AZ – Arizona Trail Passage #23, Mazatzal Divide

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. This was one of those times. In 2016, I remember hearing this was the worst section of the trail, with comments such as “it’s overgrown with stickery prickeries, the wind whips knocking you over, the sun bakes you, and you’ll be crawling over tons of trees crisscrossing the trail from the 2004 Willow Fire.” This area then became a focus of the Arizona Trail Association, with plentiful resources designated to bring this stretch back to life.  I met a few hikers at the Pine Trailhead who’d recently passed through and said it was great. Weather was perfect, I had a few days, so why not?

One of my challenges was efficient trail access give my time constraints. There are several trailheads from which to reach the Mazatzal Divide Trail. My goal was to spend as much time in the wilderness as possible hiking the ridge so I opted for the Mt Peeley Trailhead. I asked the AZT facebook group about road conditions and was assured it would be no problem for my car.

Well for this somewhat conservative driver, this road became my nightmare. It took me an hour to drive the 10-mile one-lane road with blind corners and few pullovers. I held my breath for what seemed like the entire time hoping that no one would come the other direction. It was a huge sigh upon reaching the trailhead. During the first few miles of the trail, you’re able to see the road and my car. I felt taunted and worried about my exit drive.

The beginning of this section marks about the halfway mark for thru hikers.

This was an out-and-back hike for me, so my goal was to hike as much of the wilderness as possible.

Mazatzal Peak at 7,903 feet was definitely the centerpiece of the wilderness. Each side has it’s own personality.

I slept under the peak one night.

My view looking west at Horseshoe Reservoir. Funny thing, I went to bed with a clear sky studded with stars only to be awoken at 12:30am with a little pitter-patter of rain upon my face.

The next morning I was greeted by the sun as it rose over Mazatzal Peak.

My day was filled with dramatic lighting.

I camped with a view to the south side of Mazatzal Peak one night.

Flower were just beginning to sing, it’s spring, it’s spring!

The lupine was just beginning to show color.

These monkey flowers were tiny, about the size of the tip of my little finger.

Slightly burned bark provides an interesting tapestry.

Nature’s cactus garden.

Part of what makes the Mazatzals special are the rocks; so many colors and textures. Can you find the ladybug on this one?

Smooth rock sections were a rarity. In some areas I walked miles upon miles over ankle twisting rocks. It was time consuming picking my way through the mine field.

Aptly named Rocky Ridge provided dramatic views.

Loved this little frog I found near Rocky Ridge.

There were just a few patches of snow lingering in shady protected areas. On my return trip, I was so grateful as it was uncomfortably warm and by adding a few handfuls to my buff I could either put on my head or neck which helped immensely with body temperature regulation.

There are several springs along this ridge. This one is Bear Spring. The pool seems to stay full from ground water. I was disappointed to learn that a wildlife camera had been installed by hunters at this location.

I camped one night near Horse Camp Seep where I found some beautiful flowing water, pools and a waterfall.

There was plenty of evidence of the 2004 fire, as well as Phoenix area smog.

I found several yucca plants in this condition along the trail. I asked a trail maintenance crew I met whether an animal ate the tips or if they were trimmed. I found out indeed it was part of their work creating a more hiker friendly trail. Another thing the Arizona Trail Association has done is create a Remote Maintenance Task Force whereby users are given tools to trim as they hike or ride.

I ended my trip the same way I started it . . .  with much anxiety about the drive. I survived both ways without encountering another vehicle. WHEW! Such a relief. In the future, I’d rather hike those ten miles.

This was another trip of about 45 miles with 6,500 feet of ascent/descent over primarily rocky terrain. This graph is from The Park to Mt Peeley Trailhead.

Ah, a nice way to end a trip.

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 5-8, 2019

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