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Friday, July 14, 2017

OBSERVATORY MESA NATURAL AREA

OBSERVATORY MESA NATURAL AREA
Flagstaff
Observatory Tank along Forest Road 515
Wavyleaf thistle and guests
Allow me to introduce A-1 Mountain, ruler of magma, queen of ashes and Mother of the Mesa. This dramatic introduction—admittedly inspired by a certain fantasy franchise—is an accurate description of the 300,000-year-old cinder cone located on the urban-forest interface west of Flagstaff. A-1 Mountain is the source of volcanic materials that built Observatory Mesa and other nearby geological features. Rising to 8,300 feet, the pine-cloaked mound is just one of many visual goodies dished out to visitors of the Observatory Mesa Natural Area.
A-1 Mountain is a 300,000 -year-old cinder cone volcano
The 2,251-acre site was acquired by the City of Flagstaff in 2013 to preserve native ecosystems and an essential wildlife corridor while allowing for  recreation.  Rich in biodiversity, the landscape is a mix of pine-oak woodlands, grasslands, shrubby range, tiny drainage areas and seeps that foster wetland species like willows, frogs, wild roses and salamanders.
Observatory Mesa
 
Hikers can access the area on dirt forest roads or by way of the Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS) trailhead at Thorpe Park near downtown. Either way, both options merge at a hub in the middle of the mesa where the Mars Hill, Tunnel Springs, Flagstaff Loop and Observatory Mesa trails spin off in different directions.  Although both access points are close to town, the trailhead along Forest Road 515 has more of a woodsy feel than its city-inflected counterpart. 
Slash piles 
Beginning at the FR 515 trailhead requires some route finding. The side road at the kiosk is Forest Road 515D which is one of several non-motorized dead-end roads that wander through meadows, wetlands and forests replete with antelope, porcupines, fox and squirrels. You can wander along these scenic roads for hours, but if you want the most direct route to the FUTS hub, hike 2.6 miles farther up FR 515 (the road you came in on) from the parking spot at the kiosk. At 1.1 miles, go right at a fork and then stay straight on the main road at a second fork. Continue to a cattle guard and gate at the 1.3-mile point where Forest Road 9113C crosses, pass the gate and continue hiking on FR 515 to a hub of trail signs. From here, you can pick up the FUTS or return the way you came. 
Logs ready for transport
While hiking on the mesa, you'll see fresh-cut tree stumps and slash piles (stacks of branches). These products of forest thinning efforts are part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Program that's designed to reduce the threat of devastating wildfires and post-fire flooding while improving forest health to promote diverse habitats for sensitive species like the Gunnison’s prairie dog, boreal chorus frog and Mexican spotted owl. Signs at the hub have information about the program. During logging operations, heavy equipment is in use on and around the dirt roads, so stay alert and be sure to park well out of the way.
Yellow Salsify
LENGTHS:
Forest Road 515 hike to hub: 2.6 miles one-way, 7400' - 7560'
Observatory Mesa Trail: 1.6 miles one-way, 7070’ – 7370’
Mars Hill Trail: 1.9 miles one-way, 6933’ – 7402’
Tunnel Springs Trail: 1.9 miles one-way, 7014’ – 7404’
RATING: moderate
GETTING THERE:
Forest Road 515 Trailhead:
From the Interstate 17/40 interchange in Flagstaff, go 4.8 miles west (toward Williams) on I-40 to A-1 Mountain Road exit 190. Follow A-1 Road (Forest Road 506) 1.8 miles and continue straight on Forest Road 515. Pass a cattle guard and go 0.2 mile and park at the kiosk. No facilities. 
Thorpe Park Trailhead:
From downtown Flagstaff, go north on Humphreys Street to Cherry Avenue, turn left and continue to North Thorpe Park Road, turn right and drive a short distance to the parking area near the ball fields.  Pick up the Observatory Mesa Trail across the road near the disc golf course.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

JONES CROSSING

JONES CROSSING
Coconino National Forest
A doggie paradise
The water of East Clear Creek nourishes a sweet ribbon of green across the Mogollon Rim and a hike into the beautiful Jones Crossing area of this perennial stream rewards with exposure to an impossibly lush canyon flanked by contorted limestone cliffs.
East Clear Creek
The trek begins at Jones Crossing bridge where hikers can follow the stream either north or south.

