August 27, 2021

Picketpost: Arnett Canyon Assessment

 A couple weeks ago we were out at Picketpost to see first hand what the Telegraph Fire did to the trail corridor. I had hoped we'd have time to also recon Arnett Canyon afterwards, but we were epic'd by Mother Nature and barely had enough energy & light left that day.

So, I ventured out to Picketpost again. Naturally, since there was an excessive heat warning in effect for today I thought it would be wise to sleep in a bit and not get riding until 10a. You'd think after 30 years of living in the desert I'd know better. Nope. So what's another ride start with temps already hovering at 100ยบ?? Not the first nor will it be the last and besides I was only planning to scope out Arnett Canyon, maybe 8-10 miles tops. What could possibly go wrong??

I arrived to an empty trailhead, shocking, right? Everything is so green right now, we've had a banner monsoon season this year, thankfully. Sometimes, a bit too much though as it's been raining fairly steady for the past two months until this week's heat spike. *Rain is scheduled to make a return next week.

While warm, the skies were clear & the ground green.

Tis the season for caterpillars!! They're everywhere right now.

Unintentional, but I think this Saguaro is giving Picketpost the finger.

A short climb away from the AZT leads here, so glad this view is unchanged.

So far, so good. I thought for sure this area was toast.

Signage intact after the gate where the other side trail from the trailhead links up.

Started to see some blackened Mesquite trees, but not much else. The first mile from the trailhead was unaffected by the fire.

Down in the canyon the increase in sand was very noticeable.

First creek crossing was blown out. Looks like a lot of water came through here.

Where's the trail? Straight ahead. Soft, fine sand = walking.

Ugh, there are the torched Saguaros, but it seemed those higher on the canyon walls were virtually untouched.


You can practically see the fire line only 20-30 feet up the slope.

I spent a fair amount of time clearing dead, burnt branches from the tread.

A good example of what to expect, burned floor and green sideslope. Mesquite trees will come back fairly quickly.

I was encouraged to see a few tall Cottonwoods bearing leaves at the Arnett Creek crossing.

Looking upstream wasn't as promising.

Here's a 'before' shot of the image above. (April '19)

A few trees made it though looking downstream.

One of the more rideable sections of trail.

South side of Picketpost Mtn. seems to be recovering well. I see pockets of thick trees up there!!

Notice the palm tree on the left sprouting new fronds?

Another 'before' shot of the general scene on the canyon floor. Mostly grass & Mesquite trees. See previous photo for the current view. (April '19)

Found lots of this making things extra slow going.

That's better.

More of the same.

This view made me sigh in relief!! After 1 1/4 miles of burned trail, the fire damage ended a few hundred feet before the giant grove of Cottonwood trees!! Yes!!

The good news was quickly tempered by the flood damage. These debris piles are a ways up the creek drainage.

It must've been one helluva sight to see how much water was flowing through here. Yowza.

Arnett Creek staying above ground here.

On the right bank, you can see how high the waterline was. Crazy.

The aftermath of all that water, massive erosion ruts & large displaced logs!!

This angle makes it appear as if all is well.

Even some of the rock armored sections didn't survive.

A few of the creek crossings were left in shambles.

Backlog of debris right on the trail tread.

One of the better images of the day: Big tall green trees, lots of healthy Saguaros and a good trail tread.

It took me an hour & a half to cover those 2.7 miles!! Granted, I did some trail cleaning along the way, but the riding was slow!!

Instead of backtracking, I turned left and rode up the side canyon. No worse for wear here.

Down on the L.O.S.T. Queen Creek was flowing above ground here.
I was running short on time and it was getting hot, so I made a beeline for US60, hopping a fence to gain access to the fast tarmac back to the trailhead.

I love these AZT progress signs along the length of the trail. What a great addition in recent years.

One final iconic shot of Picketpost Mtn.
As you can see, it was a mixed bag out there. I think the area will recover from the fire fairly quickly, but a lot of man hours will be needed to restore the trail tread. Not sure what can be done about the volume of sand that was deposited by the high flood waters. Hopefully trail usage will begin to disperse and pack it down over time. Arnett Canyon has a different feel to it now, but it's beauty is still unwavering.


August 14, 2021

Picketpost: Telegraph Fire Assessment

 Back in June one of our worst fears was realized in the parched desert: a spark. It began south of Superior and quickly spread enveloping one of the most beloved sections of the Arizona Trail: Alamo Canyon and a portion of the Gila River Canyons. Ugh. My heart ached as did many others who hold that area in high regard. It was a gut punch to say the least.

I made it known early that I wanted in on any scouting mission when the area was deemed safe for access. My buddy, Mike, was also game to join and Zach from the ATA put out some feelers on a date. We jumped at the opportunity. August 14 would be the day. The passage steward, Craig, and a buddy, Scott would also join in. What would we find? Total destruction or a fast moving light burn??

Mike and I made plans to drop a vehicle the night before down near Cochran which requires you to ford the Gila River, usually not a big deal. We figured it would be hot since it's August in the desert, but we could carry plenty of water for the 21 mile ride. We'd be starting at 5a and the final seven miles are almost all downhill.

