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Posts Tagged ‘Mazatzal Wilderness’

LF Ranch House

LF Ranch House- photo by Wendy Lotze

Your trip through the wild and rugged Mazatzal Wilderness on the Arizona Trail isn’t complete without a stop at the LF Ranch! The ranch was homesteaded in 1909 by the Fuller family. When the Mazatzal Wilderness was designated in 1964, the ranch was grandfathered in- 37,000 acres that straddle the East Verde River. In 1976 it was bought by the Pratt family, who own and operate the ranch to this day. They run 160 head of cattle on the Bull Springs Allotment.

LF Ranch Sign

LF Ranch Sign- photo by Wendy Lotze

There’s no easy way to get to the ranch- the closest access is a four mile hike or horseback ride from the locked wilderness boundary gate off of Doll Baby Road outside of Payson. From the north, you’ll have to hike in 11 miles on the Saddle Ridge Trail. From the south it’s 36 tough miles on the Arizona Trail from the Mount Peeley Trailhead.

Doll Baby Trailhead at the locked wilderness gate

Doll Baby Trailhead at the locked wilderness gate

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Looking down on the ranch

Looking down on the ranch

This spring on my thru-hike, by the time I arrived at the LF Ranch I had been out for four days. As I neared the ranch house I heard the peculiar calls of peacocks, completely out of place in the middle of the desert. After going through a gate that says “Welcome Hikers” I was greeted by Maryann Pratt, matriarch of the ranch, and an assortment of friendly dogs, cats, peacocks,  and chickens. A signpost at the ranch has the mileages to Mexico and Utah as well as signs pointing the directions to other notable landmarks on the ranch.

LF Ranch welcomes hikers!

LF Ranch welcomes hikers!

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

In addition to being a working cattle ranch, there is a small bunkhouse with showers to house weary hikers or horseback riders who arrange to stay over on their journey. It’s not fancy, but even the most spartan accommodations feel like such a luxury in the middle of the wilderness. Picket lines are available for horseback riders.

Little Zelda munching on a bone

Little Zelda munching on a bone- she’ll grow up to be a good cattle dog someday

Meals are also available, but only by prior arrangement, and the ranch also accepts resupply packages. Many a weary traveler has shown up to the ranch house hoping to get a ride out to the wilderness gate or into town, but unless you’ve made prior arrangements, don’t get your hopes up. The closest store in Payson is an hour and a half drive away on a bone-jarring road. The day-to-day chores of running the LF are endless and the folks on the ranch are almost always busy.

Yum!

Yum!

Sunset at the LF Ranch

Sunset at the LF Ranch

Once at the ranch, there are many places to go exploring nearby. There are swimming holes in the East Verde River and Rock Creek and a nice afternoon can be had following the East Verde River up or downstream. Polk Spring is worth a visit- a beautiful running creek with plenty of areas to relax nearby.

East Verde River

East Verde River

Near the East Verde

Campsite at Polk Spring- photo by Wendy Lotze

Wikieup at Polk Spring

Wikieup at Polk Spring

Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting things about the LF is Maryann herself. Get her talking and you’ll realize the strength and tenacity it takes to run a ranch in such a remote place. The ranch is powered by solar panels scattered around the property and the occasional generator. Constant vigilance is required to shoo off predators that might want to eat at the LF Ranch Smorgasbord. Just rounding up cattle and moving them from one area to another is made challenging given the rugged nature of the landscape.

Maryann Pratt

Maryann Pratt

So if you’re going to be “in the neighborhood”, hiking the Red Hills #24 and Whiterock Mesa #25 passages, follow the barking dogs and peacock calls to the LF Ranch. You’ll be glad you did!  For more information visit http://www.lfranch.com.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation NW Tucson news, I am so thrilled to be able to work with these animals and birds. It’s good to be back, I had to take a long break during my thru-hike and river season. Recently, we took a drive out to Arlington Wildlife Area to release some hooded skunks that had come to us as babies. It was a wonderful thing to see these guys go out into the world and they were nice enough to not stink the car up on the ride over!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation NW Tucson

Hooded Skunk #1

Hooded Skunk #1

Hooded Skunk #2

Hooded Skunk #2

Loaded up with ducks and skunks

Loaded up with ducks and skunks

Duck release!

Duck release!

Skunk #2, the more docile one, took off right away!

Skunk #2, the more docile one, took off right away!

