Maverick Hill • (South) Big Lue Mountains
• Eastern Greenlee County


Distance shot, taken from highway NM-78
 

Hiking in White Mule Creek, amid the tall pines
 

Maverick Hill, still a ways away
 

Looking back at Peak 7242, and "Mule" Hill. The white blotch is where highway AZ-78 surmounts the mountains
 

General summit area
 

The summit cairn
 

Hiking back, there's an old dam there
 

The Big Lues from AZ-78
 

Spectacular cliffs from our campspace at Black Jack campground

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Date: May 9, 2011 • Elevation: 7,488 feet • Prominence: 1,328 feet • Distance: 7 miles • Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 1,350 feet • Conditions: Sunny with breezes

Maverick Hill is a 7,488-foot peak located along the Arizona-New Mexico boundary in Greenlee County, and a principal summit of the Big Lue Mountains, whose highest point is Brushy Mountain, inside New Mexico. Thus, Maverick Hill is considered the highest point of the Arizona portion of the Big Lue Mountains. It has 1,328 feet of prominence, so it's more than a mere hill. Beth and I were planning a trip to Silver City, New Mexico, with plans to drive the scenic route through Greenlee County, so I did a little research and found this peak as a potentially interesting way to break up the drive. It features a good trail (so says the map) and a good campground, so we planned this to be our first stop.

From our home, we drove east about 40 miles along US-60 when we came upon a brushfire! It was burning vigorously along both sides of US-60, about four miles west of Superior (and near the Picketpost Mountain trailhead exit). Plumes of white smoke was mixed with ominous black smoke. The cars were backed up and the main fire units arrived after another 20 minutes. We stayed put another 30 minutes before they allowed us to advance to a turnaround, forcing us onto westbound US-60. We were forced to detour south along AZ-79 at Florence Junction ("Flojunk") into Oracle Junction, then up AZ-77 through Winkelman, finally catching US-70 east of Globe, over a hunded miles (and two hours) later. While inconvenient, we rolled with the punches. How many times do you come upon a big fire so close? Also, the stretch of AZ-77 that we drove was a first for us, and it was very scenic. For photos of the smoke and flames, please see this link.

We drove through Safford, got food for the night, and followed US-70/191 into Greenlee County. We descended into the little community of Three Way, where US-191 bends north to Clifton. Here, we followed AZ-78 northeast into the mountains. We had hoped to get to the Black Jack campground during daylight, but we arrived as darkness fell. We drove the grounds and noted nobody was here, this being a Sunday night. We found a spot in one far corner, well hidden, and had the whole place to ourselves for the night. It was cool but not cold, and we had a waxing crescent moon that provided a little glow for half the night. I slept in the back of the truck, curled up by 9 p.m.

The next morning I got my stuff in order and started the hike at 6:45 a.m. in pleasant conditions. The hike follows Trail 568 (as shown on the map), but no markers are found along the actual trail, which is an ATV track, found directly behind the back fence of the campground. I walked this track north at first, then it turned east clockwise around Peak 6467 (or "Birthday Hill" as named by me since that's my birthday). The track reaches a small pass north of Peak 6467, then drops about 80 feet toward White Mule Canyon. The track then cuts right (south) and follows the canyon bottom for about a half-mile amid giant ponderosa before making a quick left and ascending out of the canyon bottom. From here (about a mile after I had started), the track ascends quickly and leaves the big trees behind. It stays right on the ridge, amid scrubbier juniper, madrone and sycamore. After reaching a small hilltop, the forested anvil-shaped summit of Maverick Hill comes into view, still about a mile and a half away.

I made good time along the path, following it up and down the ridge, keeping on it until it ended roughly a mile short of the top. Now the fun began. The map shows a trail to the top but it is suspiciously straight for the last half-mile, suggesting the map-draftsman got lazy. In reality, the trail to the top is overgrown and hard to follow. The first few hundred yards were the worst. Here, the "trail" is supposed to surmount a hill marked "7025" on the map. I just followed what seemed like openings and a few cairns. Whenever I had doubts, I stayed close to the ridge, and this worked well. The brush and trees had closed in, and I was forced to hunker down and plow forward.

The trail seemed to re-appear near the saddle between Peaks 7025 and 7242, but it was still overgrown. I made better time here and usually could see what to do, but a few times had to backtrack and try other ideas when not sure. The "trail" seems to end about 150 feet short of the top. The final slope was easy, though large ponderosa, grass and rubbly rocks. The top is flat, so finding the highest point took some seaching, but I found it luckily, a small cairn amid rocks surrounded by trees. I was the second person to sign in for 2011, but only the 8th or 9th since 1992, when the register was placed. One group surmised this peak to be the location of an old heliograph station, which might explain the trail, and the lack of upkeep. I didn't stay long as there were no views.

The descent went a little faster, now able to follow the trail a bit better (given that I had broken a few branches of my own to act as sign of my passage). Here, the views were better, being able to see the big mine pits near Clifton, and the Mogollon Range in New Mexico. Once back at the road, I jog-walked almost the whole way back to the truck. I took a small detour to inspect an old dam built into White Mule Creek, but there was no water in the reservoir. I was back to the truck at 10:00 a.m.. Beth had caught some sleep while I was gone, and we spent another hour or two relaxing in the campground before leaving, heading into New Mexico and Silver City for two nights. We had fun in S.C., but alas, our main destination, the Gila Wilderness, was shut out to us due to a giant fire.

On our return, we made a visit to the confluence at North 33, West 109 inside New Mexico, nearby Brushy Mountain, then came back to the Black Jack campground, with plans to spend the night here again. This time, we camped as far south as possible, nearly on the cliff's edge, with spectacular views south into Black Jack Canyon with its tremendous cliffs and views into the lower desert hills of the Gila River valley.

The campground is large and free, but be forewarned: this is ATV country, and during a summer weekend, the area could be crawling with these things and their noise. We were lucky to have peace and quiet on our two visits.

(c) 2011, 2016 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.