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Cottonwood Mountain Trail #66 - Santa Teresas, AZ

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Guide 8 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4.3 of 5 by 4
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 9.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,310 feet
Elevation Gain 1,967 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,297 feet
Avg Time One Way 5+ hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.15
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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13  2018-12-09 chumley
22  2017-10-01 CanyonWanderer
45  2014-12-27
GET 7 through 9
32  2013-08-24 RedRoxx44
22  2013-04-24
Santa Teresa Wilderness - GET #8
39  2010-04-12
Santa Teresa Wilderness - GET #8
20  2009-08-28 nobert15
19  2006-09-11 RedRoxx44
Author RedRoxx44
author avatar Guides 5
Routes 0
Photos 19,201
Trips 524 map ( 3,347 miles )
Age Female Gender
Location outside, anywhere
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Sep → 8 AM
Seasons   Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  6:09am - 6:16pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Get ready for trail finding!
by RedRoxx44

Likely In-Season!
The Santa Teresa Mountains rise in a sort of triangle with the Pinalenos and the Galiuros. It is a rough and wild area, trails are minimal and mostly pack stock trails. The trail to Cottonwood Mountain, the high point of the Santa Teresas at a little over 7000 feet, is off an established stock route. However, as in most things, would it be so simple if the trail was not as badly deteriorated as this one.

You start out at Sand Tank, described in one guide book I have as a TH. There is no marked TH out here. The end of the road to Sand Tank, forest 677, is very steep and washed out, my Jeep with 33 inch tires and lots of articulation had to work a little here. There are several rather nice vehicle camp sites along the way if you don't have a vehicle to make it to the end of the road, and a couple have stellar views of the Pinalenos and Galiuros.

You will pass through three gates, please close them. I camped before the final gate, which shows use of a quad trail in a riparian area. You will follow the vehicle tracks in the wash, by a nice grove of Arizona Sycamores, by a huge lone cottonwood tree. Normally this is a dry wash, but a little water was flowing while I was here. At this point you better have a map with you and a compass, or GPS.

Looking up you will see the jagged rock teeth of Pinnacle Ridge, and the rounded humps of the mountains above, the highest gentle curve is Cottonwood mountain, it is not clear how you will broach the ascent. The trail I found was about 15% easily followed and the rest you have to look for it, pay close attention to any faint path, and use your map. I never found one area where the trail leaves cottonwood wash; I continued upcanyon and climbed out after it slotted up and no horse or cow could easily climb the rocky narrows. I intersected the trail on its climb north up the hill. Soon you come to switchbacks, and big views opening up. The switchbacks and part of the trail is cairned, but at times the trail behaves somewhat strangely and with all the brush from all the rains made it a real challenge to follow.

Persevere, you will climb laterally to a small pass located to the north. The slopes you have been on have been burned in the past, and show high desert flora. After you top out at the saddle some tall pines and grassy areas greet you. Fantastic views of the inner mountains are had near several rock outcroppings nearby, one rock shelf is incredibly level and would make a wonderful campsite. Amazing rock monoliths abound. Some voids in the rocks are small alcoves. There is a faint use trail to cottonwood mountain, and you can also continue along the ridgeline for a while.

When you retrace your route, pay again close attention to the trail, as it is still not clear in areas the right way to go, if you just get to the wash and follow that, then you will get to the road and your vehicle.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2006-09-11 RedRoxx44

    One-Way Notice
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Cottonwood Mountain Trail #66 - Santa Teresas
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Grand Enchantment Trail #7-9
    This was an epic trip and a great way to end 2014. It's one I have wanted to do for over a year and just waiting for someone crazy enough to take this on as a backpack trip, as GET #8 as a day trip was out of my league (left for guys like juanjaimeiii!). Super thankful to find friendofThundergod eager to take it on and help me get one of the most remote sections of the GET checked off the list.

    One of the first challenges was just finding someone to help us with the shuttle on this one. I originally had a friend who had committed to do the drop off at the beginning of GET 8 (east end of Aravaipa) whenever I was ready to go, but when the dates were finally picked, he was going to be out of town. Lee hadn't done GET 7 (Aravaipa Creek), and shuttle help for the west end of Aravaipa was going to be much easier to pull off, so we chose to make it GET 7-8-9 rather than just 8-9. Big shout out to friends Al & Kevin for making the 3-hour drive to Aravaipa to pick up my Jeep and drive it home, saving a bunch of extra drive time on trip out.

