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Saddle Mountain Mine Tour, AZ

no permit
189 30 4
Guide 30 Triplogs  4 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
3.5 of 5 by 11
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Loop 6.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,500 feet
Elevation Gain 700 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,892 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 15.96
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
7  2015-11-14
Saddle Mtn / Peeley Loop
20  2015-04-12
Saddle - Thicket - West Fork - Cornucopia
10  2015-03-08
Mercury Mine via 25A
15  2015-03-08
Mercury Mine via 25A
45  2012-03-24 CannondaleKid
5  2011-10-16
Little Saddle Mountain Lasso
38  2011-04-16
Saddle Mountain Trail to Squaw Flat
6  2010-02-19 azdesertfather
Page 1,  2
Author Fritzski
author avatar Guides 43
Routes 0
Photos 597
Trips 59 map ( 132 miles )
Age 66 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Sep, Oct, Nov
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:08am - 6:36pm
1 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Stroll through a Bygone Era
by Fritzski

Likely In-Season!
"A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar." Mark Twain

This loop hike incorporating several somewhat obscure trails in the lower Mazatzals takes you through an area replete with old mines, prospects, and the relics of their workings. Some were noted producers of ore and many others just anonymous testaments to sweat, grit, and unfulfilled hopes. This mineral rich area south of Mt. Peely seems to be centered around the eastern drainage of the Saddle Mountain sub-peak.

This hike starts at a parking spot overlooking the site of the old Sunflower Mine, which produced mercury from a reddish-brown ore called cinnabar which can be found in abundance lying about. In the processing building which still stands, you'll see the large pipe (smelting tube) used to tumble the cinnabar into fine particles that were then burned in vertical furnaces with coke to produce the mercury gas. The gas was then cooled through a large network of vertical U-shaped tubes to condense into the liquid metal we know as quicksilver. The gold mines down the road at Goldfield, Az may have been a customer for some of this mercury which was used in a refining process to extract pure gold from raw ore early last century. Apparently the Sunflower ceased operations sometime in the 1940s, although some evidence might suggest it may have squeaked on into the early fifties.

Click to enlarge Map We chose to complete the hike first, and then spend some time after exploring the Sunflower site. From your parking spot head back down the short access road to FR25A. Continue north on this road where it enters the West Fork Sycamore Creek bed at he mouth of McFarland Canyon and continues northeast. Along the way you may notice a group of very large boulders nearly blocking the jeep trail. They appear to have fallen from the slope above quite recently as the vegetation is still scoured from its path. At about 1.3mi the road hits a wall which is the unmarked intersection of FR25A, FS3722, and the Cornucopia Trail. Continue to follow the creek bed north on the unmarked Cornucopia Trail. If you look closely to your right you will see the remains of the access road up to the old Cornucopia Mine. Don't bother investigating, the entrance has long since caved in and there's nothing much left to see.

Continue north past the hulk of an old service vehicle that makes one wonder "how they ever got things like this up here?", and on to the signed intersection of West Fork Tr. at about 2mi. Head west on the W.Fork Tr. and begin an aggressive climb to the top of a small saddle. Proceeding down the opposite side you quickly come to the Thicket Spring Trail intersection at about 2.5mi. Take it to the left and down through the bottom of a drainage heading into McFarland Canyon. Along this area you will encounter not only blue ribbon century plant stalks, but what appears to be numerous prospects and at least one vertical shaft near a creek bed complete with the requisite remains of a sump pump. At about 3.6mi you will come to an intersection with the Copper Camp and Sheep Crossing Trails. This is a nice shady area and an excellent spot for a lunch break. This appears to once have been the living site for those that dug the numerous bat-filled holes nearby.

