A Mazzie Dutchman
A beautiful, varied trail in the western Mazatzal Wilderness that provides a challenge that continuously pays off. The route is well-chosen and should be easy to track even without regular maintenance. Can be used with nearby trails to make for great backpacking trips, such as Sheep Bridge / Mountain Spring Loop and the more extreme Midnight Mesa Loop.
Reaching the western trailhead means driving to Sheep Bridge, which is a long haul over rough dirt roads (at least two hours for most). It's a great trailhead, with multiple recreation possibilities, and the remote area keeps the crowd levels down. The drive does make for a hefty commitment for most day hikers. Once you cross the bridge you'll need to follow Verde River Trail for three-quarters of a mile before the start of Dutchman Grave Trail, hopping over both Horse and Sycamore Creek along the way.
Follow the sign and take the right fork. It slowly climbs up the base of HK Mesa, gaining a few hundred feet over the first mile. The tread is well-defined and there are plenty of cairns to guide through the Sonoran desert. Once on HK Mesa things ease up and one can enjoy the views of the Mazatzal Mountains on the horizon. At 2 miles the trail swings close to the south edge of the mesa, providing views down into a lush Sycamore Creek and the old site of HK Ranch. In the early morning this creek becomes a cacophony of bird sounds.
After a small climb around the side of a short hill the mesa ends at 3.3 miles, forcing the trail up a sharp 400' climb. There are a few switchbacks to help catch the breath. On top of the saddle a great view of the valley ahead opens up, where Sycamore Creek flows down from the Red Hills and joins with the Dutchman Grave springs. Trot down and enter the scenic valley. At 4.3 miles you will cross the creek, and then over the next mile the route plays along washes, passes the Red Hills Trail junction, swings into a few lovely riparian areas with established campsites, and passes at least two decent water sources. This is a good spot for a break (or an overnight) before the steeper half of the trail.
At 5.4 miles the trail goes through an old gate and leaves the valley behind, climbing the slope of 4165' before swinging off to a saddle on the side. Then it mostly stays level, darting in and out of a few drainages, with a few short climbs. This section of the trail may be difficult to follow with multiple game trails criss-crossing the official route. Cypress Butte towers to the north, a distraction from the rough going. At 7 miles the trail finally leaves 4165' behind, taking a saddle across to the bottom of Midnight Mesa and shooting up a rocky drainage, cresting around 4300'.
For the next mile the trail stays at the base of the mesa above, winding around to avoid some drainages to the south. This is pleasant going through open grasslands with big views opening up all around. Also, some of the largest cairns in the Mazatzals appear to live in this area - perhaps the grass makes them grow taller out here. At 9 miles there is a short drop across one of the drainages and a 800' climb waiting on the other side. This final exhausting incline deposits you within an easy trot of the eastern end of the trail, near the verdant Mountain Spring.
Both Lower and Dutchman Grave Spring are mostly dependable, though it may take some hunting around to find a pool large enough to pull from during dry times. The trough at Mountain Spring is dependable year-round.
Several good campsites sit around Dutchman Spring with fire rings and clearings for tents, usually within view of the trail. Mountain Spring is a relatively well-known site in the heart of the Mazatzals and has water, fire ring, a table (!), and great shade.
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.
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.