Archive for the ‘Hiking with Ben’ Category

Sierra Ancha Superloop

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing series of behind-the-hike-descriptions for the D&O Tonto Guide.]

This was a series of trails I combined into one big hike for the book. The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is somewhat obscure and hard to get to (there are no paved roads), but it is also big and weird and rewarding. We started up the Abbey Way trail 151, visited the ranger at the top of Aztec peak, then went down Moody Point Trail #140 to the Rim Trail #139, where we picked our way south across the fallen logs to climb back up the upper portion of the Parker Creek trail #160.

This was Hike 2 of the Ten Day Run. We had hiked the Pinal Mountains the day before, and then drove to Falls Campground, where we woke up that morning. Falls Campground is about 7000′ in elevation and overrun with bark beetles – which make quite the unnerving racket.

HIKE DATE: 12 June 2008



END TIME: 5:30pm

ACTUAL MILEAGE: 11.5 miles

I had to park the Buick just shy of Workman falls, which added the extra 2 miles to the hike. A HC vehicle could make it all the way to the TH in dry weather.

Abbey’s Way is sometimes marked as the Peterson Trail, which is how it was known before Edward Abbey became the most famous of ex-forest rangers.

The ranger in the tower that summer was “Red”. We had no food for him (we were on a day hike) but he was happy to talk to us anyway. The Rim Trail had undergone its first round of clearing, but he warned us that trees would continue to fall across the ridge for some time.

I should correct a mistake in the book: the ranger only occupies the tower full time during fire season.

It is also possible to car-camp right on the top of the peak – assuming you have a 4WD to get up there with. The couple we met up there were camping because their truck had broken down right on the peak, and they were waiting for a buddy to come rescue them.

The views from the Rim Trail are spectacular, but the conditions were as tough as advertised. Burned trees don’t fall over right away, but over the course of several years they will continue to tumble down as the soil erodes beneath them. This means that one round of trail clearing will not suffice. We climbed over many, many logs.

None of the springs were flowing. That was not a crisis for us, but it would have been if we had one liter bottles instead of two liter bladders.

Ben thought afterward that this hike was the hardest of any he had done for the book. (I think it would actually be day one of the Cave Creek Loop – but he’s the judge of him).

I want to do the whole distance of the Moody Point trail, but that’s a monster car shuttle, and requires a buddy with a 4WD drive and a few days off.

Alas, no photos. And no DVR – this was one of the ones erased.

Pine Mountain Wilderness

Friday, June 19th, 2009

After our dayhike to Tule Mesa, Ben and I drove to Salt Flat campground and spent the night.

The Prescott National Forest has vague criteria for what is and is not a fee area. Essentially, though, it boils down to water, toilets and some sort of full-time host. Salt Flat has none of this – so its free. It does have picnic tables and fire rings – though the Prescott is currently under fire restrictions.

We woke up in the morning, packed our bags, threw the balance into the vehicle, and crossed the dry wash to the Salt Flat TH, where the Nelson Trail begins.

The Nelson is the central trail for the Pine Mountain Wilderness – just about every other trai connectes with it a some point.

We soon reached the Nelson Place, which consists of remnant stone walls and huge trees (Arizona sycamore, cottonwood, oaks) growing from Nelson Springs. These springs are the only reliable fresh water in the area, inconveniently located less than a mile from the TH. In fact, we soon came upon a pair of backpackers on their way out who reported that all the other springs they came across had been dry.

Which is why I was lugging five liters of water.

All of which I would end up using.

From the Nelson, we went east on the Willow Springs Trail. Willow Springs seemed dry, but there were some puddles in the streambed. Ah well. That trail climbs up Willow Canyon until it meets the Verde Rim Trail – the other main trail in the wilderness. At that junction, we had climbed about a thousand feet in four miles.

Verde Rim features jaw-dropping views of the Verde Valley to the east – the good part where the Wild and Scenic portion flows in front of the Mazazatl Wilderness. On a clear day, such as that one, you can see Horshoe Lake far to the SE.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it keeps climbing as you head south.

