Table Mesa Rd. to Little Pan Loop

Black Canyon Trail #4

Very large Western Diamondback.
Very large Western Diamondback.

Directions: North I-17, exit 236, west Table Mesa Rd. After you cross over I-17, turn right down the dirt road. (If you stay straight on the pavement it takes you right back onto I-17 south.) The dirt road heads north, paralleling the west side of I-17. After a mile, the dirt road bends west, crossing El Paso Gas Pipeline “Road”. (The grassy cutout next to the freeway.) There will be a split in the dirt road; stay left. You will see some park signs in a parking area at 2.6 miles … DON’T STOP THERE! Why? The area is riddled with hundreds of screws and nails. Unless you want a flat, or four, avoid it. After 3.3 miles, you will arrive at the trailhead.

Report: I started hiking at 0457, where I ended last week, at the Table Mesa Rd. trailhead, the start point for Little Pan Loop (BCT #4). My goal being to hike, in segments, the entirety of the Black Canyon Trail. I had enough light to see the trail a few minutes earlier, but not quite enough to see possible dangers like snakes or cholla balls.

The elevation high point of the hike — at least the parts I did — is the trailhead, so the general trend is down the first few miles, but until you hit the Agua Fria River, its up & down. I saw a very large western diamondback laying in the middle of the trail as I crossed the Little Grand Canyon wash. Even though I spotted him well in time, he still rattled me, and did that S-shaped, raised head thing, before slithering off into a nearby bush. I detoured up a nearby jeep trail for a few hundred yards instead. Four snake encounters so far in my life, and in every case they were laying across the trail. Anyone know why they do that?

I was doing the loop clockwise, so I arrived at the Agua Fria River in a little under an hour. It’s a river in name only. Mostly dry, though with some large puddles to the west of the trail. I crossed a yellow metal tube gate, and began searching for the crossing. Aim at the large solo tree, to the left of the small wash across the river. The trail will begin trending up as you pass the west side of Hill 2025. Though it was by no means hot — the hike was still mostly in shade — it was way humid, and I could tell I was already starting to wear down, despite staying well hydrated. I took a break at the saddle just north of Hill 2025. (I could see my silver car reflecting sunlight at the trailhead.) After the break I decided discretion might just be the better part of valor. Instead of bailing back the way I came, which would have been boring and a bit too quity, I did a map recon, and instead decided to take the contours north of Hill 2025, east to the Agua Fria River, cross that, head east up the branch wash, then reconnect with the main trail at the 6.4 mile point, effectively going a mile to cut three out of the hike.

Going cross country was not bad, though I did bleed for the cause when I caught some cats claw. East of Hill 2025, just above the Agua Fria River, is a large open area (34.00596, -112.183224). I crossed that, descended a short steep slope, crossed the the dunes that pass for a “river”, and began looking for that side wash. After being startled by some cattle in the dense foliage on the east side of the river, I took another break. I realized I was wearing down much, much quicker than I should have been, and that I had little energy left to look for the east side of the trail loop, so I bailed back down the river to my previous crossing point. It was slow going in the rocks.

I reached the yellow metal tube gate about 1 hours and 40 minutes into my hike, and took a long break. (Or what is long for me … 10 minutes.) I was dead tired. No energy left at all. And still two up & down miles to go. I was so drained that I would walk two minutes, bend over for a breather, walk another two minutes, etc. Ten foot incline? Another hands-on-knees breather. In all, it took me 65 minutes to travel the two miles back to the trailhead, or half my normal speed.

As I approached the trailhead, I heard shooting. VERY CLOSE shooting. Whereas last week I could tell the shooting was some distance off, this had me listening for “bees”, which if I had heard, even as exhausted as I was, I would have low crawled back to the trailhead. I could see the rednecks just west of the trailhead, aiming south. For those following along on my reports, that would be right back down BCT #3. Yeah. Phoenicians practice the same care with their shooting as they do with their driving. Taking a cats claw is one thing, taking a full metal jacket is entirely another. Anyway, I made it back to my car, climbed inside, and got out of there as quick as possible with 2WD.

One thing I noticed as I drove back was that my vision was really odd. Everything was very bright, like some sort of religious experience. The central part of my vision, both eyes, was washed out, faded, while the edges of my vision was so white, I could see no shapes or colors at all. Any idea why? Pupils way dilated, maybe?

In conclusion, avoid hiking anywhere within two miles of Table Mesa Road. (Law is no firing within a quarter mile of the trail, but even though the maximum effective range of an M-16 might be 460 meters, bullets can still kill over a mile out.)

Distance: 6.06 mi.

AEG: 686 ft.

Time: 2h 45m

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