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Monday, September 21, 2020

Blowout Wash Trail System


Bear grass & ocotillo on the Bullseye trail #557

Occupying a hilly slice of high desert below the east flanks of Mingus Mountain, the new Blowout Wash trail system is shaping up to become a prime Verde Valley hiking destination.

The remediation project is a multi-agency collaboration of local, state and federal land agencies working together to improve recreational opportunities in the section of Prescott National Forest southwest of Cottonwood.  

View from Campus trail #559

Before trail construction began in 2019, the wash-riddled foothills that are surrounded by popular recreation hubs in Sedona, Jerome, Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Woodchute-Mingus Mountain complex of routes, the area was rife with wildcat user-created paths, shooting and dumping that was disrupting the ecosystems and decimating native vegetation. 
The Bullseye-Campus loop was completed in early 2020

Cacti and grasslands on Bullseye trail #557

The destructive anything-goes arena is gradually being replaced with sustainable, non-motorized trails that reduce erosion, protect natural assets and promote responsible use.
Vineyards of the Verde Valley seen from Bullseye trail

Sacred datura bloom Apr-Nov along Blowout Wash 

While a map at the trailhead teases with an overview of planned trail development, a little loop that was completed in early 2020 provides a tasty tidbit of what’s to come.

Right from the trailhead, the fresh-cut nature of the Bullseye Trail #557 and the Campus Trail #559 that pair up for a short tour of the area is apparent.  Behind the parking area kiosk, brand new sign posts mark the beginning of the system’s inaugural loop.  To get the climbing part of the hike done first, head left on trail #557.  The loopy single track that’s open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers heads west before making a twisting ascent of a ridgeline. 

Fruits on Silverleaf nightshade follow purple blooms

The path wanders among junipers, mesquite and crucifixion thorn trees occasionally ducking into drainages and washes where spots of cottonwoods and Arizona walnut trees sink roots deep into the water table.  Taking on the long switchbacks that lead to the hike’s high point, the trail hangs on the edge of the ridge showcasing amazing views of Mingus Mountain, and the emerald corridors of the Verde River and Oak Creek. 
Limestone pebbles spill over Campus trail #559

After a few dips and bends, the trail tops out on a ocotillo-and-bear grass cluttered knob with big views of the red rocks of Sedona and the green grids of vineyards in the valley below.  From this high vantage point, the trail begins a downward spiral through cacti-studded grasslands. At the 2.2-mile point, the route meets the back end of the loop where trail #559 spins off to the north and heads toward the Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus.  To complete the loop, head east (go right) and follow #559 through a flatter landscape marked by rugged washes and a swing by a prominent pyramid-shaped mound with white limestone chunks spilling from its slopes. 
Mingus Mountain rises over Bullseye trail #557

Along this passage, you’ll notice white flag tape tied to trees and shrubs as well as rocks blocking access to old roads and unauthorized paths. 
A shady passsage on Campus trail

Campus trail makes several drainage crossings

Crucifixion thorn trees bear spiked, egg-shaped fruits

Mesquite trees provide sporadic shade along the route

Please leave the flags in place and avoid crossing barriers as these are part of future trail development efforts. One more short uphill segment completes the loop that gives a glimpse at an emerging trail system and the taking back of a formerly neglected corner of national forest.

LENGTH: 3.3 mile loop as described here

RATING:  easy

ELEVATION:  3,706- 4,031 feet


From Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde, take the Cornville Road exit 293 heading west (go left).

Continue 17.7 miles on Cornville Road (aka County Road 30) which will turn into Mingus Avenue and then Forest Road 493 to the large Blowout Wash trailhead.  For reference, the trailhead is 1.5 miles south of the Cottonwood Municipal Airport. Roads are paved up to the last half mile where FR 493 is a dirt/gravel track suitable for all vehicles.


Prescott National Forest

Monday, September 14, 2020

Red Mountain Trail #43


In the space between Lynx Lake Recreation Area and State Route 69 in Prescott Valley, a mountainous back country laced with trails provides a diverse haven for shared-use recreation.

View from the switchbacks on Red Mountain

Although it’s lodged between two busy areas, the canyons and hills adjacent to the communities of Dewey-Humboldt have a remote feel, rugged character and more appeal than the view from the highway suggests. 

Red Mtn. trail traces Green Gulch

One of the most scenic hikes in the area is the Red Mountain Trail #43, an internal trail which can only be accessed by way of connecting routes that begin either near Lynx Lake to the west or at the Green Gulch trailhead which provides access to the Blue Hills Trail System at the east boundary of Prescott National Forest.  The less crowded and more direct option is the latter.  From the roomy parking area, begin hiking on the Charcoal Gulch Trail #9419 which is open to hikers, equestrian and ATV use.  At first, the terrain looks dismal, but conditions quickly improve as the trail moves west.