[If you go north, though, you will eventually come upon a jeep trail that will lead you to Cavalier Point – a plan that we rejected only after much debate.]

Soon, you start switching back up the slopes f Pine Mountain, coming within 500′ of the peak. At that point, the signed spur trail to the top is certainly worth the marginal extra exertion.

Past Pine Mountain, we began to wind down the ridge, crossing limestone-covered ridges, and fiannly descending into some pine forest, where we camped.

Having emtied our water, we found ourselves filling our bottles from a deep, but bug-infested puddle while mosquitoes filled themselves on us. Even though I got to use all my filter/chemical/boil methodology, the effort was not recreational, and we decided to opt out of  our optional second night.

Instead, we returned to the Nelson Trail, follwoing it through pine forest both burned-out and pristine, and back to our car.

Total estimated mileage: 14

Total hike time: 14 hours

Pine Mountain Wilderness is obscure and poorly documented compared to some other wilderness areas, but the trails are in good shape, and the journey is worth it – providing you come prepared.

Photos on my personal blog (where I have bandwidth left): What Have We Learned?

Tule Mesa Revisited

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

If you take FR68 east of Dugas (which is not actually a town, but the remains of a settlement crumbling on what is now private ranch land) you will come to a Y. Your decision: take the easy road (right) towards the Salt Flats “campground” and the Pine Mountain Wilderness, or take the left fork, dubbed 68G towards – well the edge of the cliff.

If you read last post, you know which one I took.

The signs become increasingly ominous about the “primitive” and “unmaintained” nature of 68G, and, true to the warnings, the road becomse worse the farther you go in.

About 4 miles in, as I’m prodding my 06 Chevy Equinox through what is essentially a trench filled with lava rock, we have to back up to allow an older couple in a Toyota 4X4 Truck to get past us. The man says, swear to God, “You haven’t gotten to the really rocky part yet…”

A mile later, we got to it. And there, I found the Equinox Filter: a stair of rock about 20″ high that spun the tires of my HC but definitely Front-wheel-Drive crossover (pretend) SUV no matter which angle I tried. When I had smelt enough of my own burning rubber, I backed it up, and found a place to park the thing.

Yeah – that’s right – I couldn’t get the Equinox as far as I got the Cavalier. It may be a sign of wisdom, or it may be a sign of deeper erosion in the road. In any case, Ben and I climbed out and hiked the remaining three miles or so to Cavalier Point: a sizeable juniper just off the road from the cattleguard that separates the 68G from “Verde Hot Springs Road”. The latter road is marked as “Unfit for Public Travel” and is officially closed to motor vehicles at this writing.

My  straps were long gone.

We did, however find the norther terminus to something called Trail #27 which goes into the largely undocumented Cedar Bench Wilderness that covers half the northern slope of Tule Mesa. The southern terminus is, in theory, a graded dirt trailhead near Camp Verde. I’m adding that to my To Do list.

Meanwhile, while daylight remained, Ben and I drover around the other fork in the road – to Pine Mountain. That account will be the next post.

Photos on my personal blog (where I have bandwidth left): What Have We Learned?

Tule Mesa – the backstory

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

About five years ago, Ben (then 7) and I climbed into a Chevy Cavalier and headed off for Fossil Springs. My plan was to intorduce Ben to backpacking. The problem wit this plan was that I was driving.

From Phoenix, I-17 to AZ 260 to FR720 seemed kinda dull, especially when my AZ Gazetteer showed a more direct route through Dugas. I should not here, in some feeble defense, that the Gazetteer does nt reliably indicate a road’s condition – just its existence.

I should also note that my wife will never allow e to own a 4WD the way you would not want to give a loaded pistol to a monkey. I have little to no fear of road conditions.

Forest Road 68G – which will, actually, bounce you down to the Verde River from Dugas – is high clearance up to the edge of the mesa. I bounced and prodded the poor Cavalier that far in anyways – because that is how my mental disorder manifests. We stopped at the top of the mesa, because the switchbacks going down were CLEARLY 4WD. And my nerves were shot. And we were losing daylight. And this moment of clarity saved certainly both of our lives.

