Helping build the Arizona Trail

By Merle Parmer

Answers to “10 Questions”

1. I have been involved with the Arizona Trail since February 1997, actively until January 2007, when I started having a sequence of bad luck with health problems.  Since the beginning of 2007, I have been semi-retired as I have been physically unable to do the trail work.  I have done a few miscellaneous activities, and have kept my membership in the Arizona Trail Association active.  For the first 10 years, I spent many hours helping to build tread in many areas, design and build switchbacks, do GPS mapping in major parts of the trail, help design and flag much of the proposed trail, and help train new volunteers in trail building techniques.   I  have avoided becoming active as a segment steward or other administrative chores so that I could be free to travel up and down the state to participate in a variety of events in the out-of-doors.

2. I do not remember what brought my attention to the Arizona Trail in late 1976, but I do remember that my earliest participation was attending the annual meeting on February 1, 1977.  The invitation to join in helping to build what was a fascinating trail project was irresistible, so I  signed up then and there, and have been grateful for the opportunity ever since.  It looked like an ideal way to occupy my time and energy since  I was just retiring from the vocation I had enjoyed for many years.

3. In my many trips and contacts, I have had scores of comments from trail builders, hikers, thru-hikers, bikers and equestrians expressing appreciation and thanks for having such a wonderful trail to travel on through all the magnificent scenery of Arizona. In addition to those directly affected, there have been many people benefitting from the presence of the trail providing access for outdoor activities and recreation.

4. I have been involved for all of the reasons mentioned above.

5. A particularly memorable activity was GPS mapping the Ripsey Segment over the Tortilla Mountains with Helen Hill (who is no longer with us). The scenery is spectacular, and the company was particularly pleasant.

6. TheNational Scenic Trail status recently awarded is richly deserved as I have noted several times in these notes.  There are certainly alternate routes that could have been selected, but the early designers and builders used commendable insight and foresight in the way the trail was laid out from the beginning.

7. The Arizona Trail is a work in progress – there will always be improvements and redesigns needed. Even if the trail is finally built to everyone’s satisfaction, weather and trail use will make continual maintenance necessary.

8, 9, 10 – the book    ???


My first event in early 1997 was a trail-training workshop conducted by Michael Baker at a campground beside Roosevelt Lake – the first of many classes and training sessions I have enjoyed over the past 15 years.  Since then I have worked with a number of volunteers and trail partners who have succeeded in teaching me how to build trail on many sections of the Trail in the many segments of Arizona in the variety of terrain from Parker Canyon Lake to the trailhead at the Utah border.  I have greatly enjoyed being able to get into much of the Arizona country for hiking, camping and trail building, and appreciate the guidance I have received from so many fine people, such as Jan Hancock,  Larry Snead, Michael Baker, Tom Folks, Tom Coulson, Chuck Horner, Cindy Peck, Dave Hicks, Dave Babcock, Carl Babcock, Carl Golnik, Anna Phender, Mike Carr,

The first sequence of trail-building events that  I helped with was in the Buckskin Mountain passage with BLM ranger Tom Folks and segment steward Michael Baker, starting on May 2, 1997.  I spent a number of weekends over several years traveling up to Winter Road for these work events.  Most of this segment of trail was new tread starting at Winter Road and heading north over Buckskin Mountain and down from the plateau( on switchbacks that I helped Tom lay out and flag) to the trailhead at the Utah border, across from the very scenic Coyote Buttes at the north end of the Paria Plateau.  Happily, the drive north from Flagstaff on 89, 89A and House Rock Valley Road never became boring or dull, so I never tired of the travel.  And the scenery on and around Buckskin Mountain was always marvelous.