The southbound strip is most scenic and better shaded.
Right out of the chute, the route---which roughly follows a closed 4x4 road----drops hikers into a field of thigh-high grasses splattered with OxEye Daisies and wild geraniums.
Yellow columbine
From here, just follow the water to enter a steep-walled canyon with intermittent pools and trickling rivulets smothered in ferns and bobbing yellow Columbine.
Water levels fluctuate so be prepared for wet feet as there are a few spots where crossings require some ankle-deep wading.
LENGTH:
Southbound (as described here): whatever---but it’s 5.2 miles one-way to the Poverty Draw side canyon.
Northbound: whatever, but it’s 1.75 miles to an unsigned forest road
RATING: easy, with several creek crossings
ELEVATION: 6,850’ – 7,050’
BEST SEASON: May - October
GETTING THERE:
From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go north on SR87  past Pine-Strawberry to milepost 289 and the sign for Jones Crossing at Forest Road 141. Continue 4 miles east on FR141 to the (signed) Jones Crossing bridge and park along the road. Forest Road 141 is maintained dirt with just a few minor bumpy parts--okay for slowly driven sedans.
Hike begins across of the bridge at the yellow “area closed” and “732” signs. The area is closed to all motorized vehicles, but hiking is okay.

Monday, June 26, 2017

MORMON MOUNTAIN

MORMON MOUNTAIN

Coconino National Forest
Mormon Mountain
Having hiked up Mormon Mountain perhaps a dozen times, I’ve decided to give it a nickname: Upside Down Mountain. That’s because when compared to a typical mountain trek experience, this one plays outside the box. First, the most difficult climbing happens along its base rather than near the top and second, views normally gained on summits are seen near the bottom of this trail.  Although some online reports besmirch Mormon Mountain Trail #58 because of its failure to conform, I rank it high on my list of must-dos because of its renegade nature. 
Dense coniferous forests cover much of the trail
Shrouded in an old growth forest, the lumpy dome of Mormon Mountain is an impressive landmark on the western edge of Flagstaff’s plateau lakes region.  Despite its beguiling profile, the trail that ascends its southeast face is pleasantly devoid of crowds.
Richardson's Geranium bloom April through October
The route’s gradual but steady ascent doesn’t have any precarious edges or wind-in-your-face vistas.  Along the first mile, views of marshy Mormon Lake peek out from a curtain of pines and oaks but after that, the trail ducks into cloistered woodlands of spruce, fir and pine.  A mix of saplings, mature growth, snags (standing dead trees) and downed logs create an untamed atmosphere and juicy habitats for turkeys, owls, squirrels, bears and bats. A few years ago, while hiking the trail in pre-dawn light, a swarm of what I thought were butterflies flew in front of me.
Sparse views of Mormon Lake occur on the lower trail
It wasn’t until I saw them fold their wings to roost beneath the bark of a dead pine tree that I realized they were bats. That was my only encounter with the nocturnal flying mammals. Bats are usually harmless to humans and are valuable as pollinators and beneficial for controlling mosquito and insect populations.  Arizona Game & Fish has guidelines for bat encounters on their website and it’s a good idea to read it before venturing into bat territory.
Old growth forest scene
Once the trail hits the 8000-foot point, it levels out as the forest changes from a shady coniferous tunnel to a sunnier mix of brambles, meadows and aspens. At the 2.5-mile point, a sign at the entrance to an open field makes for a good turnaround point. (Note, the forest service says this trail is 3 miles long, but my GPS recorded 2.6 miles.)  However, if you’re up for more, veer left and hike another 0.1 mile to where the trail ends at Forest Road 648. From here, you can turn right and hike the road another 0.6 mile to an array of communication towers for Flagstaff and Sedona area broadcasting stations.
A meadow near the end of the trail
True to its outsider nature, this mountain doesn’t yield the expected soaring peak and unobstructed panorama. Its true highpoint resides on a tree-cluttered lump somewhere beyond the towers, however signs about private property and radiation exposure were ample inspiration for me to end the trek at the property boundary and head back the way I came.
Forest Road 648. Scars on the aspens are elk antler rubs.
LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip or 6.6 miles roundtrip to the towers
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7220’ – 8440’
Deers Ears bloom May thru August
GETTING THERE:
From Flagstaff, go 20 miles south on Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3) and turn left on Mormon Lake Road (Forest Road 90) past milepost 323. Continue 3.6 miles to Montezuma Road and the turn off for Dairy Springs Campground, turn right and go 0.3 mile to the trailhead.
INFO & MAP:
LIVING WITH BATS:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fruits of the Desert Guided Hikes

