From Mormon Grove trailhead hiked to McFarland area initially with goal of doing a recon of Sheep Creek Trail from that junction of AZT. The recon is to submit for trail maintenance grant but we needed some documentation of trail conditions.
Off and hiking by about 730 Monday morning and made it to McFarland junction pretty quick. From there the fun begins with trail conditions deteriorating quickly. The area has suffered major fire damage so lots of downed trees, various debris, overgrown brush and trail wash outs. The poor trail conditions continue all the way to Squaw Flat which is particularly roughed up. Found the spring box at Squaw Flat spring but no water to speak of.
Continuing past Squaw Flat it climbs a hill about 300 feet gain and this part the trail is easier to follow with minor brush and washouts but followable. Took a break near the top where the fire appeared to stop and some Arizona Cypress trees provided some welcome shade. After the break it was time to drop down into the feeder drainage for Sheep Creek and is also the divide which put us on the west side of the Mazatzal. This downhill section was the best part of intact trail tread that we found during the recon. Brushy in spots but for the most part from the top of divide down to the drainage it's easy trail to follow.
Once in the drainage the goal was to find water. We didn't have to go very far before finding some small pools and lots of poison ivy. We also found a nice camp spot so decided to make camp and plan for the day hike recon for the next day. Good night in camp except for a midnight thunderstorm that dumped for about 3 hours.
Next morning things were a little wet but we continued down Sheep Creek Trail assessing the trail conditions. Trail is followable in spots but has lots of brush to include poison ivy, catclaw, and various oak scrub blocking where the trail used to be in many spots. Checked out Sheep Creek Seep and found no water and another spring marked on the topo that also had no water. After the dry springs the canyon opens up with less trees and more grassland that had some cairns assisting finding the trail.
About 3/4 mile down from there we made it to Round Spring area. The spring was dry but the drainage had plenty of water with light flow and the best water and pools of the hike. It seems like this area has water most of the year. We took a break at the pools and welcome shade as it was getting hot with the elevation here at 3800.
After the break we had a 250 foot climb up over a saddle and also passed the Sears Trail junction. Mostly grassland so it turned into a cairn hunt with remnants of old trail and a decent looking corral near the saddle. Once over the saddle we found some old trail tread that drops into the next drainage about 1000 foot descent. We were able to follow remnants of old trail in the grassland but it's faint at best. Knowing where the track is supposed to be was a big help and seemed pretty accurate most of the time.
Reaching the drainage it was getting hot and decided that there was not enough time to reach the end of Sheep Creek Trail so decided that 6.5 of the 8.5 miles of trail would have to do. Hiked back to camp the same way which took about 4 hours. Another night in the same camp which was relaxing this time no thunderstorms to deal with.
Next morning we hiked out back to Mormon Grove trailhead with the recon mostly complete. Good to see the area and know how much work is needed for the maintenance. Fingers crossed on the grant!!