From here head south on Sheep Crossing trail which consists of another fairly healthy climb to a ridge overlooking the Story Mine area. At about 4.2mi you will come to the signed Saddle Mountain Trail (#91) intersection showing "Story Mine 1 mile" to the left. Even though the mine site itself is no more than 1/4mi as the crow flies, a thick carpet of manzanita prevents any kind of direct approach. Instead, bear to the left through a series of abandoned jeep trails to cross over to the east bank of the ravine then down to the bottom for an approach to the mine (@5mi) from beneath the south side. Not surprisingly, this mine too has collapsed given the type of extremely loose shale in the area. There are however relics and ruins lying about such as the old tracks for the ore carts still running from the entrance to the remains of the old ore chute.

Continue on down the old jeep trail as it descends deeper into the canyon finally reaching the creek bed where a foot path then heads downstream a short distance to where the miners evidently resided. The ruins of an old cabin with a gnarly old apple tree still growing remains. The path continues to the bottom of the ravine where it begins to fade resulting in a significant, but relatively short bushwhack through the narrow canyon back to the site of the Sunflower Mine.

As you approach the Sunflower area from the west, the canyon begins to open up into an area littered with old diggings and abandoned equipment. Some of the old tunnels were quite large with the timbers still holding, while another had a house-sized boulder dislodged from above forming a cavernous ceiling. Of course, it goes without saying to be very careful when exploring these areas. Old access roads abound in a mazelike fashion, but if you stay on the main one, your parking area (@6.5mi) is just around the bend.

Back at the Sunflower make sure and spend some time looking around this very interesting old site, but again be very careful. It never ceases to amaze me the backbreaking work these old timers put in to erect an operation such as this in such a remote area. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did, because this little piece of Arizona history won't be there forever.

BTW: I have seen a photo of this dump truck dated 1999 that had it still intact and sitting upright on the access road directly above the mine where we parked. Oh well.

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2002-10-06 Fritzski
    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 Reviews
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Saddle Mtn / Peeley Loop
    Loop hike with Kyle & Claire. We headed for the Peeley Trailhead and saw Hank and the rest of the HAZ crew who were remembering GPS Joe. We also saw FOTG and the dogs. We took our lunch and then returned to our trailhead passing the Sunflower Mine. Along the creek we saw a large pack of Coatimundi.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    We planned our trip based on the 'Easy Mines' hike description by GPS Joe and loading what I now know was his Feb '06 GPS track, which was a bit more than the hike description of 7.6 miles and 1400 AEG. But by adding a bit of bushwhacking in an attempt to include the Story Mine to the loop hike we ended up with well over both figures... no wonder why Tracey was complaining more than the usual. [-(

    Oh well, it was great weather, we saw a bunch of mines such as they were (not much) and the equipment left at Sunflower/National Mine, met one hiker and a group of ATV'ers who were having a good time with Bud Lights at the mine. Glad we passed them loading them on their trailers as we drove out FR25 so we wouldn't have to worry about passing them driving home.

    I found a lucky/unlucky horseshoe on the trail... unlucky for the horse that lost it and hopefully lucky for me. We'll be hanging up to see if it brings me luck... yeah right! I don't wait for luck, I seek opportunities to capitalize on.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Mazatzal Spring Break 2011

    Part 1:

    After a quick breakfast at the Beeline Cafe in Payson Saturday morning, I went south and met John, Jason, and Gary at the Mormon Grove trailhead. Temps were a bit warmer than expected as we headed north along the rocky Saddle Mountain Trail, our packs loaded down with choice beverages. We took a short break among the changing oaks at Potato Patch, then continued on across brushy hillsides. Lupines, penstemon, and other flowers added contrasting colors to the sea of green that is this part of the Mazatzals.

    Reaching McFarland Canyon, we entered a fine forest of pine and fir, then continued west to our campsite along the creek. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the shade and just enjoying our surroundings. John and I ventured down canyon a ways. I made a late afternoon trip up the Sheep Creek Trail to Squaw Flat to enjoy the views and watch the sunset on the Mazatzal peaks. The only others we saw the entire weekend came passing by on Saturday evening: two guys with four mules. We shared our campsite with them, but kept to ourselves. Jason, John, and Gary cooked steaks on the fire, and I did my usual quesadillas.

