Our next adventure took us back to the White Mountains,
where we sought out a good, ten to fifteen-mile long day hike, preferably in a
wilderness area, though it wasn't required. We wanted something with at least
a little bit of an elevation gain -- at least 1,000 feet -- as long as it
wasn't a killer hike. Most importantly, we wanted to get out of the scorching
desert heat and into the high country. The trail that met those requirements
turned out to be the Los Burros Trail #631, which was part of the highly
popular White Mountains Trail System. Although this trail would not take us
into a wilderness area, it was a little used, thirteen mile long loop trail
that would help us get off of the couch and back into the outdoors again.
During the weeks following our honeymoon, John and I had fallen into a spell
of laziness, which, for us, was very unusual. We had even spent one day at
home watching movies we had rented -- one of which was a poorly made porno
film that we never finished viewing. The rest of the time, when John wasn't
skydiving, our hiking was limited to two short jaunts on the Mogollon Rim and
a picnic on Mingus Mountain. With our next backpacking trip into
Canyon fast approaching (during Labor Day weekend), we really needed to get
back into shape.
To get to the Los Burros Trail, we took SR 87 to Payson, then SR 260 into Show
Low, through Pinetop-Lakeside, and all the way to McNary, which is on the Fort
Apache Indian Reservation. Along the way, as we drove across the Mogollon Rim,
we were fascinated to see that there was a number of trees covered in spider
webs, like something out of a cheap B movie made in the 1970's. (And starring
William Shatner; the film was shot in Camp Verde...but I digress.)
In McNary, we turned left on Vernon Road and drove for eight miles on a dirt
road until we came to the Los Burros Campground, in the Sitgreaves National
Forest. The campground is the site of the old Sitgreaves Ranger Stations; the
barn and the shell of the ranger station are still standing today at the
entrance to the campground.
Although the trail description we had found on the Internet said that the Los
Burros Trail is a little used trail, they failed to mention that the
campground is very popular. When we arrived, a little before 9:00 a.m. that
morning, the campground was filled with people -- loud, obnoxious people with
screaming brats: a sort of "redneck villa", as John called it. Some of them
had already hit the trail that morning, meaning that we were likely to
encounter them along the way. That didn't sit very well with me, especially
when we saw that there was a group of fifty people signed in at the trail
Fortunately for us, those people weren't really hiking the Los Burros Trail.
Instead, they were playing in the meadow, just yards from the campground. We
would be able to hike the rest of the trail in peace and quiet -- although we
weren't in a wilderness, we could at least enjoy the wilderness experience.
Well, almost. About a tenth of a mile past the trailhead, we reached a gate.
The trail continued on the other side, along FR 9, which followed the power
lines for about a half a mile before curving into the woods. John remarked
that it was difficult to enjoy the wilderness experience with power lines
overhead, but once we entered the woods, the lines were completely forgotten.
After that, the hike was very beautiful. For the next twelve miles, we found
ourselves hiking either under a canopy of trees or through a vast meadow
filled with yellow and white wildflowers. Occasionally, our hike took us onto
a forest road for no more than a half a mile before it entered the forest
It also wasn't a very difficult hike at all. We did the counter-clockwise
loop, which began to climb almost immediately. Then, after a quarter of a mile
it would flatten out. None of the climbs were very long at all. Not more than
a quarter of a mile after the trail began to ascend steeply, the trail would
level out again. In all, we gained only 1,300 feet during the entire hike. I
did feel winded, though, during the uphill climbs, but that was due to two
major factors: 1) I was out of shape, and 2) we were at a higher elevation, so
the air was a little thinner. It didn't kill me, though, and as soon as I
caught my breath, I went on.
One of the downfalls of this trail was the mud. Due to the recent monsoon
storms, some parts of the trail were covered with puddles of water, which
created sludge. Some sludge puddles were ankle deep, into which our boots
would sink. When we pulled them free, they were covered with muck. That made
hiking very difficult, as we had to hike very carefully so as not to fall in
For the most part, however, the hike was beautiful. One of the highlights was
towards the end of the loop, as we passed through Reservation Flat, at the
border of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Reservation Flat is a huge
meadow covered with yellow and white wildflowers, and at the very edge of it
is an aspen grove that must be hundreds of years old.
We also managed to see lots of wildlife along the way, including several deer,
hawks, and bluejays, as well as people on ATC's, a pair of mountain bikers and
their dog, and two men loading firewood into a Jeep. (Okay, so it wasn't quite
the wilderness experience...)
Finally, we arrived back at the van, completing the thirteen-mile trail in
just over five hours. (We weren't as out of shape as we thought!) Since it was
still early in the day, we decided to take a more scenic route home; we took
SR 73 all the way to US 60, a route that would take us through Whiteriver and
Fort Apache, on the Indian Reservation. Like SR 260, the highway was lined
with towering sunflowers, which made the drive a pretty one.
And finally, we arrived back in Phoenix, a bit earlier than expected, so we
stopped to rent two Robin Williams movies, and we spent the rest of the
evening relaxing in front of the television.