On our way back from Arizona, Sprocket and I took a break in Flagstaff to hike Elden Mountain. (We paid for it later when we cruised into Norwood after midnight trying to avoid a storm that was supposed to materialize the next day but I think it was worth it.) The trail starts immediately off of US 160 in town so it was a great choice for a nice leg stretcher mid-way home.
The trail doesn’t mess around and climbs steeply from Flagstaff to Elden Mountain and it’s fire lookout. It was nice to have one more good hike with my pup before getting back to the usual work grind.
Sprocket loved our whole trip and all the hiking we did. He particularly enjoyed any time that we encountered snow (which we did pretty frequently for an Arizona adventure)!
When we reached the summit, it was pretty windy so we took pictures and headed back down the slopes pretty quickly.
Maryanne and her husband welcomed me into their home for Thanksgiving again this year. I’m so delighted that this has become a tradition and that I get to be Aunty Beth to their two children in addition to my three nephews. <3
There was lots of Sprocket bossing around by a two year old:
A few baby cuddles, although he really wasn’t too sure about that stranger in his house.
There was lots of food and a sweet sunset hike.
People used to mistake Maryanne and I for sisters, and I suppose with sunglasses on, they still might.
While I was in Arizona for Thanksgiving I went hiking with a crew of social media folks in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I didn’t take any photos so all of these are courtesy of Jason, AZ Day Hiker. He managed to find a small summit for us to tackle along with Lou & Nancy, and Dave. As with most social media gatherings, no one really cared that I was there but they all just really wanted to meet Sprocket.
After we summited, we did a nice circuit of the mountain and then headed to Tom Thumb for lunch.
Sprocket and I woke up at Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon and then headed up to the Mt. Wrightson trailhead. (Madera Canyon did not have a wealth of stealth camping options). I’d decided to go up the gently graded and more east and south facing Super Trail and then to come back down the Old Baldy Trail. Sprocket and I started up in the half-light of morning and quickly sped our way up to the Josephine Saddle. (We did not hike as fast as we had on Mt. Baldy a couple days earlier though.)
Thirty seconds before he flushed some quail and then looked at me like “I did a good job, didn’t I?!”I made him come pose for his obligatory “Sprocket entered a wilderness photo” I guess somewhere in that lazy dog there is a wasted bird dog.
Although the Super Trail had an easy grade, it was LONG. We just kept winding around the mountain and it almost felt like we weren’t making any progress at all. (The offtrail peakbagger in me looked up at the summit multiple times and thought, “Wait, I’m not just hiking up that gully?”)
Finally, we reached Old Baldy Saddle then climbed to the summit. The wind was a little bit brisk but the views were pretty expansive and great.
Mt. Wrightson used to have a lookout on top and its foundation made for a great place to hole up out of the wind and enjoy the views, some water, and a little snack before heading down Old Baldy Trail.
The Old Baldy Trail is significantly shorter (but steeper!) than the Super Trail and we made pretty good time hustling down the mountain. I ran into several groups moving up the mountain, and was complemented on doing a “good job.” I always feel a little weird when people tell me (or Sprocket) that we’re doing a “good job” on mountains. I live at 7000′ and try to spend a significant amount of time on trails so it doesn’t feel particular impressive, or like something I should be complemented for.
Mt. Wrightson was a pretty fun hike. It was long but doing the figure-8 of trails the way I did was pretty easy. It’s a great way to get some elevation in Arizona while using a trail and not needing to do any scrambling or climb particularly steeply (unless you want to do the Old Baldy Trail up).
Arizona, overall, has a pretty high caliber of county highpoints. Thirteen of the fifteen highpoints are summits higher than 7000′ and of those two below 7000′ one is Signal Peak, one of my absolute favorite hikes ever. Few of the highpoints are not either a striking peak or a prominent rim point with a great view (Black Mesa, Myrtle Point). Unfortunately, Greenlee County Highpoint, is not one of those.
After climbing up twisty US 191 from Alpine and passing through Hannigan Meadows, I pulled off into a small, unmaintained Forest Service road. We just got away from the road, and hiked up the track climbing over a not-insignificant amount of deadfall. Then we left the track and bushwacked our way to the small knob of a highpoint.
In this photo, Sprocket is looking at the highpoint cairn like, “Really? This is it?”
