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Monday, March 18, 2013

Wilderness waterfalls

Tonto National Forest
entrance to the grotto

inside the grotto: March 16, 2013
view of the trail with "chevron folds" on left canyon wall
Late winter snowfall followed by suddenly warm days of spring combine for  a perfect storm for waterworks in the Mazatzal Wilderness.  Because of this, Barnhardt Trail #43 is a busy place from March through early April--peak season for snowmelt waterfalls. In addition to its spectacular display of cascades, the totally canyon bound route zigzags through a complicated stew of geological delights including some spectacular "chevron folds"---accordion-style bends in the canyon wall created by millions of years of tectonic forces.  Also, look for "fossil" waves in the quartzite.  These stone ripple marks are either preserved ocean-bottom wave action or fingerprints of currents of shallow rivlets. Throughout the hike, outcroppings of blush-colored quartzite and dragon-scaly shales are drenched by trickling springs, puddles of melted ice and roaring cascades of water plunging 2000 feet over rough cut cliffs.  Several stony ledges along the way offer excellent views of water flowing at the bottom of the canyon and the contorted rock formations.  A particularly grand vista can be seen at a the 2.80-mile point where a natural rock shelter embellished with clumps of pincushion cactus teeters above a vertical drop with big views of the Mogollon Rim.  Although trail #43 runs for six miles one-way, we like to hike up to the large slot canyon falls at the 3.14-mile point, climb to the semi-hidden grotto and then return the way we came.   Amazingly, some hikers walk right past the slot without even noticing the 100-foot, three-tiered cataract visible around a bend in the rock. The entry is marked by a gushing, double water chute as shown in the photo on the left. It takes a bit of scrambling to get into the grotto at the base of the falls, but the effort pays off in a memorable shower of icy spray and crystal clear plunge pools. 
the rock shelter
LENGTH: 6.5 miles roundtrip
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  4210' - 5580'
From Shea Blvd and AZ87 (Beeline Hwy) in Fountain Hills, travel 51 miles north on 87 to FR 419.  This road is located just beyond the sign for Barnhardt Trailhead and roughly 0.25 mile south of the town of Gisela.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles on FR 419 to the trailhead.  FR 419 is a rutted one-lane track.  Although sedans are frequently sighted at the trailhead, a high clearance vehicle is recommended.
INFO: Payson Ranger District, Tonto National Forest

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