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Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal, AZ

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Guide 25 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
3.6 of 5 by 7
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance One Way 16.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,098 feet
Elevation Gain 4,090 feet
Accumulated Gain 5,260 feet
Avg Time One Way 12 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 34.13
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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25  2019-03-02
Horseshoe dam - Sheep Bridge runoff
7  2018-12-08
35  2018-09-03
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
30  2018-06-09
Sheep Bridge / Mountain Spring Loop
40  2017-12-27
Willow Springs Trail via Sheep Bridge
33  2017-09-01
Club Cabin
24  2017-03-04
Sheep Bridge / Mountain Spring Loop
7  2014-03-27
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
Page 1,  2
Author jacobemerick
author avatar Guides 31
Routes 71
Photos 795
Trips 96 map ( 1,037 miles )
Age 34 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
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Preferred   Mar, Apr, Nov, Dec
Sun  6:15am - 6:24pm
Official Route
9 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Ascend into the Mad-as-Ells
by jacobemerick

This is one of the most challenging long-distance trails of the Mazatzal Wilderness. Reaching the trailhead is an ordeal, the first few miles is a hot and dry slog, and the last half was demolished by wildfire. The solitude and expansive views of the central wilderness, especially of Midnight Mesa and Deadman Creek, are well worth the effort. Sections of this trail can make a good loop (see Sheep Bridge / Mountain Spring Loop for example), as hiking end-to-end is an uncommon feat.

Much of this trail is within the Willow Fire burn. In particular, the eastern half (starting at the Midnight Mesa Trail junction) was hit hard and much of it is overgrown and washed out to the point of obliteration.

If you survive the drive out to Sheep Bridge, park and cross the bridge on foot, taking some time to read up on its history and check out the old foundations. The start of trail is located about 500 yards along the Verde River Trail, shortly after it crosses Horse Creek and starts heading north. There is a short climb to a good view back on the Verde River before the doldrums begin.

The first few miles is flat desert, with prickly pear, gnarled trees, and various types of scrubby brush. Some sections are straight as an arrow while others twist around mean vegetation. Trying to figure out where the trail climbs the eastern hills may provide some distraction during this slog. At 3.5 miles there are a few washes to cross and the vegetation begins to green up some, and things become progressively nicer as the trail follows a shallow ridge and plays near Horse Creek. At 5.6 miles there is a sudden climb up a little drainage to officially mark the end of the boring flat section.

The spur trail of Willow Spring #244 shows up at 6.8 miles, with a pleasant and dependable spring located at the end. This could make for a nice breakfast spot before a serious climb over the next few miles. After the spur there is a quick 1200' gain over 1.6 miles, which first follows a ridge with great views to both sides, then switches back and forth up a steep hillside, then pops over a shallow saddle. Fire damage begins to become apparent during this section, with plenty of skeletal trees and minor deadfall to deal with. Excellent views are plentiful during this climb.

Beyond the shallow saddle the trail dips down into a little valley, first swinging along the side of red-rock 5193' and then dropping down to the side of Horse Creek at the junction with Deadman Trail #25. This valley is a pleasant, grassy change from the rocky hills. At 9.2 miles there is an unnamed spur that leads over to Mountain Spring, which is worth the short jaunt over. This spring is dependable and has nearby camping options, plus some of the biggest, greenest trees in the area.

To continue east, there is a short jaunt north along Dutchman Grave before a second junction w/ Willow Springs. Just remember that you want to continue east, up the side of the valley, and it should be easy to figure out. A 650' climb is needed to get out of the valley, with a few nice switchbacks to ease up the grassy hillside. There is a short drop on the other side before a second spur trail, Lost Spring #279, although this trail does not have a pleasant spring at the end. Past this junction is another climb, this one less than 300', through a sad forest of burned trees, that ends up on a narrow ridge with a great vista into Deadman Creek to the east. At 11.4 miles the trail swings alongside Midnight Mesa on a narrow path - be sure to stay on track, as hacking a way across this steep side would be difficult.

