|Oaks and Willows - Juniper Mesa - Bull Spring, AZ|
|Oaks and Willows - Juniper Mesa - Bull Spring, AZ|| |
Oaks and Willows - Juniper Mesa - Bull Spring, AZ
|Hiking||14.90 Miles|| 7 Hrs 26 Mns ||2.26 mph|
|2,267 ft AEG|| 51 Mns Break|
|Up early to head north so that we could get an early start on the trail. This is my first time hiking in the Juniper Mesa Wilderness north of Prescott. Once clear of Prescott, the drive to the trailhead was very enjoyable. Beautiful scenery that keeps getting better the closer you get to Juniper Mesa. A long stretch of dirt road, but it's good road where you can maintain good speed during most of that stretch.|
We started out heading north on the Oaks and Willow trail. The first third of a mile or so to the junction with the Bull Spring trail is very nice, with a moderate grade under a canopy of oak, pine and juniper. Joe pointed out some of the varieties of trees in the area, including white oak, which I don't recall seeing before, as well as the different forms of the abundant junipers on this aptly named mesa. I didn't see any willow trees anywhere along this trail.
Once at the junction with the Bull Spring trail, the grade steepens and the nice trail we were on gives way to softball sized rocks. Watch your step. After a quarter mile, the grade levels out again as you traverse through an open meadow with nice views of the mesa to your east. 3/4 of a mile later, the grade steepens again as you ascend to the top of the mesa. This section was also rocky, but not as bad as the first steep section. Just steeper.
The trail levels out at the 2 mile mark and then it's smooth sailing. Joe and I were having a lively conversation about cars and mechanics and walked right past our junction with the Juniper Mesa trail. We both had the volume too low on RS and missed the call out along with the "off trail" warnings until we had hiked 0.2 miles down a connector trail with a forest road down below. Back up we went until we saw the signed junction, which we also missed, with the Juniper Mesa trail. Back to smooth sailing.
The Juniper Mesa trail is mostly flat with a few dips along the way. The trail doesn't see much use, so it's faint in spots. Cairns along the way keep you from straying. More boots on the ground would help. While very dry up there right now, the dirt underfoot was soft, as though it had rained recently. Must be something in the soil composition that keeps it soft.
The trail parallels a barbed wire fence most of the way. Not much in the way of views, but I was happy to be in a forest in relatively cool temps. When you come to what appears to be a gate in the fence, take a walk south over to the ridge for some great views. This was the highlight of the hike for me. If I were to hike this trail again, I would probably turn back here.
We hiked another 1.5 miles before stopping for lunch. The track we followed during that stretch was iffy in a couple of sections. The obvious trail took us away from the track a couple of times. We backtracked once to attempt to find and follow the pinned track, but it looked like a bushwhack ahead. We followed a path of least resistance until we found the trail again. The second time this happened, we chose to stay on the obvious trail, which took us north around a hill while the route we were following suggested a southerly track. We didn't see a route south so we stayed on the obvious trail this time.
We stopped for lunch a little later than we should have. We were both famished. We took our time, cooled our feet and enjoyed the break. We had another mile and a half to go on the route we chose, but I did some math and figured we would be driving home in the dark and probably wouldn't get home until very late. I suggested that this might be a good spot to turn back. Thankfully Joe agreed .
We headed back at a good pace, taking the obvious trails on our return. If you use this Juniper Mesa Trail #20 track I'm posting, I recommend you take our return route. When we reached the three trail junction, we turned south on Bull Spring Trail #100. The first tenth of a mile on this trail is steep and loose with the softball sized rocks again, but it offers expansive views to the south. After that the grade softens and the trail improves the farther along you go. At one point I mentioned that we might be looking at a soft landing, but then the trail down steepened once again. At one point the trail began to climb again. Nothing steep but I hate ascending when you're trending down.
When we reached the junction with trail #3, my feet were happy again. We had the nice stretch of easy trail under a canopy of trees I mentioned earlier. This time it truly was a soft landing! Back at the trailhead, we saw a few vehicles heading north on the road. Just before the trailhead on the way in, we passed a sign that says "Gate Closed Ahead. Turn around at the trailhead." None of these vehicles turned around. Joe surmised that there must be something going on back there and dubbed it the "Gate Closed Bar," open only to the locals
It was a long day from start to finish, but thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks for picking this one, Joe. Good times!