    Sat 27, GET #7-8 (~15mi/1100aeg, 5hr 48min)
    Started out about 4am, met up with Lee in Pima to set up a crazy shuttle on the NW end of the Pinalenos. Had a 45-minute detour due to an accident, but he left his vehicle at the end point and I drove us around to the west Aravaipa TH. About 7½ hours after starting the shuttle, we were finally set up and descending into Aravaipa to begin the adventure. Knowing that wet shoes are part of the game when doing Aravaipa (and that we were doing this in late December), I opted to bring a pair of water shoes for Aravaipa, which worked out great. Knowing we had a long ways to go, we opted to do Aravaipa without any exploration. We didn't see any wildlife except for one deer, but we were blazing through pretty quick, finishing all of Aravaipa in 5 hours on the dot. We finished about a half mile ahead of plan, past the old Salazar church, camping out the first night about a half mile or so into GET 8.

    Sun 28, GET #8 (~17mi/3300aeg, 9hr 24min)
    We woke up to some chilly temps as expected. In retrospect, the one thing I wish I had added to my pack was an extra liner for my sleeping bag. We were in the 20s the first 2 nights, but it was all right, it just gave us extra motivation to get our packs on early each day and take off. One other thing I wish I had done differently was carry less water on this day. Uncertain with water reliability, I carried 6 liters to get to the end of GET 8, which I didn't need to do and put my pack that day at over 50 lbs.

    The day started with a little dirt road action before we could hit the western edge of the Santa Teresas to get the blood flowing, and started our climb. Heading down Aravaipa Road at sunrise, we came upon over a dozen wild turkeys waking up from their roost; amazing watching these big birds make their way up and down off of high tree branches! Coming up on the Teresas, it was so cool to know that this beautiful range is one that very, very few Arizonans ever see. We made our way up and into the western end of the Teresas, ending the day at a beautiful, sandy spot in Fisher Canyon, just inside the northern border of the wilderness. We could have gone farther, but knowing we would have to hike another 8 miles before the next campsite possibility, we decided to burn the final hour of daylight and build up a good woodpile for the night.

    Mon 29, GET #8 (~16mi/4700aeg, 10hr 36min)
    If you are doing GET 8, there is something you should know — there are few trails. In fact, there is no trail or series of trails you can use to go from one end to the other; the only way to do so is to go from the west end to the north end, hike outside the wilderness for a while to the east and then drop back down, hiking south to the southeast end. Topo maps show a trail just outside the wilderness that once existed (they are marked on some topo maps as Black Rock and Cottonwood Mountain trails). Because of two ranchers in this area who I have been told have a particular dislike for visitors of any sort, you have to be really careful in this area. The Black Rock Trail goes onto one of the rancher's land now and cannot be hiked, and this rancher has let the Cottonwood Trail basically fade into nonexistence (as it is on his land now also). The only legal option is to hike a careful loop of about 8 miles out of the wilderness, around the boundaries of their properties, and back into the wilderness, doing some bushwhacking along the way. I actually attempted to find a way to contact these ranchers to ask permission for access beforehand, but was totally unsuccessful.

    We started off talking up a storm and soon realized we were following the trail that leads to the ranch (and trouble). Lee boldly decided, rather than to backtrack, to instead bushwhack up a mountainside and back down to a road I was familiar with. The bushwhack was doable and saved us some otherwise useless miles, but it did in looking back on our track put us on one of these rancher's land for almost a mile. It was marked as a forest service road but is apparently an FS road that he also owns (my sincere apologies to the rancher). If you do GET 8, I recommend following the standard route in respect of the ranchers.

    After getting this behind us, then the elevation was set to begin, with a climb to well over 7,200 feet near the peak of Cottonwood Mountain. We followed a pack trail up into the wilderness gate and headed toward Kane Spring, which is generally one of the few locations along the route with somewhat dependable water. We headed up the ridgeline, hitting consistent snow around 6,000 feet but thankfully not too deep (we were punching through only an inch or two). Nice views at the overlook on top, I spent some time myself soaking it in before jumping back into catching up with Lee (he was a man on a mission!). My plans were to get to a nice campsite in cottonwood & sycamore trees about 4 miles down the south side of the mountain (outside the Santa Teresa Wilderness), but we ended up pushing a mile beyond that since we had enough sunlight left, making it to a nice campsite right at the boundary of the Coronado National Forest.