Midnight Mesa passes by quickly and the trail descends a short ways to the Midnight Trail #272 junction. This is where serious overgrowth starts to show up. The tread is all but gone here and a mixture of willow and manzanita cluster along the ridge where a discernible trail once led. Follow the ridge for about a mile, keeping the shallow tributary of Wet Bottom Creek on the left and the much deeper and more impressive valley of North Fork Deadman Creek on the right, swinging around to the north before things get too steep. At 13.2 miles the trail finally crosses the Wet Bottom tributary, follows a sandy wash for a bit, and then starts to climb.

The next hill to climb is 6351' which, like its almost-anagram to the west, is composed of red rocks and has a lot of dead, burned trees on the slopes. At least the trail, which had all but disappeared for a while, makes a comeback here, and there is good tread and cairns to track as it switches back and forth a few times. When it crests the climb at 14.2 miles things become grassy and difficult to follow again as it swings along the side of the summit, not quite hitting the peak. Once east of 6351' the trail hops on top of a ridge / series of small hills, which are mostly clear of brush and deadfall and have a handful of cairns to help guide across. Looking across Maverick Basin gives a great view of a ridge that few get to experience.

Manzanita takes over at 15.6 miles and the rest of the hike is rough. As of 2018 there was no tread or path to follow, just a fight through brush that is often over six feet tall, with the occasional deadfall or boulder wash-out to struggle over. Before the fire this was likely a pleasant stroll through tall pines, now it's relentless. Once through this section you can stumble over to Pete's Pond for some well-earned water and rest.

Water Sources
Willow Spring is located near the trail, just down a short spur about 7 miles east of Sheep Bridge, and Mountain Spring shows up a few miles later. Other water sources (Lost Spring, Wet Bottom Creek tributary) are seasonal at best. Pete's Pond is located about .5 miles beyond the eastern end of the trail.

Mountain Spring is the best campsite along the trail. There are some options near Willow Spring as well. At the east end of the trail is The Park, which is conveniently located at the junction of North Peak and Mazatzal Divide Trails and is near Pete's Pond.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2018-07-20 jacobemerick

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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.

    Most recent of 15 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    The planned route was an attempt to follow @Lizard's original Club Cabin description with two key differences: I wanted to reverse it and use Sandy Saddle to go up (instead of Half Moon / Rock Creek). However, things didn't go well and I ended up bailing on the last leg.

    Barnhardt #43
    First time heading up this trail in daylight. Starting to get a bit overgrown in sections, all friendly green stuff that never hurt nobody. Bumped into a yuge group (12+) from Prescott Comm. who were doing a 3-week trip from here to Fossil Creek. These would be the last people I'd see in... a long time.

    Sandy Saddle #231
    Good grief. Even getting to Castersen Seep involved trekking-poles-above-head wading through the manzanita. There are sections of defined tread and clear track, they are just few and far between. Castersen was okay, few tanks w/ skunky water. Had a hard time tracking trail over to the next wash, and that last climb doesn't believe in switchbacks. Made it to the saddle proper with the sunset, a solid hour behind schedule. This would make a decent camp, plus there were tanks few hundred yards to the west for water. Unsure of how dependable they are.

    Anyways, didn't even try to look for tread coming down the west side, just dropped in the drainage and followed it down. The wash was easy enough to navigate in the twilight / moonlight and I made it to Divide Trail, then Horse Camp Seep, without needing headlamp. Rehydrated and snoozing in hammock by ten.

    Mazatzal Divide #23
    As usual, big views. Was cool to look down from the ridge above the Park and try to track where Willow Spring plays on 6351'. Trail is in great shape. Thought about pushing on to Pete's Pond to camel up and didn't - stupid mistake.

    Willow Spring #223
    Heh. That first mile is turrible. Deadfall wasn't really a problem, more the manzanita and loose rocks underfoot. Found no cairn or tread along the way. Got a gnarly bloody nose here too thanks to a face-whacking branch, took way too long to stem the flow. Things got better on the ridge, with old tread and game trails providing an easier way forward through the shorter brush. Views across Maverick Basin were ridiculously awesome, too.

