Since its gotten rather warm in Tempe of late, I decided to escape and take a few trips to some beautiful places in Arizona’s Central Highlands. The Central Highlands is the transitional zone between the lower elevation deserts and the Colorado Plateau. It can vary greatly in elevation, as it is made up of several basins/valleys, such as the Verde Valley and Tonto Basin, along with several mountain ranges, including the Bradshaw Mountains, Mazatzal Mountains, and the Superstition Mountains. To escape the heat, I mainly stuck to the mountains found within this region.
The first hike I did was called Hellsgate Trail, which is a few miles east of Payson, and I was accompanied by a fellow grad student Eric Moody (check out his website!). This trail heads south of highway 260 and eventually ends up in the Hellsgate Wilderness area. In the Hellsgate Wilderness is the Hellsgate, which is the point where Tonto Creek and Haigler Creek meet. It is supposed to be a very steep and difficult hike once you hit the creeks, but we did not end up going that far. To get to that point, you really need to backpack in, as it is several miles away. We ended up hiking along the trail for a few miles, enjoying the cool weather and shady pine trees.
We also did a bit of birding along the way!
Much of the trail we did was through a mixed coniferous forest, with ponderosa pines, alligator junipers, and pinyon pines being most common. There were also white and emory oaks scattered throughout.
Occasionally we would be on the sunny sides of some ridges, which would cut down on the forest vegetation, but then we could get some good views of the surrounding area.
Spring has not fully hit this area yet, so the bird diversity wasn’t incredibly high, but we saw many woodpeckers and nuthatches. We also saw juniper and bridled titmice and mountain chickadees. The most interesting bird we saw was the red crossbill, which I had never seen before!
We also saw many bumblebees along the trail, and there was a stream that was somewhat continuous throughout as well.
All and all, it was a great hike, and it was very chill, as this squirrel we found demonstrates.