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Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal, AZ

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74 9 1
Guide 9 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson W
Rated
3.8
3.8 of 5 by 5
 
1
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
Statistics
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 2.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,324 feet
Elevation Gain -505 feet
Accumulated Gain 616 feet
Avg Time One Way 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 4.55
Interest Ruins & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
35  2018-09-03
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
jacobemerick
7  2014-03-27
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
JuanJaimeiii
8  2014-03-27
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
joebartels
19  2014-03-15
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
joebartels
5  2010-11-07
Midnight Mesa Loop - Mazatzal
mazatzal
Author jacobemerick
author avatar Guides 31
Routes 71
Photos 795
Trips 96 map ( 1,037 miles )
Age 34 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Mar, Nov, Dec
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:14am - 6:23pm
Official Route
 
6 Alternative
 
Water
Named place Nearby
Take a Quick Dip at Midnight
by jacobemerick

Overview
Connector trail deep in the Mazatzal Wilderness with several appealing features of its own. A fundamental piece of the Midnight Mesa Loop and could be used for several longer, multi-day trips that include Red Hills and Deadman Trail. This description will start at the southern end, which as of 2018 is the least appealing half.

Warning
The entire trail is within the Willow Fire burn area, and some sections were more heavily damaged than others. Between the old burn, remote location, and low traffic, it may be difficult to research or predict conditions.

Hike
Reaching the southern end of the trail is most easily done from Sheep Bridge, climbing 14 miles on Willow Springs #223. There is no trailhead sign at the junction, just a lonely post with a few nails, and there isn't much of a tread to point in the right direction either. Simply head north through the past of least resistance, avoiding the thorny stuff and watching for an occasional cairn.

First few hundred yards may be discouraging. There are a lot of rolling rocks underfoot and it's easy to wander off trail while avoiding the brush. When the drainage to the east becomes more pronounced so does the trail, as it follows the curve of the bank from a safe distance. A section of spared forest grants shade, and the tread is sometimes very well defined between the rocks. It may still be tricky to follow the trail through the tributaries. At .8 miles it finally crosses the drainage on the east and follows the opposite bank.

After crossing the drainage the forest begins to fade into thick brush and deadfall. Right before it crosses the main branch of Wet Bottom Creek at 1.1 miles things get very confusing - it may be easier to simply hack towards the creek and then re-discover the trail on the other side. Because, on the north side of Wet Bottom Creek, the trail makes a drastic change for the better. Large cairns, wide tread, cleared brush, and even an open corral all show up in short order. From here to Red Hills is quite enjoyable.

There's still a healthy climb to make, almost 600' in all. First it winds up a hillside before entering a flat, open valley, then it darts in and out of a rocky tributary, then it zips up a steep slope with a few tight switchbacks until it finally meets up with Red Hills Trail. Most of this is unshaded and south-facing, so it can get pretty toasty in the afternoon sun. On top there is a sign, which was burned into pieces as of 2018, though there are large cairns to mark the junction. Now you just have to figure out which way to go next: take Red Hills to the left for 20 miles to Sheep Bridge or Red Hills to the right for 11 miles to City Creek (or 15 miles to Doll Baby).

Water Sources
Several of the tributaries along the trail may have water, or Wet Bottom Creek itself. The most reliable source is likely Fuller Seep, located a mile east of the northern junction.

Camping
The corral near Wet Bottom Creek has plenty of camping opportunities. Fuller Seep, a mile from the northern end of the trail, is also a fantastic campsite.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2018-10-01 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 Triplog Reviews
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    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.
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    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 treats...lol Also tried one super anti histamine to ward off the quickened paced snots a couple hours in. Yeah that worked for maybe ten minutes.
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    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.
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    The inner Mazzies have intrigued me since 2001 when I created a FLASH map of the wilderness. Ken suggested this loop. I spent a solid twenty minutes throwing it together with his previous routes. Posting my gps route realized Richard did this loop CCW as a 4 day backpack. I should have known... lol!

    Driving across the Verde shaves about 1 hour off the drive to Sheep Bridge. Even with Horseshoe releasing 5 cfs the Verde was bone dry. We started the longest day hike of my life at 8:05am. "Wow" expectations where pretty low for this hike. If there is a cool hike in Arizona surely I know about it... right? Storybook temps albeit breezy set the stage.

    Dutchman Grave Trail #22
    Enjoyed this trail the most. Spring was dancing and changing tunes along the way. Healthy, out of idiot range, saguaros cover the hills.

    Red Hills Trail #262
    Some of the coolest mazzie terrain. Notably in two less burned creek areas and one mine area. Finding the trail is difficult. Year 'round water in the pools? One of 'em seems likely...

    Midnight Trail #272
    Welcome to the show. Dreams are filled with ridiculous access trails in the middle of large wilderness. The sun was setting and a full moon rose as we stepped into dreamland. The 2004 Willow Fire has destroyed a majority of the route. Extremely difficult to follow at night. Probably easier in daylight. Considerable amount of cairns. Unfortunately most are spaced out of view leaving no clue, aside from gps, which direction to go.

    Wind was really cranking. Plenty of water. My growling stomach was so loud it sounded like it was digesting internal organs. Ken whipped out the best mint chocolate Cliff bar I've had in my life. Then came the cherry on top. Literally too! A BAG of dried cherries. Wow, wow, wahoo! Christmas isn't usually this good!

    Willow Spring Trail #244
    Back to reality. #244 skirts the ESE side of Midnight Mesa proper for a half mile. Either we missed the trail or it is gone. Ken was not liking it. He slipped down and started yelling in Stiller tongue. A little further, then he slipped in a precarious spot. Looked like Luke hanging onto the edge of the weather vane under Cloud City. The situation called for some emergency jedi training. Ken used the force and denied the wrath of the dark side. Yoda would have been proud.

    We made it to some cairns rounding out the final third of the half mile skirt. Perhaps we just missed the rest. From there the majority of the trail down is easy to follow. Night hiking under a full moon is cool. Even better when the wind stopped.

    Horseshoes - 6
    Mylar Balloons - 1
    Crested Saguaros - 1
    Gila Monsters - 1
    4am Finishes - 1

    Carried 5 quarts, consumed 6

    Anyone interested in a predawn start at a quick pace or jog a few flats hit me up for a redo!

    Wildflowers
    predominantly along Dutchman Grave Trail #22
    Blackfoot Daisies are abundant 2200-2700ft, crazy hopbush for a half mile, claretcup, strawberry hedgehog, blue dicks, poppies, lupine, Dudleya, Cream Cups, Desert Anemone, Desert Phlox, Verbena, Dune Primrose, Filaree, Narrow-Leaved Popcorn Flower
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    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.
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Started from Sheep Bridge: Willow Springs - Midnight - Red Hills - Dutchman Grave - Sheep Bridge.

    Day 1
    Willow Springs trail was in good condition to Mountain Spring.

    Day 2
    Trail became sketchy at times beyond MS. Saw a deer just before the traverse around Midnight Mesa. Midnight trail was even harder to follow with just occasional cairns but not much sign of the trail. Lower down we did find some trail on the east side of the creek descending to Wet Bottom Creek. At the upper crossing of WBC the trail was a little clearer but after leaving WBC and going over the shoulder and into the next creek the trail disappears among a large burned area. We went cross county uphill to the Red Hills trail and followed it down to the lower crossing of WBC. This is my favorite place in the Mazatzals and it mostly survived the Willow fire :D

    Day 3
    Left WBC and followed the cairns and faint trail up hill for a mile or so and then entered another large burn where the trail completely disappeared. Found the trail at the ridge top and followed it okay for the next few miles. A couple of places you lose it for a little while. Descended down in the next creek and then up the other side towards Cypress Butte then along the mesas past some Indian ruins and the mine and down the drainage and larger creek to Dutchman Grave Spring.

    Day 4
    Straightforward hike out from DGS and along HK Mesa.
    Midnight Trail #272 - Mazatzal
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Day 1: City Creek TH to Fuller Seep. Jim found a nice axe on the trail and carried it for the next 4 days.

    Day 2: Fuller seep to lower Wet Bottom Creek crossing (see profile photo and thank you Jim or wading in and rescuing my hiking socks that had blown into the creek :sl: ) and then back track to Midnight trail and down to Upper Wet Bottom Creek crossing.

    Day 3: Upper WBC to The Park. This stretch of Midnight trail is really cool.

    Day 4: Down North Peak trail and along Pole Hollow to City Creek TH.

    We were lucky enough to do this incredible loop before the Willow Fire by just 3 months.

    Permit $$
    None


    Directions
    Map Drive
    or
    Road
    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 mazatzal on Oct 01 2018 8:53 pm
    help comment issue

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