    The dance along the side of 6351' was annoying, with the trail fading in and out of existence and too few cairns to connect the dots, and a pretty steep hillside to work along. Short section of good trail on the drop until it faded out again and I ended up taking a rocky drainage down to wash below. At this point I was starting to run low on water and decided to stick to the sandy wash in hopes of finding water (and maybe to avoid the manzanita/deadfall mix that waited on the southern bank). Found a decent tank (though I suspect it was only there from last night's rain) and filtered up, spooked an elk while packing up, and then hacked my way back up to trail.

    Things gradually got easier along the ridge and, by the time I bumped into the Midnight Mesa Junction, the trail was straightforward to pick out. Dancing along the side of Midnight Mesa was downright fun, and the rest of the hike to Mountain Spring was enjoyable as well. Reached the spring with two hours of daylight for camp chores and treated myself to some homemade thai curry mix and a quick trough-side rinse-off.

    Aside from the second night: at about ten at night that elk showed up for a drink. Darn thing was less than ten feet away before I realized he wasn't another tiny nocturnal rodent. Seeing a giant rack upside down, looking down on you as you cowboy-camp, is a hell of a way to wake up. Spooked him off and then fell back asleep to his annoyed bugles. Elk sound silly when they're angry.

    Deadman #25
    Getting to the junction is easy to follow, and there is a good path w/ cairns that lead down to Horse Creek. And then it disappears. Tried going up and down the banks a few time to find where it climbs and eventually just hacked up the hill. It's frustrating, because there are two old barbed fences to cross, and one would think that there'd be a gate or cairn or something to mark where you're supposed to pass through them - nothing. Got to practice my Zeta-Jones skills squeezing underneath the wires, at least. Tread shows up at the next drainage crossing and is easy to follow for the next mile, then gets faint on the long drop to Deadman Creek.

    Deadman Creek seems to be dependable here, with lots of friendly trees and some reeds growing around the trickling waters. Trail was hard to track on the other side - I crossed, got to the corral, and then followed the fence east, and then lost it. Think I should have gone further east. Anyways, hacked my own way up some turrible brush and then picked a route up the hill. Found a few cairns but the tread wasn't trackable for too long. Felt like it took forever to climb up to the saddle. Once I reached the top, feeling a bit light-headed from the growing heat, I was immediately stung several times by a wasp. Made it down to the junction w/ Davenport Trail before the reaction started getting serious.

    This is when things get a bit blurry. I reached out to wife (@klemerick) via inReach and let her know what had happened. I decided to head up to Club Cabin and rest for a while, took every ounce of energy to make it up that hillside - something was definitely off, either from heat or sting or both. Once I got there I remember wandering around, uncertain of what to do next, taking almost an hour before realizing that I should be drinking water given the 100+ temps. @klemerick was in constant contact and she decided that I needed to get out of there the fastest way possible, down Davenport, and that she and @reynchr would help me out along the way. Spent the rest of the day futzing around the cabin, not doing much of anything, mostly trying to get a grip on things. It was terrifying.

    Davenport #89
    Woke up the next morning feeling slightly better, still off. Those little climbs, especially near Rock Spring, kept knocking the wind out of me. At least the path was easy to track after the last few days - think I only lost it twice, and was able to quickly backtrack and get back on it. Don't know how I had such a hard time following it last year lol. Made it about halfway down that last mesa, outside the wilderness boundary, when a USFS truck showed up to give me a ride the rest of the way.

    My rescuers, @klemerick and @reynchr, had spent the night at Sears Trailhead and left a water cache for me there while they went back and tried to find a way to get their vehicle across the Verde. By sheer luck they bumped into a ranger at the camp and explained the situation. He had access to the dam gates and drove over to save me the last four miles of hiking, which was definitely appreciated. Made it out of there in relatively good shape, though I was still shaky and weird from the day before. I have no idea how I would have gotten out of there without their help, though - trying to cross back over to Barnhardt would have been far outside my capabilities in my shape. Am very grateful for them.

    Mazatzal Miles: 164.6/275 (60%)
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    I could not make up my mind this weekend on something to do and was all over the place when this backpacking idea popped into my conscience, as a lighter alternative to the Midnight Mesa Loop, which had been on my to do list for a long time. I got some last minute details from Joe, which included a good review of Dutchman Grave Trail, and an assurance that I could not go wrong with the Western Mazzies this time of year.