FRUITS OF THE DESERT GUIDED HIKES
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Cave Creek
Saguaro fruits ripen in early July
The Rim is on fire, Flagstaff is covered in smoke, there's a blaze on Mt.Graham and who knows what other wildfires will break out and cause closures to our high-country hiking trails over the next few weeks?  Of course, we must first be concerned with the safety of firefighters and the communities surrounding the blazes. No matter how badly we Valley dwellers want to escape the heat and hike in the cool pines, we should stay out of the way. So, what? Give up hiking until the monsoon comes? No way. Instead, stay in town and take part in a hike that celebrates the annual ripening of saguaro fruits.  Ranger Kevin Smith at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek has educational hikes planned for July 1, 7 and 8 that focus on the identification of wild foods hiding in plain sight along local trails.
Harvesting saguaro fruits
The treks start early and end before the heat of day kicks in. Ranger Smith leads participants into the hills above Cave Creek and demonstrates traditional techniques for harvesting cactus fruits and other desert delicacies.  And, yes, the tour includes free tastes. So, why not learn a little bit about native Sonoran Desert edibles while getting your exercise and waiting for the rains to return. There’s no need to sign up, just show up promptly at 7 a.m.
Plus, this program is part of the “County Parks are Getting Wet 
‘n’ Wild this Summer” promotion. At the end of the hikes, there will be a drawing for a family four-pack (4 free tickets) to the Wet ‘n’ Wild Water Park.
Engelmann prickly pear fruit
LENGTH: variable but usually 2-3 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,200' - 2,800'
Tasty jojoba seeds

GETTING THERE:
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive 15 miles north to Spur Cross Ranch Road, turn left and continue 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left.
FEE: $3 per person permit required. Bring exact change for the self-serve pay station.
INFO:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

2017 Summer Wildfire Info

2017 SUMMER WILDFIRE INFO
Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff 6-10-17
Here we go again---it's wildfire season in Arizona. Already, dozens of blazes are active around the state---many of them near popular hiking trails and campgrounds. Cars are being turned around on access roads by fire personnel and hikers are finding out too late that they can't get to their planned trails due to closures. Please, stay out of closure areas. This is not only for your safety, but to ensure the firefighters can do their jobs without interference. BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT, CHECK THE InciWeb SITE FOR UP-TO-DATE INFO ON WILDFIRE STATUS AND CLOSURES:
https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/3/

