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Sunday, January 23, 2011


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:


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: