No Bugging Out
This description is a slight overlap and a continuation of the fantastic description that MWhiteman did on the previous segment of the Black Canyon Trail. This trail is an old sheep herding trail utilized years ago by ranchers. For hiking purposes, it starts off from the Carefree Highway (74) down in the valley and then travels north parelling the I-17 highway and as of this writing extends 6 miles north of the 69. Based on an April 6 2014 article on AZCentral.com the long term goal is to have the BCT extend all the way to Williams! How cool would that be. From HAZ's perspective this would be the 13th segment of this trail. Over the last couple of years they have created a new trailhead, Big Bug TH, which is where my hike started from.
The hike starts off from the Big Bug Trailhead, which is on the south side of highway 69. When you step through the gate you are on the Black Canyon Trail (BCT). If you make a right you'll see a rock cairn and a trail that will take you toward Antelope Rd. But to do the newest segment of the BCT head straight. There will be an old corral to the right and a wire fence to the left. Within .1 miles you'll round a slope and see the tunnel that will take under the freeway. As you go through the tunnel you'll notice multiple mud like nests along the upper portions of the tunnel. When I went through the tunnel at 5am the birds were still emerging from their nests so the tunnel and the exit was full of birds. It's remarkable how many birds can fit into those small, confining nests! After exiting the tunnel follow the trail that parallels the wash. You will immediately go through another gate and then do a gradual climb that will take you toward Old Sycamore Rd. (.85 miles). This is where the BCT use to end and where the 12th leg of the BCT description concludes. As you look to the north there is a relatively nearby, lone mountain that will stand out, and be visible for most of this hike. This is Copper Mountain. The BCT stays to the west of it, but other websites indicate that a Copper Mountain Loop Trail is being constructed and that this loop trail will tie into the BCT. As of this description this had not happened yet.
By crossing the road and going about 100 yards down the trail you will be brought to another gate. This gate has a sign posted on it stating "Big Bug Trailhead". Initially, I took this to mean that I would be doing a trail called "Big Bug". Not the case. All the signs thereafter, refer to this trail as the BCT, so Big Bug simply helps identify where you are (approximately) on the BCT. For about the next 2 miles the trail is easy to follow. It is a clear, well defined single track with no confusing side trails to mislead. From the gate, it is a nice winding, gradual decent to reach another gate. This should be about 1.7 miles into the hike. .3 miles later you'll cross a sandy wash with BCT signs. From here, the trail remains relatively flat for the next few miles following the contours of low lying hills heading in a north northeast direction. At 2.5 miles cross a dirt road that is signed with BCT trail signs. At this point the trail begins to become a little less well define. It is still evident, but not as heavily used. It is around the 3.0 mark that cairns start to appear and you need be weary of false, misleading game trails. I tried to reinforce some of the cairns for future hikers. During this time the trail is traversing the side of hills, never directly ascending/descending them but using switchbacks to gain and lose elevation. Most cairns appear at these switchbacks to help redirect the direction you are going. (Much of this is a designed trail with hikers and bikers in mind). You'll know you are on the right track if, at around the 3.65 mile mark, you crest a hill and see a windmill off to the west. From here the trail heads north and a little west as it descends toward another wash. At 3.75 there is going to be a split in the trail. One heads north, dropping immediately into a wash. The other west, paralleling the wash for a time before crossing it. Follow the track heading west, you'll soon see a large cairn to reassure you that you are on the correct trail. After crossing the wash the trail turns north and begins a steady climb. At 4.92 you'll reach a road and a green rancher's gate. Below and to the east you'll see a large ranch that (I assume) this gate belongs to. On the other side of the gate there is a BCT sign and the trail heading off to the east side of the road.
I was more interested in mileage than I was in elevation as I recorded information for this description, but I believe this gate crossing was the high high point of the hike. By going through the gate the trail leaves the road and will begin to descend to the valley below. In a short time the trail will cross another, more rugged road. Head east down the slope and you'll see the BCT sign and the trail heading off the road. The trail continues to head downward heading in northwardly direction. As you descend you'll move past the massive ranch to the east and get a better view it's surroundings. At this point I also started to encounter other trails, most likely created by the live stock of the ranch. At 5.95 miles the trail crosses a wash with a small flowing stream. At the time of this writing the streamed was easily crossed without getting wet. The trail heads through a small grove of trees (providing the only real shade that you'll encounter on the hike) and then start to climb the north bank of the wash. The trail starts to head in a northeastwardly direction paralleling a dry wash that feeds into the just departed streambed. Be very wary of bovine created trails. There are several well defined trails, better than the BCT, that could very easily mislead. If you don't see a cairn on the track you are following periodically, there is a good chance you have gotten off trail. A good example was 6.25 miles into the hike. The BCT trail heads out of the wash, but the better defined bovine trail remains in the wash. From this point the trail continues to climb among so low lying hills for another .75 until it crosses a decent looking dirt road at the 7.0 mile mark. This was my turning around point. There are BCT markers on both sides of the road and the trail continues on to the north and east. How much further does the trail continue?? The road where the trail crosses looks drivable so if one could figure out how to get back there this might be a good staging point for the next leg of the trail. Not sure what ft road this is, hence the witty name "farm road."
There are no water sources at this trailhead.
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.