Skunk #1 was reluctant, so we took apart the carrier

Skunk #1 was reluctant, so we took apart the carrier

Unfortunately we had forgotten to close the other carrier and he went in. So we took apart the other carrier.

Unfortunately we had forgotten to close the other carrier and he went in. So we took apart the other carrier.

Quite a tail!

Quite a tail!

Trying to get back in

Trying to get back in

Free at last!

Free at last!

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Spectacular overlook in the Mazatzal Wilderness

Spectacular overlook in the Mazatzal Wilderness

April 30 – May 3

Just four days left to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association through our Indiegogo campaign- if you’ve been waiting to donate, now’s the time! There’s special Arizona Trail pint glasses, signed art prints of Arizona Trail: Journey to Center, even a chance to help brew Arizona Trail Ale with Steve Morken from That Brewery- Click here to check out the incentives!

Arizona Trail Pint Glass

Arizona Trail Pint Glass

 

Arizona Trail: Journey to Center

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

The Park with North Peak above

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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

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

Hazy view from the saddle of the East Verde below

Umbrella time!

Old road down to LF Ranch

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!

LF Ranch welcomes hikers!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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

East Verde River

Standing in Rock Creek

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!

Yum!

Yum!

Sunset at the LF Ranch

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.

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Maryann Pratt

Maryann Pratt

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.

Ugh.

Ugh.

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

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

Looking back at North Peak

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Wilderness Boundary

Wilderness Boundary

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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The AmAZing geology of Mazatzal Peak

The AmAZing geology of Mazatzal Peak

April 26-29

When I finished my last passage to Highway 87, I was ahead of schedule, so I got to go back to Tucson for three days before my Scottsdale Gateway Community event at Juan Jaime’s Tacos and Tequila. It was really wonderful to be at home with my husband, dog and cat for some bonus time. I was also conveniently off the trail when we had a much-needed storm roll in on the 26th.

The event at Juan Jaime’s was so much fun! The owner, John, has hiked the Arizona Trail twice- once northbound, once southbound. Even more impressive is that he did it all in one year and all as dayhikes. The man is not only a hiking machine, he’s quite modest and extremely generous as well. Big thanks to him for hosting such a fantastic event!!

Brian Legate provided the entertainment

Brian Legate provided the entertainment

HikeArizona.com crowd

HikeArizona.com crowd

I was up late that night, and had a big hike the next day. My friend Chris Forsyth was along for the 17- mile dayhike from Mount Peeley Trailhead back to Highway 87. I chose to go southbound on this passage because I knew I was going to be tired from the event and it is much easier in that direction.

Me and Dad at Mt. Peeley Trailhead

Me and Dad at Mt. Peeley Trailhead

Chris and I only hiked for about a half-hour before we ran into thru-hikers UltraPedestrian Ras and Kathy. I was super-happy to meet them, I’d heard they were in the area and moving fast and light. Great to talk to fellow travelers, but too soon we had to keep moving and parted ways.

Kathy and Ras

Kathy and Ras

Fast and light!

Fast and light!

Soon after, we met another thru-hiker Nate and his dog Bandit. I hadn’t seen him since the Gila River and we caught up on trail talk. Chris was very patient, even when a short time after leaving Nate, we ran into Michael E- yet another thru-hiker that I had to chat with. This is one of the fun parts of traveling southbound every so often- I get to chat with folks that I might have missed had I been traveling in the same direction the whole time.

The trail went through the Sunflower Fire of 2012- tortured, toasted, black-and-white limbs of trees a constant sight. It’s an area that will need crews to come in and repair the damage- a great reason to support the campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association! The trail was covered with light pink Palmer’s Penstemon and quite a few other wildflowers. The geology in this area is really interesting with flaky shale layers and what looked like mudstone.

Palmer's Penstemon

Palmer’s Penstemon

Saddle Mountain and Little Saddle Mountain

Saddle Mountain and Little Saddle Mountain

Shale and cactus

Shale and cactus

The trail dropped into McFarland Canyon, a beautiful spot with great camping. We took a break and as I was sitting there, I recalled what a friend had said to me last night- that he had recently gotten a bad case of Poison Ivy in McFarland. To my horror, I looked down and was basically sitting in a patch of it! I jumped up, hoping I hadn’t accidentally brushed my bare feet against any- I was going to be leading people on a 5-day backpacking trip ithe next day. Thankfully, there was no exposure and I reminded myself to be more careful.

