southern Arizona's roof
Here is another short hike you can do in the Pinaleno Mountains, if you feel like walking right up to the edge of forbidden territory. This one follows a seldom used fire control road that runs along the ridge line between Heliograph Peak and Mt. Graham. Great views of 10,000 foot Heliograph Peak exist, as well as a few glimpses of the Gila Valley to the east, and the Sulphur Springs Valley to the west. Although this fire road runs all the way up to the summit of Mt. Graham, it would be wise to turn around at the 1.9 mile point, where the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel Refugium boundary is encountered, at the 9800 foot contour (I believe the usual forest service all purpose fine exists for entry into the Refugium: 6 months in jail, and/or a $5000 fine). Another word of caution: this is NOT a hike you want to do during a thunderstorm! The trees next to you along the road are the highest points in the area! Anyway, this is a nice little ridge hike, that gives you a sample of what the very top of the Pinaleno Mountains are like.
From the large paved pull off area at the end of the paved portion of the Swift Trail highway, head northeast on the dirt road heading uphill. Before long, you'll come to a locked, brown metal gate across the road. Walk around the gate and keep going.
The road soon makes a 180 degree turn, around a spring fed, fern filled gully, before continuing its steady climb. About a half mile in, the first good view of Heliograph Peak can be found.
From here up, the fire road was used as part of the fire line to stop the westward spread of the 2004 Nuttall Fire. There are some burned patches of trees along the right side of the road, but it isn't a depressing scene of total devastation. There is still a lot of greenery and healthy trees to delight mountain lovers. Plus, summer time adds many wild flowers to this hike.
Around the 9600 foot level, the hike passes through a little grassy park, surrounded by aspens and dense firs. Shortly after, the route encounters a second little meadow full of wild flowers, where the road turns east.
Now the views to the east down Marijilda Canyon start to open up a little more. The Gila Valley, almost 7000 feet below, and the barren Peloncillo Mountains can be seen in the distance.
Where the road bends west, you will come across a couple of blank wooden signs. As of this writing, there are no markings, but these signs may be the boundary markers for the Red Squirrel Refugium. The actual 9800 foot contour/Refugium boundary lies another 0.1 miles to the west, however.
Be sure to turn around and head back at this point, and enjoy the views from the roof of southern Arizona on the way down!
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.