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Sanford Butte, AZ
mini location map2016-06-07
96 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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Sanford Butte, AZ 
Sanford Butte, AZ
Hiking avatar Jun 07 2016
Hiking9.77 Miles 1,400 AEG
Hiking9.77 Miles   4 Hrs   39 Mns   2.45 mph
1,400 ft AEG      40 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Unless there’s a day off from work, Monday and often Tuesday are typically well-deserved rest days from a weekend well spent. But after a disappointing weekend in the Catalinas and under 7 miles to boot by Tuesday afternoon, I was more than ready to hit the trails. It was a workday so my options were very limited.

I opted for Patagonia Lake & Sonoita Creek State Parks and could not have been happier with my decision. With a driving distance of about 65 miles RT, [anything under 100 RT is “close” for where I live in rural Tubac], I was amazed at how I hadn’t discovered this desert gem sooner. Having grown up on the east coast, I thought: ‘just how exciting can a lake in AZ possibly be?’]; and regularly engaging in longer, more difficult hikes than the typical recreational hiker, I thought: ‘there’s no way the little trail system in these two parks are going to keep me busy for very long or provide enough of a challenge’; thus, the Patagonia Lake & Sonoita Creek State Parks were not exactly high up on the bucket list…

…however, thinking outside of the box [park boundaries] when planning my route resulted in an a sweet adventure, [and one of my best to date in terms of beautiful views], involving: traversing a creek, seeing the most wildlife I’ve ever seen on any given hike, and even bagging some small summits whose views could rival the magnificent ones from Atascosa Peak. To top it all off, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending than a swim in the clean, uncrowded, and very beautiful Patagonia Lake.

The route I took kicked off on a trail, located just down the road from the swimming [“Beach”] area at Patagonia Lake State Park. The signs at the TH, [which did not include a map], referred to it as simply a “birding trail”, while the park map on the website ... .pdf labels it the “Sonoita Creek Trail”… not to be confused with the Sonoita Creek Trial on HAZ which appears to be slightly different: [ gps route ] ]. It’s possible the two are different segments of the same trail; I’m not exactly sure. To get to the one I did, you simply take a right after going through the fee station at Patagonia Lake State Park and then follow the road to the end.

For the first couple of miles, the trail follows the Sonoita Creek. It’s very similar to the Anza Trail that follows the Santa Cruz River but more beautiful and a lot less overgrown. My objective was Sanford Butte, which has quite a history, ... ing/, and is actually on private property, [something I didn’t realize until heading back to the TH via trail/jeep roads vs traveling directly in/along the Sonoita Creek]. That said, the same beautiful herd of horses I saw several miles out, [while definitely on private property], came running by towards the end of my hike; they had access right up to the gate located at the very beginning of trail, [which I know was hiker friendly based on several signs warning hikers of recent mountain lion sightings along the trail]… so perhaps it’s one of those areas that’s private property but hiker friendly.

In approaching Sanford Butte, I overshot my turn out of Sonoita Creek and continued up a side drainage heading North. It was running parallel to the trail/jeep road I had intended to take, so I figured I’d just scramble out of the drainage when the trail/jeep road started to turn away and circle the Butte. No dice to that! While the scramble out of the drainage and onto the trail/jeep road was only a very short distance, [about 1/10th of a mile or less], it was on the steep side and the footing was composed of mostly scree [or a similar type of rock]. After a couple attempts, [the second of which sent me straight to my pumpkin], I decided that battling the deceptively slippery scree/scree-like footing just wasn’t worth it.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do a complete backtrack and was soon able to find a more gradual area to climb out of the drainage and up to the trail/jeep road. As I contoured the Butte via the trail/jeep road, I prepared for my bushwhack… FS Topo showed the trail/jeep road contouring the Butte while gradually ascending, and then terminating at a small saddle area about 1/3 of a mile from the summit.

In eyeing the terrain, it should have been an easy/fun bushwhack, even during snake season; and for the types of bushwhacks I’m accustomed to, this was one was not very steep and the footing looked decent. Furthermore, relative to the thorny nastiness that can be encountered in many areas of Southern AZ, this one was on the mild side in terms of the brush [cactus] factor; and the visibility ranged from very good to good. Nonetheless, [after getting knocked on my pumpkin a few minutes earlier and coming off a bad weekend], my confidence was shaken and I was not particularly looking forward to even an easy bushwhack.

However, just as I was preparing to depart from the nice trail/jeep road, I came across this: [ photo ] . It was as if the weathervane / rock piles said, “Welcome on up, hikers!” I couldn’t believe it; in the middle of nowhere down in rural, Southern Arizona, someone had constructed a trail, [and a very good one], to the summit I had randomly selected off the topo map to go bag. Perhaps karma was making up for my bad weekend.

Not more than a few feet after starting the final ascent, the views just open up and take ‘beautiful’ to a whole new level. In the beginning, it seemed that every few feet of ascending would unlock even more spectacular views. When I split my Route Scout track to obtain stats on the final ascent, the AEG came out to just under 400 feet in the 1/3 of a mile stretch from the saddle area to the summit; but on the well built trail with good footing, which also ascends & contours in all the right places - along with stops to enjoy the magnificent, breath-taking views – the effort I put forth didn’t feel any different than the “effort” required to traverse the flat trail along Sonoita Creek.

As for the summit, the views are outstanding; and, as I mentioned before, can rival the awesomeness of Atascosa. To top things off, the register will spoil you in more ways than one:

1. You don’t have to bend over or go digging under a cairn/rock pile because it’s located off the ground [ photo ] .
2. You don’t have to stand up, sit on uncomfortable rocks, and/or sit on the ground/risk getting cactus up your pumpkin while signing/reading the log [see photo under #1].
3. And best of all [for some], the owners of this mountain leave a special treat inside for those who reach the summit [ photo ] .

After thoroughly enjoying the summit of Sanford Butte, I returned down the very nice trail to the saddle area and then bushwhacked to the top of two other prominent points right nearby before heading back to the TH. Both were easy and fun bushwhacks and both had beautiful views as well [although the best views were definitely from atop Sanford Butte]. I ended my day with a swim and sunset in the beautiful Patagonia Lake. The trip definitely made up for my crummy weekend in the Catalinas.
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