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Monday, June 5, 2017


Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Parts of Thompson Trail survived the Wallow Fire
Trails with good bones have a way of reinventing themselves after a major wildfire. When the 2011 Wallow Fire---the largest in Arizona history-- roared through the woodlands around Mount Baldy and Big Lake, the nearby Thompson Trail #629 suffered heavy damage that will change its character as it recovers. Because of its good bones, the classic White Mountains route that follows the West Fork of the Black River still embodies everything great about high country trails—a creek with native fish, moss-laced trees, clump grass meadows and shadowy forests teeming with wildlife.
West Fork of the Black River flows along the trail
But the blaze altered its feel. The fire impacted the trail in patchwork style leaving some sections intact and others charred beyond recognition. The most noticeable change is the loss of shade-casting fir and spruce trees that had covered the canyon walls surrounding the stream. Where the fire burned hardest, the trail is now sunnier than its former self, allowing for the emergence of aspen trees that had been smothered by the conifers. Colonies of white-bark aspen sprouts are quickly claiming the space beneath blackened trunks and will eventually mature to replace the former darkly imposing canopy with a mottled sunshade.
Marsh marigold
In the six years since the fire, most of the ash and smoky residues have washed away revealing a scared but healing landscape.

The hike begins at the mouth of a gorge where the river meanders in oxbow curls. Within the first half-mile, two dams built as barriers to protect the native Apache trout population form still ponds and roaring waterfalls. Never straying far from the river’s edge, the trail passes through survivor forests and moist cienegas where rock piles and stepping stones mark the way through abundant shrubs, forbs and wetland wildflowers like marsh marigolds and prairie smoke. Interesting geology is another key feature of the hike---watch for an impressive volcanic dike on the west cliffs and tufts of red columbine growing from pock holes on basalt boulders. The trail ends where the 2.5-mile West Fork of the Black River Trail #628 begins with a knee-deep creek crossing. However, if you’d like to keep your feet dry, just turn back here and enjoy the trek in reverse.
Prairie Smoke
LENGTH: 6.5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8600’ – 8840’
From Show Low, go 35 miles east on State Route 260 to State Route 273, just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area.Turn right and continue 14 miles to Forest Road 116 (signed for Reservation Lake), turn right and go 4 miles to the trailhead on the right. Roads are paved except for Forest Road 116 which is sedan-friendly gravel.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

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