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Sunday, January 23, 2011


SUNFLOWER TRAIL #344 from BUSHNELL TANKS Tonto National Forest, Mazatzal Wilderness

 Unbeknownst except to those who have traveled its central segments, state-traversing Arizona Trail (AZT) passes beneath Highway 87 just south of milepost 218 where the infamous “Pete’s Topless” billboard hawks a bar in Payson. The billboard has been painted over, but a towing business and a smattering of ranches dotting the hillsides still flourish in the area known as Sunflower. Its through this strip of remoteness that the Saddle Mountain, Passage 22 of the AZT connects Sunflower with Mt. Peeley. Sunflower Trail #344 has been incorporated into the AZT making up 12 miles of its 16-mile route. Two trailheads provide access to trail #344. This description begins at the trailhead near Bushnell Tanks. Route finding can be a challenge in the first quarter-mile, after that though, it’s easy. HIKE DIRECTIONS: from the parking area, hike down the dirt road 0.25 mile to a hiker sign located across from a wash just before a cattle guard. Veer right (west) into the wash and follow it through a beautiful grove of sycamore trees to the far SW corner. From here, you’ll see a barbed wire fence across the creek with a yellow forest service sign and an old red wheel tied to the fence. The towing company/ranch facility will also be visible to the south. Cross the creek here and then head uphill (veer left going toward the ranch) following the fence line. Look for cairns along this narrow path. Within a few minutes, you should be able to spot a large AZT sign and gate up on the rise. Pass the gate and follow cairns through a quagmire of catsclaw and shrub and before long a concrete tunnel constructed just for AZT hikers will be visible. Hike through the tunnel and then pick up the AZT sign post heading right and uphill. From this point frequent carins and AZT signs clearly mark the route through high desert ranch country halfway between Fountain Hills and nowhere. LENGTH: 12 miles 5oundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 3,600 – 4,700 feet BEST SEASONS: October - April GETTING THERE: BUSHNELL TANKS (SOUTH) TRAILHEAD: From Fountain Hills, go north on Hwy87 32 miles to Bushnell Tanks Road (FR22) past milepost 218. Turn right onto FR 22 and go 0.1 mile to the road closed gate. Park here. INFO:   NOTE: this are was damaged by the May 2012 Sunflower Fire. Check status before hiking here:

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