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(April 27th, 2008 - Mogollon Rim, Arizona)
The pre-dawn air was very still and the birds started calling early, so I woke well before dawn and was packed and walking the trail toward Hardscrabble Mesa by 5:00 A.M. Shortly after reaching Hardscrabble, the trail swung east toward Highway 87 and the town of Pine. It followed a combination of two-track jeep roads, a power line, and several miles of trail. It was pretty easy going, and though I reached the outskirts of Pine about midday, I decided to pass on the chance to go into town. Instead, I stopped to eat lunch near the Highline trailhead before pushing on.
Walking Hardscrabble Mesa
The Highline Trail runs east from Pine for 51 miles, tucked under the Mogollon Rim the entire way. The Highline was established in the late 1800’s to link various ranches and settlements strung out along the Rim. There are numerous spur trails, trailheads, and water sources along the way, so the Highline Trail is popular for day and multi-day trips alike. A full length traverse of the Highline is an ambition of many area backpackers.
The Highline was enjoyable to hike. The trail traverses the escarpment between the Mogollon Rim high above and the East Verde River valley below. Several drainages the trail crosses showed water. At Rock Spring, I stopped and indulged in a sponge bath and washed my socks.
Early in the evening, and eight miles beyond Pine, I finally reached Weber Creek where I camped for the night. Weber Creek had tons of water and road access. Weber Creek is obviously a popular car camping destination. There were dozens of car camps among the tall pines lining the creek.
The next morning I continued the traverse of the Highline Trail for about ten more miles before the Arizona Trail parted company with the Highline and turned sharply north up the headwaters of the East Verde River to gain the crest of the Mogollon Rim. I was delighted to see half a dozen elk along the way.
Mogollon Rim from Highline Trail
As the trail approached the crest of the Rim, it became steeper and started to switchback, but I enjoyed the climb, realizing it was the final steep section before attaining the relatively flat country above the Rim. As expected, the transition at the Rim was abrupt and dramatic. The weeks of climbing up and down over one mountain range after another were suddenly over. I stood at the edge of a relatively flat and lush forest of Ponderosa Pine trees. Beautiful! I took my lunch break at the edge of a large meadow ringed by pines near a place called General Springs Cabin, built back in 1915.
I enjoyed an idyllic afternoon walking the pine forest, first beside General Springs Creek, and later climbing down and then out of the East Clear Creek gorge. I saw several pairs of ducks enjoying the slow moving water in General Springs Creek.
I found it strange, and thought provoking, that this area was the scene of one of the last major military engagements between the US Army and Apache Indians. On a summer day in July, 1882, a fierce gun battle raged for three or four hours along the ridge west of General Springs Creek, now marked on the map as Battleground Ridge. As peaceful and serene as the walk was for me today, there were some 20 fatal casualties here back in 1882. It was hard to imagine.
After the climb out of East Clear Creek, I decided to camp in the Rock Creek Campground, a Forest Service Campground that was empty and closed to traffic for the winter. It was a little strange to be alone among the 40 some odd campsites scattered along the loop road, but what a luxury to enjoy a real picnic table with a real bench to sit on during dinner. I enjoyed another quiet and still night, interrupted after midnight by the haunting call of a distant screech owl.