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Monday, May 4, 2020


I'm posting my backlog of pre-pandemic hikes. Please observe all CDC health & safety recommendations and travel advisories while recreating on public lands. Ideally, stay close to home and away from congested trails until conditions are improved.
Tonto National Forest.
View of the Mogollon Rim from Buckhead Tank
Travel quietly & respectfully in this important wildlife area
On a mesa 700 feet above the gorge of Pine Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, a bumpy back road meanders among juniper-dotted meadows, pine-oak woodlands and open rangeland.
Waterfowl float in Buckhead Tank
The unmarked dirt road that traverses the flat expanse of Buckhead Mesa 10 miles north of Payson in Tonto National Forest is open to hikers, equestrians and motorized vehicles equipped to handle rough conditions.  A hike on the short, easy course has many points of interest and options to extend the journey on intersecting 4x4 roads or by visiting the nearby park.
A bucolic scene on Buckhead Mesa
Even when done as a standalone hike, the area’s bucolic air provides a satisfying journey.
Stemless daisies bloom early spring thru summer
A rustic corral surrounds Buckhead Tank
Tree cover provides places to sit and observe wildlife
Photo opps abound on Buckhead Mesa
Epic views begin at the trailhead with glimpses of the northernmost peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness to the southeast.  Within a few yards, the road splits. Take either leg as they converge at a corral complex at the 0.1-mile point. Constructed of flaky juniper twigs laced together with barbed wire, metal posts and rustic gates, the site is rife with wildflowers and photo opportunities for those attuned to the details hidden among the weeds.  The road continues to the left, tracing the rickety holding pens through sunny clearings shaded by oaks, cypress and thickets of brambles.  A few jogs in the road later, the green swale of Buckhead Tank comes into view. Situated in a shallow depression backed by an earthen dam, the livestock reservoir is an important water source for wildlife and the domestic cattle that graze in the area.  For the best chance to view elk, coyotes, deer and the myriad waterfowl that visit the water hole, arrive early and wait quietly in the tree cover. You won’t be disappointed. Heading out early (before 9 a.m.) will also allow you to avoid the sporadic convoys of OHVs crawling through the rutted route.
A gate marks the final segment of the hike
Green meadows and big views are highlights of the hike
Fragrant juniper trees are abundant along the route
Fleabane blooms early spring thru summer
The trail crosses several pine-shaded drainage areas
Extend the hike on Crackerjack Road
A horseshoe handle embellishes a corral gate
Beyond the tank, the road dips and climbs through several drainage areas and a fragrant stretch of Ponderosa pines before passing under a powerline at the 1.7-mile point for the final uphill haul. Big views of the Mogollon Rim really shine on this final segment. At 2 miles, the road meets a gate where you’ll pass through (be sure to close it) and continue a short distance to the turnaround spot at Crackerjack Road (Forest Road 209). At the unsigned junction, you may choose to continue hiking in either direction. Head left and it’s just under a mile to State Route 87. Or, head right and follow the narrow jeep road to the edge of the mesa where it switchbacks down into the mineral-rich White Hills where numerous prospects hint at defunct mining operations. From the junction, it’s a 4.5-mile one-way hike to Crackerjack Mine for those looking for a more ambitious outing.
LENGTH: 4.2 miles roundtrip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 5,085 – 5,241 feet
From the State Route 260/87 junction in Payson, go 10.5 miles north on SR 87 to the turn off for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (Forest Road 583) on the left just past milepost 263.  Continue 0.8-mile on FR 583 and turn left onto a dirt road where there’s a cattle guard and stop sign. Park on the dirt turnout located a few yards past the junction. Roads are paved up to the trail turnoff.
No facilities.
Tonto National Forest

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