The Mountains of Arizona •
Black Ridge & Alder Hill • Mazatzal Mountains
• Tonto National Forest
• Maricopa County

Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Black Ridge's southern ridge, in the early morning light
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Midway up the ridge
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Summit up ahead
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
View of the top from the eastern saddle
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Uphill slog to the top, the moon framed by the branches
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Summit rocks
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
North view from the top: Saddle Mountain, Mount Peeley, and other peaks
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Northeast view
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
East view, Mount Ord
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
South view
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Southwest view, main bulk of Black Ridge
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
West view
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Alder Hill as I descend from Black Ridge
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Black Ridge from Alder Hill summit
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
Alder Hill's top peeks out behind the trees
Black Ridge Alder Hill, Arizona
View from the Arizona Trail

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Date: January 4, 2021 • Elevation: 5,159 feet • Prominence: 479 feet • Distance: 5 miles • Time: 3 hours, 40 minutes • Gain: 1,440 feet • Conditions: Clear, sunny and stunning


Black Ridge is a line of ridges in the heart of the Mazatzal Mountains, southwest of the Mount Ord Pass, west of the old Beeline Highway alignment north of the locale of Sunflower. I wanted the highpoint of the ridge, spot elevation 5,159 feet, on the east tip of the ridge system. There is a system of trails here (plus a jeep road paralleling a power line), but none that go to the summit. Some loop around the ridge, some go higher into the range. The Arizona Trail cuts through here. I could not find any information on the hike to the highpoint itself. Apparently, not many people hike to it.

I left Payson about 6:15 a.m., and drove south to the Mount Ord Pass, then down the Sycamore Creek Road, which is a portion of the old Beeline Highway before it was rerouted to its current alignment. I drove down this road about 4 miles, passing the Cross F Ranch along the way. The road ends at some barricades. Shortly before its end, a small spur road goes west about a quarter-mile to a big loop, a let-in point to the Arizona Trail. I rolled in about 7:10 a.m., the sun still low to the east. It was clear and calm, still chilly (about 40 degrees). I stayed in the car a little while to warm up and let the sun rise some more. I was the only one here.

The Beeline Highway is the stretch of AZ-87 that runs from Mesa to Payson, about 70 miles. Today, it is a divided four-lane highway, but up until 2001, long segments of it were two-lane routes dating to its original construction from the 1950s-60s. This segment, now called Sycamore Creek Road, was part of the highway until 1996. The newer highway that superceded this older segment was finished in 2001. This article from the Rim Country Museum details its history, and this link leads to a cool picture showing how one of the bridges was built with one of those neato bridge-building machines.

I moved to the Phoenix area in 1992, and that Fall, drove to Payson with my mother, who was visiting, for a fiddler's festival. I don't recall much about the drive other than it was slow with steep grades and trucks. I would have had to have followed the older alignment, but don't remember it at all. In 1998, I was on a rescue (as a new recruit with the Maricopa Sheriff's Mountain Rescue posse) at Bushnell Tanks, north of Sunflower, and recall at the time the highway was still under construction. I don't think I drove through Payson again until about 2000 or 2001. Now that I live in Payson, I drive this highway all the time and love the scenery driving through the Mazatzals.

So anyway, I started hiking at 7:38 a.m., the upper ridges in the sun. I walked through the gate at the trailhead. I wanted to aim southwest and follow a jeep track below a set of power lines. The trails past the gate dip into an arroyo and generally head north, so I angled left into knee-high brush, but quickly found a good path that led upward toward the power lines, and soon was on the jeep track itself (Tonto FR-393).

I walked the track about a half-mile, aiming for a saddle at a low-point in the ridge. I planned to follow this ridge, the main south ridge, to the top. It appeared I could bust up any slope to catch the ridge, but I was gambling that there may be a path up this ridge from the saddle, which is where one would start, if there was one. Well, I did not find a path, so I started up through the low grass and brush, the going easy but a little slow due to rolling rocks.

I hiked uphill, up a couple bumps. The brush was thicker down low, but once I had gained about 300 feet, the terrain opened up and the going was easier. Here, I came upon some weak paths, possibly game trails, but they helped. After one more small gain up a bump, I came to a fence line along the ridge. Up ahead was the steepest push, a 350-foot slope that looked steep. It appeared do-able, but did not look like fun. I walked along the fence along this short flat stretch below the steep part, crossing it once to stay on the ridge.