    Tue 30, GET #8-9 (~14mi/2500aeg, 5hr 30min)
    This was the coldest morning of all, getting down into the 10s. My water bottles were literally next to me as I slept, and when I woke up they were frozen. I told Lee, I was especially eager to get up and going super early, and we started out before daylight. Once I got my soreness worked out, we were both hiking at a steady >4mph clip down trails and roads to finish GET #8 and start GET #9. Knowing how eager Lee was to cut the trip short, and my skinny self having had enough of a 40+ lb pack for 55 miles, I came up with a plan to drop the pack as we left Klondike Road. I knew there was a water cache site there for the GET and it would be easy for me to drive back and pick up with minimal time lost...and it would give me a chance to get my running legs on. :y: For those of you who know me, I find it hard to resist not jogging out the home stretch of any hike, particularly if it is downhill!! Plus, I knew GET #9 wasn't the most beautiful section, with a good amount of dirt road walking, so it wasn't a big deal to just bust out the last 8 miles and help a buddy get home a little earlier to his awesome doggies, which I had already met on a prior hike. :D

    I jogged part of it, pausing to keep Lee in sight. This guy is amazing with a pack though, and he was able to pass me when we reached the final stretch that has the elevation and cross-country bushwhack to it! :wlift: By the time we we lost all trail and had to bushwhack a trail for ourselves up and over the Dick Peak ridgeline, through thick catsclaw, holly, cactus and manzanita, he was nowhere to be seen. Once I reached the cattle tank at the top of the ridgeline, there was an old trail that descended into a 4WD road and back down to the car.

    My plan was to finish by 11:21am (when we started the first day), so that we would have a 3-day finish. I thought dropping my pack would ensure that for me, and Lee pretty much made it; but the final bushwhack added more time than I expected. No real trail and finding only 1 cairn and 1 piece of blue tape in a tree about halfway up, and I finished 26 minutes outside of my goal. It still was a great way to end this segment (the highlight of segment #9 for me), and is one of the things you have to be comfortable with on the GET — some parts are just cross-country and you have to feel comfortable blazing your own trail to a specific destination. Blisterfree (organizer of the GET) in most places like this has done a great job of blue-taping trees for added confidence — but you can't depend on that in every area. Total time on the trail: 31 hours 18 minutes, putting our average at 2 mph over the whole trip.

    I have to tell you — if you are looking for remote, GET 8 is the place to be. Actually, with the entire trip, we never encountered a single person (except a few in vehicles on Aravaipa & Klondike Roads). Normally when doing GET 8, water is going to be an issue. One of the plus sides to doing this when we did was that there were recent rains and snow melting off the higher peaks, giving us all the water we needed.

    Had a blast getting to know Lee better, lots of cool discussions about American & world history, religion, politics, and even his great taste I share in several alternative rock bands. Great stories from his service time in Afghanistan, & grateful for his service for all of us. : app :

    One final reason to :y: for this trip: getting segments 8 & 9 done puts juanjaimeiii & I both at having completed the first 13 segments of the Grand Enchantment Trail, from Apache Junction to Morenci!
    Cottonwood Mountain Trail #66 - Santa Teresas
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    GET 7 through 9
    The Grand Enchantment Trail was never on my radar until azdesertfather suggested knocking out segments 7,8,9 over a three day trek. I thought it sounded cool and said sure. After all I had never did Aravaipa and had heard great things about the Santa Teresa's from the few that have hiked them. I had to leave the pups back on this one because of Aravaipa which was a bit of a bummer. However, I was excited to get to a new area and knock out some more mileage over my holiday break and I knew the kiddos would be in good hands at uncle Chumleys.

