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Mormon Battalion Trail - Christmas Camp, AZ

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Guide 9 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix SW
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Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance One Way 5.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,336 feet
Elevation Gain 273 feet
Accumulated Gain 373 feet
Avg Time One Way 2-3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.44
Interest Historic
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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34  2014-11-21 kingsnake
43  2012-01-14 Woodsnative
13  2011-11-11 Woodsnative
5  2010-03-13 Woodsnative
Author Woodsnative
author avatar Guides 5
Routes 25
Photos 585
Trips 649 map ( 2,499 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Pocatello, ID
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jan, Dec, Feb, Nov → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:14am - 6:33pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Wagon trail meets the sands of time
by Woodsnative

In 1846, Polk, the U.S. President authorized the army to recruit 500 Mormons to join their forces in the war with Mexico. After encouragement from their leader Brigham Young, 500 men enlisted for one year of service. Departing from Council Bluffs, Iowa in July, they headed for Santa Fe and subsequently the Pacific Ocean, over 2,000 miles away. Before long, their orders were changed from a combat mission to a road-building operation. The government was keenly interested in a southern route to California, as the northern route was impassable up to 9 months of each year due to snow in the mountains. To complete their monumental task, the Battalion took 25 wagons and road building equipment, and created 700 miles of new road between New Mexico and California.

In what is now central Arizona, the Mormons met villages of Pima Indians and a very large community of Maricopa Indians. Both groups were friendly with them and guided them along the Gila River. On Christmas Day they traveled 18 miles and camped away from water at a dry camp, which is the starting place for the hike described here. West of the Gila River, the route into California was so dry and desolate that the soldiers and stock animals had to march long distances without water as quickly as possible in order to survive. During that part of the march rations were limited, many stock animals gave out, and the soldiers had to improvise new boots out of hide leather. The battalion reached San Diego on January 29, 1847 where they were commended by their commanding officer Colonel Cooke for completing the longest infantry march in history.

The new road became a route to California and the Butterfield Stage was operated on the road twice weekly from 1858 to 1861. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 caused the mail delivery to be re-routed, but by 1866 the route was in use again by Wells Fargo, who had taken over the Butterfield business. When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 the stage route became a thing of the past.

Additional History
Prior to all of the above, Juan Bautista de Anza, captain of the Presidio at Tucson, led an expedition of colonists and soldiers toward San Francisco. There were 240 people and over 1,000 head of livestock in the caravan. They traveled through the Butterfield Pass in the fall of 1775. Markers along the trail commemorate their 1,000 mile journey.

Parts of this trail are easily followed by hikers on the ground, especially on both ends of this five mile section. Other parts are only visible in satellite pictures of the area. Still other parts of the trail have succumbed to the forces of erosion and plant life, and now appear as small washes.

As you leave Christmas Camp and head west, you will notice that the trail rises very gradually throughout its length. Instead of cairns, which might go unnoticed, there are permanent steel markers each about 5-6 feet tall. These are placed as mileposts and are very helpful in showing that you are still on the right track, especially for the middle miles.

Given the difficulty of knowing whether you are on the trail or not, I recommend using the Butterfield Pass as a landmark as you head west. It is a very prominent notch in the western hills (Maricopa Mountains). If you take the trail from west to east, watch out for the cow path that heads north, at about 1.5 miles in from the western end of the trail (it leads to nearby Conley Tank, on the north). And, if you happen to have a footsore individual in your hiking party, who just happens to ask how much farther it is to Christmas Camp, be sure not to promise them that the next tree-lined wash is your final destination, since they all look the same from a distance! Most of this trail no longer shows any signs of wagon travel, and what remains is slowly disappearing. I am not sure why this section has not been maintained as a road over the years, since various groups and even the Boy Scouts have been active in marking sections of it and in preserving the desert environment nearby. Maybe it is intentional, because as you reach the middle miles, you get a sense of walking through history. The open desert appears to be untouched by humans, and you can imagine a member of the Mormon Battalion as he trekked past, seeing this desert for the first time, thinking of home at Christmastime, and trying to find the best course to lead a wagon.

