Room With A View
The Cactus Butte Trail (TR60) is a remote backcountry hike, located within the Tonto National Forest in the Sierra Ancha Mountains north of Roosevelt Lake. This hike is all about big and vast views throughout the entire trip. The trail follows the western boundary of the Salome Wilderness, yet never actually enters the wilderness. TR60 is a very old pack trail that was decommissioned from the Tonto National Forests list of maintained hiking routes many years ago, however the sign at the trailhead still remains. Along this route you will find a variety of high desert vegetation mainly consisting of juniper/cedar and oak. Along the bottom of Methodist Creek, which is the canyon that the trail follows, was a long stand of healthy cottonwood trees.
For this hike I joined up with a respected HAZ member, Hank (Grasshopper). Spending the day with Hank was a true pleasure and I look forward to doing it again in the future. The hike as posted is from the trailhead to the southwestern point of Panther Mountain. TR60 technically goes about one mile northeast from the upper ridge towards Chubb Mountain and then turns into a rugged jeep route from there. This trail is in surprisingly good condition considering how old and lightly used the route is. On the south side of the road accessing the trailhead is a large parking area. The trail begins as a short jeep route heading to Cactus Butte Spring. Just before the jeep route heads down a hill towards the spring you will see a moderate sized cairn. The first mile of this hike involves a big 1100' vertical climb to a ridgeline overlook of Methodist Creek. To my surprise this trail was very well marked by well placed moderate to large cairns throughout most segments of the route. The first quarter mile of the hike is probably the most vague due to the route following the crest of a broad rounded grassy ridge. Keep your eyes open for the cairns and you will be ok. After this section, the trail becomes more obvious. While climbing up you will see a fence line on your left that within approximately another quarter mile will cross the trail with a gate. The remaining segments of the trail are relatively easy to follow due to a distinct trail bed and well-placed cairns. Basic compass and topo map reading skills will keep you on track, however you will need a sharp eye due to areas of overgrowth. I should add that there was very little cat's claw on the entire hike, and overall bushwhacking was mostly tolerable and manageable. From the Methodist Creek overlook you will be rewarded with about two miles of mild up and down hiking to catch your breath while following the main canyon heading northeast. After this two-mile segment, the canyon bottom will be just below the trail and from here the route heads up a gradual grassy slope to a saddle. The trail will disappear on this open grassy area with a few small cairns to mark the way. Once on the saddle you will pass an old fence corral to the east that is noted on topo maps.
Final Segment: From here things get a little ugly. The first thing you need to do is get the whole "trail thing" out of your head. The trail from this point is gone due to very little use and a century of erosion. What you are looking at is a rugged 3/4 mile, 640' vertical climb. Pause for a few minutes to study the terrain, commit to a game plan and go for it. All you are doing is following a ridge straight north to the upper main ridgeline heading southwest to Panther Mountain. Just before the top you will encounter a line of boulders and small bluffs that can be navigated with caution. After you reach the top things get easier. You will now be heading southwest up a gradual hill to the summit and outer point of Panther Mountain ("Panther Mountain Summit", Lat. 33 degrees/48'/30.19"/N & Long. 111 degrees/8'/21.18"/W). The upper ridge heading towards Panther Mountain is rather nasty walking with deep grass hiding sharp cantaloupe size rocks and numerous small cacti. The cactus hides in the grass like a serpent waiting to strike, so you will want to keep a sharp eye looking towards the ground.
The "Cactus Butte Trail" is the opitimy of a true backcountry hike with killer views, rugged terrain, and solitude. The main attraction on this hike is the vast 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Greenback peak to the northeast, the Mazatzal Mountains to the northwest, Four Peaks to the southwest, Roosevelt Lake and the Superstition Mountains to the south, Armer Mountain and Thompson Mesa to the east. If you have an appreciation for the Sierra Anchas and love remote rugged hikes, this trip will not disappoint. Count on having it all to yourself if you go.
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.
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.