    Day 1: Section 7, Aravaipa Wilderness

    This day would be characterized by closed highways, a late start, wet boots and cold water. We knew we were going to get a late start on the first day, as we had to set up our shuttle. This meant a 330 departure time from Phoenix for me and a very early dog drop off at Chumleys. HAZ appreciation Chumleys way one more time for taking on my unruly children, I swear I am going to pay you one of these times ;) After the dog drop off, things were going perfect for our 0630 Pima link up. Then we hit a small snag an accident just outside of Superior on the 60 necessitated a scenic 0530 in the morning detour through Winkleman. Nevertheless, we only found ourselves about 45 minutes behind schedule by the time we reached Pima. We set up our shuttle and were stepping off at Araviapa just after 11:30. Aravaipa was simply amazing for me even with the extremely cold water and long stretches of sunless very cold canyon we had to wade through, if the water was not running it was frozen in these sections. Aravaipa was so scenic I am almost ashamed to say I spent less then five hours in the beautiful canyon, no worries though, it will be there next time and we had a mission to complete. Day one culminated with a very liberal interpretation of the Nature Conservatory's no camping policy.

    Day 2: GET 8, Santa Teresa Wilderness

    Day two started very cold, and I mean like Stalingrad winter of 43 cold! I have woke up to cold boots, wet boots and torn up boots, however courtesy of Ariviapa Creek this was the first time I woke up to frozen solid boots. I got a quick fire going and coaxed Dave out of his tent, but I could tell from the start he was feeling the effects of a very cold morning and uncomfortable night. I had listened to my go to guy for weather and bought an 11-20 degree liner for my 25 degree down bag, as I was told to be prepared for a deep freeze. I got my first real view of the Santa Teresas just after Reef Tank and all I will say is if you have not made it there, find away to get there. A stunning landscape of rocks, snow covered peaks, mixed in with some pine and several partially frozen cascades along the robust flowing inner drainages and creeks. I coaxed, prodded and annoyed Dave literally about as far as he could go on day two. We made camp, refueled and prepared for another night in the Arctic.

    Day 3: GET 8, Cottonwood Mountain

    The second morning was some how colder. The water I had brought up from creek for breakfast and hot drinks froze in the little less then 15 minutes it took me to get to ready to heat it. The first part of day three was spent finding a "creative" way to skirt the stretch of private land that breaks up the section 8 of the GET as you leave and reenter the Santa Teresa. From there it was up Cottonwood Mountain. The climb was not overly bad and other then a few faint spots the trail was great, cacti mingling with ponderosa and snow covered agave. Dave equally enjoyed this section, albeit it at a much more leisurely pace. We regrouped at the top and started making our way down. I will admit I still had small aspirations of pushing through head lamp marathon style, but it simply was not in the cards for Dave on this day. He did allow/tolerate me to push him until just after sunset, as I did not want anything to do with camping above 5000 feet with the temps we had been dealing with. I think we made it to exactly 5000 feet and actually enjoyed are nicest camp site of trip. Although, I may be using the word enjoy a little loosely, as night three proved to be hands down the coldest night of trip. We found our water freezing in mere minutes if taken away from the fire and even as we unpacked our gear ice formed on any object with the slightest amount of moisture left on it from the previous night's condensation. I slept relatively well, Dave had a bit of a restless cold night, but we survived and it did not take us much to get going the next morning.

    Day 4: GET 9

    Aravaipa and the Santa Teresa's were amazing, however, I would rate this segment somewhere between dull and stale. Although, the above mentioned are two tough acts to follow, it would have taken a lot for segement 9 to impress me. Dave was doing much better on the initial stretches of quad trails and forest roads, however, he knew he was not where he would normally be and certainly not where I was. He suggested leaving his gear at Klondike road and finishing the last 8 miles pack free. Initially, I was dreading the detour back to Klondike, but I knew it meant a lot for him to complete the segment and heck I only had a trip to Tuscon and Phoenix still left on my day, so what was a small detour at this point? ;) It would have made perfect sense for me to leave my gear as well, but I opted to carry mine out. Anyone who knows me, knows I have no problem leaving people in the wilderness, but never gear, too expensive to replace. It actually turned out to be a pretty good idea, Dave was like a new man once he shed that pack and was able to knock out the final 8 miles at a pretty good clip and arrived at the TH about 20 minutes after me. We both agreed had he carried pack, we would have been looking at a mid afternoon finish instead of our lunchtime finish. Dave found a nice shortcut via a decent forest road that got us back to his gear quicker then we had expected. I think the trip back to his gear mall only ended up costing us a little over a half hour. In the end a really good four day trek, rugged, a little challenging, great company, some tremendous areas, and generally good times. It was really nice to get back to that part of the state and I am already planning a return. I am grateful to have gotten the invite to help Dave knock out some coveted sections of the GET.