Monday, June 12, 2017

WOODY MOUNTAIN

WOODY MOUNTAIN

Coconino National Forest
View of Rogers Lake
In the blockbuster theater of Flagstaff-area peaks, Woody Mountain plays more of a supporting role. Rising to just over 8,000 feet, the pine-covered cinder cone volcano stands above the wetlands of Rogers Lake not as soaring crests like nearby Bill Williams Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks, but as a low-profile mound.  In terms of mountain-conquering hiking experiences, this one makes for a satisfying starter trail that gets you to a beautiful high point without having to invest a lot of sweat or route-finding.
Roadside stock tank just outside of the natural area boundary
Located partially within the Rogers Lake County Natural Area south of Flagstaff, the service road that goes to the summit serves as the trail. The road can also be accessed by way of the Gold Digger Trail which you can pick up at a trailhead a half-mile beyond the start point. But, if your eyes are solely on the summit prize, beginning at the road gate is the most direct route.  At the parking area, the grassy swale that is Rogers Lake sits among pine bluffs, ranches and acres of summer wildflowers.  Local cows graze and laze in the lake’s mucky flats and if you’re lucky, you’ll also see the elk, deer, raptors and coyotes that come to drink from the lake’s residual pools. The first mile of the road hike is a moderate but continual climb through a sunny pine-oak forest. It’s an unremarkable hike unless you turn around occasionally to take in ever changing views of the lake and mountain peaks emerging over coniferous woodlands. At the 1.3 -mile point, the road passes a gate and leaves the natural area.  Here, a reedy stock tank fosters aquatic buttercups and clouds of butterflies. The double-humped mound to the left is your destination---look closely and you’ll see the top of the fire tower poking out from among tall pines. From the tank, the road begins its northward swing around the mountain and the mood moves from bucolic to deep-woods. The forest thickens as the road ascends barber-pole-style presenting a visual carousel of Flagstaff landmarks, the mountains of Williams and the pasture lands around the lake.  Near the 2-mile point, the historic Woody Mountain fire tower comes into view.  
A Red-tailed hawk glides above the road
The original tower was a simple tree stand that was used from 1910 to 1921. In 1922, the bare bones perch was upgraded to a wood tower which remained in service until 1936 when it was replaced with the posh-by-comparison steel and glass cabin that’s still in use today. The tower is on the National Register of Historic Sites. It rises 46 feet above ground, supporting a 7’ x 7’ cabin.
Historic Woody Mountain Lookout
Lookouts are sometimes stationed in the tower during fire season. When a lookout is on active duty, you should never enter a tower unless  invited and you must comply with all their instructions.  
Trailhead gate at Rogers Lake
Unless cordoned off or signed to stay out, it’s okay to climb the tower ladder at your own risk to get an aerial view of the lake that rolls out in concentric rings with puddles in the middle and marshes fading from a bright emerald core to a golden-brown fringe as summer sucks up snow-melt moisture.
Service road to the summit of Woody Mountain
When done taking in the historic sites and natural wonders, descend the way you came or, if you’re up for more miles, pick up one or both of the county natural area trails. The 4-mile, moderate-rated Gold Digger trail wanders the foothills below the peak while the easy, 2-mile Two-Spot trail stays low for optimum wildlife viewing.
Western Yarrow blooms June - September
LENGTH: 4.2 miles round trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  7060’ – 8045’
GETTING THERE:
From Flagstaff, go 1.9 miles west on Route 66 to Wood Mountain Road (Forest Road 231), turn left and continue 6.4 miles to the gate on the left located just past the Rogers Lake sign.
Park along the road.
The summit road may also be accessed from the Gold Digger Trail and Two-Spot trailheads located 0.6 and 1 mile farther down FR231.
INFO & MAP:

Monday, June 5, 2017

THOMPSON TRAIL #629

THOMPSON TRAIL #629
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Parts of Thompson Trail survived the Wallow Fire
Trails with good bones have a way of reinventing themselves after a major wildfire. When the 2011 Wallow Fire---the largest in Arizona history-- roared through the woodlands around Mount Baldy and Big Lake, the nearby Thompson Trail #629 suffered heavy damage that will change is character as it recovers. Because of its good bones, the classic White Mountains route that follows the West Fork of the Black River still embodies everything great about high country trails—a creek with native fish, moss-laced trees, clump grass meadows and shadowy forests teeming with wildlife.
West Fork of the Black River flows along the trail
But the blaze altered its feel. The fire impacted the trail in patchwork style leaving some sections intact and others charred beyond recognition. The most noticeable change is the loss of shade-casting fir and spruce trees that had covered the canyon walls surrounding the stream. Where the fire burned hardest, the trail is now sunnier than its former self, allowing for the emergence of aspen trees that had been smothered by the conifers. Colonies of white-bark aspen sprouts are quickly claiming the space beneath blackened trunks and will eventually mature to replace the former darkly imposing canopy with a mottled sunshade.
Marsh marigold
In the six years since the fire, most of the ash and smoky residues have washed away revealing a scared but healing landscape.

The hike begins at the mouth of a gorge where the river meanders in oxbow curls. Within the first half-mile, two dams built as barriers to protect the native Apache trout population form still ponds and roaring waterfalls. Never straying far from the river’s edge, the trail passes through survivor forests and moist cienegas where rock piles and stepping stones mark the way through abundant shrubs, forbs and wetland wildflowers like marsh marigolds and prairie smoke. Interesting geology is another key feature of the hike---watch for an impressive volcanic dike on the west cliffs and tufts of red columbine growing from pock holes on basalt boulders. The trail ends where the 2.5-mile West Fork of the Black River Trail #628 begins with a knee-deep creek crossing. However, if you’d like to keep your feet dry, just turn back here and enjoy the trek in reverse.
Prairie Smoke
LENGTH: 6.5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8600’ – 8840’
GETTING THERE:
From Show Low, go 35 miles east on State Route 260 to State Route 273, just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area.Turn right and continue 14 miles to Forest Road 116 (signed for Reservation Lake), turn right and go 4 miles to the trailhead on the right. Roads are paved except for Forest Road 116 which is sedan-friendly gravel.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BOYLE-DeBUSK OPEN SPACE PRESERVE

