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8:15 PM Tue, July 17th

Column: Hiking on trails versus cross-country

'Hiking Arizona'

I still prefer to drive with a standard transmission. Hiking on a trail is more like driving an automatic while cross-country hiking is reminiscent of driving with a stick shift, requiring greater concentration.

In Arizona the trail we start out on, sometimes fades away.

Therefore, whether or not you choose to hike cross-country, you need to be prepared for the eventuality of finding yourself off route or on no route at all.

This describes my first experience hiking across Juniper Mesa.

JUNIPER MESA

A convenient place to experience the difference between hiking on and off a trail can be found just northwest of Prescott, where the Juniper Mesa and Apache Creek Wilderness Areas are basically across the street from one another.

That street is County Road 125 which intersects Williamson Valley Road at mpm 36. Just 1.5 miles west of Williamson Valley Road is the trailhead to Juniper Mesa. This trail system ascends the Mesa on the east end, traverses the top of the Mesa to the west and then descends to the end of County Road 125. The first time I hiked across the Mesa in winter, I lost the snowy trail. I had to hike cross-country even though a well-established trail was present. I just couldn’t see it.

APACHE CREEK

South of County Road 125 lies the Apache Creek Wilderness, which is virtually trail-less. It is quite a jumble of broken ground with creek beds, boulders, brush, and pine forest. Visibility is obscured unless you scramble atop a hill or knob.

Lacking any prominent peaks, navigation is a challenge. You need to have a clear idea where the cardinal directions are (north, south, east, and west) at all times. You need to be able to read a map and follow a compass or GPS unit if you go very far in this area.

After hiking the trail on Juniper Mesa the other day, I hiked into Apache Creek Wilderness. Within minutes I had to stop and dig a spine out of my boot and foot, since I didn’t see the small agave hidden in the grasses scattered over the ground. Such is the nature of the beast. My pace slowed considerably compared with the hike on Juniper Mesa.

Hiking cross-country may be the only way to discover some of the unique treasures hidden in the Southwest.

For example, above Walnut Creek, which runs between Juniper Mesa and Apache Creek Wilderness Areas is a small hill with an Indian pueblo atop its summit. The Prescott National Forest Map even names it Indian Peak.

No trail will take you there. I figured that the ancient inhabitants threw their “trash” over the rocks on the steeper south side so that’s where I looked for pottery shards and found several. I also found a fat raccoon as I scrambled down the rocks bordering the old pueblo.

Focus is the key and potentially any hike can turn into a cross-country adventure.

Therefore, it is worthwhile to get some experience under your belt and places like upper Sycamore Canyon, Grapevine Canyon, Agua Fria National Monument, and the Bell Trail Loop offer good training ground.

Additionally, some of the primitive trails and the corridor trails in the Grand Canyon provide another basis for comparing routes with well-established trails and those where the going is more challenging, hence more rewarding, depending on your personal goals.

So, let’s look more closely at the Grand Canyon next time.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.