The Arizona Trail Corridor
The trail corridor, initially envisioned by Dale Shewalter in the mid 1980's, was endorsed by the Arizona Hiking and Equestrian Trails Committee of the Arizona State Parks Board in 1988. Further work to refine the trail corridor took place in 1988 and 1989 in a series of meetings held across the state.
Unlike many other long distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest or Appalachian National Scenic Trails that follow one mountain range, the trail corridor for the Arizona Trail was developed to emphasize the wide range of ecological diversity in the state and to link public lands, mountain ranges, and other special places. In addition, the corridor was selected to maximize the incorporation of already existing trails into one continuous trail. The Arizona Trail begins at the Coronado National Memorial on the U.S.-Mexico border and ends within the Bureau of Land Management's Arizona Strip District on the Utah border. In between, the Trail winds through some of the most rugged spectacular scenery in Western America.
The following description is of the general trail corridor, some alignments are still in the planning stages. Furthermore, alternate routes remain to be found in several areas for mountain bicyclists.
Coronado National Memorial through the Huachuca Mountains
The Arizona Trail begins near the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Memorial. The Memorial commemorates Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez Coronado's search for the Seven Cities of Cibola in 1540 - the first major European exploration of the Southwest. The Arizona Trail follows the Crest Trail from Montezuma Pass into the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness of the Huachuca Mountains. The Crest Trail provides outstanding views of the San Pedro and San Rafael Valleys as well as prime access to a number of spur trails, including trails to Miller Peak and Ramsey Canyon. Miller Peak Wilderness is a land of sheer cliffs, soaring summits, and deep canyons, with diverse habitats that range from desert grasslands to mixed conifer and aspen forest. Over 170 species of birds, including 14 species of hummingbirds, live in the Wilderness, making for world-class birdwatching. An amazing variety of wildlife, including animals normally seen south of the Mexican border, can also be found in these diverse life-zones: over 60 species of reptiles and 78 species of mammals including coatimundi, javelina, black bear and mountain lion. At Copper Glance, the Arizona Trail begins its descent, following sycamore and ponderosa lined Sunnyside Canyon Trail. Trailside riparian habitat, nourished by the seasonal flow of the canyon's intermittent stream, provides a home and foraging area for a variety of colorful songbirds and other wildlife. The Arizona Trail leaves the Wilderness when it begins following the Scotia Canyon Trail, another excellent birdwatching and riparian area, on its way to Parker Canyon Lake.
Huachuca Mountains to the Santa Rita Mountains
After leaving the Huachucas, the Arizona Trail descends into the lush rolling grass and woodlands of the Canelo Hills, also part of the Coronado National Forest. As the Trail winds its way along Canelo Hills East and West Trails (newly constructed as part of the Arizona Trail), the views are of vast grasslands. It is possible to imagine that one is in another part of the country altogether. At least that's what filmmakers successfully banked on when they shot the 1950s movie musical Oklahoma! in this area.
Near the town of Patagonia, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, the Arizona Trail leaves the Coronado National Forest briefly to follow public roads and then enters Forest Service land again via First Avenue/Gringo Road/Forest Road #72. Ascending from savannah and desert into oak woodlands via Temporal Gulch, the Arizona Trail enters the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness to follow the Walker Basin Trail to a saddle where it meets a newly constructed segment of the Arizona Trail. At this point, Mt. Wrightson (otherwise known as "Old Baldy"), the pyramid-shaped peak of rock that crowns the Santa Ritas, is less than a few miles climb away by heading west instead of north. The Arizona Trail heads east and then north as it desends through a forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The Trail leaves the Wilderness and follows a newly constructed trail along an old aqueduct on its way to Kentucky Camp. The Forest Service has turned Kentucky Camp into a living history exhibit of early 1900s mining.
