October 20, 2018

Tonto Basin: Walk in the Park

It was a rare statewide stormy kind of day. I had planned on doing a ride up on the Mogollon Rim, but the threat of rain kept me away. So, I dug through some old .gpx files and found a route in Tonto Basin I wanted to check out. This area was spared the rain, so it really made the most sense. The caveat? Unknown trail conditions and likely hike-a-bike a plenty. Sam was game and we made the roundabout drive to the base of El Oso.

The plan was to make a loop using the paved AZ188 then climb the Park Trail #66. From there we'd connect to the Sycamore Trail #68 then onto Denton Trail #69 before a long downhill on El Oso.

We knocked out the paved AZ188 miles in short order reaching our dirt turnoff near Punkin Center.
Looking across the basin, the clouds are building on the rim.

Fast wide shoulder on AZ188.

The fish in Roosevelt Lake must be a draw for the area.

Butcher Hook restaurant.

We saw a few roadies out on a supported ride through the area.


The first indication that adventure isn't far off.

The mighty Mazatzals rise abruptly.

Our destination would be the shaded ridgeline.
We found our trail!! The Park Trail #66, with an ominous beginning. Photo by Sam.
4 miles to the top, how hard could it be??

To our surprise the trail started out quite good. Photo by Sam.
Local resident balked at the watering hole.

A small sampling of things to come.
After a mile or so, the trail kicked up for good. At least it was easy to follow and the corridor was clear. Photo by Sam.
Up we go. Rapidly.
It almost looks rideable!! Photo by Sam.
Gaining elevation, we catch our first glimpse of Roosevelt Lake.
Look closely, Sam's riding!! Plus, this lone saguaro seemed way out of place so high on the mountainside. We couldn't see another one.

The higher we went, the tighter the vegetation became.
We thought we found a good section of rideable trail, only to realize we were off track on a game trail. :( Photo by Sam.

Back to the task at hand.

Saddle attained!! Our elevation profile indicated the steep stuff was over. We figured the trail would contour the higher hills and become more rideable on our way to the Sycamore Trail.
When in the throws of HAB the view doesn't change, so stop and look around because you may be amazed by what you see. Photo by Sam.

Nearing the top of the HAB...so we thought. Photo by Sam.

The saddle area provided quite the vista. Photo by Sam.
Soon after leaving the saddle the trail disintegrated and the vegetation choked the hillside. We often found ourselves looking for the path of least resistance even if it meant getting off the pink line on the GPS. It became more & more frequent as we'd stop to scope out the upcoming drainage crossing looking for any sign of a trail. Sometimes we'd see a slight gap in the bushes and aim our effort in that direction. A couple other times, we'd simply bushwhack across and hope we'd rejoin the pink line. The farther we went, the tougher it became. So much so, that our immediate path in front of us was impassable. We opted to head down the slope in hopes of bypassing some rock outcroppings and perhaps follow the gurgling Park Creek. Progress was painfully slow.

Eventually we came to another impasse. Now what? We weren't about to turn around now. The GPS indicated we were 'only' a mile or so from Edwards Park. We just had to get there. The pink line was about 80' away, above us. We decided to make a push for it and stay true to the line no matter what. It was very clear to us; the hiker who uploaded this track had been just as confused as we were at times. We took a short break and I sent K a text explaining our situation. It's always interesting when you start a message with: We're ok, we have food & water...but...

It had taken us about 4 hours to travel ~3 miles. We knew we wouldn't be trying either of the other trails we had planned. The name of the game now was to get off the Park Trail and link up with the dirt road portion of the AZT. I wasn't quite sure where we'd pop out along the AZT, but I knew the riding wasn't too bad.
Sam taking advantage of a rare rideable moment.

Vintage waterbar proving there IS a trail.

Into another drainage.

Slight gap in the bushes signals the trail corridor.

Park Creek provided a soothing sound.

Approaching an impasse.

Sam was a good sport, but I'm sure he was thinking: WTF did I get myself into??

I'm going to toss my bike down there!! It's useless!! Photo by Sam.

Confirmation that we'd made it back on route. The irony of it all was the actual trail tread, when located, was in very good condition. The encroaching vegetation was the real culprit. Photo by Sam.
We could tell we were getting close.

We skirted by this pool on Park Creek.

It wasn't the easiest route around, but it worked.
Finally!! Edwards Park.

One of two signs we saw the entire way. One at the start, one at the finish.

We were finally done with Park Trail and elated to be on a rideable jeep road.
I still couldn't quite place where we were along the AZT. I was hoping we'd connect somewhere in the middle of the jeep road section of Passage 21.
This sign gave it away. We were at the far end of the AZT jeep road. That also meant a stout climb was staring us in the face. Read: Hike-a-bike.

I think I've seen more dead snakes this year than live ones.

Mt. Ord peeks over the near hills.

Roosevelt Lake way down there.

Almost up in the big trees.

There's some fast riding up there too.

Golden hour flexes its muscle.

Am I in Flagstaff or within eyesight of Phoenix??

Passage 21 has such a diverse landscape, tall pines to Saguaro studded desert.

Four Peaks coming into range. I was surprised to see so many rivulet crossings too. Where was all this water coming from??

Superstition Mtns. have a distinct appearance no matter the angle.

Quite the combo: Four Peaks & Superstition Mtns.

Sam's light dances towards the peaks.

The lights of the big city begin to fill in the void.

Not pictured: 8 1/2 miles of downhill bliss to AZ188 and the car!!

Middle Water spring was unexpectedly low.

My Sinewave Revolution was a casualty during the bushwhack. :(
The final mile of the El Oso descent. Photo by Sam.

We finished sometime after 7p about 3-4 hours later than I had hoped. Win some, lose some. In spite of the crappy conditions on Park trail, it was a super cool route. I'd love to see that trail cleaned up. The steep lower section would more than likely still be HAB, but everything after the saddle has the potential to be really good. Most of the issue is vegetation encroachment, the tread, from where we could see it, looked fine.

Thanks for coming out, Sam. It was great sharing this mis-adventure with you. We can always head back up and see what the Sycamore & Denton trails have in store!!


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