liberal layer of mole-padding to his heal,. and he managed to limp all the way out to the car, but he was whining towards the end – which is not at all typical for him.

We encountered a gila monster going into Chalk Canyon. The 2 foot, brown and tan reptile for showed no inclination towards yielding the trail so, against my son’s specific advice, I encouraged it by throwing rocks into the ground next to it. Grudgingly, it moved aside.

I gotta try this hike again!

Picketpost Mountain

Monday, March 16th, 2009

[Part of a series of beyond the page info of the hikes covered in Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest.]

This hike shares the same trailhead as the Alamo Canyon hike, but I put the two hikes in different sections because of the very different altitudes. Briefly, you can hike Picketpost in late spring or early fall – but you would roast in Alamo Canyon.

HIKE DATE: 21 Feb 2008


START TIME: 12:20pm

END TIME: 5:15 pm

ACTUAL MILEAGE: 4.45 miles

I wrote the description for non-climbers – meaning those who do not own harnesses and practice obscure European mountaineering knots of their coffee breaks. If you are such a climber, you may find my level of caution kinda cute.

I was, however, happy to have a collapsible hiking stick, because I had no spare hand for it going up the slope proper.My advice about using your butt as a brake on the way down: GAFDE.

Now to keep a longstanding pronise to myself: If you can tell me what I wrote in the logbook in the mailbox on top of the mountain, I will – at my expense – send you a free copy of the book. Get climbing!