Road Closures
The BLM closed the roads which access this trail in 2008, restricting all motorized traffic and off-highway vehicle use. These are to remain closed until September of 2012, when a new management plan is implemented.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2012-01-24 Woodsnative

    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 Review
    Mormon Battalion Trail - Christmas Camp
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrating optionrated 1
    FR 8003, from AZ 238, near the Estrella Siding, to Christmas Camp at North Tank, was very smooth, though some deep areas might make it difficult for cars. The deep areas were either actual powdered dirt or a very fine gravel that was smaller than pea gravel, but larger than grains of sand. There were animal tracks everywhere, especially in the powdered dirt, but also even in the hard pack to the side of the road. There was literally 0 AEG from the highway to the tank. I've never seen that: Usually there is at least some slight ups when going down. My first AEG came when I climbed the tank's berm. : rambo :

    From Mile Marker 0, it is 5.5 miles and 250 AEG to the FR 8002 intersection. :sweat: The trail is mostly easy to follow but, if you lose it, the hard pack is easy to walk on, and the only cacti are a few scattered barrel cactus. 90% of the non-wash vegetation is creosote; the rest bursage or brittlebush.

    While technically the Mormon Battalion trail is also FR 8003, motorized traffic is not allowed. I saw a ton of human prints on the trail, as well as a fair number of horse prints. It was odd to see so many human prints, for being in the middle of nowhere, and not altogether scenic with the nearest mountains being several miles away.

    The older wooden markers were placed by the Kimball Stake, while the metal cow skull markers mostly seem to have been placed by Bryan Jarman as a 1987 Eagle Scout project for the East Stake. Troop 507 placed an additional plate under one marker in 2002. The skull marks are supposedly every mile, but I found two that were only a quarter mile apart. :-k

    The east trailhead registry / de Anza sign is at the intersection of FR 8003 and FR 8002, which appears to be open back to AZ 238. There are "No motorized traffic" signs all up & down FR 8002, while they are also spaced every 100 yards or so west along FR 8003 (the Mormon Battalion / Butterfield trail). So, driving appears to be okay, as long as you stay on designated forest roads. On an otherwise shadeless hike, a rather large palo verde provides welcome mid-day relief at the intersection.

    From the intersection to the top of the pass is 150 feet in 1.5 miles, which qualifies as "steep" on this hike. After leaving the intersection the vegetation changes to occotillo, saguaro and hedgehog cacti. The sign announcing Butterfield Trail Campsite is still misplaced two miles east, just before the top of the pass. Saw several interesting saguaros, including one that looked like a squid, and several others which looked like they were having quite a party. :whistle:

    It drizzled from 1245, just after I arrived at Happy Camp, until about 1305, after I started up the saddle between Estrella BM and Hill 2065. The many washes before and after that saddle were not deep, but had quite steep sides. The key was to stay midway up the slope. Despite the saddle having a healthy field of cholla, I adroitly avoided puncture. (Until I sat down for a break, and got a few in my :pk:.)

    The final half mile followed a fence to the clearing on AZ 238, just east of Shawmut. By sheer luck, I came out at the exact point my wife was waiting for me. :y:

    I took 132 pictures and 30 audio notes. 8-[

    Was hoping the Garmin 62S-estimated 16.7 miles would at least be close, allowing me to break a personal mileage record ( ), and indeed it held up. Barely. :roll:


    Video :

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    From the junction of I-10 and US-60 in Phoenix, travel south on I-10 E to exit 164 for AZ-347 (Queen Creek Rd). Turn right onto AZ-347, which shortly turns south toward Maricopa. In the city of Maricopa, turn right onto AZ-238 (Smith Enke Rd) and travel west. Follow Hwy 238 for approximately 18 miles to milepost 26. About 150 yards past the milepost is a gated dirt road on the right. Trail description signs and bulletin boards can be seen a few yards behind the fence. Due to travel restrictions in the Sonoran Desert National Monument, this is the place to park and begin your trek to Christmas Camp. If the roads are opened, you would drive the following section: Follow the dirt road north for 2.1 miles to a fork. Follow the left fork past a stock tank (North Tank) and go another tenth of a mile to a large wash. Do not cross the wash. This near side of the wash is the trailhead and the parking spot for hiking the trail (when driving is allowed). The road from the highway to this point is un-maintained dirt/sand, and in fair to good condition. It is passable by sedan in a pinch, but this takes a bit of finesse. You might touch bottom on the 2-3 sections which are rutted and uneven. High clearance is preferred.
    page created by Woodsnative on Jan 24 2012 1:27 am
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