Beautiful snow-capped mountains, a treacherous river, and a flourishing desert.
Day 2 started with a quick breakfast and some pavement. We originally planned on traveling threw Pioneer Pass in the Pinal Mountains. Three feet of ice forced a detour down highway 77 towards Globe. There we connected with highway 288. After rounding Roosevelt lake, the dirt was within view.
A Cross Road is a scenic drive that provides access to the Salome Wilderness. Along this trail, you will get close to Victoria Peak which rises Nearly 1900 feet above the trail. The mountains are different here. Nearly void of vegetation and boasting strong color contrast. A demanding hike down Salome Creek will provide one of the best canyoneering experiences in Arizona
The road is maintained and good for 2WD vehicles during dry conditions. Our only obstacle along this trail is Tonto Creek. The creek was running strong and our first attempt was unsuccessful. The water was way too deep and nobody wanted to go swimming. We decided to scope out the water crossing near Tonto Basin. I knew myself, the Tonto Basin water crossing was much more fat and spread out. We would have a better chance of successfully fording the river.
The river crossing was like nothing I’ve done before. The water was flowing nearly the entire width of the river. After watching a few others cross we built enough confidence to attempt it our self. Kyle Hines went first and I followed. The river consisted of three main flows. The first two flows were light and shallow. A quick pause on each sandbank gives us a better observation of the task ahead. Our attempt was ultimately successful.
We pressed forward towards Four Peaks Trail to find our campsite.
Four Peaks trail was awesome! I have never seen so much color out there. The mountains were covered in bright green grass with patches of yellow, pink, purple and white flowers all throughout. Only rock outcroppings were void of vegetation. The contrasting colors created a scenic complex that makes your visual sensories go crazy. The rivers and streams wear running, mountain springs were gushing and everything looked healthy.
We gained elevation quickly as we followed El Oso Road over the eastern part of the Mazatzal Mountains and entered the Pigeon Springs Ranger District. Our campsite was phenomenal! To the south, we had a beautiful view of the snow-capped Four Peaks. To the east, we had a mountaintop view of the Tonto Basin and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. In the distance, you could hear the sound of a running waterfall. I contemplated parking my Jeep next to the waterfall but didn’t want to depart from the group. I took advantage of the dark, clear skies and captured some long exposure photos of the snow-capped Four Peaks. Although none turned out that well.
Day three was near…
Day three | A whole lotta highway
We were packed up and back on the trail just after 8 am. The unrealistic attempt to make it to Crown King by sunset, set into play. We started down the west side of the Mazatazel Mountains on the 4 Peaks Trail. The whole way down we got a wonderful view of the water as we approached Saguaro Lake. After a short time, we enter Butcher Joans Recreation Area and catch Highway 87 towards Phoenix.
It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we decided to not attempt the Crown King trail due to the lack of camping space for our group. I suggested we camp near China Dam and everyone agreed. When we arrived there was actually water! I was happy to be camping next to the water for the third night.
View of Saguaro Lake | Our group in the lower right.
Kevin is an American outdoorsman born and raised in rural Arizona who grew up exploring the Arizona backcountry with his father. Today, he and his son travel to the most remote regions of Arizona, scavenging for the remains of early western pioneers. As a lifelong outdoorsman, Kevin has learned to stick close to his roots while engaging in important advocacy work regarding motorized access to public lands. You can find his work in many local and nationwide publications, including The Western Journal, 4Low Magazine, and his website AZBackroads.com.