    I awoke Sunday morning from a miserable night's sleep with an aching back to find the sun turning my tent into an oven. The mule train soon left, and the rest of us spent the day in the shade being lazy among the tall pines.

    Late Sunday afternoon, John and I climbed out of the canyon and hiked over to the Story Mine. Wanting to see the old cabin and apple trees that Fritzski had written about, we continued down the old road to the bottom of the canyon, getting torn apart by all manner of unforgiving plants along the way. The bottom of the canyon was a welcoming scene of huge douglas firs, a few maple and apple trees, and an ancient cabin, with water trickling down the creek bed. Being late, we cut our visit short, hiked back out, and returned to our campsite by sunset. Jason was serving up the very flavorful tortellini he had cooked, which was enjoyed by all. The rest of the night was spent around the fire, discussing many subjects, and watching the stars.

    Monday morning we packed up our gear and parted ways. John, Jason, and Gary headed back the way we had come in on the Saddle Mountain Trail. I had Tuesday off, and decided to take the long way back...

    Part 2:

    Wishing I had gotten an earlier start due to the very warm sun, I went east up the Thicket Spring Trail, then turned off onto the West Fork Trail, whose scrub oak gauntlet I endured while dropping down to the Cornucopia Trail. There I hung my food from a tall oak and stashed my backpack. I threw on my daypack, and headed north along the Cornucopia Trail. Cornucopia creek was flowing nicely, and spring was in full gear.

    I nearly stepped on a gopher snake shortly before reaching the big ponderosa below Thicket Spring, where I took a break in the shade. I filtered some water, ate lunch, soaked my hat and shirt in the creek, then continued hiking up to the Mazatzal Divide Trail.

    A welcome breeze picked up as I climbed the east side of Mount Peeley, where I stashed some water for the return trip. I left the Mazatzal Divide Trail at Peeley's northeast corner, and followed the northeast ridge to the summit of Mount Peeley. Clouds had begun to roll in, and the wind was strong. I sat down among the rocks to enjoy the view and send a photo to some friends. Before leaving I placed a register on the summit (I'm not sure why there has never been one here on my previous visits). I took the standard northwest ridge back down to the Mazatzal Divide Trail, then headed back the way I had come. The cloud cover and breeze made a world of difference hiking south along the Cornucopia Trail.

    Back at the West Fork junction, I retrieved my backpack, and continued down along Forest Road 25A, passing the turnoff for the absolutley insane Forest "Road" 3722 (the "Cornucopia via E. Fork Sycamore" hike). I hadn't been on this section of the West Fork Sycamore Creek since 1999, and I was impressed with its beauty. The canyon was lush, full of water and greenery, and even had a couple of douglas firs growing at 4400 feet.

    By the time I reached the bottom end of McFarland Canyon, the sun was about to set. Frogs were croaking, the air felt absolutely perfect, and I didn't want to leave. I debated whether to camp here for the night, or continue on to my truck at the end of FR 25A like I had planned, and just explore the mercury mines the next day. The thought of ice cold drinks at my truck sealed my decision. I reached my truck at the bottom of FR 25A at 8 pm, where Jason had kindly moved it that morning. It had been a 15 mile, 10 hour day, and I was tired. I cooked dinner, watched a dvd in my truck, and then crashed in the bed. Ramen noodles never tasted so good.

    Tuesday I slept in, shaded by huge oak trees. Eventually I got moving, and hiked back up FR 25A along the West Fork of Sycamore Creek. I hadn't seen this area in years, and the scenery was even better than I had remembered. Sycamores, cliffs, pools of water, and colorful rock everywhere! I have a lifetime of memories of this place, and all of them are good. It was great to come back.