Then the rains came...and didn't stop. The flowrate of the Gila River was spiking wildly in the days leading up to the ride. Crossing at 200 CFS is a challenge, almost waist deep on me at 6'1". It was reading 1300 CFS, 700 CFS, etc No way we're getting across that. Plan B?? We didn't feel a full ride out to Kelvin would be wise. The others had planned to do an out-n-back ride to the ATA rain collector, but the fire had burned another three miles farther and I wanted to see that too.

I looked at the topo maps of the area and saw we could shortcut over to the lower portion of the Picketpost Punisher route along the Brass Knuckles segment (Five rugged, steep up & downs along a jeep road) via Martinez Spring Rd which is essentially a dry wash. We'd then exit to our vehicle through Box Canyon. There would be some hike-a-bike down along the Brass Knuckles, but overall the route was 5-6 miles shorter than going to Kelvin.

The night before the ride the rains kept coming. Zach had camped at the trailhead and Mike and I met him a bit before 5a. The skies were clearing in the early dawn and the ground seemed dry enough to continue with the plan. Craig & Scott arrived and we got on the trail a bit after 5a. It was looking like a very comfortable day, forecast had it staying in the 80's which is virtually unheard of this time of year. Score. We hoped the cloud cover would hang around as well.

We were treated to a beautiful sunrise at the start.

Looking south from the trailhead, you can see the charred hillsides.

First sign of the burn area: 0.5 miles south of Picketpost trailhead.

Craig is the regional steward of the Arizona Trail for this area. Photo by Zach.

Blackened hills, but green Saguaros!! Photo by Zach.

The trail tread was good so far.

We documented all the areas that need some attention. Here, a bit of erosion control is needed.

Sights like this were giving us hope as many of the Saguaros were green.

In fact, there was a lot of green out there. Rain has a way of doing that.

Catclaw beginning to encroach on the trail corridor. Photo by Zach.

This was one of the worst areas on the trail, near the equestrian trail split over to Telegraph Canyon. It's always been an issue here, but the rain has magnified it.

Burned or not, most of the hills were some shade of green.

Zach cranking away on his fatbike.

'What have I gotten myself into' Photo by Mike.

Did we transport to Ireland?? Photo by Zach.

March or August?? Even the wildflowers were confused.

Some areas were more stark than others.

We cleared about two dozen burned Saguaro arms off the trail like the ones pictured.

There were hundreds of loose branches covering the trail too.

Different levels of burn visible here, right foreground was untouched by fire.

This was a welcomed sight. An entire hillside escaped the fire's wrath. Look at all those happy Saguaros!!

Six mile overlook with Telegraph Canyon Rd, FS4, in the distance.
We made our way towards the 5 tight switchbacks, keeping tabs on how many we could clear. I made 3 of 5, cleaning all the left-handed ones and failing on the righties.

Somewhere over the next rise, Scott's rear derailleur took a dump and he was reduced to Fred Flintstoning his bike back to Picketpost!! Gah. It wouldn't set up as a singlespeed as the chain was jacked up and would be too short. He and Craig bailed off the trail at Telegraph Canyon Rd. to shorten the trip back. Bummer.
Taking some time to shore up a drainage.

Mike moved a rock and found a scorpion hanging out.

Mike descends towards Telegraph Canyon Rd. Photo by Zach.

This is the wash just beyond Telegraph Canyon Rd. It had been a popular place for thru-hikers to camp.

Over the next two miles we noticed more devastation from the fire. The landscape was obliterated.

Not much survived here.

Total moonscape.

The fellas clearing more debris.

This area is roughly 8 miles south of Picketpost trailhead.

Heavy rains over the burn area expedite erosion. Photo by Zach.

This particular area was especially sad to see...

Here's a 'before' shot from a few years ago.

Before & after. However, we could already see new tree growth occurring. Photo by Zach.

Snake cartilage, not all the critters escaped.

Not much left of this giant Cholla.

New bike was riding great, except I was having an issue with the fork...

Leaking air in the chamber, pushing out the dust cover. Luckily, Zach had a shock pump for the rest of the ride. Looks like a warranty item. Dang it.

We're heading towards that notch just left of center.

View to the east from the 10 mile overlook.

Tank filled.

I've never seen water flowing in this wash.

The water retreats underground here.

Taking the offshoot to the rain collector.

No damage here, the fire got close but that was it.
The area around the collector was filled with grass and the couple of mesquite trees were unharmed. The collector was overflowing with water. Zach unlocked the side door to check inside, as the main water tank is inside this outer metal shell, and found a Gila Monster walking around!! How cool. Looks like that fella found a great place to call home. We all topped off our water. This is where Zach turned around and Mike and I continued on.

Only the second time I've seen water in this tank in Martinez Canyon.

One thing the fire didn't do? Ruin the splendor of Martinez. It'll take more than burned vegetation to do that.

The rocks & views are the main attraction here.

More water!! Never seen this one flowing.

The fire ripped down this drainage.