Skunk bush that grow in drainages blush red in fall

Hike begins on the Charcoal Gulch trail #9419

Charcoal Gulch was damaged by the Goodwin Fire that was reported on June 24, 2017 and went on to burn over 28,500 acres of brush, grass and pinion-juniper woodlands 14 miles south of Prescott.  Three years after the blaze, the area has been raked and cleared and shrubs and tree saplings are emerging from the stubble.  With great views of the Red Mountain destination jutting above the forests to the north, Trail #9419 follows a rocky dirt road that makes its way to where the heads of Charcoal and Green Gulch intersect and tree cover gradually increases.

View of Prescott Valley from Red Mountain

Watch for peeks at impressive deep ravines and rugged cliffs off to the left along the next quarter mile. At the 0.9-mile point, Red Mountain Trail #43 spins off to the right at an easy-to-miss junction.
Green Gulch trailhead in Dewey

Much of Red Mtn trail passes through forests

After hopping a berm and passing through a crooked road cut, the nature of the hike takes on a whole new character.  Trail #43 immediately enters a thick forest of Gambel oak, alligator junipers and pinion pines that sits above the course of Green Gulch. 
Boulders line Red Mtn trail #43

Part of Red Mtn trail is canyon bound

The route crosses drainages several times, gaining elevation gently as it works its way through oak thickets and boulder outcroppings to the base of Red Mountain. 
Some sections of Red Mtn trail are rocky & steep

Never straying far from the gulch, the trail brushes by stands of water-loving Arizona walnut, willows, alder-leaf mountain mahogany and fruit-bearing shrubs, justifying the “green” part of its name.  
Hike passes through rangeland--close all gates.

After a mile of forest hiking, the trail leaves the woodlands and enters a dryer clime replete with cacti, yucca and junipers and begins an uphill assault in earnest.  The climb segment of the hike is compact and aggressive.
Scar of the Goodwin Fire on Charcoal Gulch trail

An AZ walnut tree shows fall color on 9-12-20

A set of tight, steep switchbacks with loose rocks land hikers on high ridges above the gulch where big views of Prescott Valley appear at the bottom of the V-shaped gorge. 
Oak trees shade Red Mtn trail #43

The stony gorge of Charcoal Gulch

The route flattens out for a bit before making a minor decent into a canyon-bound corridor along an edge-hugging path.  Spots of extreme green in the drainages below betray the location of springs that feed tiny riparian niches.  A few more ups and downs lead to the junction with the Prospectors Trail #42 at the outskirts of the Lynx Lake trails complex where you can opt to call it the turnaround point or use the forest service map to continue about 5 miles (on trails) to the lake or create a longer loop back to the trailhead. 
Red Mtn trail junction is easy to miss

Whether done as an out-and-back or complex loop, Red Mountain trail bridges the space between lakeside commotion and open prairies with beauty, challenge and plenty of variety.
Alderleaf mountain mahagony grows along the route

Arching oaks on Red Mtn trail #43

LENGTH: 5.2 miles round trip as described here

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION:  5,299 – 6,245 feet


From the State Route 169/69 junction in Dewey-Humboldt, go 1 mile north on SR 69 to the next stop light and turn left on Kachina Place.  Follow Kachina Pl to the “T” intersection at Pony Place, turn left and follow the signs to the Green Gulch trailhead, approximately 3 miles from SR 69.  The parking lot is designed to accommodate both trailers and cars, so mind the parking protocols.


Prescott National Forest

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Antelope Mountain


View from the saddle of Antelope Mountain near Greer

A drive along State Route 260 in the White Mountains between Pinetop-Lakeside and Springerville is a tour of extremes.
Fish Creek Corral frames a view of Antelope Mountain

The scenic byway begins in dense woodlands replete with lakeside retreats that comes to an abrupt end near the turn off for the town of Greer where the landscape jumps from piney to pastoral. 

Ellis Wiltbank Reservoir sits at the base of Antelope Mtn.

Like a splash of cold water, the terrain suddenly changes into sprawling grasslands and isolated pine-covered knolls. Figuring prominently in the landscape are hundreds of lumps, bumps, slumps and conical hills--welcome to the complex geology of the Springerville Volcanic Field.  This swath of cinder cones and lava flows sits at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, a roughly 130,000 square mile collection of some of the country’s most remarkable landforms (think: Zion, Capitol Reef and the Grand Canyon) that covers the four corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
A monsoon storm builds over Antelope Mountain

Springerville Volcanic Field seen from Antelope Mtn.

