Working too hard on transferring data from my old site to this new one to take time to set up anything outside of town. I did 20 full pages on Wednesday, and another dozen or so on Thursday. (My old site had ~600 pages, plus I have over 400 triplogs & photosets at HikeArizona: No way I’ll ever get to it all!) It had been five years since I had been in the White Tank Mountains, so I decided to head out to the white rocks of Ford Canyon, turning it into a loop with the Waddell Trail and Mesquite Trail.
I actually managed to leave home at a decent hour, so traffic was not too bad. From Sunnyslope, the park entrance is a straight 25 mile shot west on Dunlap Ave. / Olive Ave. (Same street, but it changes names.) The last couple of miles are still vegetable farms, like it used to be 30 years ago, before the freeways, when I frequently drove Dysart Rd. out to Buckeye on my way from north Phoenix to Yuma. The regional park entrance fee, $6, has not changed in five years, and is the rare tax well worth paying.
It was a bit chilly early on, but ended up being quite toasty the last few hours. In fact, Phoenix set a high temperature record for 2/12 of 84°. Hopefully, patterns hold and a warm spring translates into a not so brutal summer.
I hiked counterclockwise, starting north on Waddell Trail from picnic area #7, on Ramada Way, just off Waterfall Canyon Rd. It’s a pleasant stroll on trail so smooth & wide calling it a “double track” downplays it’s highway-like properties. At 2.5 miles, just below the bottom of the cascades, there is a warning sign. The free map they give you at the park entrance warns that the next 1.5 miles are “double black diamond hazardous trail”. In reality, it is barely a class II scramble. Most of the cascades, if you approach them at an oblique, you can walk right up without any hand hold at all! The cascades, Ford Canyon’s white tanks, which give the mountain range its name, are the highlight of the loop.
If you are a more casual hiker, just enjoying the scenery, you could turn back at the check dam, or earlier, for a 6-7 mi. hike with maybe 500 AEG. Otherwise, the full loop will be either 10.6 mi. / 1760 AEG on Mesquite Trail, or 9.1 mi. / 1500 AEG by taking the Willow Canyon Trail shortcut. (My figures, below, tend to be higher due to exploring and/or re-shooting video segments.)
Above the check dam, Ford Canyon is typical wash walking, alternately rocky and sandy, until 4.4 miles, when a 400 AEG switchbacked climb begins, to a saddle overlooking the first Willow / Mesquite junction. From the bottom of these switchbacks, to the top of the fenced ones above the parking area five miles later, is decent surface single track.
After descending to the first Willow / Mesquite junction, I decided to continue on Mesquite, unlike in 2011 when I took Willow. From the junction, there is another 400 AEG switchbacked climb, in full view of the massive antenna farm atop Barry Goldwater Peak, the White Tank Mountains high point. This hike’s own high point occurs at the top of the switchbacks. As you curl around Hill 3032, and occasionally through the remainder of the hike, you will have views east into Phoenix which, more often than not, will be obscured by a heavy layer of smog. (Phoenix always wanted to be Los Angeles, and now it is — in more ways than one.) Despite the smog, I could see Camelback Mountain.
There is decent shade, and decent sitting rocks, throughout the hike, regardless of time of day.
From Hill 3032, it’s either flat or downhill the rest of the way back to the trailhead. As you approach the second Willow / Mesquite junction, you will start regularly encountering groups of casual hikers — which probably explains the fencing along the final set of downhill switchbacks: To prevent lazy “exercisers” from cutting corners to save 20 feet of sweat.
GPS File: Ford_Canyon_Loop
Distance: 11.32 mi.
AEG: 1,799 ft.
Time: 4h 31m