    Joe was definitely right, the western Mazzies are a special place right now. One could get away with charging admission to the Dutchman Grave Trail right now; perhaps the desert at its finest and with the rugged ridgeline of the Mazzies as a backdrop, hard to beat. Similarly, the trail itself was in pretty good shape too. There are some faint areas and a few areas where a second look may be necessary, however, it is generally pretty easy to follow and marked well with some very tall and well constructed cairns. The final stretch into Mountain Spring is a little strenuous, but very scenic, maybe one of the nicer stretches of trail in the entire wilderness in my opinion. The strenuous part was the 670 feet climb from mile 11-12 that just seems to come out of nowhere, just when you think you are almost to Mountain Spring, oh if only we hiked in the manner the crow flied, sigh. Mountain Spring was an excellent spot to camp and there was plenty of water in the cement trough and adjacent creek bed. I enjoyed a nice fire and a perfect night for sleeping.

    The hike out on Sunday went pretty quick and I was back to the TH in less than five hours. I made a detour down Willow Springs Trail #244 to Willow Spring on the way out and was very impressed by the area. It may be one of the nicest destinations in the Mazzies right now. The creek is flowing nicely through there right now and there are a few nice cascades and swimming holes in the spring area. The trailhead area was bustling when I got there, but I saw nobody on the trails all weekend. A really awesome area and I left feeling very satisfied with my hastily planned venture into the western Mazzies. In fact, I would not mind returning for a multiple day and night trip to do some more exploring of those trails and areas in the interior I still need to get to, one of my more memorable Mazatzal destinations. Thanks for the last minute beta and good call @joebartels.

    More significant on the drive in, as large swaths of yellow have taken over many of the hills on the way to the TH, but some pretty good action along some sections of Willow Springs Trail too...
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    After the seemingly never-ending drive to the trail-head, we set off on the faint, but fairly easy to follow Willow Springs Trail, making it to Mountain Spring before nightfall. Unbeknownst to us, a mountain lion had made a deer kill within the last week about 10 feet from where I had setup my tent, and some critters, including a fox, visited during the night to try to snack on the little that had remained.

    The next day was mostly a pleasant surprise, trail conditions were pretty good, to nearly highway like, along the remainder of the willow springs trail and the midnight trail. There are only two areas where it gets bad: the first is the area where willow springs trail intersects the midnight trail. The fire heavily damaged this area, and the beginning of the midnight mesa trail is not clear. The second is where the midnight mesa trail first meets Wet Bottom Creek. Though I was sure we were on the trail, the 6 ft tall bushes we had to wade through suggested this 100 ft span has already reverted to its natural state. A large camp was found setup at Wet Bottom Creek, and presumably this group had done the maintenance on the remainder of the Midnight mesa highway to its junction with Red Hills. :thanx:

    The Red Hills trail from here on is pretty much a disaster, and is pretty much non-existent in several places, and overgrown (badly) in the remainder. Other than the nice part where it crosses Wet Bottom Creek, it was not enjoyable.

    Thanks Fan for joining me! The 3 days went by quickly. The fact that some of the crazy people on this site hiked this in a day is mind-boggling. And from their GPS tracks, they only did about 70% of their loop on the actual trail.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    FINALLY! After 15 years of hiking and backpacking I made it to Sheep Bridge. Being a trip leader in one of the Meetup backpack groups, I'm always looking for a difficult destination that most have never heard of. This trail to Mountain Spring fit my criteria. We drove in the night before and I was surprised on how good of condition the road to Sheep Bridge was, I was expecting much worse. I have to mention we were in a Jeep Cherokee with 30" tires.

    The four of us (Fan, Steve and Jose) headed off at about 9AM the following morning. We made quick work of the first 6 miles that had us gain about 1000' of elevation. After that things started to get interesting, the next mile wasn't to bad as we climbed about 500' but we really had to start paying attention to trail clues. Very few hike this trail and the trail is faint, you must pay attention since there are a good amount of cairns to the non-existent junction of the Willow Spring spur. Sadly near this junction one of the largest wild fires in known AZ history started in 2002 incinerating most of the once beautiful forest in the Mazatzal high country :cry:

    The junction for the Willow Spring spur is near a nice saddle that makes a great break spot. In this area you'll enter the burn scar and stay in it all the way to Mountain Spring(our destination) and beyond. The next 3 miles are very difficult to follow but there is a once well constructed trail most of the way. Grass and mostly lack of use have made this trail hard to follow. There are lots of cairns and if you don't see one for more then 2 or 3 minutes, chances are your off the trail.

