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Mon, Oct. 14

Johnson: Spending time in the Whetstone Mountains in southeast Arizona
Hiking Arizona

Ted Johnson at a trailhead in the Whetstone Mountains. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

Ted Johnson at a trailhead in the Whetstone Mountains. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

Trail confusion is annoying at best, dangerous at worst. Hiking out of Kartchner Caverns State Park into the Whetstone Mountains, I experienced significant trail confusion. This situation was manifested by inadequate displays with confusing maps along with contradictory and inaccurate trail signage.

Based on the information provided on site, I ventured off in the wrong direction north of the Park. Strike one. I encountered some other hikers just as confused as I was. Since loops go in two directions, I tried going in the other direction.

As I ventured up switchbacks to what appeared to be an abandoned mine, I got an uneasy feeling that things were just not adding up.

I scanned the terrain to the south looking for features I remembered from the map displayed at the trailhead. I spotted a trail / old jeep road below that looked like it might be the correct route.

I abandoned the trail I was on, since it looked like it was on a dead end path to a mine. I set out on a cross country path to the road / trail below and decided to backtrack toward the trailhead to see if I could find the spot where I had gotten off course.

It did not go toward the official trailhead. The path I was exploring, was not the correct path after all. Strike two.

Now what?

Perseverance is essential. I studied the map more carefully and decided to try a canyon labeled with the incorrect trail number. Continuing up the “wrong” trail, I encountered a hiker coming toward me.

He confirmed that this was the actual loop. He had hiked this trail several times. You could tell.

I recently turned down an invitation to hike rim to rim in the Grand Canyon. Since I prefer the way less travelled, the obscure path I was trying to figure out held much more appeal. Well-established routes, like the corridor routes in the Grand Canyon, just don’t try my route finding skills. I have hiked those trails several times. I prefer tierra nueva, as they say.

I found the Guindani Loop Trail worthwhile for several more reasons. The views are amazing. As you top the backbone of the ridge coming out of the Whetstones, southeast Arizona spreads out before you in a vast panorama of peaks and valleys.

The Sky Island region of Arizona is well named, with the Chihuahua Desert interspersed among peaks rising to over 9,000 feet.

The hike is less than five miles and involves 1,000 feet of elevation change.

The diversity of life encountered is a wonder, a perfect day hike or entrance into the Whetstones for a longer excursion. Surface water is plentiful at this time.

I grew up in Bisbee, so hiking in this area is like going home. In fact, Richard Shelton’s book, “Going Back to Bisbee” is a great introduction to the human and natural history of the area around Kartchner Caverns State Park.

While most visitors to the Park come for the underground views, the intricate details above ground are no less interesting.

That’s why I will be leading a hike there, Foothills Loop Trail, on March 23.

It is a 2.5 mile loop and we will begin the hike at 10 a.m. A variety of trees, shrubs, ferns, cacti and wildflowers will be on display. Gorgeous!

Next: What if your vehicle breaks down en route to a remote location?

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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