For my Sunday hike, I was looking for a hike with a fair amount of solitude, but which was also fairly close to home as I got a late start. The Black Ridge Loop in the Mazatzals satisfied these criteria.
As for solitude, I saw no one else during my hike - perfect.
The first three miles or so - up to Brunson Tank - were enjoyable. The trail seems to have gotten more use and, for the most part, the path was pretty well beaten in. I had no trouble following it and didn't need to refer to the GPS track. Of course, it helped that I had done it a few times already.
Brunson Tank was totally dry. The center of the tank was churned up, possibly by animals hoping to find water there. In both 2016 and 2017, Brunson Tank had a lot of water; on both occasions I had to skirt the edge to avoid getting my feet muddy.
Things went downhill, both literally and figuratively after Brunson Tank. The path was still easy to follow, but the way down to Sheep Creek looked like cattle had been driven down to the creek. There were multiple paths in this area and it was just as loose as it had always been. However, at least this time, I found the trail on my first try - though it was pretty easy since it had been so heavily traveled. In hindsight, I guess the conditions that I found were better than the alternative of being so grown over to require lots of bushwhacking.
When I got to the creek - which was dry - I took what appeared to be a good path which led me well away from where I wanted to be. I backtracked until I got back to the correct path. It may have eventually led to the trail that would have led me back up to LSM, but I didn't pursue it long enough to find out.
Things improved somewhat on the way back up from Sheep Creek to the Little Saddle Mountain Trail, though it still seemed to me that there were more paths than necessary. Perhaps more cattle had been here?
It appears that Little Saddle Mountain Trail has seen some work. It seemed less rocky than I remember. I also found new sections of trail just a few feet from an older rockier section. I think it's likely that rain will erode these new sections making them just as rocky as the older sections, but they made hiking easier for now. There were some sections too where steps appear to have been added. I also saw a new Wilderness Area sign as well as a new sign at the intersection of the Little Saddle Mountain Trail and the Sunflower Trail.
After perhaps a mile of hiking down Little Saddle Mountain Trail from the intersection with ranching trails of the Black Ridge Loop, I noticed periodic water in the drainage next to the trail. (Does it have a name? - I can't find it on any map that I've looked at.) I think the water in this area is provided by springs. There's definitely enough here to filter, if needed.
Despite finding some water alongside LSM Trail, the entire area was quite a lot drier than I've ever seen it. I saw a single flowering Indian Paintbrush plant and only a few other tiny flowers. Usually at this time of year, I would easily lose count of the number of flowers seen.