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Thursday, July 22, 2010

WILLOW CROSSING

WILLOW CROSSING Coconino National Forest The shallow gullies of Willow Valley are the most remote and seldom-visited “capillary canyons” that funnel water into mighty West Clear Creek. This picturesque trek begins on a sun-warmed plateau where wildfire-charred tree stumps and a community of vociferous ravens cast an eerie aura over a conflicted landscape. Toppled trees, snags and a smattering of tall survivor pines coexist with saplings and flower-laden shrubs that sometimes obscure the path. To stay on track, follow the old barbed wire fence to a gate near the edge of the canyon. Pass the gate (leave it as you found it) and pick up the obvious path leading downhill. Smothered in Arizona alders, oaks, dogwood and (of course) willows, the valley is like a tiny Garden of Eden, embellished with a natural arch etched out of the limestone canyon walls. Like all “crossing” trails on the Rim, this one hops the (usually dry in summer) streambed and heads up the opposite side of the canyon making for a mini rim-to-rim-to-rim day hike. HIGHLIGHTS: seldom-visited, remote canyon, natural stone arch LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip ELEVATION: 6,800 – 6,400 feet RATING: easy BEST SEASONS: April - November DISTANCE TO FROM PHOENIX: 165 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Payson, go north on AZ87 to Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3) turn left and go north on FR3 to Forest Road 81 at milepost 297.7. Turn left and go 3.1 miles to Forest Road 81E. Set your odometer, and go left on FR 81E 1.14 miles to Forest Road 9366M—an easy-to-miss, unmarked dirt road on the left. Go 0.5 miles on FR 9366M to a cattle guard and gate. The trailhead is just past the gate on the left near the generic “trail” sign and rock carins. Roads are passable by sedan, but high clearance is recommended. INFORMATION: Mogollon Rim Ranger District (928) 477-2255, http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/mog_rim/willow-crossing-tr.shtml

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