After our little highpoint adventure, we continued south on 191; if you’ve ever looked at the road on the map it is twisty. We stopped to check out a view point known as “Blue Vista” before heading down the tight curves of the rest of the road. The highway mostly stayed close to the ridgecrest as we traveled south and stayed above 7000′ most of the time before dropping down sharply at Morenci, home to a heartbreaking open pit mine (I’m not going to make you see photos because our lives already have enough sadness these days).
After dealing with #RuthXJ’s minor maintenance issue, I hit the trail about four hours later than I’d hoped. Facing down a long hike, Sprocket and I set out from the West Baldy Trailhead maintaining a nice stiff pace. The first few miles of the hike were fairly flat paralleling the West Fork of the Little Colorado River and we were cruising. I knew that I was probably going to pay for this since I’ve been focusing on other life goals over staying active but between the impending early fall sunset and purse joy at being outside, we just kept at it.
I should have taken a lot more photos along the river as it was simply gorgeous as the trail wound from tree sheltered groves to open meadows surrounding the meandering river. The trail started to climb a bit more stiffly around three miles. I was a little bit worried about Sprocket since he’s been a even more lazy than me; I didn’t need to. That pup just seemed to get happier the longer we hiked.
Finally, we reached a split in the trail where one could hike either off trail towards the summit or continue on to the East Baldy Trail. I can’t say exactly what we decided to do. What I can say is that I had a huge smile on my face and Sprocket finally decided to let me cuddle him instead of being mad at me for being a lazy mommy.
Continuing down the East Baldy Trail, I was struck by the sweet rock formations (that again, I didn’t slow my pace to take photos of) and by the care that Sprocket seemed to take of me on the way down. Sprocket has always been my loyal companion in the mountains. He’s sat on my feet when the wilderness released feelings about my dad’s death, he’s struggled down peaks when I pushed him too hard. This time, as I was tired but we were hurrying down the mountain, he lead me the whole way but always paused to look back and make sure I was still there.
When we reached the junction with the connector trail for another 3.6 miles back to the car, I looked at my tired pup and realized that the best option was actually to exit at the East Baldy trailhead and either walk the road back or to hitch a ride the couple of miles back to the West Baldy trailhead to save us both some elevation gain and loss and a few miles.
We made it back to the Jeep and headed back into Springerville before heading south of town to make camp along Highway 191. It’d been a long 16+ miles but it was definitely needed and appreciated.
I am a mountain girl at heart but having some time in the desert has become really key to my happiness. While looking at maps of the deserts of the 4 Corners region, I’ve traced the length of Comb Ridge with my finger, marveling how far it extends. Browsing the adventure travel section of the library, I found Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridge by David Roberts.
Knowing a little bit about the terrain of the area, I was impressed that someone would have done this (although I still dream about The Hayduke Trail which is even more impressive). Traveling with two friends, the author describes the slow going over the tricky terrain, tensions of traveling in a group, and ruins found throughout the ridge.
My bar for a good travel book is one that either makes you see an area you know in a different light or desperately want to travel to a new area. I’ve spent some time around Comb Ridge both on the Butler Wash side and on the Comb Wash side but never really explored the canyons of the Ridge. This book makes me want to go wander canyons so badly.
Roberts very lovingly describes the Anasazi and Basketmaker ruins that he, Greg, and Vaughn explore along their trek. He pulls in just touches of his understanding of the history of the human occupation of the area, mentioning Robert S. McPherson’s work as well as some of his earlier books (it also made me want to revisit Craig Child’s House of Rain).
Sandstone Spine excellently combines history, travel, and human history for a very readable book. I am also excited for fall desert season. Anyone up for adventure?
This post contains affiliate links that help fund 3Up Adventures. All opinions are my own.
I wasn’t entirely sure what Sprocket and I were going to get up to on our way back from the Phoenix area while bound for Colorado. I figured I’d take a couple of days to make the drive and that we could adventure somewhere along the way. I’d debated between hiking Black Mesa, the Navajo County highpoint, and adventuring in the Bradshaw Mountains to Mount Union, the Yavapai County Highpoint. I didn’t really make up my mind until I reached the Bumble Bee exit on I-17.
