While most trails have some sort of internet presence in the form of trip journals, pictures, and/or hiking descriptions, the Brush Corral is one of those trails that no one knows anything about. The main source of information is the little yellow out-of-print Trail Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains by Cowgill and Glendening. The book said that 10 years ago, some of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club brushed the lower part of the trail. That's a long time ago, but even more so when you realize that the book was published in... 1977! I was three years old at the time, in the Chicago suburbs and probably had no idea I would end up in Arizona, or what an Arizona was anyway. I'd also read an account by Scott Morris, who had attempted to mountain bike it in 2004. This report was not reassuring. Here's a quote: "Unfortunately, neither of these signs of the trail continued any further. The trail was rideable, and easy to follow for a few minutes longer. Then it became unrideable and impossible to follow, in that order."
I figured it would probably be best to have some other people along for this trail, so I asked Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel along. We all work on the Arizona Trail building crew The Crazies and I'd enjoyed hiking the Sutherland Trail with them last May. We are all trying to hike all the trails in the Catalinas, and team up for some of the more challenging ones. The Brush Corral Trail branches off the Green Mountain Trail 0.3 miles away from the San Pedro Vista at 7200 ft. and descends to 3650 ft. in the remote eastern part of the range at the site of an old ranger station. This trailhead is ten miles in from Redington Rd, the last 1.5 miles requiring 4wd. It just so happens that last summer, I got a 4wd Jeep Patriot and we were excited to put it to use and have Brian, my husband, pick us up at the bottom of the mountain.
On the morning of November 22nd, when we were driving up the mountain, I found out more of the upper part of the trail had been cleared than I thought. Tom also heads up a volunteer group called Tom's Sawyers that uses two-man saws to cut deadfall in wilderness areas in the Catalinas and Chiricahuas. He, Lee, and David had worked the Brush Corral Trail for about the first two miles this summer. We all agreed that the pickup time of 4pm that I'd scheduled with Brian was too late. We stopped at Babad Do'ag where I had a strong cell signal and I called Brian and left a message on his phone that we'd changed the pickup to 2pm instead. On our drive up, the mountain was covered in clouds just above our trailhead. We bundled up against the cold and started hiking the Green Mountain Trail at 8 am from the San Pedro Vista.
My second remote, seldom visited trail in the Catalinas that I've never seen before in one week- how did I get so lucky? We quickly reached the turnoff for the Brush Corral Trail and the trail switchbacked steeply down the mountain. Tom had his hand saw in his pack, ready to tackle any smaller deadfall and mark the big ones to come back for. As a result of their earlier work there were only a couple of trees to go over and under. Thanks guys! Clouds were hanging low in the San Pedro Valley, but they were dispersing fast and there was a layer of clear blue sky above. We had an attractive drainage crossing and then the trail contoured over to a saddle.
Here's a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AVDdMwErGQ
At the saddle, the vegetation changed and became more open, with views down to interesting rock formations and the ridges and canyons below. We continued switchbacking down through gorgeous madrone trees laden with bright red berries, alligator junipers, pines, and manzanita. The trail reached the Brush Corral Shortcut Trail, which can be used to form a loop that goes back up to the trailhead, but we were all about the downhill on this trip. And there was plenty of it, and steep. The trail contoured north of peak 6313 and soon we reached a saddle and the ridge we were going to be following stretched out in front of us. We descended a short distance and then got to a flatter spot and the trail was no longer evident. Now to figure out where to go. We looked around and saw nothing that looked like a trail. Fortunately the 1:24000 maps that Lee had on his GPS showed the trail jogged right a little bit to travel just below the ridge. Further investigation showed tread leading in the right direction. We soon came to old, sawed-off limbs covered in regrowth that showed the trail alignment, even if there were sometimes other branches that had grown into the trail. Fortunately, I was traveling with Tom, who sawed here and there, opening up the brushy corridor. The trail bed was faint at times, but not too hard to follow.
The trail returned to the grassy crest of the ridge for a bit, then off to the right of the crest. As long as we could find the trail tread, travel was easier and less rocky. We swung a little too far right at one point, but got back on track soon after. There was an ancient, rusty wire visible on the ground from time to time that belonged to the telephone line to the old ranger station. We could see a rocky outcropping ahead of us and the map said that the trail went up and over it. There was a faint track visible on contour from the saddle to the right of the outcropping and we could see that the route up and over was dense with brush. I'm pretty sure the few users that this trail get take the faint contouring path. We did, and it was pretty easy going, just stay below the rock formations and pick your way over to the next saddle. After the saddle, the trail switched over to the west side of the ridge.