We climbed out of McFarland and onto the Saddle Mountain Trail, contouring around Saddle and Little Saddle Mountain.

Mount Peeley

Mount Peeley

Black and white and yellow

Black and white and yellow

Saddle Mountain Trail

Saddle Mountain Trail

Then we were on the Little Saddle Mountain Trail, one of my favorites back when I section-hiked the trail in 2009. I was interested to see how it fared after the fire. A little tougher to find, maybe, but still spectacularly gorgeous, especially with water running in the creek. We took a break and I dipped my feet in the creek for a bit.

Little Saddle Mountain Trail greenery

Little Saddle Mountain Trail greenery

Little Saddle Mountain Trail

Little Saddle Mountain Trail

Pretty rock-lined drainage

Pretty rock-lined drainage

There was a fancy AZT mileage sign and along the way I passed the 400-mile mark. So exciting to be almost halfway done!

The trail left the confines of the canyon and opened up to wide views. Trail 344 is on a two-track and mostly flat, which was nice for our final miles.

A beautiful view

A beautiful view

Roadwalkin'

Roadwalkin’

We could see and hear Highway 87 long before we crossed underneath it. We crossed Sycamore Creek and found our way back to the Bushnell Tanks parking area with ease. A long, scenic day with perfect weather, can’t ask for much more than that!

Highway 87

Highway 87

The next day I met four backpackers who’d signed up to hike with me on my journey northward from Mount Peeley to the East Verde River. There were well-graded switchbacks up the slopes of Mount Peeley and the trail steward Joe pointed out landmarks in the range. Joe knows these mountains better than anyone I know and it’s always fascinating to learn from him.

Ed, me, Roger, Clint, and Scott

Ed, me, Roger, Clint, and Scott

The rugged terrain we'd be traversing

The rugged terrain we’d be traversing

Welcome to the largest Wilderness Area on the AZT!

Welcome to the largest Wilderness Area on the AZT!

This entire range was burned in the Willow Fire of 2004 and when I’d tried to hike this passage in 2009, it was in terrible condition. Washed out trail on steep slopes, constant climbs over downed trees, and fighting through brush made me feel unsafe hiking it solo. I had hiked to the Barnhardt Trail junction and exited out of the wilderness and hiked out to Highway 87 and reconnected with the trail at the East Verde River. Totally different experience this time. Joe and others have put in countless hours to maintain this piece- sawing downed trees, removing brush and fixing the tread- and it was wonderful to hike on.

Burned trees and Horseshoe Reservoir

Burned trees and Horseshoe Reservoir

Looking south at Boulder Mtn. and 4 Peaks

Looking south at Boulder Mtn. and 4 Peaks

We contoured around and then climbed to reach a high point with incredible views south to the Four Peaks and then got views of the striated face of Mazatzal Peak. This place is a geological delight! We could see the path we’d be taking the next couple of days and then I got my first glimpse of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, capped with snow. I could hardly contain myself- I could see Flagstaff! A momentous occasion indeed.

What a place!!

What a place!!

View north of our route for the next days

View north of our route for the next days

The shadowy figure by the tree is the San Francisco Peaks by Flagstaff!

The shadowy figure by the tree is the San Francisco Peaks by Flagstaff!

A little farther on the trail and we were at our campsite for the night at Bear Saddle. Little did we know what we were in for…

Sunset on Mazatzal Peak from Bear Saddle

Sunset on Mazatzal Peak from Bear Saddle

We said goodnight and went to our respective beds. I’m not sure exactly of the time, but in the middle of the night the wind started howling through the trees like nothing I’ve experienced before. Must have been 50+ miles an hour and LOUD! Every time I opened my eyes I could see the tall pines swaying back and forth in the wind.

No one got a great night’s sleep, and it was chilly in the morning as we left camp. The trail contoured and descended the flanks of Mazatzal Peak, then met the Barnhardt intersection. All fresh trail from here to the East Verde for me!

Heading toward Mazatzal Peak

Heading toward Mazatzal Peak

Looking back at Mazatzal Peak

Looking back at Mazatzal Peak

There was a lot more water than we had expected in the drainages, even ones not on the water chart, thanks to the rain last Saturday.

We took a break and a nap under a juniper before continuing on toward our camp at Horse Camp Seep. This is a fantastic camp near gorgeous pools of water and a place I’d like to come back to explore more thoroughly. Slickrock and water- one of my favorite combinations!

Horse Camp Seep

Horse Camp Seep

 

 

 

 

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