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Monday, November 18, 2019


Agua Fria National Monument
A hiker at an overlook above the Agua Fria River
Few things make hikers cringe more than seeing smoke rising from treasured hiking hubs. Hiker ire was raised earlier this year when the Badger Springs Fire broke out along Interstate 17 south of Cordes Junction. 
Rock pinnacles along BLM Route 9003 in AFNM
The June 2019 blaze consumed 2,525-acres of brush and high grasses in the Agua Fria National Monument near the popular Badger Springs Wash trail.  The ashen burn scar is still visible from the freeway and an acrid tang still rises with early morning fog.
Hikers make the 400-foot ascent to a scenic overlook
Despite the difficulties of managing fire incidents like this one that involve steep, inaccessible terrain, the monument’s mile-long signature trail mostly escaped major damage.  Telltale signs of the fire mar the surrounding grasslands and vertical cliffs that bolster the Agua Fria River canyon, but leafy riparian corridors remain unscathed. 
A pollinator alights on a buckwheat shrub along the road
Even though the drive-by perspective of the fire damage is quite severe, this should not be a deterrent to exploring the trails and back roads of the 71,000-acre national monument.  Although the Badger Springs Wash trail is a great place to sample the many aspects of the monument’s terrain, it barely scratches the surface in terms of grasping the scope of its natural resources and cultural importance. To fill in the gaps, during dry conditions the short hike may be extended by scooting around boulders and soggy sandbars in the rugged water channel or by trekking nearby dirt tracks.
The hike follows BLM Route 9003
Many walkable roads delve deeper into the site’s remote corners and scenic high points. One such road that leads to a heart-stirring overlook spins off just yards from the Badger Springs Wash trailhead.  Bureau of Land Management Route 9003 swerves away from the busy parking area through what initially looks like a not-too-interesting swath of scrubland. Look carefully to the northeast, and the barely visible road cut can be seen crawling up the flanks of a barren mesa.
The first quarter mile of the route is a little tricky to navigate, but once past a maze of unsigned roads that spin off the primary track, the route is obvious. Here’s how it works.
Trailing Four O'Clock is a common bloomer along the hike
Lone junipers provide spotty shade along the hike
From the parking area, continue hiking on the road you drove in on where it heads north from the Badger Springs trailhead. 
The hike begins with a crossing of Badger Springs Wash
Pass a pair of circular turn outs, drop into a drainage and veer right at a fork at the 0.1-mile point. Walk across the sprawling, sandy corridor of Badger Springs Wash and bear right at a second fork where there’s a sign for BLM road 9003.  From this point, the route is easy to follow.
Highpoint views if the Agua Fria River and Perry Mesa
The narrow, choppy 4x4 road climbs roughly 400 feet among outcroppings of volcanic rock, cacti and sporadic junipers. To the west, the peaks and ridges of the Bradshaw Mountains and Castle Creek Wilderness in Prescott National Forest rise high above Black Canyon and endless strips of open rangeland.
Cross a cattle guard midway through the hike
At the 0.6-mile point, pass a cattle guard and continue straight ahead descending along a steep, ragged bend where the fire left a patchwork of scorched earth and pockets of survivor hackberry shrubs.  

Breathtaking Bradshaw Mountain views punctuate the hike
Another half-mile haul of huff-and-puff hiking culminates at a crest overlooking Perry Mesa and the twisted gorge of the Agua Fria River. 
The June 2019 Badger Springs Fire affected the area
This pinnacle is located almost d
BLM Route 9003 is rocky and steep
irectly above the point where the Badger Springs Wash trail meets the river and a heritage site with petroglyph panels.
This mind-clearing platform affords a perfect spot for contemplating scenes of a landscape where ancient inhabitants once occupied dozens of major communities, outposts and agricultural plots.  Situated among a string of power lines, the faint hum of traffic on Interstate 17 and the scribble of Bloody Basin Road meandering in the distance, the lofty post frames a juncture of heritage sites and modern technology that bridges the divide between feral and frenetic.

Hikers approach the scenic overlook site
LENGTH: 2.6 miles roundtrip  or  4.6 miles with Badger Springs Wash
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 3,093 – 3,456 feet or 2,,900 – 3,456 feet with Badger Springs Wash.
From Phoenix, go 40 miles north in Interstate 17 to the Badger Springs exit #256.  Follow Badger Springs Road 1 mile (past the main kiosk and restroom) to the Badger Springs trailhead. Dirt and gravel access road is passable carefully-driven sedans. 
INFO: Agua Fria National Monument

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