    I popped into what John and I refer to as the "Junk Mine", to discover most of the junk was gone. Cresting a little saddle just beyond, I laid eyes on the old mercury mill for the first time in years. I explored the inside of the mill, taking many photos. It's steadily deteriorating, sadly. Just an FYI, there's a bee hive living in the bottom end of the big furnace/crusher tube. I stopped to visit the Sunflower Mine itself on the way out, hoping to pick up a nice sample of cinnabar ore. After a good bit of searching, I found a couple of pieces. Before I left the West Fork, I had a good soaking in one of its pools. The water was cold, but it felt great. I hated to leave.

    I was surprised (disappointed?) that I hadn't seen even one rattlesnake the entire trip. That changed only five minutes from my truck, when a large Black-tailed Rattlesnake, in full coil, buzzed me. I finally saw one. Yay! Once back at my truck, I began the long drive home, through my favorite Mazatzal Mountains. It had been a perfect trip with great friends, wonderful scenery, and adventure. I'll remember this trip forever.

    Part 1: ... ZfunMrcTHU

    Part 2: ... D7Y_TNjH_Y
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Had to hike in from FR25A, too rough a road to make in the truck we were in. On the way in, we saw a vehicle had just his one of the rocks in the road earlier that morning, punctured their oil pan, and there was a line of oil down the road for quite a ways. Don't know how they managed to get out, but they must have!

    Made it to Sunflower Mine, and discovered a few other little mines along the way. Found nine in all in the immediate vicinity around the Sunflower processing plant, and explored them all. We cautiously navigated them all, most didn't go in very far, but one WNW of the processing site went in a good ways, as well as up and down. The downshaft must have been nearly 100 feet.

    Didn't do the whole route, the guy I was with wasn't up to it. Did take a dip in West Fork/Sycamore Creek, though. That was some wicked cold water! Waded into my knees and just couldn't manage to get myself to go any further. :o

    Last time I was at the processing plant I noticed a circuit board out there next to a busted up toilet. Today I figured out that it came out of a busted up television set. Since I was down there in December, somebody put a plastic skeleton in the bathtub that sits in the creek next to the plant...too funny, will post the picture.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    4 X 4 adventure with a five mile hike. Nice and cool at these altitudes and at times needed a light jacket. We saw no one else today which made it especially nice. Erosion is reclaiming this area dramatically. Browsing around the old mines is interesting, imagining the dedication and motivation for people to do the work nescessary to survive, and perhaps thrive out here. As cool as it was there are still snakes active.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Each time I do this hike the road gets worse and worse. Erosion is really taking its toll. So when it gets difficult-start hiking. The sheer rock walls and canyon beauty is worth it. Several mines and associated hardware litter these canyons. Very interesting with water being abundant. A GPS is a good idea as you can easily get turned around. I will return for more adventures.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Having done this very enjoyable Mazatzal Wilderness hike three times over the past year, this time we decided to attempt it as a LOOP HIKE AROUND SADDLE MTN to include part-of the SADDLE MTN. MINE TOUR HIKE(a hike through the OLD SUNFLOWER MURCERY MINE COMPLEX). From the remote Mormon Grove TH, two of us started this hike at 9am, hiking the first 1.9 miles up Saddle Mtn Tr#91 to the large carin (as detailed in the original writeup), then, at this carin hiking West through a small meadow where we started a most difficult, time consuming, but very scenic six mile off-trail bushwhacking effort continuing West, then Northwest, and North-Northeast behind and around Saddle Mountain to finally connect with the Copper Camp Tr#87 just Northwest of its intersection with the Sheep Creek Tr#88. We then hiked South on the Sheep Creek Tr to its intersection with the Saddle Mtn Tr#91, then left(East) at this trail intersection and hiked past the OLD STORY MINE down to the creek bed and again bushwhacked our way East and Southeast in this creek bed to its end at the OLD SUNFLOWER MURCERY MINE COMPLEX... From here we hiked down to FR25A, then hiked out FR25A to its intesection with FR25 where we had earlier parked one of our two vehicles to complete this full day and some night :roll: , super loop hike.

