The mission was to hike the desert north of Bartlett Lake, see a couple of rustic cabins, and hack through some beautiful riparian forests.
The Tonto National Forest never disappoints; it offers a multitude of flora and fauna that can surprise even the most seasoned of travelers. From afar, this corner of the Tonto National Forest appears to be rather ho-hum, but for those who take a closer look, they will find it to be a diamond in the rough.
7AM FR 393
The first stop was at Brush Spring, just a few minutes up from the road. Having many miles ahead of me, I was in a hurry and forgot to keep one eye on the ground. This neglect nearly cost me, as on the way out, I discovered a coiled up diamondback rattlesnake just a few inches from where I had previously stepped. It would have been a shame to have crossed so many miles this summer only to get nailed on the last trip of the season.
I then walked a rough 4X road three miles to Canyon Creek spring, which is set up for cattle with a couple of functioning water troughs. From then on, it was open country without road or trail. The uplands of Black Ridge range between 3500' to 5000', supporting isolated stands of juniper, prickly pear cacti, and good pasture. The volcanic strata in the area act as sponge, creating an upland aquifer that keep dozens of springs flowing year-round. It is the abundance of water that makes this area so unique, allowing a wide range of fauna to thrive there.
The next 8 miles skirted along the southern face of Lion Mountain, checking ten springs that are not listed on the map. Most of the water can be found at the 3200' level, but there are a couple higher up, also. Huge cottonwood trees tower over the springs, drawing up hundreds of gallons of water each day, bogarting every drop they can. Despite this fact, enough water remains to provide for the local wildlife and to thirsty hikers.
The only thing of interest I found along the way was a dead mountain lion and lots of bear sign. This was a true desert bear, living off of cactus and mesquite beans, in what could be called an extreme fringe habitat. I made a point of trying to find him, following the bear tracks through the hedge. The bears just plow through the Manzanita like it is nothing, submarining under the scrub oak, leaving black hairs in their wake. The bear had been eating mass amounts of red prickly pear cactus fruit as of late, the offensive leavings deposited every ten feet along the track, with the newer piles a bright red and the older a smelly brown. He eventually gave me the slip at South Fork Sheep Creek, where I ended up camping for the night.
I spent the better part of the next day in the riparian forest along the lower section of Sheep Creek and its south fork. It has all three aspects of a riparian habitat: a gallery forest, marshlands, and mesquite bosques. Huge specimens of cottonwood, sycamore, ash, willow, and mesquite can be found here; so big in fact, they might be new Arizona record.
The best spring on the trip was Fig Spring, located just below the confluence of Sheep Creek/S. Fork. Not only does it have good water and fig trees, a cool little homestead can be found there, as well. The cabin looks to be '20s era I would guess; with a little housecleaning, this could be a home once again, though that packrat will have to go. In a few years, when the bankrupt U.S. government is forced to auction off the public lands, you will get a chance to buy this little piece of paradise.
After lunch, I hit a few more springs near Bartlett Lake, spooking about 40 javelina along the way. Then it was on to the S B Cabin over in Canyon Creek. A few vandals had scrawled their names in the wood and left beer cans, but it appears to seldom get a visitor, despite its close proximity to the crowds of people at the lake. This should come as no surprise, between the boats, the booze, and the boobs; there is little time for hiking, nor is hiking a good remedy for a hangover.
The sun was setting so I hustled to get the worst behind me before going to the flashlight. The distant city lights cast a glow across the landscape, providing a good horizon to navigate, despite the moonless sky. My map had been destroyed from sweat soaking, and the GPS batteries gave way around 9 PM, but it worked long enough for me to find a good line back to the truck around 10 or so. It is a fun area and I am glad I went.
||Wildflowers Observation Isolated
||Gallon + per minute
|Best water in the region. The spring runs all year.|
|This spring does not deserve a name,not a single blade of grass grows in this dust bowl.|
||Quart per minute
|This spring flows late into the summer, possibly all year. (no pic)|