    The trail will start to switchback up and to the north side of the ridge your climbing about .5-1 mile from the above mentioned spur to Willow Spring. We got slowed down here a couple of times but eventually re-found the trail. Since it was an out and back trip we found it was still tricky to find the trail on our way back, we added a bunch of cairns. The fire didn't consume all the Junipers, Pinyons, Oaks, Hackberry's, Agaves and Cactus in this area and soon you will top out in an area that was mostly spared. It'll give you a feel of what the Mazatzals used to look like. The trail is rocky/eroded in this nice stretch and leads to a saddle that overlooks a mostly burned basin. You'll be able to see the Mountain Spring area down in it, the giveaway is the patch of living trees around it.

    Mountain Spring is a worthy overnight destination and when in the cluster of trees you'll mostly forget about the burn damage. It appeared to us that we were probably the first people to spend the night here in AWHILE. The spring box holds lots of water and we had a number of animal visitors overnight. The table is in need of repair and we found a couple of shovel heads and there is plenty of seasoned oak and juniper nearby to burn :cry:

    Although the burn damage is clearly visible this area is coming back. Usually the vegetation that comes back tends to be Catclaw, New Mexican locust and Manzanita. Here its different, I noticed mostly Oak coming back and even saw a baby Juniper. Perhaps by the time I'm old and gray this area in the Mazatzals may have recovered significantly. Time will tell.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    Ken and I knocked this out two weeks ago. I really enjoyed what I saw. Unfortunately 9 hours was in the dark so I didn't get to see half of the hike.

    jj and I started out 40 minutes before sunrise with just enough light to avoid headlamps. Well at least I thought so until the Travelocity Gnome scared the crap out of me. On closer inspection I was looking at the vertical attention of a skunk's tail. Lucked out and moved on.

    Dutchman Grave Trail #22
    Still the trail I fell in love with weeks ago. Not as many yellow wildflower varieties, just green green green everywhere!

    Red Hills Trail #262
    The first few miles are outstanding. Experience paid off on this bad boy. Navigation was easier. I can now say this one takes the most time in route finding having done the others in daylight. Still unique and worth it once for those that haven't checked it out. Well at least the portion in this loop anyhow.

    Midnight Trail #272
    Not on my favorites list for the Mazzies. Yet easier to follow in daylight. The best part being my two planned bushwhack detours worked out great. Willow Springs Trail came quicker than anticipated.

    Willow Springs Trail #223
    The moment of truth. Ken & I had a heck of a time negotiating the 0.5 miles of trail around Midnight Mesa. Today in was still sketchy for a tenth of a mile. Yet easier to see, negotiate and didn't look so steep in daylight. That's it right? Head down and it's over.

    Not so fast. The hike down was phenomenal. Perhaps the weather. Perhaps the stunning views all the way down. I really enjoyed this trail in the daylight. Nice backside views of Peeley, Sheep and Saddle Mtn too!

    Second scare of the day was looking straight down the purple throat of a gila monster. I'm beginning to notice a pattern after a week of three snakes, a skunk and a gila monster at close range... jj is in the back wolfing down taffy!

    How it panned out
    I felt better on this loop. 20 hours was outta my comfort zone. JJ would probably knock off an hour or two without me and I'd probably add an hour two without him. So a nice medium. I hit 40g protein, 3 quarts of water, 2 Qts Gatorade, four ibuprofen, sunflower seeds, pistachios, half a pepperoni beef stick, 1 large chewy yet crunchy sweet tart. Feel great now a few hours afterwards. Of course jj survived on unfiltered creek water and his typical plethora of sugar Also tried one super anti histamine to ward off the quickened paced snots a couple hours in. Yeah that worked for maybe ten minutes.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    Joe's summed it up well.

