rustling up big views in the Big Lue
Overview: This hike follows what is known as the "Blackjack Trail" (trail #568), to the summit of 7488 foot Maverick Hill. Maverick Hill is the highpoint of Arizona's Big Lue Mountains. However, if the mountainous area that stretches from the San Francisco River near Clifton, Arizona, to western Grant County, New Mexico is considered to be one continuous range, then the high point is actually Brushy Mountain, New Mexico, at 7620 feet. Peak baggers can decide this one for themselves.
Those with high clearance vehicles can shave about 0.9 miles off of the round trip distance by driving to the pass between the campground and White Mule Creek, and starting there. For this hike description, though, Blackjack Campground will be mile 0.0.
Hike: The hike begins at the Blackjack Campground, along highway 78. About 500 feet east and directly across from the campground entrance is a spur road that passes through an opening in the barbed wire fence, near a large dirt pile. Although unmarked, this is trail #568 (Blackjack Trail). Park at the campground, and start following the road (trail 568), which, after passing through the barbed wire fence, immediately turns north to parallel it.
After passing a cattle pond, the road makes a sharp bend to the right, and reaches a pass among the tall pines. This is the end of the line for vehicles, as the road rapidly deteriorates into a lightly used, atv trail when it drops down the east side of the pass.
At 0.6 miles, the trail reaches the bottom of White Mule Creek, and makes a sharp right to follow it upstream. At the 1.1 mile point (33.05619 N, 109.07065), the trail leaves the tall pines of White Mule Creek behind, and makes a sharp left to climb a low ridge.
The trail stays at or near the top of a long ridge line for the rest of the way, heading south, and gently climbing through healthy pinyon pine forest. The bright greens of scrubby Chihuahua pines and occasional yuccas add to the interesting blend of southern and northern Arizona plant species.
As the trail reaches the 6674' hill, the trees part to reveal views of New Mexico's giant Mogollon Mountains and Arizona's Pinaleno Mountains. To the south is your first glimpse of pine clad Maverick Hill.
After an enjoyable, roller coaster stretch of ridge line hiking, through overwhelmingly green countryside, the easily followed portion of trail #568 comes to an abrupt end, just above the 6800 foot contour, around mile 2.5.
Officially, trail #568 continues, but from this point on, it is overgrown, washed out, and barely recognizable at best. The trail stays on top of, or barely west of the ridge line for the rest of the way to Maverick Hill. In places where the trail was recognizable, I marked it with cairns. Following the route of trail #568, as shown on the topo map of the area, seems to offer the path of least resistance.
Continuing on, the trail between the end of the atv portion and the top of the 7025' hill is non existent. Just stay on top of the ridge.
Approaching the 7242' hill, the trail reappears, then drops down about 50 feet below the ridge line, on its west side, to bypass some low cliffs. This stretch of trail, from the west side of the 7242' hill, to the saddle on its south side, is somewhat intact, although overgrown with brush in places.
From the saddle on the south side of 7242', you can pretty much just follow the ridge line straight up to the flat topped summit of Maverick Hill. If you can find the trail and the cairns I built, all the better, but the trail soon vanishes among the low grasses near the summit.
Upon reaching the top, you will enter an open, grassy, park like forest of ponderosa pines and ancient, contorted junipers. Head for the highest point (33.02646 N, 109.05774 W), where a summit register is located in a small glass jar, in the shade of a juniper tree. To the east are views of New Mexico (less than a mile away) and the distant Gila Wilderness.
A few hundred feet to the southeast of the summit is an open spot (33.02611 N, 109.05733 W), on the south edge of Maverick Hill, where you can enjoy sweeping views of southeastern Arizona. A few rocks make this an ideal rest spot.
Return the way you came. The views are even better on the return trip.
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.