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(April 25th, 2008 - Mazatzal Wilderness, Central Arizona)
Terry, my hiking partner for the previous three weeks on the Arizona Trail, is the volunteer steward for Passage 23 of the Arizona Trail known as the Mazatzal Divide Passage. He, of all people, should know how to pronounce “Mazatzal”, but during our many conversations about the area he used at least three distinctly different pronunciations. When I challenged him about this, he advised, “Say it like ‘mad-as-zell’”, that’s how most locals pronounce it.” I rebel however, and use my own phonetic interpretation: “mah-zaht-zahl”. You can say it however you want.
What does Mazatzal mean? I found this reference on the web: “In the language of the Aztecs, ‘mazatzal’ means ‘an area inhabited by deer,’ but just how the word reached Arizona, or what significance it holds, remains somewhat of a mystery.” (http://www.wilderness.net)
The Mazatzals are a very long mountain range lying northeast of Phoenix, that stretch north from the Salt River all the way to the East Verde River under the Mogollon Rim. Indeed, the previous three passages of the Trail have all been in the Mazatzals. I’ve been walking the range ever since leaving Roosevelt Lake many, many miles ago. The range has a wonderfully remote feel. It is rugged, steep, and surprisingly empty of people given the proximity to Phoenix.
On the Mazatzal Divide
This northern section of the Mazatzals that I will be walking for the next two days was devastated by the 2004 Willow Fire. This fire was a monster, transforming thousands of acres of wild lands into an almost lunar landscape. Terry warned me that long sections of the trail ahead are littered with deadfall. Hundreds of dead trees from the 2004 fire have fallen helter-skelter across the trail. While walking this section of the Trail, Terry planned to flag difficult sections with plastic orange tape to help show the way. I am grateful that Terry has passed through here 10 days earlier. I know his flagging will help me stay on route.
Burned Forest in the Mazatzals
I entered the burned area just a few miles after breaking camp early in the morning. Some sections were pretty easy going, but in many areas the trail had almost been obliterated by erosion and the many dead trees lying everywhere. Happily, Terry’s flagging was in place everywhere I needed it. As has been the case in other burns through which I’ve walked, the mountains were a beautiful place in which to be. Now, four years after the fire, green is sprouting up and out all over the place.
I stopped for breakfast at an unburned oasis of pine trees above Bear Spring, and later in the day stopped for a late lunch at another small oasis of trees surrounding Horse Camp Seep. There was plenty of water at the Seep, forced to the surface by a huge sheet of exposed rock in the bottom of a shallow drainage. I loaded up with enough water there to get me all the way to City Creek near the East Verde River, which I hoped to reach the next morning.
Horse Camp Seep
I walked a few miles north beyond The Park and selected a ridge-top site for camp. It was a beautiful spot ringed with juniper trees, and the air was very still as I cooked dinner. The deep quiet was interrupted frequently by hummingbirds nervously patrolling the ridge, emitting a distinctive trill as they rushed by.