I didn’t keep track of the number of work events that were scheduled for this area, nor the somewhat fewer that I was able to help with, nor the number of miles that I drove from Phoenix to get there – now I wish I had.  From my logs I am able to identify the following dates that I helped:  May 2-4, 1997; November 2-4, 1997; May 1-2, 1999; May 30 to June 3, 1999, (with a crew from the Sierra Club); July 16-18, 1999; August 13-15, 1999; November 6-7, 1999; May 20-21, 2000; September 22-23, 2000, for celebration of Public Lands Day at the Buckskin Trailhead at the Utah border; May 18-19, 2002; May 14-16, 2004. Since then I’ve helped Mike Carr with maintenance trips several times.

Another of my favorite- and often visited –  areas was the Boulder Creek part of the Arizona Trail near Sunflower.  I’ve helped Segment Stewards Denny and Marie  Heywood build pieces of this trail from where it comes from under Highway 87 (the Beeline Highway) up to the ridge coming down from Four Peaks.  The most recent piece took the trail to the side of the hill away from the popular recreation area along FR22.  I’ve also helped do the GPS mapping of the trail from Lone Pine Saddle following El Oso Road along the ridge north to the end of the Boulder Creek trail.  I count 14  trips to the Sunflower area over 10 years.  I remember on one trip coming up from the campground area I mentioned to Marie that I wasn’t feeling very good, and she offered to let me ride her mule up the canyon.   I’m not a horse person so I had to refuse her generous offer. Since then she has tried (unsuccessfully) on several occasions to get me on her mule, so it’s become something of a joke between us.

Vineyard Trail

The trail from the north end of the bridge at Roosevelt Dam up to Lone Pine Saddle at Four Peaks I have  done in several pieces at different times with as many different volunteers and trail gurus.  The lower end is the Vineyard Trail and that segues into the trail leading up and around the side of the Four Peaks mountain into Lone Pine Saddle.  I was joined in GPSing much of this part by Dave and Carl.  I had the pleasure of working with Forest Service ranger  Quentin Reynolds (?) in surveying part of the trail near the saddle.

Canelo Hills

I have made several trips to work on pieces of the Canelo Hills segments, from the east end near Parker Canyon Lake to the west end at Patagonia.  There is sure some pretty country through this southern Arizona desert/mountain terrain.  I was able to help ?????  on several maintenance work events near Patagonia.

Cottonwood Canyon

A part of the trail wanders up from Roosevelt Lake, through a creek-filled rocky drainage called Cottonwood Canyon, but this portion of the trail has not been very well built nor maintained (yet), but it is certainly scenic.  It is also difficult to get to from either end, (the south end leads out to two-bar ridge in the Superstition Mountains), so a work event there is a real chore. Two-bar Ridge can be reached by several dirt roads (some jeep trails) coming in from Highway 88 along Roosevelt Lake.

Pine Trailhead,  Highline Trail

The Pine Trailhead just off of the Beeline Highway south of Pine is the western end of the Highline Trail and provides access to this part of the Arizona Trail.  I have worked on several pieces of the trail east to Washington Park where the trail climbs up to the Mogollon Rim at General Springs Cabin.  There have been several work events  out of  the Pine Trailhead that involved major maintenance and some trail rebuilding. This piece of the trail passes the Boy Scout Camp where several trail maintenance events have been held in an effort to correct significant erosion defects, and  this will probably be an ongoing project.

