Saturday, August 1, 2015

2003 AHS Volunteer Trail Project on Arizona's Mogollon Rim

Arizona's Mogollon Rim is lush forest at 4000 to 8000 feet elevation, an entirely different ecosystem from the Sonoron Desert around Phoenix. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest complex is over two million acres of magnificent mountain country in east-central Arizona.

The Sinkhole (elevation 7600 feet) is located at the Canyon Point Campground on Arizona Route 260 between Payson and Heber. It is a major geologic formation on the Mogollon Rim, centuries old, but the trail leading to it was in serious need of rebuilding. Access to the old trail was decidedly unscenic, following several old logging roads, with a dangerous, washed out "user made" trail leading to the bottom of the 75 foot deep sinkhole. Our job was to construct a safer trail to the bottom as well as build a winding, scenic approach trail from the campground's main road. The Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs at its bottom are so tall now that they are higher than the rim.

This "before" photo shows the terrain and the orange flagging denotes the path for the new trail. Normally we would dig out the uphill side to build the trail, following the curving natural contour of the hillside, but our forest service ranger leader, Cindy, had a different vision. She wanted us to build a long rock retaining wall several feet tall and then backfill with soil to create a new straight trail on what is now air. When we balked at the idea, she looked us in the eye and said to us guys, "Aren't you men enough to do that?" What could we say? So we did it, and at the end of the week after the work was finished, I reminded Cindy of what she had said. "I'm ashamed of the way I talked to you guys on Monday. I apologize." And we laughed and told her she had handled us just perfectly, that her vision was the right solution for the problem, and that it was her words that had lit the fire that allowed us to successfully complete the job!

In the photo below, Mike takes a break from digging tread with his Pulaski tool as Debbie rakes with her McCloud tool and Ranger Cindy Peck places a rock for the side retaining wall. In the background, Ralph sets more rock into the side wall as Jim and Ted prepare the trail farther down the slope.

Below you see the trail taking shape. The rock retaining wall is set, the trail area is getting dirt added to it to build up its height so it has a nice gradual downhill grade, and the trail is a straight direct path. Cindy even had a clinometer to control the downward slope of the trail as we built it.


The finished trail seen has a gradual slope, making it safer and more able to withstand erosion, and large rocks are stabilizing the downhill side of the trail tread. The charred trees are reminders of the massive 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire which devastated over 450,000 acres of the forest the previous year.

I love to build switchbacks because of the challenge of building them in just the right way so they make the trail easier to hike. Our trail down was going to wind up too steep at the bottom so I suggested a short switchback and Ranger Cindy said, "Go for it!"-- which I did, and here it is. You can see that if the trail had just continued straight down, it would have been very steep, but now travel up and down is easier and safer. Our Sinkhole Trail even has its own page now on the forest website! And usage of the trail  is listed as heavy!

The campground is about 3/4 of a mile from the sinkhole trail we built, so we added this trail below which meanders through the scenic forest, providing an enjoyable walk for those in the campgound who wish to visit the sinkhole. Here Ralph and Debbie (on the left) and Ted and Ranger Cindy (on the right) are in the early stages of digging the new tread. We had to remove all organic material and get down to mineral surface (dirt) as well as remove the numerous rocks which were in the trail's path.

And here's the finished approach trail -- a much easier hike and also an enjoyable scenic stroll to the sinkhole.

A special treat for us volunteers was a visit to the Gentry Fire Tower, one of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest's three working towers still manned during the fire season. The tower is about 60 feet high and the views it offers are spectacular.

The radio controls and phone are on the side of the cabinet facing you, the device for locating the coordinates and distance to the fire is on top, two beds line two walls, and a stove and refrigerator are along another wall.

And here's our crew up in the fire tower enjoying the views. .

Our crew (from left to right):

Ralph, Mary, Jim, Laureth (in front), Debbie (behind her), Mike, Ranger Cindy Peck, Ted, and Chuck.

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