BOYLE-DeBUSK OPEN SPACE PRESERVE

Prescott
One of three primary trails in the preserve
If you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably zip right past this miniscule hiking destination tucked amid the suburbs 1.5 miles south of downtown Prescott. The Boyle-DeBusk Open Space Preserve is a project of the Central Arizona Land Trust, a non-profit corporation dedicated to protecting sensitive western landscapes. The property was donated to the City of Prescott in 2003 and is now part of the city’s public open space holdings.
Canyon grapes grow wild in the preserve's riparian zone 
Located in the space between expansive national forest land and a community with tin roof cabins and porches decorated with wood-whittled critters, the 9.7-acre natural area has been enhanced with hiking trails that explore its ecologically diverse terrain.  Three primary trails---DeBusk, Boyle and Talcott—wander through a woodsy mix of pine, oak and juniper trees that provide shade along much of the intertwined system. Running down the middle of the preserve, a gorge with an intermittent stream fosters a swath of water-loving plants like canyon grapes, wild roses and Scouring Rush Horsetail plants which look like bamboo.
Prescott's Granite Mountain as seen from the trails.
Experienced hikers will breeze through this matrix like a knife through butter while trekkers with kids in tow and those who prefer a leisurely pace to enjoy wildlife and plants could spend hours here.  Although this tiny trail matrix might not rate as a standalone destination, its proximity to the 54-mile long Prescott Circle Trail (PCT) makes it a nice add-on exploration.  There’s a major PCT trailhead just a mile and a half farther down White Spar Road.
Scouring Rush Horsetail

LENGTH: 1.2 miles total
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5480’- 5611’
GETTING THERE:
Limberlost Trailhead:
From Courthouse Square in downtown Prescott, go 1.6 miles south on Montezuma Street (White Spar Road/ State Route 89) to Limberlost Lane. Turn right and continue 0.1 mile to the trailhead.
Boyle, DeBusk, and Talcott Trailheads:
From Courthouse Square in downtown Prescott, go 1.5 miles south on Montezuma Street (White Spar Road/ State Route 89) to Clubhouse Drive, turn right and continue 0.1 mile to the Talcott Trailhead on the left. To reach more access points, continue another 0.1 mile on Clubhouse and turn left onto East Hill Circle—there are three trailheads within 0.1 mile.
Parking is very limited along the streets. Do not block private drives.
INFO: Central Arizona Land Trust

