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Sunday, January 23, 2011

SUNFLOWER TRAIL #344 from CROSS F RANCH

SUNFLOWER TRAIL #344 from CROSS F RANCH Tonto National Forest, Mazatzal Wilderness
UPDATE 2-18-17: Hiker Randy Cockrell of Payson reports that new signage has been installed, making it much easier to navigate.

Forget about depending on the “trail signs” mentioned in popular hiking books when negotiating this route. They’re mostly gone, so you’ll be relying on massive cairns and Arizona Trail (AZT) markers to find your way. The first trick is to find the beginning of trail #344, which has been incorporated into the AZT---it’s directly across the road from the parking area, is unsigned and heads up the embankment. You’ll know when you’ve found it because after a few yards, the path becomes obvious. Almost immediately, you’ll come to the first of many cattle gates on this route, pass it and continue on the main trail (cairns---watch for the cairns). The first mile of this hike hugs Sycamore Creek. There’s usually water in cooler months and gorgeous stands of cottonwood, juniper, cypress, oak and, of course, sycamore trees shade the way. At least a dozen creek crossings are required, varying in difficulty from dry to tricky rock hops over flowing water. Several springs and a large stock pond attract domesticated cattle, horses and the local wildlife alike. After a few miles, the trail emerges on sunny, yucca-studded pasturelands with sweeping wilderness views. Trail #334 continues south to Bushnell Tanks trailhead---see prior entry for details. LENGTH: 12 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 3,600 -4,700 feet BEST SEASONS: October - April GETTING THERE: CROSS F RANCH (NORTH) TRAILHEAD: From Fountain Hills, go north on Hwy87, 36 miles to the Sycamore Creek Road (old Hwy 87) at milepost 222.5. Follow paved Sycamore Creek Rd. 3.4 miles to the large AZ Trail sign in a grove of sycamores on the left. Park here. The trail begins directly across the road where only a decaying railroad tie marks the faint path heading uphill. Once you find the access point, the trail becomes more distinct. INFO: http://www.aztrail.org/passages/pass_22.html

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