The Big Tree Trail #314 provides access to an enormous Arizona Cypress tree in the mountains north of Clifton, Arizona. This tree is 97 feet tall, with a crown spread of 41 feet, and a circumference of 181 inches. My measurements indicate a base diameter of 7 feet. The short length of this trail and its remote location make this more of a "something to do if you're in the area" hike, rather than a destination.
The National Register Of Big Trees program of the American Forests organization once recognized this tree as the largest Arizona Cypress in the United States, based on its point system derived from tree statistics. Its National Champion title was later handed over to an even larger Arizona Cypress found growing in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains. Even though the Clifton tree is now in second place, it is still an impressive sight.
The hike begins on the west side of Sardine Saddle, across the highway from the picnic area. A small wooden sign marks the beginning of the Big Tree Trail, which drops off the west side of the saddle and weaves through a pinyon-juniper woodland at the head of Whitewater Canyon. The trail soon arrives on a ridge, where careful study of the trees in the canyon bottom below reveals one tree top rising above the rest. Views from the ridge include successive rows of mountain ranges that grow ever bluer as they stretch to the western horizon.
The trail steadily descends along the south side of the ridge before wrapping around to the west side, where it makes a short switchback descent to the floor of a wooded side canyon. Pine forest shades the trail as it descends along the shallow canyon bottom. A few small, scattered relics near the trail hint at this area's logging history.
As the trail comes to an end at the 0.5 mile mark, a log fence comes into view. Your eyes are drawn to what it protects: a massive tree trunk that dwarfs the surrounding trees. The log fence that partially surrounds the Big Tree is probably there to prevent visitors from compacting the soil around the tree's roots. With a flared base scarred by ancient fires, this tree has the appearance of having been around a very long time. No signs or plaques commemorate it. They don't need to. It's size speaks for itself.
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.