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Stairway to Aztec Peak
Parker Creek Trail #160 was my first hike into the Sierra Ancha, and a great introduction to an incredibly beautiful area. Towards the end of the trail (the last mile or so), you will pass through an area burned by the Coon Creek Fire of April 2000. This trail begins on the southern end of Highway 288, just as you begin to reach the pine country, and ends at Forest Road 487 (currently closed to vehicles) between Workman Creek Falls and Aztec Peak. This hike makes a great backpack into the Workman Creek Falls/Aztec Peak area. For me, this is in my top five most favorite backpacking trips of all time.
The trailhead is on a short side road off highway 288, at the base of some switchbacks that carry 288 into the high pine country, approximately 23 miles north of the Highway 188 junction, just past the ADOT highway maintenance housing. The trailhead has room for four or five cars, I'd say.
Underneath the imposing plateau of the southern end of Carr Mountain, which rises 2000 feet above you, and Grantham Peak, the trail begins climbing up the South Fork of Parker Creek. The canyon walls above you are covered in giant rock towers and cliffs. As you pass under a canopy of white oak trees, you will immediately pass the old Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest station's remains. The trail soon crosses over to the canyon's south side, passing through a fair amount of poison ivy. As you begin climbing up the canyon, you will pass by douglas fir trees, and ponderosa pines. There are also some nice box elder and maple trees as you climb higher. This contrasts to the other side of the canyon, which faces south, and is mostly covered in brush. Rock slides amongst the brush are reminiscent of Picture Mountain, near Tonto Basin. The trail climbs and switchbacks up the canyon, remaining nice and shady. At one spot, you will cross a large rockslide with a couple of gigantic old Douglas Firs growing out of it. I remember the trunks on these two trees being about five feet in diameter! As the canyon makes a bend to the left, the trail begins a steep half-mile switchback climb to the 6896-foot saddle on the ridge south of Carr Peak. After a nice rest at the saddle, the trail began descending slightly as we entered the upper reaches of Coon Creek Canyon. This is where you will enter the burned area of the Coon Creek Fire. (My backpack trip was pre-fire, but I could see the fire's boundary from Aztec Peak on a later trip). From the saddle, it is about a mile to the trail's summit (7080 feet). You will pass Mud Spring, where we had a lunch break and the junction for trail #139 along the way. From the summit, it is a quarter-mile of gentle downhill to the trailhead on Forest Road 487. You will see locust bushes so tall in this area I would call them trees, and aspens. This is the end of the Parker Creek Trail, but you could do a backpacking trip like we did, and continue.
We continued down the road towards Workman Creek Falls, stopping at Workman Creek for water, next to a green, outhouse-like structure (not an outhouse, though). This is about three-quarters of a mile north on the road from where the Parker Creek Trail ends. From this point downstream to Highway 288, Workman Creek has always had water in it when I have been here. It is only another quarter mile down the road from "the outhouse" to Workman Creek Falls, which, if you have never been there, is a must-see! (150-foot drop) Please DO NOT climb on the slippery rocks next to the very edge of the waterfall. At least two people have fallen to their death here! After seeing Workman Creek Falls, we hiked half a mile back up the road towards Aztec Peak and turned north on Abbey's Way Trail #151. We followed this trail a quarter-mile into a beautiful meadow, where we camped in the trees on the edge of it. You could continue on this trail to the top of Aztec Peak, like we did, passing by an old ranch site, and through what used to be a dense, old-growth forest of white fir trees (destroyed by the Coon Creek Fire, sadly). There is a lot to see and do in this area, so start early!
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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