The weather in Phoenix was expected to break the 110 degree barrier for the first time this year, but lucky for us we had other plans. If you were to draw a line slightly North East of Phoenix for approximately 200 miles you would hit New Mexico; and slightly before that Alpine, Arizona. The region houses the 11,420' peak Baldy; the remnants of Arizona's largest wildfire to date (thanks douchbags, Caleb Joshua Malboeuf and David Wayne Malboeuf); and the Blue Range Primitive Area. Our plan was to do a three day loop starting in the tiny community of Blue, AZ. The route would take us through lush spring fed valleys; under canopies of trees and along the lifeline of the community, the Blue River. The elevation from the trip ranged from 5,000' to 7,500' with promises of cooler temps.
Arriving at the trailhead we were met with the unseasonably warm 92 degree weather. Hoping for cooler temperatures we reevaluated our pack list; 'cameled up' and headed into the heat. Although the mercury was rising we shortly found ourselves traversing a lush trail that skipped across a small creek. The two dogs enjoyed the relieve from the heat, as did we.
After a few miles the forrest opened up and the pines began to replace the ferns. This portion of the trail had a striking resemblance to Payson. A few short climbs had us reevaluating our attempt to escape the heat.
Eventually we reached a small pool that would serve as our water source for the evening and we found camp a two minute walk up trail.
Although we hit the Lanphier Trail #52 early we could feel the heat quickly creeping in. The tree canopy helped to prolong the inevitable as we met our connection with the Cow Flat Trail #55.
The Cow Flat Trail#55 let us to Bear Valley which housed a abandoned structure, a small creek, and plenty of bear footprints to keep us busy. After a missed turn we backtracked and began the ascent over a badly overgrown portion of the trail. In areas the trail was not existent. Luckily this portion was short and the hillside was dotted with wildflowers.
After a few long breaks and a some failed attempts to locate springs/tanks we came into a heavily wooded area. Like a fairytale scene a spring bubbled out from under the trunk of a gigantic tree. A small pool provided a excellent source to cool the dogs down, who nearly immediately bounced back. The importance of water is never more evident then while backpacking in Arizona. All trips revolve around the availability, the amount and the distance between sources. Rarely something we have the luxury of taking for granted.
After leaving the safety of the spring we found ourselves descending down the Cow Flat Trail #55 to the Blue River Trail #101 that followed the Blue. Although we had the comfort of water the sand and river rock was oven hot and causing havoc on the dogs paws and our feet. At this point, both dogs had to be carried across impassable sections of sand and rock.
A short walk from the trail junction we located a ideal location to wait out the sun. Instantaneously hammocks were hung, packs were flung and water was drank; as we soaked up the shade. After a few discussions we ultimately decided to stick to our original plan and camp at this location for the night. Although a great spot visually, you cannot see the gigantic biting ant hill that ended up causing us issues. In the end one dog and three people were bit/nipped by the tiny ants, even after offering a 'Peace Tortilla'.
The Lanphier Trail #52, Cow Flat Trail #55 and Blue River Trail #101 loop is a isolated backpacking route that can be done when temperatures in Phoenix rise. Although I would not recommend doing this route when temperatures are expected to be in the 90's, it can be done, cautiously. If planning this trip, make sure you have adequate maps, GPS and route finding skills; as portions of the Cow Flat Trail were difficult to follow at times.