BUSHNELL TANKS ROAD
|First crossing of Sycamore Creek is sort of tricky|
Sometimes, surprisingly fine escapes can be found just steps from busy byways in right-under-your-nose places. Bushnell Tanks Road, located off the Beeline Highway roughly halfway between Mesa and Payson is one such find.
|Rustic corral site is a highlight of the hike|
Much of the road parallels part of the course of the Pine Mountain Passage 21 of the Arizona National Scenic Trail using backroads above and through the corridor of Sycamore Creek and Colcord Canyon.
|Sprawling grasslands dominate the high ridges|
It’s a rugged, undulating road hike in Tonto National Forest that’s packed with creek side sycamores, a rustic corral, stunning desert vegetation and huge mountain vistas.
|Buffalo gourds dangle from a mesquite tree|
The moderate hike is also a great who-knew way to view breath-taking late autumn foliage.
|The rocky second crossing of Sycamore Creek|
The hike plan is simple, although roads and junctions are not signed, so paying attention to landmarks is key to staying on track.
|A mix of riparian and desert trees shade the hike|
From the trailhead, hike down the main gravel road which is Bushnell Tanks Road, Forest Road 22. At the 0.3-mile point, the road meets the turn off for the Arizona Trail connector.
|Devil's Claw blooms through October|
Stay on the main road as it descends to the first of three gorgeous crossings of Sycamore Creek. The first crossing is a little sketchy.
|Mount Ord stands out over rangelands|
The road goes straight across the braided and bent waterway, but getting through requires some creative rock hopping over the flow which varies in depth and speed with the seasons.
|An old corral complex in Ram Valley|
The creek crossing is shaded with enormous sycamores and a few cottonwood, willow and alder trees that show off in shades of yellow and russet browns from late October through December.
|Hikers follow an unsigned road in Tonto NF|
Once over the water, the road shimmies through a mixed bag of live oak patches and golden pastures bolstered with views of Mazatzal mountain peaks including Mount Ord, Crabtree Butte and Cypress Peak. The road continues through a continually-changing landscape bright with wildflowers and native food plants.
|Hikers approach the third crossing of Sycamore Creek|
Lots of ups-and-downs and two more leafy creek hops land hikers at an unsigned road junction on the right at the 2-mile point near a rusty corral complex.
|The hike has lots of ups-and-downs|
The corral makes for an interesting exploratory side trip. Encroached with weeds, tangles of buffalo gourds and bits of frayed ropes, the maze of metal fencing, feed troughs and a newish-looking water tank sit at the core of scenic Ram Valley. When done investigating the corral, backtrack to the road junction and follow the steep, rutted path up a catclaw-riddled ridge. Long pants, folks.
|Hike gives an alternative look at AZ fall foliage|
|Concrete tank marks the hike turnaround point|
The unforgiving haul unpacks spectacular views with every foot of elevation gained. Peaks and buttes circle an environment of sprawling rangeland, deep valleys and tree-lined creek channels.
|Hikers on one of the hike's high ridges |
At the top of the first rise, the road begins a relentless series of ascents and descents through open grasslands. At the 3.9-mile point, on a bald high-point, a concrete stock tank off to the right sits among a ring of mesquite trees and low-growing cacti. This makes for a good turn around point.
|Sycamore seed pods |
For a longer trip, consult the Tonto National Forest map to scope out other routes that wind through the hills and connect with the Arizona Trail.
|Extend the hike on AZT or other forest roads|
Better yet, check out the Arizona Trail website (aztrail.org) for more ways to experience this beautiful slice of Central Arizona.
|FR22 traces the course of Sycamore Creek|
Arizona Trail association members also get special access to maps, data and privy to dozens of loop hike options using the 800+-mile, state-traversing trail.
|Desert hackberry shrubs clutter in a wash|
LENGTH: 7.9 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION: 3,320 – 3,817 feet (1,720 feet of accumulated elevation change)
From Loop 202 in Mesa, take the State Route 87 (Beeline Highway/ Country Club Road) exit 13. Go 41 miles north on SR 87 to the turn off for Bushnell Tanks near the community of Sunflower. Park in the gravel lot near an “area closed” sign and a large Arizona Trail kiosk. The area is open to non-motorized use.