Sparsely vegetated, the sunny plains sit just north of the course of the Little Colorado River and its tributaries that drain into the Mount Baldy Wilderness area where a mass of lakes, marshes and moist riparian zones stand in stark contrast to the shrubby, windswept volcanic highlands.

Insects feed on a Mountain tail-leaf bush on Antelope Mtn.

Hiking in this bizarre area is both challenging and rewarding.

A textbook-perfect cinder cone seen from Antelope Mtn.

While 10,134-foot Greens Peak, the highest point in the field, is easily accessible on national forest land, many of the other notable volcanic features in the area are located along rough back roads that pass through a patchwork of national forest, state trust, tribal, municipal and private lands, so it’s important that you trek in sync with the laws.

Pollinators alight on New Mexican vervain blooms


Once such place to explore is Antelope Mountain, a fascinating cinder cone which is on State Trust Land.  A permit is required to hike the rough dirt road to its 9,003-foot summit. State Trust Land Recreational permits are inexpensive, easy to obtain online and most, including the one for individual hiking access, are good for a full year.  In some cases, such as where Passage 30: Coconino Rim of the Arizona Trail crosses State Trust land north of Flagstaff, a permit is not required as long as you stay within the 15-foot corridor of the trail. That is an exception, though. If you’re recreating on State Trust land, you’ll need a permit.

Antelope Mountain is a cinder cone volcano

Steep approach to the saddle of Antelope Mountain



The deceptively easy-looking road that climbs Antelope Mountain begins at a nondescript turnout off State Route 260 six miles north of the town of Greer.  The first mile is a simple traipse among spotty trees and the wire-and-wood complex of the Fish Creek corrals where the first of two road gates marks the warm up section to the steep climbing ahead. From this segment, the road cut that snakes up the nearly treeless mountain is clearly visible. While it may not look that imposing from a distance, it makes a steady, 30-degree ascent with no breaks. It’s all up, all the way.

A hazy view of Escudilla Mtn on the far right horizon

Road cut visible on the barren south slopes of Antelope Mtn.

Soon, glimpses of Ellis Wiltbank Reservoir, which is on private property, appear in a shallow basin to the left of the road. Look carefully and you might spot domestic cattle, elk and big horn sheep roaming around its mucky perimeter.  At near the 1.5-mile point, pass a second gate that marks the State Trust Land boundary (per state land regulations, leave the gate as you found it, either open or closed) and get ready for the uphill grind.  One hairpin switchback at the 8,500-foot point is all you get in terms of climb-mitigating road engineering.  The rest of the hike makes a straight shot up the mountain’s south flank to the top with the final quarter-mile to the saddle below the summit ridge being the steepest. But great vistas of Escudilla Mountain on the New Mexico border, Mount Baldy, Pole Knoll and White Mountains grasslands take the sting out of the effort. 

Late summer is the best time to see sunflowers in the White Mtns.

Defunct communication equipment on Antelope Mtn.

Looking west from the lone switchback on Antelope Mtn.

On the saddle, the road splits. The left fork goes to the summit proper while the right one leads to scenic overlooks and a heap of defunct equipment, including what appears to be old analogue TV antennas.  A smattering of wind-tortured fir trees standing among outcroppings of basalt boulders and scree line the summit spur. Visible between the trees, a textbook-perfect cinder cone with a symmetrical crater sits 500 feet below the mountain’s north face while dozens of other more lopsided and eroded specimens are scattered on the prairies below.

Forest Road 558 leads to the top of Antelope Mountain

Looking east from the summit of Antelope Mountain

A wild geranium blooms among buckwheat flowers

The road tops out on a bald knob where a huge cairn made of cinders denotes the mountain’s highpoint.  On the top, the tower-clutter summit of Greens Peak can be seen to the west while the diverse mix of forests and open plains of east-central Arizona roll out all around making the quad burning hike well worth the effort.

View from the saddle of Antelope Mountain

Greens Peak (far R horizon) seen from Antelope Mtn

A permit is required to hike on Arizona State Trust Land


LENGTH:  6 miles round trip

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION:   8,149 – 9,003 feet


From Show Low go 45 miles east on State Route 260 (White Mountain Blvd.) to Forest Road 558 on the left.  This easy-to-miss road is located 0.7-mile past the State Route 373 turn off for the town of Greer, just past a big Leaving Apache National Forest sign. There’s a parking turnout a few yard in and additional parking farther up the road near a corral. Hike the road to the summit.




INFO on the Springerville Volcanic Field