Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

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wildwesthikes
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Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by wildwesthikes »

Hello.

This coming May I am planning a multi-day trip in the Blue Range Primitive Area and wanted to see if I could get people with experience of the eastern side of the area to weigh in on my link-up idea.

I am seeing on various maps a trail simply called Trail #541. This route branches off from the Blue River and follows Little Blue Creek allowing access to Hannah Creek Hot Spring & Dutch Blue Creek Narrows near the Whiterocks Cabin. All trip reports from HAZ that I could find have most people doing a base camping type adventure where they setup near the cabin and then explore the Dutch Blue narrows; there is clearly an overland bypass they have mentioned that links for a short lasso loop.

That looks really cool, but I am trying to figure out a way to link that route as part of a much longer 7-9 day trip that uses KP Creek as an entry to the Blue River, following that downstream south, then turn northeast and follow the Little Blue Creek, eventually meeting back up with the Blue River and returning on Grant Creek - passing through the extreme east end of the Blue Range on the far part of the loop.

On various maps, this Trail #541 appears to leave the Dutch Blue drainage and climb into the foothills of the Bear Mountain / Whiterocks Mountain complex just west of the NM border. Normally what I do is pixel peep satellite photos (google earth), to try and determine how bad the route finding might be. I can see no discernable trail once you go north of Dutch Blue Creek. It appears to be an overland route-finding type of thing.

I am totally fine doing that type of hiking. But I'd just like to know if anyone here has attempted to link the upper part of Dutch Blue Canyon with the areas just north of there (Winter Cabin Spring and Corral). And please share your experience if you've done so.

Hopefully this post is detailed enough to figure out what I'm asking... Here is kind of the area I'm talking about. Notice the only posted recorded GPX route on HAZ stops at the Dutch Blue narrows and loops back.
[ custom map :: map ]

EDIT: To elaborate - I think this Trail #541 is also known as Little Dutch Blue Trail. I am most concerned with where it goes north of Ash Creek. It looks like the foothills are some kind of white slick-rock (think Escalante/Boulder Utah) or similar. I think that's why I see no trail in the sat photos. So... that's kind of the area. Again any experience over there linking up with the trail network just north of there is much appreciated!

Thanks!
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hikeaz
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by hikeaz »

Bet THIS guy would know... https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/ ... afh/id/192 . Likely not a bona fide possibility, but his oral history of the area of The Blue is interesting.
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azbackpackr
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by azbackpackr »

KP and Grant Creek often are not passable in May, before the trail crew gets in there. I'd call the Alpine Ranger District, and try to talk to someone who actually knows, not the front desk person. Myron used to be the trail crew boss, but I suspect he's retired by now. I haven't lived in the area for many years now, so that is all I can help you with. I don't have experience with the other trails you mentioned. And I don't know how much they budget for trail maintenance these days, either. That's crucial.
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wildwesthikes
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by wildwesthikes »

@azbackpackr
That's good info, thank you! I would be surprised at those elevations if trails weren't cleared out by the last week of May, but then I've never been to Blue Range before. Might have to delay - will definitely check with the rangers. Was not expecting a cakewalk after having read the few triplogs from the area, but "not passable" does not sound like a great time.
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@wildwesthikes

I would not delay the trip for the sake of waiting on trail maintenance as suggested. KP and Grant are not getting cleared with any type of consistency lately and I would not expect that to be any different this year. KP will most likely get a summer clearing of some type down to the falls, but after that it is most likely going to get progressively worse as you make your way to Steeple Mesa, which I assume you plan to use to drop down to Blue. I would personally use Grant to reach the Blue River, maybe Steeple Mesa over to Moonshine Park, or think about the Sawmill Trail for river access . I have spent some time out there. Just plan for the worst and expect the worst, good stretches of trail to completely non existent trail etc. This triplog might help you with figuring out how to link Bear Mountain from the Blue River, generally good trail except a few nasty spots. [ photoset ] . This might help with linking Grant and KP. [ photoset ] . I did most my exploring with dogs out there, so nothing will ever be impassable in my opinion, but some of those trails may test your mettle a little...