Santa Rita Mountains to the Rincon Mountains
The Arizona Trail will leave the Santa Ritas at Oak Tree Canyon and continue north in the Coronado National Forest across a proposed trail corridor. The Trail corridor crosses some State Trust Land and then will go under Interstate 10. From here the Trail follows Cienega Creek through Colossal Cave County Park and then up to Saguaro National Park. Four major vegetation communities are found while crossing the Rincons: oak woodland, pine-oak woodland, pine-forest and mixed-conifer forest.
Established in 1933, Saguaro National Park protects prime habitat for the saguaro cactus. These cacti grow very slowly, taking 25 years for them to grow just two feet, and need the protective shade of palo verde trees or other "nurse" plants until they are established. Arms don't appear until they are about 75 years old. 'Old-timers' live over 200 years and reach a height of 50 feet. Within the National Park, the Arizona Trail traverses the Rincon Mountains via short segments of many trails until it enters the Coronado National Forest again.
Rincon Mountains to the Santa Catalina Mountains
Along the Italian Spring Trail, the Arizona Trail leaves the Rincon Mountains and the Rincon Mountain Wilderness, crosses Redington Pass, and heads into the Santa Catalina Mountains via forest and public roads and new and existing trails. After Molino Campground, the Arizona Trail enters the Pusch Ridge Wilderness via the Sycamore Reservoir Trail and ascends Mount Lemmon via 20 miles of trails. Within the Wilderness, elevations range from 2,800 to 8,800 feet, supporting wildlife and plant species of many life zones from Sonoran desert to subalpine forest. The Wilderness also provides magnificent views, rocky bluffs and pinnacles define the horizon and deep canyons, separated by razorback ridges, crease the slopes. At the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, the Arizona Trail leaves the Wilderness and passes near the town of Summerhaven. The descent then begins along the Oracle Ridge Trail to the Cody Trail (named after Buffalo Bill Cody, who owned a mine in the area) near the town of Oracle. The Trail then exits the Coronado National Forest for the last time.
Santa Catalina Mountains to the Mazatzal Mountains
After leaving the Forest, the Arizona Trail crosses the Oracle State Park. From here, the Trail corridor crosses the Black Hills and Tortilla Mountains making its way north towards the Tonto National Forest. The Trail follows an alignment roughly ten miles west of the San Pedro River, travelling through the Black Hills, crossing many washes, and then following the Tortilla Mountains to the Gila River. After crossing the Gila River, the Arizona Trail will pass near the White Canyon Wilderness and enter the Tonto National Forest. The Arizona Trail begins a gradual ascent, following primitive roads and new and existing trails. It skirts both Iron Mountain and Castle Dome before it passes near Tonto National Monument and the cliff dwellings of the prehistoric Salado Indians. Two well-preserved dwellings overlook Roosevelt Lake.
The Arizona Trail crosses the Salt River at Roosevelt Dam and heads west to eventually connect to the Three Bar Wildlife Area and Four Peaks Wilderness. Four Peaks are visible over a large section of central Arizona and have been a major landmark since prehistoric times. This area is also thought to have the highest concentration of black bear in Arizona. The Arizona Trail continues north along existing trails and primitive roads as it crosses Sycamore Creek and enters the Mazatzal Wilderness, and follows the Mazatzal Divide Trail for 22 miles. The Yavapai Indians called the vast expanse of desert and mountains encompassed by the Wilderness "mazatzal," or the land of the deer.
Mazatzal Mountains to the San Francisco Peaks
The sheer cliffs of the Mogollon Rim mark the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The Arizona Trail follows the Highline Trail east along these cliffs for almost twenty miles before it meets the Colonel Devin Trail which serves as the throughway to the Mogollon Plateau. This natural boundary also serves as a divider between the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. From the Rim, the Arizona Trail stretches across meadows, forests, and canyons to the top of Battleground Ridge where it offers good long-distance views of the surrounding countryside before descending into East Clear Creek Canyon. Then it is on around the Blue Ridge Campground and up to Highway 87.
