Blue Peak • Highpoint: Blue Range Primitive Area
• Mogollon Rim
• North Greenlee County

Date Climbed
May 26, 2007

Elevation
9,355 feet

Distance
2.5 miles

Time
2 hours

Gain
500 feet

Conditions
Lovely! Some sprinkles

Prominence
Appx. 550 ft

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Blue Peak from US-191
 

Forest Road 84
 

Beth is small compared to the big ponderosa
 

More teeny Beth!
 

The lookout, behind some sticky brush scrub
 

Beth stands at the tower

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Beth and I were on a four-day swing through eastern Arizona and western New Mexico for the Memorial Day weekend. After one night in Reserve, New Mexico, and a day trip to Eagle Peak in the Tularosa Range near Reserve, we entered back into Arizona through Alpine with plans to camp a couple nights up in the high country in Greenlee County near Hannagan Meadow. In Alpine we were minorly concerned to see some smoke rising in the mountains. There wasn't much and barring a road closure, we decided to drive up and have fun. From Alpine we followed highway US-191 (the Coronado Trail) south about 30 miles toward Hannagan Meadow.

We had spent an enjoyable weekend up at the Hannagan Meadow Lodge back in February 2004. There was considerable snow that weekend, which made for some fun adventures as we snowshoed to the Greenlee County highpoint, cross-country skied, and spent time warming up in our little cabin. This time, we were here in wonderful dry weather, with everything green and beautiful. We drove south of the Lodge a few miles to the signed turn off to the KP Cienega campground, and were fortunate to get the last available spot. The campground has just a handful of spaces and is situated in a small hanging valley, with the KP Creek leading away to the north. The views north toward the canyon were stunning, an absolutely beautiful setting.

The following day (May 25) was a planned rest day. We awoke to cold frosty conditions that quickly warmed as the sun rose over the mountains. We had no plans other than a short driving trip to some nearby lookouts and viewpoints. We spent the whole morning lazing about the camping area, doing not a whole lot. I took a short walk to the KP Creek trailhead out of curiosity, then "climbed" a "mountain", a small hill near camp with a spot elevation of 9,002 feet. The whole journey lasted about 30 minutes and required about 50 feet of gain. Later in the day we drove up to the Lodge for some drinks and some batteries at the little shop, where Beth spent time petting Hannah the cat. We also drove out a forest road to the Reno Lookout, plus had some enjoyable views through some open areas to the Baldy Peaks, a truly unique vantage of the Apache County highpoint. Then, back to camp for some more laziness.

The next morning started the same: ground fog and frost, then quickly warming to comfortable temperatures. Our plan today was to explore and hike to Blue Peak, a summit at 9,355 feet about five air-miles east of our camp. Little information was available for this peak, other than a short write-up in Bob Martin's Arizona's Mountains, dating from the early 1990s. We had the maps, and knew that the summit had a lookout and was within the Blue Range Primitive Area, a subset of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. This "Primitive" designation is the only one of its kind remaining in the United States, all other primitive areas being renamed wilderness areas. After breaking camp we drove back onto US-191 south for about a mile, then onto Forest Road 84, signed for the Blue Peak Lookout.

Not knowing what condition the road was in, we were pleasantly surprised to find it was in overall excellent shape. Mostly a two-track, it's narrow and situated mostly atop a long ridge heading east. The only obstacle we had was a partially-downed snag across the road that limited vehicle heights to less than 7 feet, which my truck managed. We drove in 4.2 miles to a large turn-around and parking area, near a signed kiosk at the McKittrick trailhead (#71). We were the only ones there, arriving about 10 a.m. I signed into the register and noted we were the first to sign in in 16 days, and only the second to sign in for all of 2007. I know not everyone signs in but even then I was surprised how few people venture this way. After some time getting ready we started in on the trail.

The trail starts mostly level and passes through a sparse stand of ponderosa pine and various sub-brush, plus some burned hulks attesting to a long-ago fire. It drops about 50 feet to a saddle, then starts a long gentle uphill grade amid larger, denser ponderosa. At some point here the trail narrows from an old road bed to a rather narrow trail, then widens again to a more comfortable width. After some level traversing across the north flank of a small knob, the trail comes to a Y-junction. We figured this to be a little under a mile, and we took a rest here. The weather was spectacular, with spotty clouds and a steady breeze, with temperatures in the 60s.

From here the trail swings north and starts a moderate uphill gradient through sparser vegetation including patches of young aspen and more dead, standing snags, again from the old fire. Soon it switchbacks back south, and finally gains the top of the broad summit ridge. In time we came to a sign mentioning Blue L.O., and could spot the lookout through the trees. An old trail continued south but was covered in deadfall. The main trail bent left here, so we cut the difference and entered into the underbrush, following a path of least resistance. We had to wade through a small section of dense brush including some sticker vines, then quickly came out into the clearing at the base of the tower, which stood a good 60 feet tall, we'd say. To here we figured a 1.25 mile hike and about 500 feet of gain, taking us about an hour at a leisurely pace.

The tower was long ago abandoned by the Forest Service, and any intentions we had on climbing it were put aside when we noticed that all the wooden steps were not attached to the metal stair skeleton, except by gravity, and that some were missing. We spotted the USGS witness marker in some rocks near the base, but we had no luck finding the benchmarker. We found the sign-in register amid some rocks at the tower's northeast leg. We were the first to sign in since Andy Martin from last October, and only the 12th or so party since the register was placed here in 2004. The best views were out to the south, where the peak drops about 2,500 feet all at once. Views in other directions were mostly of the trees, although looking east we could see some distant peaks in New Mexico. Unfortunately, the immediate area around the tower was kind of trashy. There was an actual trash can there, tipped on its side with old trash spilling out. A future visitor might want to bring in a trash bag and carry it out.

After about 15 minutes we backtracked to the trail then hiked out, taking less than an hour, meaning an overall 2 hour round trip for us. We drove out, enjoying the road almost as much as we did the hike, then got back onto US-191. The highway drops immediately, losing about a thousand feet of elevation as it descends the Mogollon Rim. A great viewpoint is a few hundred feet south, called Blue Vista. The peak is best viewed from here.

The plan from here was to drive the length of US-191 south into Clifton, still over 60 miles away. US-191 is a wonderfully scenic drive, working its way up and down and around various mountains, often with tight curves, steep grades and no guardrails. We stopped at some pullouts for views. After awhile the highway drops dramatically down from the mountains into the Morenci Copper Mine area, one of the largest open pit mines in the world. The operation is immense; a pullout allows for some viewing of the activity. Trucks the size of buildings dump the rocks onto piles. It is quite amazing: a whole mountain essentially ground up into ore and copper.

The city of Clifton is about five miles farther south. We had a hotel reserved here. Clifton is a neat place, built into the San Francisco Canyon, often barely wide enough for the buildings, many of which abut the walls. Clifton is also a truly authentic mining town. On this Memorial Day weekend, everyone had left town. Even the restaurants were closed. No one goes to Clifton, they all leave it whenever possible. Clifton absolutely and unabashedly could not give a rat's ass about the tourist dollar, not that they'll mind if you want to visit and spend some scratch at their local Circle-K. I love the place.

The hotel proved to be an interesting experience. Upon entering our room, we noticed a strong scent, like a very strong cleanser. We showered and sat around but in short time we started to get bothered by the scent, Beth so much so her throat actually started to burn and she had to take refuge outside. The last straw was finding a rotted piece of steak still sitting in the microwave. I marched to the office and showed them the steak, and explained the scent. We asked for a different room, and got one. The new room was fine. As we exited our room we looked around for anything funny but couldn't find anything. We could not locate the source of the odor, other than it was everywhere. After some thinking about it later on we came up with one very plausible conclusion: perhaps someone had used the room as a lab, to manufacture something naughty. The office people didn't seem that fazed.

(c) 2007 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.