Spectacular overlook in the Mazatzal Wilderness
April 30 – May 3
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Arizona Trail Pint Glass
Arizona Trail: Journey to Center
After a night at Horse Camp Seep, me and my four hiking companions packed up and headed up the hill toward a rocky outcrop above the camp. As we got closer, I could tell that the view was going to be spectacular. Even though it was a hazy day the 360-degree views are some of the best on the entire AZT. Saw a shadowy figure of the San Francisco Peaks still looking very far away. Incredible that I’m going to walk there.
The trail to The Park was in good shape, and we took a lunch break in a beautiful stand of pines. Next up was the aptly named Red Hills passage. Beautiful red rock canyons and hills, up and down, up and down.
The Park with North Peak above
There were pools in the drainages from the storm that happened right before our trip and we found a nice place to camp with a sunset view and a sliver of moon.
The next day we hiked to the Brush Spring Trail and were passed by a very fast thru-hiker from Oklahoma. He was amazed by the beauty of the state- I feel so lucky to call Arizona my home, all these incredible landscapes available to me whenever I want.
Brush Spring Trail went through hills thick with green vegetation, thankfully the brush wasn’t encroaching onto the trail. The whole trail through the Mazzies was in much better condition than I had expected, it was nice to not have to climb over burnt trees or get scratched by thorny bushes. After a break at a nice campsite near Brush Spring, we climbed to a saddle overlooking our descent to the East Verde River.
Climbing to the saddle
The trail follows an old road that plummets thousands of feet down to the LF Ranch. Temperatures got hotter and the umbrellas came out for shade.
Hazy view from the saddle of the East Verde below
Old road down to LF Ranch
It seemed like it took forever to descend to the ranch. We heard the ranch before we saw it- the sounds of peacocks calling, cows mooing, and dogs barking. The LF Ranch is a working cattle ranch run by Maryann Pratt, completely surrounded by the Mazatzal Wilderness. Maryann also welcomes weary hikers with a bunkhouse to stay in and home-cooked meals. I had heard about the ranch for years and was super-excited for my stay.
LF Ranch welcomes hikers!
The ranch is on the banks of the East Verde River and we went to check it out. There was a great swimming hole and nearby the cool waters of Rock Creek joined the East Verde. What a place!
East Verde River
Standing in Rock Creek
Unfortunately for my travel companions, their trip was at an end and they hiked out the rough four-mile access road to their cars. It was a great group and I really enjoyed their company.
I went back to the river for a swim and relaxed until Maryann brought out the most amazing dinner- vegetarian lasagna, a giant salad, bread and pie for dessert! She knows the way to a thru-hiker’s heart for sure!
Sunset at the LF Ranch
I had an enjoyable stay in the bunkhouse and then Maryann fed me again, a wonderful breakfast to start my day. It was so hard to leave this sanctuary, I could have stayed for weeks, chatting with Maryann, swimming in the river, watching the peacocks, staring at the beautiful surroundings. If you’re coming through the area, plan an extra day, you’ll be glad you did. Visit www.lfranch.com for details and reservations.
I hiked back to the East Verde crossing and spent way too much time lounging around on the banks, enjoying the river. I had a full day of climbing ahead of me and it was going to get hot.
The Arizona Trail uses an old, steep, nasty road filled with softball-sized loose rock for it’s ascent from the river. It would be so nice to have new singletrack built, but projects like that cost money and for now, the road is the trail.
I ascended to Polles Mesa and hiked from cairn to cairn across the plateau. Then the trail came to Whiterock Spring, where I refilled my water. Whiterock Mesa is my favorite part of this passage, it has wildly shaped rocks that look like dinosaur bones contrasting with the red dirt. I found a cairn that I had built with a flower-holder rock from back when I hiked this in 2009.
Flower holder cairn
After Whiterock Mesa came Saddle Ridge, another field of rocks to navigate. I climbed to the wilderness boundary and had a little celebration- I had just finished the last wilderness area on the Arizona Trail! Miller Peak, Mount Wrightson, Rincon, Pusch Ridge, Superstition, Four Peaks, and now the Mazatzals.
Looking back at North Peak
My dad met me at the Twin Buttes Trailhead and took me into Pine, where I feasted on artichoke and spinach pizza from That Brewery. The Mazatzal Wilderness is a true gem of the Arizona Trail and I’ll be back to explore more for sure!
The next day I hiked from Twin Buttes into Pine, stopping at beautiful Oak Spring for a break by the water. It was exciting for me to hike into the Pine Trailhead and connect my steps from Mexico to Pine. Love this little town nestled under the Mogollon Rim!
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