I have hiked and backpacked 35 of the 37 trails listed on HAZ, if you build a route for the entire trip you plan to do, I would give ya some feedback on the itinerary as a whole, if you sent it over.
Last edited by friendofThundergod on Feb 10 2020 2:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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friendofThundergod
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@wildwesthikes
I meant Strayhorse Trail for a route to river not Sawmill, I tried using Stray Horse to reach the river awhile back, but turned around because it was hot and had my dogs with me..Here is a triplog that has far more detail than what is needed.
[ photoset ]
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ajfish
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by ajfish »

I worked as the seasonal trail crew leader out of Alpine in 2016 before I took my job in Moab and in that season we worked on some of the trails you mentioned- specifically Grant and KP creek as well as Steeple Mesa. Most of the trails leading down to the Blue River from 191 have sections that were hammered by the 2011 Wallow Fire. The biggest you’ll run into in many of those areas is that the trail is overgrown with willow or even worse, black locust, which is visciously thorny. We actually maintained steeple Mesa from both ends but the trail has disappeared up past mud springs. If you’re planning on using any of these routes, be prepared for some serious bushwhacking.

I’ve also spent time on the east side of the river before and after the fire. My general advice is that the some of the trails are great and some are extremely difficult to find. If you’re able, I consider car camping somewhere on the blue river this spring and doing some scouting trips if possible.

Another poster mentioned Myron- he did retire but he’s still in Alpine, in fact I believe he runs an outfitting business. He’s also fairly easy to run into if you spend any time in town. He’d be the one to talk to, the man has spent 40 years or more learning all those trails. However before bugging him, call the Alpine Ranger district and ask to speak to Noelle. She took over as lead for the wilderness and trail program a few years ago. She would know about recent maintenance and planned maintenance plus have some local knowledge for you. She might also be willing to put you in touch with Myron. Another way to get some of this info would be to spend a night in Alpine and talk to some of the locals or even Dusty, one of the bartenders there. She knows quite a bit about the area. At any rate, good luck with your trip, it’s an amazing area! If you have questions, reach out to me on instagram (I’m refusnik there) or here if need be
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wildwesthikes
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by wildwesthikes »

Great info all around, thanks. I am still working out exact route details which is now changing thanks to the guidance here. I am realistic about the conditions; read enough and seen enough pictures to know it's going to involve a great deal of fighting overgrowth and sharp stuff. Since I've been hiking through areas like the 'now' burned out supes, this is becoming the new normal across AZ it seems. Honestly I struggle to find any wilderness trail system worth walking that doesn't begin with a disclaimer about "damage from X/Y/Z Fire" and no maintenance since, etc.

So it sounds like the best corridor to get from 191 to the Blue River on foot is probably via Grant to Steeple Mesa - I was originally going to link KP to Steeple, yes - and then return on Grant. But I'm not opposed to walking the same out n back if it saves time, blood and sanity.

Now maybe considering splitting this into a couple shorter loop trips over a week with one starting from Hwy 191 and the other from one of the remote east side trailheads. I think this area is worth exploring; honestly a bit obsessed with it since I've been reading triplogs.