Lots of debris to clear.

We were able to drag a few large Saguaros off the trail.

Still as amazing as ever.

We truly are miniscule in this landscape.

The cloud cover had been cooperating all day. Photo by Mike.
We figured there was a good chance we'd get rained on in the afternoon. I thought we may be finished by 2 or 3, but it took us 5 hours to reach the rain collector and another 2 hours to get to the saddle after Martinez Canyon. We weren't quite halfway done with our ride and had been at it for 7 hours. I left my rain jacket in the car intentionally, figuring if it rained, it would feel good in the warm temps. One less thing to carry, right? Plus, that almost guarantees it's going to rain.

Traversing across the saddle.

Looking back into Martinez Canyon, clouds building.

Nice to see bushy Ocotillos along here.

Brooding skies are now ominous. Can we out-ride the incoming storm? We are about to head downhill for a few fast miles.

The Martinez Saddle, beginning of the 7 mile descent to the Gila River. Now with less Cholla!! *They'll grow back soon enough.

I love this section and was glad to see only a light burn through it.

Barely a half a mile from the previous picture to here and we're now officially out of the burn area.

The only deadfall we couldn't clear, but this one's been here a while.

A light rain begins to fall.

So glad this fella didn't get torched. Two thumbs up!!
Shortly after Mr. Two Thumbs Up, the skies opened up. A torrential downpour ensued and didn't let up for a solid 45 minutes. The AZT through here is mostly compacted rock, and it rode great in the deluge. Mike and I were soaked and loving it even though our brakes were marginal at best. Ha!

Dale's Butte can barely be seen through the downpour.

Just out for a ride, getting our #locorides passport renewed.
We reached the junction with a jeep road near Dale's Butte and turned right, off the AZT. As we descended more and more rivulets formed, we crossed a couple of small flowing washes then reached our main wash/road we'd be following...

Martinez Spring Rd. errrr....creek!!

Water, water, everywhere!!

We began spotting small waterfalls everywhere.

For the most part we could pedal downstream.
Eventually, the creek narrowed a bit and became a bit too strong to feel comfortable continuing on in it. We followed some game trails next to the creek for a bit then once it widened and the rain slowed, we could once again ride down the flowing road.

Dale's Butte now visible and some blue sky!!
We were following the creek and I noticed it was going straight into a retaining basing, time to exit!! We hopped out and began following another dry jeep road, but it soon had us off-route. We backtracked, then bushwhacked a short bit to regain the track. I recalled when I put the route together there was a vague 2-track on satellite view. This was it:

That's our route. Follow that for the next mile. We ended up crossing the creek a few times before finally reaching the main 4x4 route aka: Brass Knuckles.

Each wash we encountered was flowing. It was wonderful to witness.

The desert is so happy!!

We assumed Zach had a similar fate as us on his way back to Picketpost. Photo by Mike.

This is a portion of the Brass Knuckles. A series of five steep ups & downs on rugged jeep roads. Going this direction, we only had to do four of them. There was plenty of hike-a-bike. Photo by Mike.

Entering Box Canyon and what is this? A huge waterfall!!

Water was flowing down the Box too. Photo by Mike.

What an incredible sight!! I wonder how long this waterfall exists? Talk about perfect timing.

One of the tight sections in Box Canyon.

Mike spotted this Gray Fox near another waterfall. Took him a while to notice we were watching him.

The water attractions kept coming. Photo by Mike.

A little bit of slickrock riding.

We did find a few patches to ride that weren't under water.

Water levels increased when we passed a side canyon with a large feeder creek. Photo by Mike.

We were now riding in water all the way out of Box Canyon and beyond. Photo by Mike.

A dry bit!! Some sections had fine gravel and I sunk in deep enough that pedaling was difficult. Photo by Mike.
Somewhere along here I began to semi-bonk. My snack feedbag isn't exactly waterproof, so all my almonds, Payday bar bits, Clif bar chunks were covered in a slimy gel of gooey Clif Shot Bloks and Sour Patch Kids. Freakin' delicious!! I stopped and gorged on the concoction for a minute and then caught up with Mike with a bit more energy.

Almost 11 hours into our day and we see our first trail users. Like us, out playing in the water.

By now we had mostly dried out, sans shoes/socks. Only fitting to catch a rainbow over our route. Photo by Mike.

One final shot looking back towards Box Canyon.
Our route would eventually turn away from the water runout and we wrapped up our ride on dry road. It took nearly 12 hours to cover the 31 miles!! In the end it was a very successful ride. The fire damage wasn't nearly as bad as we feared, the tread is in fairly good shape all things considered and it's clear of debris for the time being. The downpour over the back end of the ride was such a treat as we were able to witness the desert like few have seen. It was a good wildlife sighting day too.

Thanks to Zach at the ATA for putting this together. Thanks to the other fellas, Mike, Craig & Scott for coming out to lend a hand in clearing the trail. All hands were needed. Mike, thanks for coming out a day early to drop your truck off at the finish, we sure made the right call in mixing up our original route plans, eh?.

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