Blue Ridge, Battleground Ridge

The stretch of the Arizona Trail from Highway 87 south to 300 (rim road) has been particularly scenic and interesting and provided a number of opportunities for trail building, maintenance, and GPS mapping trips.  I have hiked all of it from time to time, and some of it many times.  At the north end the trail climbs through Blue Ridge campground to the plateau then wanders over to Rock Crossing Campground.  One work event that I helped with was with a Boy Scout troop building some new trail coming out of the Rock Crossing area to join with a reroute around the campground.  To the west of the Rock Crossing Campground, the trail wandered down through the forest to the sometimes dry crossing of Clear Creek at the head end of Blue Ridge Reservoir.  I helped Chuck Horner in laying out new switchbacked trail up to the plateau on the south side of the canyon.  This was a steep climb with much deadfall blocking the route.  I have not heard that this piece was ever approved by the Forest Service, nor built.  The trail then followed a jeep trail that needed no work to the point the trail left the road and followed  and then crossed FS road 123  along Battleground Ridge, passing near a historic site (Battle of the Big Dry Wash) not far south of the Blue Ridge Reservoir.  After crossing the FS road, the trail continues to where it  switchbacks down to an existing FS trail (Fred Haught) in a gorgeous canyon with a creek flowing (General Springs Creek).   I helped build these switchbacks, then did trail maintenance up the canyon to the point that a new reroute was being built around a terrible section of trail that scrambled along a very rocky section.  The new reroute required trail building to rejoin the original trail near the top, including the building of two major switchbacks that Chuck Horner and the Forest Service rangers had designed and supervised the construction of.  I made several trips to the General Springs area to help with these switchbacks, and greatly enjoyed the challenge of moving dirt and rocks, and tamping the resulting tread.  The upper of these switchbacks is truly a work of art.

Oracle, Oracle State Park

A part of the Arizona Trail runs from the Mt. Lemmon Highway at American Flag north and east and crosses Oracle State Park to Highway 77 and crosses to the Tiger Mine Road.  In this stretch, I helped build a gate at the road to San Manuel and did the GPS mapping across the state park. This is a less scenic piece of mostly flat desert.

Rock Creek, Mazatzals

I joined Tony Viviano for several trips into the Mazatzal Mountains in the Rock Creek area to try to clear the road and trail approaching the Arizona Trail but didn’t get far enough to be able to do any work on the AT.  This is a very difficult area to get into for access to the AT for trail work or transit through the mountains.

Coconino Rim

I was fortunate to be able to GPS the trail through the Kaibab National Forest from the Babbitt Ranch to the Grandview Lookout at the edge of Grand Canyon National Park with Dave and Carl Babcock.  This is another scenic route, partly along the Coconino Rim, past several tanks – the remains of the Moqui Stage Station—through miles of national forest.

Boulders segment with Anna Pfender, Antelope Peak with Kent Taylor, Ripsey Wash with Mike Luecker, Tucson Wash, Bloodsucker Wash – 40 miles of glorious desert scenery, on mostly new trail, from Oracle to the Gila River.

The Boulders segment of the Trail extended from Freeman Road north to the power line road just east of the Old Ripsey Ranch, where it joined the south end of the Ripsey segment.  According to my logs I must have made more than 30 trips into this area.  Many were group work events with Anna Pfender and Doug ?, to build new trail or do maintenance on existing pieces of trail.  Some were to do flagging with Chuck Horner in preparation for trail building, and to do GPS mapping and measuring with the “wheel”.  A short piece of this segment followed a jeep trail along  a gas line route; most was entirely new tread that passed :”the Boulders” – a pile of rocks visible for miles around.  An important milestone is the Tecolote Ranch.  I attended one memorable event to help Laddie Cox and others to build a new gate at the northwest corner of the Tecolote Ranch up the hill from the point at which the Trail crosses the old Florence road.

The Tucson Wash segment runs from Highway 77 just east of Oracle north to the beginning of the Antelope Peak segment in Bloodsucker Wash. This segment was inaugurated at a dedication ceremony at the Trailhead, attended by state, county, and ATA representatives.    The first part has been on the Tiger Mine Road to the Trailhead where it heads cross-country on a new trail that we built starting in September of 1999.  There has been discussion about moving this piece off of the Tiger Mine Road, but I haven’t heard that it’s going to happen.  The trail crosses the Tucson Wash after crossing several hills and washes, then comes to the south end of a 10-mile  length of abandoned gas line road that runs straight north except for a series of ups-and-downs that make hiking very difficult.  The north end drops down into Bloodsucker Wash and stays in the wash for a couple of miles before climbing out at Cowhead Well, tank and corral near the confluence with Camp Grant Wash.  The entire piece from the south end of the gas line road to the crossing at Cowhead Well will be bypassed on the east side by a good trail over the Black Hills that has been designed by John Rendall in conjunction with Pinal County trail officials.  I was privileged to be able to help John lay out and flag this new part, and I understand it has been surveyed and approved.  In March 2011, I learned that Anna Pfender is starting a series of work events to build tread on this 11 miles of new trail over this route.