The ridgeline afforded wonderful expansive views toward the San Pedro River valley and I could see an intriguing looking canyon in the Galiuro Mountains across the way. (when I got home I looked it up it's Keilberg Canyon, and it's going on my ever-growing list of places to visit) There were interesting rock formations and several bright-yellow cottonwoods in the drainage to the right, a fork of Buehman Canyon. The trail steeply descended the ridgeline through fairly open terrain, with cairns here and there. I'd love to see the grasslands in the summer, when the hills are all green. Unfortunately, it would be super-hot at that time.
At 11:15 we reached a flatter part of the ridge, where it splits into two "arms". The trail goes on the right arm and there is a short respite from the descent. I cannot stress how great the views are on this hike. Not only out to where you are headed, but as you work your way down, you can look back and see the whole ridge undulating behind you.
Here's a movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfE96HL53XU
As the terrain becomes flatter on the ridge, cattle paths start to criss-cross the path of the trail. At 11:45, we reached a tall, brown carsonite post with a splash of white paint. This marked the descent toward the creek crossing. I saw black rocks in the creek that I recognized from pictures I'd seen on Scott Morris' blog and the trail angled toward them. We were looking for the intersection of the Evans Mountain Trail in the creekbed, a trail even more obscure than the Brush Corral (undoubtedly intriguing). When we got to the creekbed, there was no sign at the intersection, but the Evans Mountain Trail continues along the creek, while the Brush Corral Trail ascends the hill toward a saddle through an isolated patch of overgrown, nasty catclaw. We stopped at the saddle for lunch and I snacked on some tasty mesquite granola that a friend of mine had given me.
After the saddle, the trail contoured to the right and crossed a drainage before flattening out on the ridgeline again. The trail was much better marked in this area, with carsonite posts and cairns with visible tread through the grasses. There were gorgeous oaks and views of the Rincons and Helen's Dome (which all of us on the hike are very fond of). It reminded me of the Oak Tree Canyon area of the Arizona Trail, north of Sonoita. We couldn't have asked for a better day to hike. There were fluffy clouds and the temperatures were perfect. The ridge forked and the trail descended to the left, then there was a short ascent between two oak trees with a carsonite post visible on top. Here, the carsonites were placed so one was almost always in the line of sight of another one. This part looked like it had seen a little more use than the rest of the trail, because we were nearing the trailhead in Buehman Canyon.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXoZsR0DpKg
At 1:15, the Brush Corrals came into view. There used to be a ranger station here, but we poked around the area and all that we could find was the old corral. The trail descended to cross Buehman Canyon and we got to the parking area at 1:30 pm. The last 1.5 miles of the 10-mile access road are 4wd, and since we got to the trailhead early, we decided to make Brian's drive easier by hiking the road out to meet him. I was concerned about him having gotten the message about the pickup time change in time for him to come two hours earlier than he had planned. The road shot steeply out of the wash to a saddle, then descended to wind through a tight wash before reaching the parking area. By this time it was 2:20 pm and we figured that he hadn't gotten the message. We all hoped that it wasn't because something had happened on the way out. Rather than sitting around, after a break we continued walking the road, which was in itself quite scenic and flat.
At around 3:45, when we'd walked a considerable distance down the road, we began to get concerned. Brian should have intersected us by now- did something happen to him? Did we miss him? Tom had cell reception, but Brian and I use T-Mobile and did not. Brian had my GPS with the track to the trailhead loaded onto it so he couldn't have gotten lost, could he? Was he broken down? We started to come up with a contingency plan, and shortly afterward saw Brian drive up. Was I glad to see him! The message that I'd sent this morning had been garbled and he couldn't understand any of it. Oh well- so we had to hike a couple of extra hours- good thing we all love hiking! Total mileage was 13.5 miles, 7.2 miles of that on the Brush Corral Trail. We drove Redington Road back into town, and dropped everyone off at their cars. A great hike which ended with a meal from one of my favorite post-hike places, El Charro. Many thanks to the hours of driving done by my husband so that we could all complete this tough-to-access trail.