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Picketpost South on the AZ Trail - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A long out and back hike through the desert along the AZ Trail starting at Picketpost Mountain near Superior, AZ and heading south.
Caution: This is a long and rather remote hike that requires good route finding skills. I have done my best to describe the more confusing sections of the route, but the responsibility for your safety is your own. Good luck!
Directions: From Phoenix, drive east on route 60 towards the small town of Superior. Drive 0.5 miles past mile marker 221 and turn right (south) on Forest Road (FR) #231 (look for the aluminum windmill to the south). Drive 0.4 miles to a signed junction with FR #310. Turn left, remaining on FR #231, and drive 0.6 miles to the huge Picketpost parking area, complete with bathrooms and hitching posts.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Difficult
Length: ~25 miles or just turn around when you want
Date Hiked: December 2004
Weather Conditions: Sunny, chilly and breezy
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking lot, pick up the Arizona Trail which begins just behind the large gate and sign for (what else?) the AZ Trail. Follow this dirt road as it winds its way through the desert to the south of Picketpost Mountain. After about 20 minutes the road splits, look for the wooden AZ Trail posts that mark the route to the left. Vegetation is typical Sonoran Desert with saguaro, ocotillo, palo verde, jojoba, prickly pear, and cholla. The path begins climbing then drops down and enters a series of washes, which it then follows for some distance. Keep an eye out for cairns and where the wash splits look for rocks that have been placed as barriers. Occasionally the route will pick up a short stretch of road or trail, before dropping down into the wash once more. After approximately 70 minutes of brisk hiking (my pace, your time may vary) you'll reach an old aluminum wind mill and tank (waypoint #3) next to a dry wash. There was a paper sign on the mill when I was here which indicated that water was available by detouring 450' down the wash to a piped spring (I walked down to this pipe and it was not flowing, so don't count on it). Continuing along the trail from the mill, the path eventually leaves the wash and climbs through some low hills before topping out at a prominent forest road (not sure what road this is though). Turn left (following the AZ Trail posts) and begin walking along the road. At first, whenever the road forks, the AZ Trail is marked with a signpost. Unfortunately these route markers are discontinued and are replaced by somewhat  less distinct cairns. The first confusing junction comes where a spur road joins the road you are following from behind you on the right (waypoint #6). Stay straight on the main road at this junction. Shortly afterwards the road climbs a small rise and splits. A short distance up the hill on the road to the right is an interesting mine, the trail (and cairns) however are to the left (waypoint #7). Turn left. Continue following the road checking for cairns at any junctions. The road becomes somewhat fainter the further you go and eventually enters a dry wash. Look for cairns marking an abrupt right turn up another wash (waypoint #8) at which point the road becomes more distinct and begins climbing. Near the top of the climb the road passes through a fence and there is a brown plastic AZ Trail marker on the right side of the road which will confirm that you are on the right track (waypoint #9, it took me 3 hours of fast walking to reach this point). The road goes down and up a few hills then drops into another wash which it follows for a ways before bending right (look for cairns, waypoint #10) and shortly thereafter bends left (waypoint #11) leaving the wash at an AZ Trail signpost. The path is rather faint at this point as it climbs through some rounded hills, but is marked by cairns at frequent intervals (check carefully). After a bit of climbing the trail tops out at a shoulder marked by an old fence (waypoint #12). Hike across the shoulder and down a series of washes on the other side through extremely nice desert scenery (this is the best section of the hike). As you descend you'll pass a few signs marking the boundary of a wilderness area which is closed to motor vehicles, motored equipment, bicycles and hang gliders (of all things). The path continues to descend becoming more faint as it goes. Take your time locating the many small cairns that mark the route, especially over the rocky sections. The path bends right and passes beneath a colorful escarpment which will be on your left as it heads towards a prominent triangular shaped mountain peak. Eventually the path picks up an old unused road which it follows the remainder of the way to the base of the triangular peak ending at a fairly well used dirt road (again I'm not sure which forest road this one is). If you've made it this far (waypoint #13), then you know it's time to turn around. Return the way you came.

GPS waypoints for this hike in order from north to south (for reference purpose only):
#1 = UTM 483506mE, 3679696mN
#2 = UTM 484135mE, 3678493mN
#3 = UTM 484059mE, 3677083mN
#4 = UTM 484087mE, 3676192mN
#5 = UTM 484524mE, 3674854mN
#6 = UTM 485999mE, 3674173mN
#7 = UTM 486106mE, 3674101mN
#8 = UTM 486952mE, 3673732mN
#9 = UTM 486635mE, 3672934mN
#10 = UTM 487455mE, 3672309mN
#11 = UTM 487470mE, 3672272mN
#12 = UTM 488248mE, 3671401mN
#13 = UTM 491410mE, 3669097mN

Rating (1-5 stars):
I'd probably give this hike a better rating, except for the fact that I'm not terribly fond of walking on forest roads. The latter portion of the hike is quite good though it takes quite a bit of effort to see. The author completed this hike solo at a fast pace, getting off the trail a few times and taking time to explore an arch and old mine, in 10 hours.
Maps: Maps of the hike: Map 1, Map 2, Map 3
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

The desert at dawn. Ridgeline to the left
near waypoint #9.
Scenic butte near the
wilderness boundary.
Escarpment and lush
desert scenery.
The same butte as above, which
features an interesting arch.
Mountain and road marking
the turn around point.