Monday, May 15, 2017

WALNUT CANYON TRAIL

WALNUT CANYON TRAIL
Walnut Canyon Trail
Flagstaff’s Walnut Canyon, which splits the landscape southeast of town, is the work of an ancient river that carved its way through dolomite-rich limestone and sandstone.  The geological wonder is rife with history and recreational opportunities. Think prehistoric Sinagua dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument, that grueling staircase, hikes along the rim and a scenic passage of the Arizona Trail. As if these attractions weren’t enough, there’s another place tucked into a tributary at the canyon’s western edge that explores its wilder side. To get to this surprisingly green destination, begin on the popular Sandys Canyon Trail, hike two miles through the wide, pine-fringed valley to the equestrian bypass post and veer right heading toward a hub of signs and activity where the Arizona Trail branches into various options for hiking and riding through or around Flagstaff.
Petrified sand dunes on Walnut Canyon Trail
Just around a bend, first glimpses of the petrified sand dunes that characterize the trail stand out in a massive blob of cross-bedded stone. The appearance of the landmark below Fisher Point can be described as having the shape of Star Wars villain Jabba the Hutt and the texture of dinosaur hide. Because Jabba did his dirty deeds a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away we cannot be sure of when he lived, however, we know for sure that Walnut Canyon’s odd geological features are older than the dinosaurs of our own little planet.  The sand dunes formed between 299 and 251 million years ago during the Permian Age when earth’s land masses were coalescing into the super continent of Pangaea. This was a period of climate extremes and harsh conditions.
Cave along Sandys Canyon Trail
This domain of reptiles and other species that would later evolve into mammals ended with a mass extinction of terrestrial and sea species. What happened? Well, theories include climate change due to volcanic eruptions, methane poisoning and asteroid impacts.  Death Star, maybe?
Regardless, the fossil remains of that time form the backbone of a fascinating hike. From the sign post hub, hike over to the “Jabba” formation to explore the cave at its base. At the back of the cavern, look for a slot that lets in a sliver of sunlight.
Cave entry on Walnut Canyon Trail
After checking out the cave, continue east along and unmarked trail to a sign that marks the beginning of the Walnut Canyon Trail. Beyond the sign, the canyon tapers into a tunnel of oaks and willows with an understory of Red-osier dogwood and scratchy brambles. Canyon walls tower 400 feet on both sides as the thin trail plows through damp aspen woodlands, mossy pines and sun-washed meadows.
Jabba the Hutt?
Along the way, two spur paths lead to caves scoured from striated limestone walls. The first is just a shallow overhang while the second is a deep shaft with water seeping from above. Bring a flashlight for this one because it goes back about 25 dark, dank feet. 
The trail goes on to a point roughly 1.8 miles from the Jabba cave where an overgrown drainage and an impenetrable nursery of aspen saplings deny further passage.
Oaks on Walnut Canyon Trail
LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6820’ – 6580’
GETTING THERE:
From Interstate 17 in Flagstaff, take the Lake Mary Road exit 339 and go 4.5 miles south to the Sandys Canyon Trailhead turnoff on the left.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

Monday, May 8, 2017

MILK RANCH POINT

MILK RANCH POINT

Pine-Strawberry 
Highline Trail
Back in the 1880s, Rial Allen ran cattle along the East Verde River and operated a dairy on Milk Ranch Point. The Mormon settler, who was also a founder of the town of Pine, produced cheese, butter and milk for the locals and crews working on the Atlantic & Pacific railroad.
The Allen family left the area in 1891 and today, there’s nary a trace of the dairy that helped sustain waves of hardy pioneers who came to establish communities in the Tonto Basin.
Milk Ranch Point promontory, which hovers above the hamlets of Pine-Strawberry, is part of the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile uplifted shelf that marks the division of the Colorado Plateau and Arizona’s Basin and Range zone. The imposing geological feature is a scaffold of pine and fossiliferous sediments squeezed into fractured vertical cliffs that rise to over 7000 feet.
There are two popular ways to get to the wind-ravaged peninsula---the hard way and the harder way.  With a vehicle robust enough to survive nasty forest roads, you can drive right up. Or, you can choose the harder option and make the 8-mile roundtrip hike that climbs nearly 2,000 feet.
Deers Ears bloom May - August
The hike begins at the Pine Trailhead on the Highline Trail #31 which is also part of the Arizona Trail. This easy, 1.5-mile segment passes through washes, juniper woodlands and damp forests of maple and oak as it makes a gradual ascent on a well-maintained trail. At the Donahue Trail #27 junction, the hike changes into a more aggressive climb on steep, yucca-fringed switchbacks. Over the remainder of the journey, a few scattered junipers and pines offer welcome shade on the trail’s exposed slopes. The route is tougher than it looks, so bring more water than you think you’ll need plus sun protection and energy snacks. The sweaty trek pays off with ever-improving views of  landscapes romanticized in the novels of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.  On top, volcanic boulders tossed among tall pines and manzanita shrubs provide ample rest spots to take in views of a cabin-dotted valley below and layers of mountain profiles melting into the horizon.
Top of Milk Ranch Point
LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  5400’- 7332’
GETTING THERE:
Pine Trailhead (south)
From the intersection of State Routes 260/87 in Payson, go 15 miles north on SR 87 to the Pine trailhead on the right. The trail begins at the Arizona Trail gate and map kiosk.
Rim access (north)
From the Pine trailhead, continue north on SR 87 to Rim Road (Forest Road 300). Turn right and continue 1.3 miles to Forest Road 218, turn right and go 3.8 miles to the trailhead at the junction of FR218 and FR 9385R. A high-clearance or 4x4 vehicle is necessary and the and may be closed when wet or snowy.
INFO: