Aztec Peak • Range Highpoint: Sierra Ancha
• Sierra Ancha Wilderness
• Northeastern Gila County

Date Climbed
September 17, 2005

Elevation
7,748 feet

Distance
6 miles round trip

Time
3 hours

Gain
1,500 feet

Conditions
Clear and dry

Prominence
2,468 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Aztec Peak as seen from Trail 151
 

From the summit lookout, west
 

Jerky Butte from the south
 

Jerky Butte on the Lat-Long hike
 

Beth's famous sheep photo, published in the Arizona Republic newspaper, Feb 2006

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Aztec Peak is the highest point in the Sierra Ancha, a big hilly range that runs north of Globe before merging in with the Mogollon Rim. The main route through the Sierra Ancha is state route AZ-288, which is unpaved for about 40 miles as it winds through the heart of the range. The town of Young is tucked in here, a throwback to the days of Arizona from around a hundred years ago.

The summer heat had finally abated for the first time in months, and a dry cold front (by relative standards) was moving through the state, with highs around 90 in the deserts, 70s in the high country. Coupled with the stable weather and dry conditions, we were eager to spend a weekend in the high country to revel in the gorgeous conditions. I've said it elsewhere in my pages, but it bears repeating: the best weather anywhere on the planet is found here in Arizona about this time, as summer turns to fall. Bright blue cloudless skies and near-zero humidity results in crystal-clear conditions, so clear that detail on mountainsides 50 miles away can be seen.

Aztec Peak itself is an easy peak to climb. A forest road goes to the top, where a manned lookout tower stands. Normally, this road is open to vehicles, but even when not (as it was on our visit), it makes for an easy hiking route. The actual hike shouldn't take much more than a few hours, so we built in other plans too: a lat-long confluence that was also in the region, an excuse to drive AZ-288, a visit to Young, and some harrowing drives up the road to where it meets the Mogollon Rim.

We left our home on Saturday (today) at 8 a.m., stopped in Globe for gas and supplies, and then drove north along AZ-188 to the AZ-288 turn-off. The first few miles of AZ-288 are paved is it descends toward the Salt River, crossing it over a single-lane old-time truss bridge. On the other side, the route passes through the community of Rock House, gains into the desert foothills, then, where the road starts some switchbacks, loses the pavement. The condition of the road is still very good (being a state highway, it is graded regularly and is very wide). Nevertheless, we took the road slowly and enjoyed the sights. Trucks come up and down this road and we had to keep an eye out for them.

After about a half-hour on this road, we eased onto Workman Creek Falls Road (Forest Road 487), and followed it steeply a few miles to where it "ended" at a locked gate spanning the road. A fire from a few years ago had cleared some hillsides of their trees, and the erosion had slightly undercut the road beyond the gate. Although forest personnel could drive past the gate, the general public could not. Luckily, the Falls campground was nearby, so we found a spot and called it ours for the day and following evening. It was about noon when we rolled into camp. We set up some chairs and sat around for a little while, debating our plans. Beth was not feeling well, unfortunately. At 2 p.m., she opted to stay here at camp, while I went forth with the hike.

I walked back up the road and past a number of vehicles parked in and around the gate, then walked past the gate and inspected where the road had been partially washed out. The Workman Creek Falls were a little farther up the road. Not counting the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon, the Workman Creek Falls are possibly Arizona's biggest, with nearly 100 feet of drop. Even now, in the dry conditions, there was a small stream of water moving over the falls. AFter a heavy rain, I am sure the falls here are amazing (Workman Creek Falls holds the "official" 24-hour rainfall record for Arizona of about a foot of rain. The unoffical record is about 14 inches over at Harquahala Peak in La Paz County).

The Falls are a popular short hiking destination and most of the people here were coming to the falls and no farther. There was also a large group of boy scouts coming down from Aztec Peak, and they had been "heliographing" signals using sunlight and mirrors, to other scouts on other summits. Once past the falls, the number of hikers dwindled to near zero. I continued up the road about a half-mile to Trail 151, "Abbey's Trail". This was unexpected and not shown on my map, but I followed it for a few hundred yards up over a soft rise and into a big cleared area with numerous burned trees. The trail grew indistinct here and rather than chance fate, I walked back to the road and decided to follow the safe route to the top.

The road bends south and passes an open marshy area. The Carr Peak Trailhead is located here. After this trail junction, the road bends east again and gains the main range crest. The forest was thicker, these stands having been spared by the fire. I saw no one except for a single quad-runner parked in an open area, but no actual people. I bypassed the Moody Trailhead and a partially-burned cabin, and stayed on the main road as it traversed up the "backside", the east-facing slopes of Aztec Peak. I came to another junction, a sign pointing to Aztec L.O. (lookout), saying it was still 1 mile away. That didn't seem right, and it wasn't; the last segment covered a half-mile (and that's being optimistic) and quickly, I was at the top of Aztec Peak, which is flat, and topped by a very substantial tower. I climbed the steps but the top hatch was locked, so I sat at the top steps and took in the views. I stayed up here for 15 minutes, but a stiff, cool breeze motivated me to start the hike down.

The hike down took exactly an hour, and I was back to Beth and our camp at 5 p.m. as the sun was setting behind the ridges near camp. Beth was comfortably encased in blankets and reading a book. We built a fire and had a dinner of cheese, packaged salmon and french bread. We had a good night's sleep in the bed of my truck. The next day we drove to Young, taking a side tour to visit a confluence at North 34, West 111. Farther up the road, more toward the town of Young, Beth snapped this beautiful photograph of sheep grazing in a pastoral meadow. It was published in the Arizona Republic newspaper in February, 2006. You'd never believe that was taken in Arizona, but it most certainly was.

We stopped in Young for a brief visit. It's as we expected: an old-time town with a basic business district, surrounded by farms and ranches. The state route designation end here. After Young, the road to the Mogollon Rim is narrower and in places, a lane wide and etched into steep hillsides. We were careful here, awed by the great views and mindful of the drops below us. In time we came up to the Mogollon Rim itself, merged onto highway AZ-260, and drove home via Payson and the Beeline Highway.

(c) 2005, 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.