I'll come back and post a couple route ideas and you all can tell how crazy you think I am. Again much appreciated, you guys are a wealth of knowledge.
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wildwesthikes
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by wildwesthikes »

friendofThundergod wrote:This triplog might help you with figuring out how to link Bear Mountain from the Blue River, generally good trail except a few nasty spots. [ photoset ].
Yep I read it already - your triplog was actually what spurned my interest in the area. :)
Pictures remind me a lot of what I experienced in the Gila Wilderness in NM... Which coincidentally is only about 50 mi east of there as the turkey flies.
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friendofThundergod
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@wildwesthikes
Happy to have piqued your interest. Disclaimer: The Blue Range can be a bit of an acquired taste, def not for everyone ;)
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up2top
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by up2top »

If you have a high tolerance for suffering, the Blue Range is your spot. I'd agree with the car camp and scout advice. Any GPS routes or trail descriptions you find that were uploaded pre-2011 can be tossed in the garbage. Much of the hiking is bushwhacking and finding path of least resistance through what used to be a trail system is mandatory. I get out there about once a year but haven't done any of the trails in the eastern Blue Range yet. Your body may be willing and able to do the mileage, but the going is often slowed by the amount of navigation and bushwhacking needed to make forward progress. Set your daily mileage expectations low. No one should go into the Blue Range for the first time with an ambitious agenda.
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azbackpackr
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by azbackpackr »

@up2top
Sad that they have not been able to keep up with trail maintenance, but not surprising.
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friendofThundergod
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

I went back to the Blue this weekend, I kept our itinerary tame because I like my girlfriend and I have a new pup who is still learning her ways. We hiked to the falls on KP, we hiked Lanphier Trail, did a lot of driving around, viewpoints, etc and also hiked to the Black via Bear Creek.

Anyways, I am getting to the point now where I am asking myself what is going on out there in terms of FS policy etc. Do they have any interest in actually restoring some of the amazing opportunities for foot travel throughout the Blue Range backcountry? I know I called a few years back and was told no trail maintenance was planned for any trail in the entire Blue that year (maybe 2016ish) How could this be?

I know they must have got their forest fire money. Its so odd to bushwhack your way down some trail for a half a day to come to what is clearly a new sign that was hung up after the Wallow fire in the middle of nowhere, but on a seemingly obliterated trail. Why build these fancy new trailheads with some of the cleanest restrooms I have seen in the outdoors and newly built corrals for horseman that could never use the trail if they wanted to. They are like trailheads to nowhere, as the trails are nearly impassable. Why hang new signs? I am genuinely curios to know, what the hell is the plan moving forward out here. We are now heading into year ten post Wallow Fire. Why not develop a plan? Just own it and say well we believe this half is beyond repair, but we are going to do everything we can to open up this corridor again or look at some dam trail maps and create a plan of attack to link Grant Creek and the KP drainages again. I am ok with the area remaining "primitive," but the FS needs to let us know what their greater plan for this area is? Is it too much to ask them to clear some trails again, or at least tell us if they have a plan for out there?

I tend to be an optimist, but I am seeing some positive signs out there. The deadfall is finally falling in spots, the forest that survived looks to have great spacing and ground clear of ladder fuels. The aspen are coming in like crazy in spots. In another ten years there might be more aspen in the Blue Range than all of AZ as a matter of fact. I joke with Katie and called many of the places we went to 20 year trails or 20 year spots, meaning in 20 years they are going to be pretty amazing, but sadly there may not be a mile left of maintained trail out there by then.

I am getting to the point of just taking matters into my own hands. I think with a chainsaw and a leverage bar for moving logs I could damn near clear an entire trail down to the Blue in a week or so if I wanted. I could connect Grant Creek, via Moonshine Park, Steeple Mesa and KP on to the rim trail in probably a little more than a week by myself with a chainsaw. I am seriously wondering what the fine would be if I got caught? Its public land, if the FS is choosing to neglect it, we have the right to protect and improve it ourselves. Social Contract theory applied to the outdoors, I guess...

