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Walking the Mesas
(April 26th, 2008 - Mazatzal Wilderness, Arizona)
While studying the map the night before, I saw that there were only 10 or 11 miles to walk to the northern terminus of the Mazatzals at the East Verde River. Jim and I have planned an off-schedule resupply day today at the City Creek Trailhead, mostly because Jim is curious about this area and wants an excuse to drive up from Phoenix and take a look around. We plan to meet at City Creek about ten or eleven this morning.
From my camp, it was mostly downhill to City Creek. The trail bed was soft and easy on the feet, and I felt wonderfully exuberant as I almost flew along toward the East Verde valley.
I got a good laugh at myself around mid-morning. Since the day before, I had been fascinated by all the small cow hoof prints I had seen on the trail. I thought it odd that there could be so many small, young cows roaming around this rough landscape. Even more amazing to me had been seeing these miniature cow prints in the middle of dense sections of tree deadfall where the going is really tough. I had no idea that cows could be so agile.
This mystery was cleared up for me a few miles out of camp though, when I scared a bull elk on the trail and witnessed his incredibly fast exit down a steep ravine. He was a really large animal, but less than a minute later he had speedily disappeared from view. When I arrived at the spot on the trail where he began his flight, I saw his “miniature cow prints” all over the place.
Jim and I found each other without a hitch at City Creek. After enjoying some fresh fruit and a nice visit with Jim, I packed up the trail food he has brought and start walking toward the ford of the East Verde River near the LF Ranch.
Dave by Jim's vehicle
I didn’t stop at the LF Ranch, but glimpses of the operation through the cottonwood trees were fascinating. In spite of a long and very rough approach on a 4-wheel drive road, the ranch seemed quite large with many structures and corrals. Cows bellowed and roosters crowed. It was obvious this was an active and busy outfit.
Studying the map the night before revealed that I was approaching a host of small plateaus perched under the Mogollon Rim. The names are great, examples include: Deadman Mesa, Crackerjack Mesa, and Upper Racetrack Mesa. Once across the East Verde River, the trail climbed onto Polles Mesa, then Whiterock Mesa, and finally Hardscrabble Mesa before swinging east toward the mountain town of Pine, Arizona.
The trail onto Polles Mesa was easy to follow, but wow, was it steep! I thought I was in good shape. Why was I working so hard on this? Recovering my composure on the relatively flat mesa top, I found that the trail became indistinct, nearly disappearing in the grasses and rock-cobbled surface. Navigation depended upon spotting tall rock cairns that poked up above the brush and showed the way through scattered juniper trees. I get lost once, but with the help of my GPS I got back on route in a quarter mile or so.
The important water spot of the day was Whiterock spring at the base of the mesa of the same name. I collected my water from a classic wood spring box. I was amazed that it was built so tightly as not to leak.
Whiterock spring box
Once on Whiterock Mesa, it didn’t take long to figure out what inspired the name. The mesa top was decorated with strangely shaped white limestone rocks. I swear, some of them looked like piles of dinosaur bones out of the corner of my eye as I walked along.
"Dinosaur Bones" limestone
Tomorrow: Hardscrabble Mesa, then on to the base of the Mogollon Rim.