Domain of the Burros
Area: In 2010 I first hiked the Walkin Jim Trail on a fine April morning with desert wildflowers adorning the landscape. This 7.9 mile loop, within an hour's drive of metropolitan Phoenix, is moderate and pure visual joy. It is located within the Hells Canyon Wilderness area with the Hieroglyphic Mountain Range adorning the northern and western skyline. The Hells Canyon Wilderness is home to numerous peaks, mostly over 3,000 feet. It is further isolated from the rest of the world by private land on its southern, eastern, and northern sides. The most prominent of the peaks are Garfias Mountain at 3,381 feet and Hellgate Mountain at 3,339 feet. Governor's Peak at 3260 feet is a popular hike and scramble. Several cliffs on the mountains attract climbers, and the canyons make for relatively easy hiking. Most of this wilderness is covered by Sonoran Desert vegetation: saguaro, paloverde, barrel cactus, ocotillo, and desert grasses.
Wildlife: One of the most interesting features of the area is the wild burros who live here. They are believed to be descendants of pack burros, which escaped or were released during the 1880s and 1890s. This was an era of extensive mining activity along the Agua Fria River and nearby Bradshaw Mountains. The burros were generally used by prospectors in search of gold, but were served as pack animals carrying ore to mill sites located along the Agua Fria River and other free-flowing streams in the area. Additionally, burros were used to haul supplies back into remote mining camps.
Wild burros evolved in the harsh deserts of North Africa and are very well adapted to the dry desert environment. Left alone in the remote region with few natural predators, the wild burro population flourished. Today, the population of burros remains fairly constant at about 357 animals. The burros in this area weigh about 425 pounds and stand about 40 inches high. The majority of the burros living within the area congregate in or around Lake Pleasant Regional Park as a result of abundant food and water.
Wildlife species sharing the region with the wild burros include desert mule deer, javelina and mountain lions. Other animals found here are small mammals, songbirds, amphibians and reptiles.
Walkin Jim: The Walkin Jim trail is named in honor of hiker and troubadour Jim Stolz, who died prematurely of cancer in September, 2010. Some hiker buddies actually met him on the trail a few years ago.
This February I did the Walkin Jim trail for a second time and noticed a fork in the trail halfway round. Called the "Big Jim trail" and prominently marked with a sign, I hustled back to HAZ to do research. Bob Gregg has given a good description of the trail. In Gregg's article there was an intriguing challenge-to continue past the end of the Big Jim Trail and climb Pike's Peak, which Gregg claims should be named "Walkin' Jim Peak."
Hike: On April 1st (it was a really hot day of 98 degrees and yes, we were probably April fools to try it) but we set out to climb Pikes Peak.
We parked at the trail head (elevation 1872 feet) and headed counter-clockwise on the Walkin Jim trail. The trail heads in a generally westward direction and crosses a broad wash four times. At 2.65 miles the trail intersects with the Little Jim trail, crosses a jeep road at 3.2 miles, and comes to the Big Jim trail (on the right) at 4.07 miles. (Elevation 2238 feet).
Along the way there are numerous burro droppings and trampled down ground where burros must meet on Saturday nights for braying contests. We did see one lone burro high on the slopes of the canyon as we made our way up the Walkin Jim trail.
The Big Jim trail starts innocently enough, and is marked by many cairns on the way to the saddle. But soon, the way steepens and is populated by loose rocks and dirt. The saddle is 5.31 miles from the trail head, elevation 2799 feet. It took is two hours and 44 minutes to make the saddle, with many stops for pictures. This is a good final destination for most sane hikers.
All along the way a hiker can see Pike's Peak in the foreground. Or so it seems. Surprises await. Leaving the saddle the route to the summit is almost true south, 180 degrees compass bearing. A few cairns mark the way , but no matter which way you go, you will have to brush whack! Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and gloves, or be prepared to bleed.
There is a false summit which disguises the true summit, but the way upward is always clear.
The summit is almost a mile from the saddle (5.94 miles from the trail head) with my GPS registering 3431 feet. It took us an hour from the saddle to the summit, and 45 minutes back to the saddle.
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.