The Antelope Peak Segment extends from Freeman Road south and east around Antelope Peak then south to Antelope Tank where the trail crosses Dodson Wash.  I have GPS’d all of this and have helped build much of the trail over the hill to the south to Beehive Well in Putnam Wash.  The trail has followed a jeep trail/ranch road south to a gate where it joins a piece of good trail leading down to Bloodsucker Wash, but the plan is to move this route off the road to the west to join the good trail.  However, this plan will change when the new trail from the north end of the Tucson Wash segment comes into Bloodsucker Wash east of where the good trail was built.  I don’t know the status of these several changes.

The Ripsey Wash segment extends from the north end of the Boulders segment near Ripsey Ranch north to the Gila River.  The south end follows a power line road then heads northeast on new trail to the gated fence at a ranch road that heads north and then northwest for about 2 miles.   The trail then branches north on new trail, goes through a gate at the top of the hill, and switchbacks down to a drainage that leads to Ripsey Wash.  After crossing Ripsey Wash, new trail was built up and over the “Big Hill”.  I helped Chuck Horner lay out and flag the switchbacks up the hill to the ridge at the top, then helped a hired crew construct the tread to the top.  The trail followed the ridge north and then east, then wanders north and west along the top of the Tortilla Mountains.  Then some more switchbacks were built leading the new trail down to fairly level terrain ending up at the end of a jeep road following to a wash leading out to the Florence Kelvin Highway.  Since the time I helped with this part, the trail has been rerouted north and west to a new trailhead on the F-K  Highway.  From the highway, the trail has been built north and east down to the Gila River at the Kelvin bridge.  I helped flag this last part leading to the river.

SWECO North Rim

A particularly interesting and exciting opportunity for trail building came up when Chuck Horner and I were invited by the National Park Service to come to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park to operate a SWECO trail-building tractor  .  The segment of the Arizona Trail through the north part of the National Park was routed along a utility corridor from the north entrance station to the North Kaibab trailhead, essentially along the road used for the buried electric and telephone lines.  The tractor with a 4-foot wide blade was used to cut down a berm and prepare the surface for a hiking trail to be built by an international student group. Chuck and I and others were trained earlier to operate the diesel-powered tractor by a representative of the SWECO company that built the machine, so we were pleased to be able to put that training to use.  The Park Service provided housing for several days we spent in the park.  It is notable that this new trail would be the only one in the Park that could be used by cyclists – including several of the rangers who had bicycles there.  We were still working on the tread when we met a group of cyclists, and it was a pleasure to be able to invite them to be the first to try out our new trail.

Picketpost Cindy

The part of the Trail in Alamo Canyon south of Picketpost Mountain originally followed a jeep trail that was bad for vehicles and even worse for hikers.  Cindy Peck, working out of the Globe Ranger District office under —-  , had designed an alternate route west and south of Picketpost where I had the privilege of helping her lay out and flag new tread from the Picketpost trailhead to the south border of the National Forest at the point where it met BLM land.  I was able to help build this new tread through the north half around Picketpost and beyond Trough Tank at the point at which the new trail crossed FR4.  I’m proud to say we did a great job developing a magnificent section of trail through this beautiful country.

Flag Ripsey with Helen Hill

I enjoyed the company of Helen Hill when we GPS’d the part of the Ripsey Segment  out of Ripsey Wash and  up and over the “Big Hill” and along the ridge over the top of the Tortilla Mountains.  When I first hiked this mountain terrain I wondered why anybody would make such a difficult path, when Ripsey Wash was nearby and looked much easier.  First, I learned that it was much more scenic, and the views were spectacular– an objective of the original designers.  Then later I learned that the ranchers in the vicinity preferred this route to keep hikers away from their cattle.  Working on the Arizona Trail has been a great learning experience.