    I've finished the Red Hills and the Willow springs trails.

    I doubt I’ll be back on the Midnight Mesa / Willow Springs junction. That area is just too much rock scramble / climbing for me :scared: .

    I brought 6 liters of water and filtered 3 more for a total of 9 liters consumed.

    It was way too cool going to Richard’s avatar spot.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    Ister Flat - Sheep Bridge AZ
    Scott and I took the kids to Sheep’s Bridge. Richard joined us. The Verde was so low that you could wake across without getting your feet wet. The road to Sheep’s Bridge was muddy with some ruts. Deadman’s wash had more water in it than the Verde! We stopped at the turn for Ister flat and took a short hike down. The kids had fun throwing rocks in the river. Then we headed back and went to the bridge. We all went to the hot spring. Nate loved the corn maze feel of it. Scott took off and Richard , Nate and I went down the Verde River trail. The sycamore creek was not passable for kids. Even the grownups may have gotten their feet wet! This was the most water I've ever seen in the creek.

    We then meandered around back to the river, then down Willow’s springs trail. Before we left, Nate wanted to go back to the hot spring one last time.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    Ister Flat - Sheep Bridge
    Ken and Scott were kind enough to let me tag along on this outing with the kids. First stop was Ister Flat on the east side of the Verde. Cool spot. We messed around beside the river and saw some bird nests in the cliff? Next we went to Sheep Bridge. Quick trip to the hot springs and then the Verde River trail and a couple of miles out along Willow Springs.

    We were amazed at the amount of water coming out of the Mazzies. Davenport, Deadman and Sycamore all had high flows. I think Chumley is right that last storm dumped over there "estimated rainfall in excess of 2" maybe more?

    Thanks guys for a very enjoyable day.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    Fan and I did a new loop with the Mazatzal Divide, Red Hills, Midnight Mesa and Willow Springs.

    The Good: The CREC crew is cleaning up the Mazatzal Divide Trail
    The Bad: Taking 4 fours to cover 4 miles
    The Ugly: Willow Springs trail (??) From Midnight Mesa to Mazatzal Divide

    The CREC crew had setup camp at the City Creek TH. We meet up with crew at 2.5 miles in. The trail is a two lane road to that point. I talked to one of the guys. They said they were making the trail wider for horses. I wasn't sure if he was insulting me or not?!?
    There was a second crew with a base camp 4 miles in. The plan was for the 1st group to meet up with the second group in three days. Soon we meet up with the second crew. They had cleared about a mile of trail from the base site. This area has more vegetation to clear back.

    We turned down the Red Hills trail. Soon we passed the corral and seep, then the Midnight Mesa intersection. The Midnight Mesa trail drops into the creek below. It's missing in some spots, but we were able to see cairns in the distance and bushwhack to them. Once at the creek, we used the GPSs to stay close to on-trail. When in doubt we just followed the creek. When we came across the Wet Bottom Creek, I joked that we could just follow that to 'the park'. Once I saw the creek enter a canyon, I knew we needed to find the trail to stay out of the canyon. We did a 270 on the East side of the creek until we found the trail. The trail was overgrown, but it was there. The trail got us past the canyon and then it climbs up to a saddle where it intersected the Willow Spring trail.

    Willows Springs ‘trail’
    We could see a well-defined and cairn-ed trail heading to the West. East bound was nothing. This is where the ugly fun began. We would find little bits of a trail that would suddenly end. Between our three GPS's we tried to stay on a trail. We were basically bushwhacking and scrambling up and down some nasty terrain. We tried to zigzag to find the trail. The only times we found trail was near the saddles.
    We were not moving fast at all. I started to get worried that we might be on this 'trail' post sun-down. :scared: I pull out the paper map and we got our bearings and figured out that we needed to hike three ridge lines, and then drop down into the park. I stopped looking at the GPS and just picked the path of least resistance that moved us to the next ridgeline. This worked out great until we ran out of ridgelines. The descend down to the park was another snail’s pace. There was a sea of fallen trees, finding open paths was getting harder to do. At random we found see some red ribbon, but they would peter out quickly. The last 1,000 feet was a charge straight through a catsclaw field, but we made the Mazatzal divide right at dusk.

