Mazatzal Spring Break 2011
After a quick breakfast at the Beeline Cafe in Payson Saturday morning, I went south and met John, Jason, and Gary at the Mormon Grove trailhead. Temps were a bit warmer than expected as we headed north along the rocky Saddle Mountain Trail, our packs loaded down with choice beverages. We took a short break among the changing oaks at Potato Patch, then continued on across brushy hillsides. Lupines, penstemon, and other flowers added contrasting colors to the sea of green that is this part of the Mazatzals.
Reaching McFarland Canyon, we entered a fine forest of pine and fir, then continued west to our campsite along the creek. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the shade and just enjoying our surroundings. John and I ventured down canyon a ways. I made a late afternoon trip up the Sheep Creek Trail to Squaw Flat to enjoy the views and watch the sunset on the Mazatzal peaks. The only others we saw the entire weekend came passing by on Saturday evening: two guys with four mules. We shared our campsite with them, but kept to ourselves. Jason, John, and Gary cooked steaks on the fire, and I did my usual quesadillas.
I awoke Sunday morning from a miserable night's sleep with an aching back to find the sun turning my tent into an oven. The mule train soon left, and the rest of us spent the day in the shade being lazy among the tall pines.
Late Sunday afternoon, John and I climbed out of the canyon and hiked over to the Story Mine. Wanting to see the old cabin and apple trees that Fritzski had written about, we continued down the old road to the bottom of the canyon, getting torn apart by all manner of unforgiving plants along the way. The bottom of the canyon was a welcoming scene of huge douglas firs, a few maple and apple trees, and an ancient cabin, with water trickling down the creek bed. Being late, we cut our visit short, hiked back out, and returned to our campsite by sunset. Jason was serving up the very flavorful tortellini he had cooked, which was enjoyed by all. The rest of the night was spent around the fire, discussing many subjects, and watching the stars.
Monday morning we packed up our gear and parted ways. John, Jason, and Gary headed back the way we had come in on the Saddle Mountain Trail. I had Tuesday off, and decided to take the long way back...
Wishing I had gotten an earlier start due to the very warm sun, I went east up the Thicket Spring Trail, then turned off onto the West Fork Trail, whose scrub oak gauntlet I endured while dropping down to the Cornucopia Trail. There I hung my food from a tall oak and stashed my backpack. I threw on my daypack, and headed north along the Cornucopia Trail. Cornucopia creek was flowing nicely, and spring was in full gear.
I nearly stepped on a gopher snake shortly before reaching the big ponderosa below Thicket Spring, where I took a break in the shade. I filtered some water, ate lunch, soaked my hat and shirt in the creek, then continued hiking up to the Mazatzal Divide Trail.
A welcome breeze picked up as I climbed the east side of Mount Peeley, where I stashed some water for the return trip. I left the Mazatzal Divide Trail at Peeley's northeast corner, and followed the northeast ridge to the summit of Mount Peeley. Clouds had begun to roll in, and the wind was strong. I sat down among the rocks to enjoy the view and send a photo to some friends. Before leaving I placed a register on the summit (I'm not sure why there has never been one here on my previous visits). I took the standard northwest ridge back down to the Mazatzal Divide Trail, then headed back the way I had come. The cloud cover and breeze made a world of difference hiking south along the Cornucopia Trail.
Back at the West Fork junction, I retrieved my backpack, and continued down along Forest Road 25A, passing the turnoff for the absolutley insane Forest "Road" 3722 (the "Cornucopia via E. Fork Sycamore" hike). I hadn't been on this section of the West Fork Sycamore Creek since 1999, and I was impressed with its beauty. The canyon was lush, full of water and greenery, and even had a couple of douglas firs growing at 4400 feet.
By the time I reached the bottom end of McFarland Canyon, the sun was about to set. Frogs were croaking, the air felt absolutely perfect, and I didn't want to leave. I debated whether to camp here for the night, or continue on to my truck at the end of FR 25A like I had planned, and just explore the mercury mines the next day. The thought of ice cold drinks at my truck sealed my decision. I reached my truck at the bottom of FR 25A at 8 pm, where Jason had kindly moved it that morning. It had been a 15 mile, 10 hour day, and I was tired. I cooked dinner, watched a dvd in my truck, and then crashed in the bed. Ramen noodles never tasted so good.
Tuesday I slept in, shaded by huge oak trees. Eventually I got moving, and hiked back up FR 25A along the West Fork of Sycamore Creek. I hadn't seen this area in years, and the scenery was even better than I had remembered. Sycamores, cliffs, pools of water, and colorful rock everywhere! I have a lifetime of memories of this place, and all of them are good. It was great to come back.
I popped into what John and I refer to as the "Junk Mine", to discover most of the junk was gone. Cresting a little saddle just beyond, I laid eyes on the old mercury mill for the first time in years. I explored the inside of the mill, taking many photos. It's steadily deteriorating, sadly. Just an FYI, there's a bee hive living in the bottom end of the big furnace/crusher tube. I stopped to visit the Sunflower Mine itself on the way out, hoping to pick up a nice sample of cinnabar ore. After a good bit of searching, I found a couple of pieces. Before I left the West Fork, I had a good soaking in one of its pools. The water was cold, but it felt great. I hated to leave.
I was surprised (disappointed?) that I hadn't seen even one rattlesnake the entire trip. That changed only five minutes from my truck, when a large Black-tailed Rattlesnake, in full coil, buzzed me. I finally saw one. Yay! Once back at my truck, I began the long drive home, through my favorite Mazatzal Mountains. It had been a perfect trip with great friends, wonderful scenery, and adventure. I'll remember this trip forever.
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/user/PrestonTheY ... ZfunMrcTHU
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/user/PrestonTheY ... D7Y_TNjH_Y