Column: Borderland hiking at Miller Peak

'Hiking Arizona'

Our borderlands offer some of the best hiking anywhere with rugged canyons and challenging peaks. Miller Peak falls into the latter category. It rises to over 9,000 feet from a trailhead elevation of nearly 6,000 feet. My first attempt at the summit was in the spring of 1968.

At nine years of age, falling in the snow started out fun, but soon turned into a problem. We returned later that summer to find flower-filled meadows along the Crest Trail, now part of the Arizona Trail. Such a long distance trail was an unforeseen development in the late ’60s.

As mentioned in my last column, Robert and Martha Manning shy away from such extensive long distance trails (e.g. the Arizona Trail stretches nearly 800 miles between Mexico and Utah), in their book “Walking Distance.” However, in their chapter on how to walk greater distances, they talk about breaking up such a trail into manageable segments. What’s manageable depends on the individual hiker and the logistics involved with the specific trail segment. That brings me back to the issues associated with hiking along the border.

In addition to signs warning of illegal drug smuggling activity, Border Patrol agents traveled the primary access route near the trailhead well after dark. Who could have foreseen the many security changes along our southern border, especially the more wild sections like Miller Peak, south of Sierra Vista? Have you read the book, “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy? Living in fear is no way to live. Hiking in fear is no way to hike. What to do? Follow the standard protocols: be prepared and inform someone where you are going and when you plan to return.

There are no facilities at the trailhead and limited parking. But, the trails are well-marked, signed, and easy to follow. Permits are not needed. I searched the landscape for anything familiar from 1968. The terrain looked unfamiliar. I did not recognize the bathtub spring. Wildfires have brought yet another change to this once remote mountain range.

As development spread across the West, concern over the preservation of scenic areas like Miller Peak, prompted farsighted individuals, like Howard Zahniser to create a formal system recognizing the value of wilderness. Such places were valued, just because they were wild and they were disappearing at a rapid rate. Once developed, they could not be made wild again. That would be like becoming a virgin after becoming pregnant. Things just don’t work that way.

Howard Zahniser may not be a familiar name among the likes of John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and John Audubon. He’s about as obscure as many of the wilderness areas that were part of the original legislation that created the Wilderness Preservation System in 1964. Zahniser was the principle author of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

As with so many unforeseen events, Zahniser died a couple of months before the legislation became law but his sacrificial efforts and faithful devotion to this cause was documented in a book by Mark Harvey, “The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zahniser.” The system he helped create offers the “best” hiking options in the Country.

Selecting the “best” hike is like selecting the right item on a menu. There are innumerable lists (menus) out. The Mannings, myself, Steve Reynolds, etc. discuss this. Is there a reliable method to matching your preference with an actual hike? After 50 years of hiking in the Southwest, I stumbled upon a reliable approach and will share it next time.

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