    I've been on bad trails before, but this is was the worst trail yet. Evan bad trails have something to guide your through. I hesitate to call this section a 'trail' we would have been better off just going up the Wet Bottom creak (assuming no waterfalls).

    I would not recommend hiking on the Willow Springs trail from the Maz Divide to the Midnight Mesa.

    I’ve now been at every trail intersection of the Mazatzal’s and hiked on at least a portion of each trail.
    Willow Springs Trail #223 - Mazatzal
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    I really like the Sheep Bridge area, but the drive is a pain. The road from the 24/269 intersection was in better shape than the last time I took it. A lot of the minor rock steps were gone. I think the recent rains deposited a lot of dirt on the road and evened out the rock steps. The Tangle creek was flowing a bit higher than usual.

    Two unusual/interesting/weird events happened this day. One was at the start and the other was at the end of the hike.

    Just as a started hiking on the bridge a helicopter landed on the beach!! At first I was thinking it was a rescue, but the helicopter was not police or SAR. Neither the pilot nor the helicopter had any official markings. The pilot stood in the river with some device taking readings or pictures. I thought about asking for a ride to a remote spot in the Mazzies, so I could do a one-way hike back :sl:. Maybe the other end of the Verde River trail.

    Now for the hike:
    The original plan was to hike to the Willows Spring / Midnight Mesa intersection as an out and back. The Willows spring is well defined and in good shape, but now it's obscured with the tall grass. It took me much longer than expected to reach the Mountain Spring area. I checked out the Mountain spring and the water looked yucky :yuck: with algae. The spring itself is shaded with tall trees.

    The Willows spring trails gets nicer past the Mountain spring. There were 5~6 foot cairns leading the way up a saddle. The Mazzies make you work hard, but they reward with amazing views. I was past my turn around point, but the trail and views were so nice that I couldn't bring myself to turn-around ;) . I'm pretty sure I turned around at the Lost Spring trail. I either missed the sign or the sign was missing.

    Since I fell short of hitting the Midnight Mesa trail ](*,) , I returned on the Dutchman's Grave trail aka the Mountain Spring loop. About a 1/2 mile down the Dutchman's grave, I found a 5 point elk antlers by a tree :) .
    There's a little bit of route finding on the Dutchman's grave trail. I personally like the Willow Spring trail better.

    I returned to the Sheep Bridge in the dark. I did notice that most all of the creek was dry. I was hoping to see waterfalls and gushing water like people have been seeing by Eastern side of the Mazzies.

    Now for the 2nd unusual/weird event of the day. As I got closer to the Verde River I could see a pair of tail lights on the road. They were parked for a long time. At first I thought it was someone setting up camp. After a bit the lights moved a bit. Then the road was out of sight and then I stopped seeing the lights. When I hit the sheep bridge, I saw a pair of tail lights right next to my Jeep. Something seemed odd about the tail lights. Then it dawned on me, it was a sedans tail lights! It was a Nissan Altima!

    When I got to my Jeep, a young kid came out with a crude hand drawn map of the Verde River. He asked if he could hike on banks of the Verde. I was tired / confused and weird-ed out. I told him to wait till morning and just hike on the Verde trail.
    He told me that it took him all day to get to this point. He had tried to drive over the Horseshoe Dam and was turned away. He was going to spend a couple of days at the Sheep Bridge.

    Then it gets better. All of a sudden he starts yelling *!?* :tt: , *!&@ :tt: . He locked his keys in the running car. He had to bust out the passenger window to get back in the car.
    There's more, but I digress... :out:

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To Sheep Bridge Trailhead
    Take Cave Creek road east and follow the directions to Seven Springs - Cave Creek Road turns into FR24. Take FR24 35 miles until it ends at FR269. Take FR269 another 12 miles to the southeast until it ends at Sheep Bridge. NOTE: the last 8 miles or so of FR269 is unmaintained! While it may be passable by car - I would urge something with more clearance and designed suspension.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 105mi 3h 38m
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 182mi 4h 50m
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 119mi 3h 44m
    page created by joebartels on Jul 20 2018 3:33 pm
    help comment issue

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