I often rave about the wonders of taking the blue highways but I really outdid myself this time. It is only 45 miles on the interstate between Black Canyon City and Camp Verde and I managed to map out a route that more than doubled the mileage and took the original 45 minute drive and turned it into an adventure…
After climbing up from the Verde Valley, I passed through the small community of Crown King and then started following the Senator Highway north. The dirt road was in pretty good shape and we made good time (for gravel) and only hit snow in a few patches.
After so much quiet and lonely driving through the mountains, it was almost anti-climatic to get to the base of the Mt. Union spur road. There are private homes along the road (and the gun fire in the distance was sort of disconcerting) so we hustled our way up to the peak. I lazily didn’t change out of my flip flops so the little stretch of the road that was shaded by the peak itself was sort of interesting. (Oops.)
We scrambled up as far up the stairs of the lookout as we could, Sprocket braving the steep narrow extruded aluminum bravely, and looked around. The Bradshaw Mountains are not among Arizona’s most majestic but they really are in the middle of everything; the views were a little obscured by clouds but I got an idea of just how much I could see from that vantage point!
I decided to take FS 261 down to the highway and I was actually kind of surprised by it! I had to pick my line with some care in places to compensate for the stock XJ’s relatively low clearance. I could have made it up the road just fine but it would have been tough in a couple of spots. Although it felt like it had been a really full day already, I decided to push it all the way back to De Beque over a snowy Lizard Head Pass into Ridgway and then north to our own bed after a really busy week of friends and mountain tops!
My original plan, after visiting Mt. Lemmon and Rice Peak was go head down and climb Mt. Wrightson, the Santa Cruz county highpoint, but for reasons I can’t really explain, I just wasn’t feeling like it. I drove up through the mountains to the east and then circled back around to the west. And then, I just kept driving west.
During the winters I spent in Arizona, especially around the Quartzsite area, I’d really been wanting to hike or drive up Harquahala Mountain, the La Paz county highpoint. I’d heard that although 4 wheel drive is recommended that it doesn’t require high clearance. Sounds just perfect for an XJ! As I reached Gila Bend, I was pretty sure Harquahala was my destination. Darkness fell about the time I reached Buckeye but that didn’t stop us from tackling the approximately ten miles to the summit in the dark. Ruth handled everything masterfully (honestly the road was not that difficult and we did 90+% in two wheel drive and reached just one switchback where 4wd became necessary). Atop the summit, I had my sixth Arizona county highpoint!
At the summit, I realized the battery on my DSLR was dead. I’m super disappointed because the moon was SO BRIGHT that I kind of wanted to play around with some long exposures. Since that didn’t happen, I bundled up (although the breeze was warm) and Sprocket and I enjoyed the twinkling lights of the small towns to our west and of the I-10 corridor.
It was cozy cuddled with Sprocket in the back of the Jeep but as the sun started to rise, I crawled out of bed to take it all in. Absolutely incredible.
After wandering around a bit, we headed down hill, the sun still putting on a spectacular show (and illuminating the beautiful scenery we’d missed driving up in the dark).
This was an amazing drive! It wasn’t technical but the desert mountain views were incredible! It was such an amazing day to wake up and start the day.
Despite 1:15pm being a much later hour than I’d hoped to start the hike out to Pinal County’s highpoint on the slopes of Rice Peak, I decided to tackle the approximately 10 mile hike as a bit of a trail run racing darkness. Sprocket had seemed a little slow on our walk up to the Mount Lemmon summit and I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room so I left him behind in the Jeep and started hustling down the trail.
Oracle Ridge is sneaky. My Garmin measured about 3,300′ of elevation gain but, man, it felt like was constantly losing and regaining elevation! I ran down hill and motored up hill as quickly as I could and decided that I had time to scramble up to Oracle Ridge’s Middle Peak. This ended up being a little bit of a time suck as I had trouble refinding the trail when I descended and hurried on to Rice Peak.
I paused only momentarily on Rice Peak before wandering down its north ridge to the Pinal County highpoint at the Pima-Pinal County line. Just as I got to the highpoint I spotted some cougar tracks and started to get a little nervous about my fleeing prey status as the shadows lengthened. Instead of reclimbing Rice Peak, I pushed my way though the brush back to the trail. My capris left my legs totally open to the ravages of the cats claw and by the time I was on the trail, my lower legs looked like they had been attacked by a real herd of angry cats.
The colors of sunset were gorgeous and there was still plenty of light for hiking when I got back to the car after 11 miles of hiking with my fourth Arizona county highpoint completed!