Suddenly, a wonderful trail appears! Not just some scant game path but a foot-wide dirt path obviously put in by and used by humans. It went up, and I assumed it would end, since it was too good to be true to begin with, but lo, it bent a few times, went up, and traversed left (west) to achieve the top of this hill. Finding this path helped a lot and made this portion go by quickly. Once on top, I was now on another flattish segment below the next rise, but also now within view of the summit itself, just a half-mile away. I was moving quickly and efficiently and very pleased. Plus, it was warming nicely, and the day was sunny and calm.

The trail wandered up this flat bench, through brushy segments and open grass, skirting a hill up ahead to its left. I kept to this trail as long as I could. It entered into a thick patch of chest-high manzanita and brush. I was able to glean paths in this thicket, but often just bashed through it too. This was short and I was soon in the saddle below the summit.

There is no trail from here, but navigation is easy. I walked uphill, the brush getting thick in spots. I had to weave through trees, brush and small rock outcrops, but it was not difficult. I came to a false summit, then another brushy slope, then flattening out and ending at a large rock outcrop, the summit. I did not check the time, but I figured it took me about two hours to get here. The day was lovely, about 65 degrees here. I spent about 15 minutes here, taking photos and relaxing. I looked for a register but could not find one. I had million-dollar views in every direction. To the north were Saddle Mountain, Mount Peeley, and Pine Butte. Other peaks in view were Mount Ord, Diamond Mountain, as well as many more much farther out.

I started down, and generally followed the same route down, things going much faster once I re-found that nifty trail. When I was down past the steep slope and to that level stretch with the fence, I started looking for ways to bail off the ridge early rather than take it all the way down to the road. Up high, I had better views of the slopes, and some looked mostly brush-free. Going down these slopes went very well and with almost no barriers, and this cut off a bit of time and distance, getting me back to the jeep track quickly.

I hiked on the road and to its local apex near a power-line stanchion, and took a break in a clearing. My next objective, Alder Hill (Peak 4283), was just ahead. It was a little past 11 a.m., and my hike up and down Black Ridge had gone well, helped considerably by the unexpected trail. After my break, I started walking toward Alder Hill...

Alder Hill • Peak 4283

Elevation: 4,283 feet • Prominence: 323 feet • Distance: 0.6 mile • Time: 40 minutes • Gain: 350 feet • Conditions: Sunnier

PBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

This hill lies right along the old Beeline Highway and the small spur road to the Cross-F trailhead. By itself, I would not drive all this way to hike it, but being here already and coming down from Black Ridge, this would be a good opportunity to knock this short hike out, and never have to worry about it again.

It's not a bad hill, just not very special. It is forested with a few open lanes, and consistently brushy. There seemed to be no best way up, so I walked to the highest power-line stanchion, then just aimed uphill and started hiking through the mix of trees, brush, and rocks. In twenty minutes, I was up top, the top a bare hump of rocks and grass.

I spent five minutes up here, just looking around, snapping a couple images. I found a small register and signed in, the register holding about ten names going back 15 years, mostly ranked-peak-hiking-fanatics, and a few hunters. Someone was here a year ago.

Going down, I followed a gentler slope more west that was open. When I descended about half the elevation, I then angled more north and down the steeper slopes, battling brush, and emerging onto the Arizona Trail. I followed that back to the power-line road and back to my car, arriving at noon exactly (by that, I mean 12:02 on my cell-phone chronometer).

This diversion cost me 40 minutes of my life and 0.6 mile on my legs. I was happy to hike it but probably won't remember it when I'm 80. If you're in the area, it's not a bad way to waste time and get some scratches.

The hill normally has no cited name, but there is (according to the USGS) a benchmark on a rock outcrop east of the summit named "Alder". I thought about finding it, but the brush motivated me otherwise, so I did not bother. Nevertheless, I think its a good name for this hill ().

From here, I drove back to the modern Beeline Highway, and back home, about 25 miles, to Payson.

(c) 2021 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.