After crossing the highway, the trail begins working its way through the Happy Jack area, using 2-track roads and single-track trail. At Allan Lake Tank it crosses Highway 3 and continues north through the Mormon Lake area. There is heavy forest here and large sections of new trail. After crossing Highway 3 again, the trail begins to wind across Anderson Mesa, a broad, grassy upland dotted with widely spaced trees. The open character of the terrain offers excellent opportunities to view the rich and diverse community of wild animals, some of the larger and more visible of which include elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, wild turkey, Abert's squirrels, coyotes and pronghorn antelope.
Near Marshall Lake, which is more of a marsh than a lake, there's a good chance of seeing bald eagles in winter, osprey in summer, and waterfowl and smaller hawks year-round. When the Arizona Trail drops into Walnut Canyon, there are spectacular views of the San Francisco Peaks forty miles to the north. There are also red rock cliffs reminiscent of Oak Creek and the Grand Canyon. After Walnut Canyon, the Arizona Trail offers two options: a route which crosses north through the City of Flagstaff via the Flagstaff Urban Trails System or a longer route which bypasses the City of Flagstaff, circling to the east. The two options join each other near Schultz Pass - roughly five miles north of Flagstaff. From this point, the Arizona Trail will traverse near the San Francisco Peaks. The San Francisco Peaks are the product of the San Francisco Volcanic Field which has been sprouting volcanoes around the Flagstaff areas for millions of years. Humphreys Peak is the highest, crowning the State at 12,670 feet, while Sunset Crater to the east is the State's most beautiful as well as the field's youngest volcano - it last erupted only 700 years ago. The Arizona Trail Corridor heads northwest from the San Francisco Peaks to the northern boundary of the Coconino National Forest.
San Francisco Peaks to the Grand Canyon
Until a permanent trail can be identified and built, the Arizona Trail will leave the Coconino National Forest and follow approximately 16 miles of primitive roads across State Trust Lands to the Kaibab National Forest. At first, the Arizona Trail passes through pinyon, juniper, sage and grassland vegetation. As it nears the Grand Canyon, it is surrounded by stands of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak. Along the way, there are excellent views of the Painted Desert, the Coconino Rim, and the Upper Basin. At Grandview Tower, there is new trail and then it follows parts of the Tusayan Bike Paths west to Tusayan.
Just north of here the Arizona Trail enters Grand Canyon National Park, America's most diverse wild area with over one million acres of forests, deserts, canyons, plains, plateaus, volcanic landforms, streams, rivers, and waterfalls. The Park is home to five of the seven life zones and three of the four deserts in North America and its geology reveals nearly half of the earth's entire four billion-year history. Within the Park, the Arizona Trail will pass near the South Rim campground and then descend into the Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail. After crossing the Colorado River, the Arizona Trail will follow the North Kaibab Trail up to the North Rim. From cactus on the canyon bottom to fir and aspen forests on the Rim, in just seven miles the climate change is equivalent to a trip from Mexico to Canada. The Arizona Trail is proposed to follow a utility service road and new trail to an area just east of the North Rim entrance station where it leaves the Park and enters the Kaibab National Forest.
Grand Canyon to the Utah Border
The Arizona Trail continues north, following the eastern edge of the Kaibab Plateau, the highest of the five plateaus that make up the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The Arizona Trail follows the 50-mile Kaibab Plateau Trail, dedicated in 1988 as the first segment of the Arizona Trail. The Kaibab Plateau Trail winds through spruce, fir, pine, and aspen forests which are interspersed with meadow. A splendid panorama of House Rock Valley, the Vermilion Cliffs, and Marble Canyon along with overlooks of North Canyon and Saddle Mountain Wilderness are found at East Rim View. The Arizona Trail then passes through mature pine and aspen forests to an area about two miles east of Jacob Lake and the northern boundary of the Kaibab National Forest. The final stretch to the Utah border continues along the edge of the Kaibab Plateau following new trail across BLM's Arizona Strip District.