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Monday, June 25, 2018


Iconic Pivot Rock is the hike's keystone.
Lodged between the epic wilderness areas of West Clear Creek and Fossil Creek, the woodlands around Pivot Rock Canyon provide a quiet transition between the two recreational juggernauts.  Although it lacks the deep gorges, waterfalls and hiking challenge of its surrounding destinations, the unassuming little space on the Mogollon Rim holds fascinations of its own.  
Limestone slabs in Pivot Rock Canyon
Easily accessible off State Route 87 just south of the community of Clints Well, the area can be explored using a 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps campsite as a base.
From the no-frills dirt clearing, two short treks with distinct flavors head out in opposite directions. 
Butterflies congregate near the springs.
The woodsy, informal routes located just outside of the wilderness boundaries use abandoned roads and footpaths to explore an array of human artifacts and bizarre geology.
Often eclipsed by the epic, vertigo-inducing trails that scale the raw and remote cliffs of WCC (Tramway, Maxwell, Calloway) that are accessible only via tire-eating dirt roads, the Pivot Rock Canyon and Wildcat Spring trails emanates a softer character than their untamed, wilderness cousins.
Remains of a backwoods cabin.
Payson Packers maneuver through a fern gully.
The double-header circuit begins across the road from the campground at a “road closed” barrier with a walk to Wildcat Spring. Pass through the gate and follow the faint two-track, veering right (downhill) where the road splits. The road soon narrows to a footpath as it enters a shallow canyon meandering along the edge of an ephemeral stream.  The sketchy trail weaves among brambles, hip-high ferns damp forests and sunlit meadows. Several spur paths and game trails spin off the main route, but the best plan is to follow the paths-of-use on the canyon floor.  At 1.4 miles, the canyon converges to a point with evidence of runoff funneling down into the stream channel. Wildcat Spring is located up on the east wall of the canyon. A short scramble up to the defunct concrete trough reveals rusty pipes and a crudely-poured square tub holding more pine needles than water.
Wildcat Spring is usually bone dry.
On the flip side, the Pivot Rock Canyon hike is a little more convoluted. Begin hiking on the road at the end of the campground. At the 0.6-mile point, pick up an unsigned footpath on the right heading downhill to a creek channel. (For reference, there’s a small dirt clearing with a fire ring.)
Members of the Payson Packers hike group trek the roads.
Hop down the limestone slab staircase, head right and follow the obvious paths that crisscross the drainage smothered in pine-oak woodlands and aspen-shaded clearings.  The paths move through a narrow corridor bolstered by outcroppings of layered fossiliferous limestone that harbor water pockets, impressive overhangs and shallow caves. Roughly a half-mile into the canyon, keep an eye out for the eponymous rock formation on the upper left embankment. The easy-to-miss, natural limestone sculpture known as Pivot Rock hides in plain sight above the ravine.  Its massive foundation supports a balancing capstone posed like an abandoned project on a potter’s wheel.  A frenzy of wild grasses and tree sprouts have taken root in its porous, flaky surfaces. Nearby, a toppled pine tree lies shattered at its base, a near-miss that could have crushed or sent the monolith over the edge.
Once done visiting the rock, continue hiking the faint path that winds among gooseberry bushes, brambles and gigantic ferns to a point where tiny pools lush with White Watercress, Yellow Monkey flowers and swarms of butterflies and moths herald the approach to Pivot Rock Spring. 
An Orange Gooseberry thicket.
Even in our current extreme drought conditions, a trickle of water still flows from the spring’s location high on the canyon wall. Icy air and a glaze of sweet water oozes from the spring's cave-like source.
Pivot Rock Spring spews cool air and a trickle of moisture.
From the spring, backtrack to the access road and continue hiking the two-track north. Along the way, off to the left, a decaying pile of rough-hewn logs is all that remains of a backwoods cabin. 
White Watercress thrives near Pivot Rock Spring.
This is a favorite turnaround point for an easy day hike, however, it’s possible create your own circuit using the area’s maze of dirt roads and the Coconino National Forest road map for guidance.
Pivot Rock: 3 miles roundtrip or up to 6 miles using linking forest roads.
Wildcat Spring: 2. 8 miles roundtrip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6780 – 7100 feet
From the State Route 260/87 junction in Payson, go 32 miles north on SR 87 to Forest Road 616, which is located past milepost 284 on the left. Follow FR 616 for 3.3 miles to an unsigned campground downhill on the right.
The Pivot Rock trail begins on the road at the end of the campground.  The Wildcat Spring hike begins across from the campground at a closed gate.
Limestone escarpments in Pivot Rock Canyon

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