So you know, to continue on the Fossil Creek, you would have to ford the Verde River and drive through the Hot Springs campground to get back to FR 720.

So we camped at the top of Tule Mesa. My hammcok, strung from a huge juniper, swung in the wind as I had nightmares of rocks moving down a roadway in waves like an incoming tide. The wind picked even more, and I had to move into Ben’s tent.

The next morning, I worked the Cavalier slowly off the mesa, blowing two tires in the process. (Happily, one was just a slow leak). We ended up “backpacking” in a few miles from a spot north of Lake Pleasant.

Ben and I didn’t make it to Fossil Springs until we hkedt for the guidebook about a year ago.

In a few hours, though, we’re going back to Tule Mesa, because I now own a high clearance vehicle.

I left a ratchet strap in that Juniper. Ben wonders if its still there. We’ll let you know.

Bear Canyon Lake

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Not in the Tonto – but this is ostensibly a general hiking blog.

Bear Canyon Lake Campground is located in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, near the eponymous lake (actually a reservoir) on top of the Mogollon Rim. It sits just east of center of the Forest Road 300.

No fee.

No host.

No water.

No trash service.

“Rustic” toilets (for some reason the Forest Service feels this to be a reasonable synoym for “vault/composting toilets”, which is a synonym for “pit with toilet seat over hole”.)

And no vehicular access to the lake. A sub parking lot will get you to a half mile switchbacking trail which leads to the lake. That’s a long haul with a canoe over your head, so we left the boats at home.

The “Shoreline Trail” goes from that point upstream, counter-clockwise, south, away from the dam about 1.5 miles. It’s a great little trail: no challenging grades, but enough rocks and other obstacles to keep you awake. A fine adventure for middle-school kids ( I had three in tow – though only Ben went the whole route with me). The pay off at the end is the lush meadow once you find your way across the stream that feeds the resevoir.

The second “Parking Lot” spur leads to a separate lot from the main one, closed most of the time, about a half mile further down the road. There’s also a good geocache along the trail – but be prepared for a short, strenuous bushwhack up the slope to find it.

Also, there is a good, short, unofficial trail following the stream on the far side of the dam. Keep aware for poison ivy, though. By short I mean about a quarter mile.

On weekends this area is popular with anglers, ATV riders, and gun enthusiasts, as there are relatively few restrictions on such activities in this part of the forest compared to the balance of the Rim. So expect a fair amount of noise and garbage.

Our high temp was 74, our low around 40. Good weather for June.

And I slept relatively comfortably in my hammock despite the cold by using an emergency bivy sack to line the bottom of the hammock, thus keeping the wind off my back as I slept. Good down to 40 – but I wouldn’t take it down to freezing.

I may update later with photo links.

The Pinal Mountains

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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

Several trails loop around the Pinal Mountains, which jut up 6000+ feet from the desert just outside of Globe AZ. I picked a couple more-or-less at random, and got really lucky. This trail goes up the mountains via Telephone Trail and comes down via Six Shooter Trail.

HIKE DATE: 11 June 2008


START TIME 11:10am

END TIME: 5:45 pm

ACTUAL MILES: 11.5 miles

This was the first hike in the 10-Day-Run, where I took a week of vacation and just banged out as many hikes as I could just car-camping across the National Forest. Ben went with me for most of them.

I lost the DVR notes, and didn’t discover that fact until the end of the run. (See Verde River for more on that).

The loop also includes the Icehouse trail, but only for a hundred yards.

You can see a few photos on my Facebook album.

I ignored my own good advice and checked out an old mine shaft about  a half mile up the road from the Icehouse intersection. It goes back a bit, but it was full of mosquitoes, and my son was certain I would die.

This is one of the closest and surest ways to get out of the desert and into the cool greenery – if you can handle the elevation change.

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!