The hike begins in a sub-alpine meadow
with black and white butterflies clinging to Grayhead Coneflowers
next to a rivulet. The forest
then begins to draw you in with beautiful pine trees saluting the sky. The path, softened by a carpet of pine needles, follows the rim for about a half mile before descending to rejoin the water which has now grown to a small stream. Wildflowers of all kinds, including Queen Anne's Lace, Indian Paintbrush
, Showy Daisy
, Star Thistle
, and a surprising variety of mushrooms
abound. There is also quite a bit of moss and lichen and some maidenhair fern
. The forest of green is punctuated with small stands of majestic Aspen
and Douglas firs
to add dazzling white and red to the color palette. We were surprised at the amount of trail maintenance that had recently occurred. A lot of deadfall had been cleared from the path by chainsaw and axe. At one point, though, a fallen tree
was so large (about 3 1/2 feet in diameter) that the trail had been made to detour around the roots. Other deadfall
was left in place as a means to cross the stream or to keep the forest floor as natural as possible.
As you proceed along the path there are numerous stream crossings
but at this time of year (unless the monsoon hits which it did as this photo
taken at 2:00 in the afternoon shows!) you needn't get soaked. Here and there are waterfalls which get progressively larger the deeper in you get until you finally meet the KP North Fork (#93) trail (this is right after 3 descending switchbacks) where the confluence of two streams creates beautiful 10+ foot waterfalls
. If you proceed a little farther along the KP #70 trail, toward Blue River, you will see below you, next to a series of small waterfalls, a very special spot
with a fire ring that should make for great camping! There is also a small fire pit nearby beneath an overhanging rock. The music from the falls should lull you to sleep. (NOTE: As always, consider the weather and possible flooding when choosing a campsite!)
After having encountered two gentle showers on the way in, we headed back up the trail as the roar of the thunder indicated to us that the monsoons were upon us. We were very soaked as we made our way back to the campground from the trailhead and very excited to jump in the car, add some heat, and dry out. Our fingers had gone numb and the GPS went on strike (shut itself down) due to the weather.
We finally broke camp when the rain let up somewhat and decided to head back home to Phoenix via US 191 south in the hopes that we could outrun the storm. This however became a real adventure in and of itself. The speed limit went from 30 mph to 25 mph and then to our amazement 15 mph. After about 20 miles, the speed limit became 10 mph for 30 miles or so. No guardrails here, thank you very much. We did finally outrun the storm, but it took 3 hours to drive the first 60 miles toward home. Lesson here: If you're heading back to Globe, do NOT take the southern route!
For those that might be interested in the Wolf Recovery Program
, the Cienega area is the third largest area where wolves have been tracked since their release 3 years ago. Unfortunately, we didn't spot any on this trip. - Rodney
NOTE: Our original intention (which we ruled out due to the weather) was to proceed from the junction of KP #70 and KP #93 onward along KP #70 to the junction with #71 Blue Lookout trail, hike trail #71 south (with an intermediate hike up to the Blue Lookout via #321 Blue Cabin trail) to an unidentified trail which winds back and forth across FR 84 which leads west and close to the Cienega campsite. Be sure to check your topo maps on this one!Apache-Sitgreaves FS Reports
Listed as 9.4 miles (One Way)
In the lush alpine meadow that serves as the setting for KP Trailhead, there is little indication you could possibly start here and, in a reasonably short time, find yourself deep in a desert canyon. But that's exactly what happens. From KP Cienega, with its stately spruces and emerald grasses, this 9 mile long trail traces the wandering course of the South Fork of KP Creek as it drops toward the Blue. As the trail switchbacks from meadow to stream, upland vegetation gives way to riparian community of Douglas fir and moisture loving hardwoods. About 3 miles into the trip, the trail drops sharply into a picturesque canyonscape where the South Fork and the North Fork join to form KP Creek. Each tributary celebrates this get-together with its own ten foot waterfall.
Below the confluence, the canyon deepens as steep cliffs rise from the floor of the gorge. Stream and trail descend together here, between red and gray rock walls, as clear pools alternate with shallow riffles. Crossings become too many to count. At a few points, the trail climbs out of the inner gorge to avoid difficult going, and in the process offers access to broad views and a number of prospective campsites.
For its last three miles, the KP Trail climbs out of the canyon to offer more great views. Riparian vegetation is replaced by high desert plants including prickly pear, cholla, yucca and scrub oak as the trail leaves behind the sheltered environment of the canyon for dryer, more exposed surroundings. Higher ground also brings broader views of Sawed-Off Mountain as well as of KP Canyon The vista widens to include Bear Mountain and the surrounding ridges of the Blue Range as the trail tops the ridge that separates KP and Steeple Creek Canyons. Views stretching into New Mexico form a panorama as KP Trail ends at its junction with Steeple Creek Trail atop the red, stony mesa.
No mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) permitted in Primitive Area. There are trout big enough to fish for in the pools downstream of the confluence.
0.0 KP Cienega Trailhead. Trail crosses meadow into the timber.
0.9 Trail crosses creek after two switchback descent.
2.7 Trail climbs out of canyon on north side.
2.9 Junction with North Fork of KP Trail #93. Two waterfalls are directly downstream.
5.6 Junction with Blue Lookout Trail #71.
6.5 Junction with McKittrick Trail #72.
6.6 Trail crosses creek for the last time as it contours out of drainage bottom to the north.
9.4 Junction with Steeple Trail #73 at a gate. Mud Springs Corral is 1/8 mile away in Steeple Canyon.
USGS Maps: Strayhorse, Bear Mountain.