    Trip Highlights: Beautiful, scenic views behind Saddle Mtn. of the remote Western Mazatzal's and Bartlett Lake; A high sense of satisfaction and accomplishment regarding our decision making/route finding skills for the very remote six mile off trail bushwhacking portion of this loop hike; Doing this hike as a vehicle shuttle, we were able to cover a lot of very remote, beautiful, scenic, and historic miles in the South portion of the Mazatzal's;

    Note: GPS Route for this hike:
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    This nice Friday morning four of us set out for the Mazatzal's with the intent to enjoy hiking Preston's well done hike write-up of the 7.5mi Cornucopia-Thicket Springs LOOP Hike. Our carpool vehicle was a nice all wheel drive Honda CR-V. At 8:45am (at ~4800') and 8 miles in on FR201, still approximately 1.5 miles from our parking destination- the remote Mt. Peeley TH, we encountered some serious snow and ice on FR201.. and here we would reside for the next 2.5 hours working to turn our small SUV around and climb back up a small hill that was less than 100 yards to the top for needed tire traction so that we could get out of the mess we had just gotten outselves into :roll: .

    Disappointed that we were not going be be able to hike our intended route this day, but all of us having a good sense of humor, patience, teamwork and commitment, we were not about to let this little inconvenience and time loss keep us from our intended goal to hike in the beautiful Mazatzal's this day!

    At 11:45am we arrived at the intersection of FR25/FR25A where we parked for a wonderful 2nd choice HIKE: To do "part of" the Saddle Mountain Mine Tour Loop Hike. We hiked in on serious 4x4 road FR25A along the West Fork of Sycamore Creek, then down into the creek bed and McFarland Canyon for our hike up to that most interesting "Old Sunflower Mercury/Mine Complex". Here we would spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying all the old history that this major mercury milling site and mining area had to offer as detailed in the original writeup.

    Also, if you plan to drive in on "FR25A", I recommend that to safely do so, you have a 4x4 vehicle with 31" tires minimum, and a rear axle locker, unless you plan to drive an ATV 8) .

    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Bike/hike up to the Sunflower Mercury Mill. Saw a big black bear on the other side of the canyon hiking in, it was smashing a dead agave. I yelled at it, it stopped and looked over at me, then went back to pounding on the agave. Took a lot of photos of the old mill, and some measurements of it (earlier in the week, I had found an old Arizona Bereau Of Mines publication about the area's mercury mines) with the intention of building a model of it. Hiked out after dark.
    Saddle Mountain Mine Tour
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    Backpacked with Jason up from the junction of road 25 and 25A, camped along the West Fork of Sycamore Creek. The next morning, some guys in camo with some automatic rifles hiked past our campsite. We then explored the "Junk Mine", and the Sunflower Mill. We also went inside another mine tunnel, which we found out was filled with angry bees. A few months later, in the summer of 1996, the Viper Militia story broke on the evening news. I guess the rifle toting guys who hiked past us were militia members. The news story also showed a picture of a bomb crater there: it was the same one we had camped next to! I remember Jason sitting in the shallow crater, reading a book. Had a great time!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    North on Hwy87 to Sycamore Creek/Mt.Ord exit just past mile marker 222. Turn left across hwy and follow paved road 1.2mi to bottom of hill and turn right at cattle guard onto FR25 (reset odometer here). Go north on FR25, swing left and cross second cattle guard at 1.1mi. Bear left and continue straight at 3.8mi. on FR25A. Cross creekbed at 4.8mi. and bridge at 5.1mi. Look for narrow road heading back up to the left at 5.6mi. Follow this access road to the top where you'll find a nice parking area overlooking the Sunflower Mine.
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