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Monday, May 9, 2016


Tonto National Forest
Red Rock Spring
Water is the life force of the forest. In Arizona, where water is too often in short supply, the forests have some creative ways of storing and distributing the precious liquid. An example of a natural water system can be observed near the base of the Mogollon Rim near Pine. Beneath the imposing, vertical cliffs that mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau, numerous springs provide reliable water sources for wildlife and long distance hikers. The springs are charged when melting snow and rainfall on the 7,000-foot escarpment, soaks through the porous rocks emerging hundreds of feet below as gushing waterfalls (Horton Spring) oozing seeps (Dripping Spring) and trickling fountains like those encountered on a hike from Forest Road 64 to the Geronimo Trailhead. Using Red Rock Trail #294 and part of Highline Trail #31, this customizable, water-themed trek visits two springs and a creek on its way through scrubby foothills and damp, pine-oak woodlands. Trail #294 climbs more than 600 feet on a juniper-shaded, rocky road that uses subtle turns and natural stone staircases to ascend the rugged slopes below the Rim. At the half-mile point, veer right at a rock barricade and pick up the narrower, loose rock path heading skyward. On the way up, glimpses of the Mazatzal Wilderness tease of sweeping vistas to come. With every few feet of elevation gained, the views blossom into ever expanding panoramas of emerald valleys and distant mountains.
Approaching Pine Spring
At the 1-mile point, the trail meets Highline Trail #31 which is also part of the state traversing Arizona Trail Passage #27. With the major climbing done, you can now breath easier and enjoy hiking to the water spots strung out along the route. Red Rock Spring is located a few yards to the left (west) of the junction. It's a beautiful, shaded spot with a concrete trough that usually has water suitable for drinking once its been filtered. From here, hike one mile east (go right at the junction) to Pine Spring. Sheltered among tall pines and whispering maples, this historic site features two antique wooden spring boxes that are no longer effective at trapping the flow. The wayward water runs downhill in lazy rivulets, supporting a ribbon of greenery and a healthy population of Yellow Monkey Flowers growing on a soggy embankment. In a pinch, you could filter some drinking water here, but, don't count on it. The next three miles of the route duck in and out of dark forests and sun exposed, yucca-fringed ledges before coming to the cool waters of spring-fed, Webber Creek near the Geronimo Trailhead. If you're up for more, the Highline Trail continues 8 miles east to the 260 Trailhead while the Arizona Trail turns north at Washington Park on its way to the Utah border.
Mountain views all around
LENGTH: 5 miles one way to Geronimo Trailhead
To Red Rock Spring: 1 miles one way
To Pine Spring: 2 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5,390' - 6,050'
Red Rock Spring (west) Trailhead:
From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go 12 miles north on SR 87 to milepost 265 (2 miles north of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park) and turn right on Control Road (Forest Road 64). Continue 2.4 miles to the trailhead on the left. This is easy to miss because the trail sign is located about 30 yards up from the road. There’s no parking lot-- just find a spot in the turnouts along the road. Control Road is maintained dirt suitable for passenger cars.
Highline Trail #31
Geronimo (east) Trailhead:
From the Red Rock trailhead, continue another 3.5 miles on Control Road to Forest Road 440 (Webber Creek Road). Go left (north) on FR 440 and continue 2 miles to the Geronimo trailhead on the right. High clearance is recommended on FR 440.
INFO: Payson Ranger District, Tonto National Forest:
Arizona Trail Association:

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