Just a bit of a Monday morning @Jim_H rant here. I just really think the FS owes it to us nearly ten years out since the Wallow Fire to tell us what the hell their plan is for this area. There are still gems out there, the potential for backcountry travel is still unmatched compared to most places in AZ, but what is the plan? If they just came out and said, we have zero intentions of restoring reasonable foot travel within the Blue Range, then fine chalk a victory up for the animals, but I would like to know either way what their plan is for this area.
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chumley
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by chumley »

friendofThundergod wrote:I am genuinely curious to know, what the hell is the plan moving forward out here.
If you have any spare time these days, there's some pleasant reading available online.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/asnf/lan ... ev7_012553
You might even consider writing a letter to Tom Greene. Who knows? He might write you back!
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friendofThundergod
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@chumley
I guess that is a start, but I would still like to borrow your chainsaw this weekend. :)
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by Jim_H »

Why not contact the FS and see if they have regulations against chainsawing for trail maintenance in the primitive area? I'm all for this sort of pro-active citizen based management. I am for it in other areas, too, like thinning non-mercantile stands of dense conifers to make piles for burning, or removal. I use to rake dense duff from the base of big old orange bark pondos when I lived in F-town, and went on a bike ride.

Yeah, saws are loud, but if you do it at odd hours, deep in the forest, or in an area that sees few people, and maybe you have a radio lookout a few miles away, you can do it. Besides, it isn't like sitting with your thumb in your ass does anyone any good. That environmental law firm special interest didn't do anyone any good when they fought the thinning work in the area of the Schultz Fire. Thanks, Owl F**kers!
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friendofThundergod
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@Jim_H We speaking the same language, I mean I am no expert, but I know what ladder fuels are and I know what a healthy forest should generally look like. Give me an area and I’ll go to work on the trails and the forest lol

I came across a crew using hand saws in MT and it shocked me they were using them, they said it takes regional approval to bring a chainsaw in to a wilderness and it usually revolves around fighting forest fires, cleaning up after forest fires and the interest of safety...

And to your point, I guess my point is, anything is better than nothing, which seems to be their current strategy, ](*,)
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by friendofThundergod »

@chumley
Actually just left a message with someone out there. If they give me a few minutes of their time. I am going to give them a wish list from the perspective of a hiker and backpacker and tell them five trails I think they could focus on that would really improve that area and open it back up to a destination worthy backpacking and hiking area..

Grant Creek Trail
Upper portions of Steeple Mesa
Grant Creek Shortcut Trail
KP, north and south trails
Rim Trail

Easy money. lol
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nonot
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by nonot »

I agree with your frustration, but the vast majority of people will never travel more than a mile or two from any trailhead, but that vast majority will be the ones to write letters and make phonecalls if the restrooms are in poor condition. So when the FS gets money, they invest it into what people complain about: trailhead facilities, road access, rather than clearing trails for backcountry usage.

Unfortunately you're in a very small minority (of which I consider myself a member) and if our small minority wants to get the FS to spend money on our backpacking interests, we will have to make our voices heard. A letter, or call of complaint is a good start to activism, so thanks for doing it!

Last time I hiked in that area, I moved about 60 downed trees off of the trail, but counted about 150 that were too heavy for me to move. (Fire dries out the wood and also makes it easier to break into pieces.) A chainsaw would have helped but it is still a week's commitment or more per trail for many of those trails to be completely restored. I did encounter a trail clearing crew on the hike, but they were only a quarter mile from the TH and indicated they could only work for 2 days a month (if I recall correctly.)
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Re: Blue Range Primitive Area - Linking Dutch Blue Creek with Bear Mtn

Post by CannondaleKid »

Taking just a quick glance through the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests Plan (see link provided by chumley) I found no specific plans for the Blue Range Primitive Area, this is what I did find on page 128:
The primitive area is considered a special area by the Forest Service. This management area consists of the Blue Range Primitive Area along with the presidential recommended additions to the area (199,502 acres). The only remaining primitive area in the National Forest System, the Blue Range Primitive Area is located on the Alpine and Clifton Ranger Districts. It was administratively designated by the Forest Service (L-20 regulations) as a primitive area on June 21, 1933, to preserve its wilderness qualities.
The Blue Range Primitive Area is managed as wilderness, with one exception: the area is open to mineral prospecting and mineral development.
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