AZT Trail Notes: Southern Terminus to Oracle

For those of you interested in the details I’ve decided to post my trail notes about the AZT. I’ll post more trail notes again every 200 miles or so.
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The easiest way to get to the Montezuma Pass trailhead, where you can hike down to the southern terminus of the AZT (monument 102), is to drive through Coronado National Monument. Drive through the monument until the road turns to dirt and then continue up the steep road to Montezuma Pass. There are links on the Arizona Trail website for shuttle services. From the parking area, you’ll walk past the restrooms and the picnic area to the Coronado Peak Trailhead, up some stone stairs, and then the trail splits. The rightward trail goes up to Coronado Peak and the leftward trail, where you’ll see your first shiny AZT trail sign, goes down to the border and the southern terminus of the AZT. The trail is obvious all the way down.

We began our hike on a weekend so there were lots of tourist hikers around, hiking down to the Mexican border and up to Miller Peak. I don’t know if every weekend is as busy as when we started, but if you’re worried about starting alone perhaps consider starting on the weekend.

It’s a long climb up from Montezuma Pass so you might not make as many miles the first day as you want to. I highly recommend making the side trip up to Miller Peak. It’s a 1/2 mile from the AZT to the summit and an additional ~260 feet of elevation gain. It’s an ultra-prominence peak that you’ve already done most of the climbing to get to and the views from the summit are stunning.

There is level ground for camping on the ridge above bathtub spring that offers great sunset views. There are also a number of good campsites further along the trail on the ridge if you’re trying to get in a few more miles. As you descend from the Huachuca Mountains there are a lot of trail intersections, but they are all well marked with signs and/or cairns. The first three passages into Patagonia were the best signed trail miles I’ve ever done.

We saw several border patrol between Montezuma Pass and Patagonia and they were all very friendly. Patagonia was a very trail-friendly town. The Stage Stop Inn was a little pricey for us, but they were very nice and helpful and they offer AZT hiker rates. They have a pool. Our room had a bathtub. Laundry was free after 5:00pm. They also have a guest computer. The bakery across from the PO was amazing. Gathering Grounds has the best-ever gluten-free brownies, awesome pies, and they serve breakfast and lunch as well. The Mexican restaurant had excellent chile rellinos. Red Mountain Foods health food store had everything we needed to resupply.

The road walk out of Patagonia was actually quite scenic and nice to do at the end of the day. There are places to camp after a few miles. I don’t know what it’s like during a dry year, but we had great water all the way to Kentucky Camp. There are fewer water sources after Kentucky Camp and the trail is more exposed and offers less and less shade. The two best, almost cold, shade spots were the culvert under AZ hwy-83 and under I-10. Cienega Creek is a great respite after the long exposed desert stretch.

We chose to resupply at the Walgreens in Vail instead of sending a box to Posta Quemada Ranch. It would have been a lot easier to send a box to the ranch, but hitching to a from Walgreens was ok and the resupply from Walgreens was actually pretty good.

The big climb into Saguaro National Park starts after Rincon Creek. The climb between Rincon Peak and Grass Shack camp is very exposed, hot, and exhausting. I also needed more water for those miles than I had planned on. The climb between Grass Shack camp and Manning camp offered a little more shade, was better graded, and slightly cooler just from the higher elevation.

Mica Mountain, after Manning camp, is a very short side trip if you’re into peak-bagging, but there’s no real view from the summit, so other than saying that you’ve been there, you wouldn’t be missing much if you skipped it. After passing the trailhead to Mica Mountain you begin a very steep ~4000 foot decent with views looking down toward Reddington Pass.

After White Tank you climb up the ridge and then descend down the other side to Catalina Highway and Molina campground. There is a lot of climbing and descending from here.
Between Hutch’s Pool and the West Fork we saw a few marginal places to camp that would fit a single hiker. But after the first crossing of the West Fork there were a lot of beautiful little camp spots. There was also a lot of poison ivy along the West Fork. The most exhausting stretch of trail for me so far was the ~6-7 miles between Romero Pass and Marshall Saddle. It’s beautiful, but it’s a lot of climbing over very rugged terrain, loose rock, and boulders.

Since our last real town-stop was Patagonia, we came into Summerhaven with our wallets open a spent way too much money on pizza and giant cookies, but it fueled our bodies for the last few miles into Oracle. Oracle Ridge is a bit of a scraggly trail, but offers amazing views. There is level ground to camp at Dan’s Saddle. There were a couple of marginal camp spots a couple miles later on a small saddle/ridge after Rice Peak comes into view, and one really nice camp site shortly after that. Overall, Oracle Ridge didn’t offer many level spots to camp, so if it’s getting late you may want to grab the first spot you come to. We continued straight on the Oracle Ridge trail, which descends into the middle of Oracle, instead of turning on the AZT/American Flag trail that goes around Oracle. The owners of the Chalet Motel in Oracle offer AZT hiker rates and are super hiker-friendly–they have laundry, loner clothes, and a hiker box. If they have time they’ll even pick you up at the trailhead.

I have no idea what the next stretch of trail will be like, but so far the AZT is superbly rugged and exhausting. I’ve always used “20 mile” days as my trail standard, but very quickly lowered my aspirations to 17 mile days and still felt like I was hiking 25 mile days. It’s all amazingly beautiful and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

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