Hardscrabble Mesa AZT #26 → Walnut Trail #251 → Pine-Strawberry Trail #15
Rather than following the initial route south, I cut straight across AZ-87, using the culvert just north of the Pine TH driveway. Didn’t need to crouch. After checking out the memorial I had noticed, I bumped across two dead elk. The first somewhat scattered, the second unfortunately not scattered. It was gross. And it smelled.
Trail #16 west was okay. Nothing special. A bit rocky. Nice view down Oak Spring Canyon towards Arrowhead Canyon Estates and AZ-87. I might have to hike that sometime. It eventually empties out at Tonto Natural Bridge. The intersection with Walnut Trail #251 is obvious, but only the southern segment, along the AZT. Despite at least 10 minutes searching I was unable to find the northern segment, up canyon. I settled for going straight up the creek bed.
After a few hundred yards, I found the trail, which crosses the creek many times in the two miles to FR 428. It’s a nice trail surface, cairned, plenty of shade, and pretty too.
Pine-Strawberry Trail #15 has been realigned in many places from what is on FS Topo. (The correct/new alignment is reflected in the official route.) It’s enjoyable as well, with nice views east along the Mogollon Rim. I was hoping for some MTB action, but it was not to be. Might be worth hauling a cooler of beer up to several points to watch next weekend’s races.
Found some obvious bear tracks near Cottonwood Spring — which, despite 10 minutes searching, I was unable to locate. (The spring, that is, not the bear.)
I engaged in blatant #cloudporn.
At one point I went to sit on a rock, but some critter had already pooped on it. I had a Johnny Cochran moment: If the rock has shit, I cannot sit!
I’d measured the hike at a little over seven miles, so I figured it would actually be eight. By the time I finished, I had over 10 miles under my belt. Unfortunately, the only beer I had to greet me was that awful “Go To IPA”. I ended up pouring half of it out for my dead elk homies.
The sun came & went all day, but I never did get rained on. Caught a few sprinkles heading south out of Payson. It must have poured earlier, as there were puddles in spots on AZ-87 near Mt. Ord. Lots of cops out. Traffic backed up 50 cars at the casino light, heading into Payson for the holiday weekend “getaway”.
Distance: 10.26 mi.
AEG: 1,863 ft.
Time: 4h 20m