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Apr 23 2017

 Guides 3
 Routes 22
 Photos 2,112
 Triplogs 231

57 male
 Joined Apr 22 2012
 Fountain Hills,
Half Moon Trail #288Payson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking avatar Apr 23 2017
Hiking12.03 Miles 2,533 AEG
Hiking12.03 Miles   7 Hrs   23 Mns   1.75 mph
2,533 ft AEG      30 Mns Break30 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Partners none no partners
I did an out-and-back hike of the Half Moon Trail and part of the Rock Creek Trail by myself on Sunday.

I had hiked these trails several times in the past. Back in either 2001 or 2002, after scouting these trails individually, I put them together as part of a loop consisting of the Half Moon, Rock Creek, Mazatzal Divide, Sandy Saddle, and Barnhardt trails. I had a lot of fun on that hike. While I do recall there being some catclaw, I don't recall it being much of a problem. Also, back in those days, there was a really nice trailhead with parking and decent signage near the junction of the Rock Creek Trail and the Half Moon Trail. This was the Rock Creek Trailhead.

Later on, several years after the Willow Fire in 2004, I hiked it again with my wife and a friend accompanying me. It had totally changed. What was once an enjoyable trail had become a nightmare of catclaw and other thorny bushes. We made it most or maybe even all of the way to where the Rock Creek Trailhead used to be, but we could not see it. I think it had been washed away. I ended up discarding the socks that I had used on that hike, so damaged from catclaw were they.

After reading some of the recent triplogs, it seems that the trail is largely clear of catclaw, so I decided to go see for myself. I also wanted to assess the condition of the initial part of the Rock Creek Trail as well as take a look at the new Rock Creek Trailhead.

I am happy to report that the Half Moon Trail is largely clear of catclaw and other thorny brush. An 8-10 foot lane has been cut through the stuff.

Route finding is pretty easy too. There is a well trodden path in most places and large cairns along the way. The only spot that got confusing for me on the way out was in a section of pasture where I saw cows. The cows had made there own paths in this area, which necessitated looking for cairns.

The official GPS track is fairly accurate with regard to the actual track. The only deviations that I noticed were at spots where there was significant deadfall. At the first such point that I encountered, there was a well worn path around the deadfall. At the second, which I think was just after the Rock Creek crossing, a fallen tree crosses the trail. It's not convenient to go either over or under the tree, but there is an obvious path around it.

On the way back, I passed by the descent leading back down to Rock Creek. There's a large campfire circle just beyond the turnoff. If you walk past it, you've gone too far. (The GPS track got me back to where I needed to be.)

The last half mile or so of the Half Moon trail is more difficult navigate than the trail up to that point. It narrows considerably, there is actual brush to contend with and there are a number of other paths which might draw you away from the actual route. The GPS track is very useful here.

When, according to the GPS, I reached the end of the Half Moon Trail, there really wasn't much there to indicate that I was at the end. I was either in or near a wash / creek and there was still trail ahead of me. This is the Rock Creek Trail.

When I switched my GPS watch, a Suunto Ambit 3, to use the official track for the Rock Creek Trail, the first thing I noticed was that I was already a fair ways into the track. As near as I can tell from studying the tracks and the maps is that the Rock Creek Trailhead is about 3/4 mile away from where it used to be, which was pretty much at the intersection of these two trails.

I only hiked about 1.5 miles along the Rock Creek Trail from the end of the Half Moon Trail. Route finding wasn't too hard - I don't think I would have needed the GPS track to figure it out. While there was water in the creek, it wasn't enough to make the crossings difficult. There were two areas of deadfall that had to be negotiated. The first was a fallen tree which I managed to get over by straddling the log all the while wishing that I was more flexible. The log is just high enough off the ground to make it difficult to go over, but is not high enough to make it easy to go under. The second deadfall across the trail is the upper limbs of a tree. You can't go through it. But there is a trail around it which leads over the trunk of the very same fallen tree. You do have to go uphill on loose terrain - I grabbed onto one of the tree limbs to help get up to where I could cross the trunk.

After that, as far as I went anyway, it's smooth sailing. Okay, so it's pretty steep here. There were some sections where it felt like I was gaining a foot of elevation for every step I took. But, aside from the steepness, it's easy hiking. Once again, an eight foot wide (or so) lane has been cut through the brush. When I got home and looked at a satellite map, I noticed that this lane apparently continues much of the way up.

On my way back, I chose to follow the GPS track for the Rock Creek Trail back to the actual trailhead to see what it looked like. I think it's larger than the old trailhead (from before the Willow Fire) used to be. I found a path which leads back to the doubletrack that I had just hiked back on to get to FS 442 (off of which the Rock Creek Trailhead is now located). Anyway, as noted earlier, the trailhead is about 3/4 of a mile away from where the Half Moon Trail joins up with the Rock Creek Trail. The official GPS track for the Rock Creek Trail goes northwest on FS442. At about 1/10 mile up the road, there's an old and unmaintained doubletrack leading to the south and then west. The maps that I've looked at indicate that this is still FS442, but I'm guessing that the current 442 now continues on a fairly straight line to the northwest. If you wish to avoid the road, there is now a trail leading from the parking lot to that doubletrack (old FS442).

I looked around, but did not see an obvious short cut from the Rock Creek Trailhead to the Half Moon Trail. I explored several likely looking paths from the trailhead, but none of these panned out. In each case, I was stopped by a wall of impenetrable brush. I ended up hiking back up Rock Creek Trail until I saw what looked like an old path leading upwards. I followed it and came across an actual path, perhaps a portion of the pre-fire Half Moon Trail. The section that I was on paralleled the current Half Moon Trail, so I continued upward until I got to it. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably just go back to the current intersection of the Half Moon and Rock Creek trails. (Well, actually, if I had to do it over again, I'd skip going to the Rock Creek Trailhead.)

The return trip was largely uneventful. I saw many cows along the way, including at least one bull. He scurried off though and did not bother me.

I did encounter two other hikers (or perhaps hunters?) who told me they were out looking for bear. They were carrying spotting scopes; I'm not sure if they had firearms or not. They weren't really dressed the way that hunters normally dress.

Anyway, I had a good day hiking. Now that I know the condition of these trails, I may attempt doing a loop again sometime in the future.
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Moderate
2 archives
average hiking speed 1.75 mph

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.

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