    Final Notes: Blisterfree writes superb descriptions, with spot on routes and directions, so some well deserved HAZ is appreciation his way, as he blazed this very rugged rewarding route.

    Trail humor: Apparently my very dry humor is equally as unappreciated among hiking partners as it is in the classroom. For example, Dave says, " I think this is the last trip for these shoes they are no good anymore" my response, "ya, but you can save the "souls" right?" Dave, "huh?" Me, "never mind."
    Cottonwood Mountain Trail #66 - Santa Teresas
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Update to the directions: Once on the road marked "Sand tank 4 miles" You'll actually follow the signs for Forest Road 677, not 667. Also you'll make the first right about a mile down the road, if you keep following the most used route you'll end up at a radio tower as I did.

    You'll probably want your 4-wheel drive after the first gate now, the road has probably deteriorated some since the directions were written. It's mostly decomposed granite though, so you wont have to worry about rocks gouging your underside. I made it in a stock 08 Jeep Wrangler with the S package. That means 31 inch Goodyear SR-A tires and 4-lo. I didn't have any problems or feel nervous at any time. I wouldn't take a full size pickup or anything without 4-wheel and decent clearance down there though.

    As for the hike I didn't find the path hard to follow until getting up to the ridge. Just follow the cairns. There's a couple spots where there are multiple paths and cairns to follow, but they all eventually come back together. You can tell a lot of work was put into making the trail, it's too bad the forest service has quit maintaining all the trails in the range.

    Once on the ridge to gain the true summit of Cottonwood is an exercise in frustration. There is a path in spots but it also disappears quite often, being overgrown with manzanitas. If you're wearing shorts be prepared to have your legs be torn up. The summit doesn't appear to see much use, the last summit register entry was from February 15th. It looks like several NOLS and SAHC groups used to go up there, but they haven't been signing it for the last couple of years.

    There are some pretty amazing views up here of an oft ignored area. The range is between the much larger Pinalenos and the Galiuros with their much more famous history. I didn't see another person from the time I got onto Klondyke road until getting back to highway 70.

    I did see a lot of wildlife up here. 3 rattle snakes, another tan colored snake I couldn't identify, 1 buck and 3 does, along with several scorpions and rabbits.

    After visiting the Santa Teresas I definitely want to check out Holdout Canyon and Blackrock, so if anybody has any info could you please let me know? We could even plan a trip. I will not be coming back out in the summer though, it was hot!

    Permit $$
    AZ State Land Recreational Permits are available for an individual ($15.00), or a family limited to two adults and children under the age of 18 ($20.00).

    Land Parcel Map

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    Strictly 4x4

    To hike
    From Safford drive approximately 13 miles west on Hwy 70 and take the turnoff marked the "klondyke road". Drive this road approx 20 miles and take a right at a sign for "Sand Tank 4 miles" and "Trail 66 four miles". Follow the most traveled route and signs for forest road 667. A short distance after the first gate the road will start to show ruts, and some minor difficulty. After the second wire gate the road becomes quite bad for any stock vehicle. The third gate is the demarcation for the hiking route, it is apparently open for quad traffic up to the wilderness boundary. A parking area is a short distance on a hill above the wash before the third gate.

    2009-08-29 nobert15 writes: Update to the directions: Once on the road marked "Sand tank 4 miles" You'll actually follow the signs for Forest Road 677, not 667. Also you'll make the first right about a mile down the road, if you keep following the most used route you'll end up at a radio tower as I did.

    You'll probably want your 4-wheel drive after the first gate now, the road has probably deteriorated some since the directions were written. It's mostly decomposed granite though, so you wont have to worry about rocks gouging your underside. I made it in a stock 08 Jeep Wrangler with the S package. That means 31 inch Goodyear SR-A tires and 4-lo. I didn't have any problems or feel nervous at any time. I wouldn't take a full size pickup or anything without 4-wheel and decent clearance down there though.
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