By: Mike Quinn Volunteer and outdoor enthusiast
The Tonto National Forest is nature’s Disneyland – but the animals are alive, the rocks aren’t made of fiberglass, and all the scenery is real. As a bonus, this land is rich with the history of the Native Americans and the early settlers. There are no rides in this Disneyland! That’s where your feet, and the trails, come into the picture.
What are your interests? Are you a fan of wildflowers? Geology? Maybe photography is your hobby. The Tonto National Forest has it all.
Many years ago, my wife and I drove through the Lake Roosevelt area. It was a bleak and overcast day. I said to my wife that this was an area I never wanted to spend any time in. How wrong I was. Since that day, we have spent seven winters discovering just how wrong. The treasures of the National Forest are hidden in the canyons and on the mountains.
Five years ago, at my wife’s urging, we volunteered for the trail crew. Since then, we’ve hiked hundreds of miles of Forest Service trails. We’ve made good friends and felt good about contributing to the enjoyment of others in nature’s glory.
Our passion has been discovering the history and dwellings of ancient people. Our volunteer work has enabled us to pursue these interests and serve the public at the same time.
Do you want to give hiking your public lands a try? Let’s start with Four Peaks Trail from the Mills Ridge trail head, a simple four-mile hike with some great views – and a chance to test your detective skills. Look for the Vineyard Canyon picnic area on the lake side of Highway 188. On the west side of the bridge near the picnic area, between milepost 246 and 247, a gravel road leads to the Arizona Trail. You will travel Forest Road 429 for five winding miles and it is best traveled by an SUV or a sturdy vehicle. You can make the trip with a car that has some clearance, but you’ll have to assess the road as you go. It can be rutted, and you don’t want to go if there’s been rain recently.
If you have an appropriate vehicle for the road, the weather looks good, it’s not too late in the day, you’ve brought hiking gear – including sun protection and plenty of water – and you’ve let someone know your plans, then you’re ready to go.
The discoveries start even before you reach the trailhead. As you travel the road, in the first mile, if you’re very observant you’ll see one of the rare petroglyphs on a rock on the right side of the road. You also might spot what appears to be an ancient fortress on top of a steep knoll. We hiked up to this stone structure and discovered it was made by the earliest inhabitants of the area. This is the fun part of exploration. We drove by this artifact many times before we finally noticed it.
As you drive along the winding road, the view becomes more and more spectacular. At the very top, the road ends in a small parking lot. Here you will see a metal sign for the Arizona Trail. The Four Peaks trail begins behind this sign. Take your time, and go at your own pace.
After you’ve hiked the first mile, look closely at the ground around the trail, and you may see some pot shards. These are the remains of pottery made by the first people to inhabit this area, hundreds of years ago. Leave these treasures alone. Enjoy them where they are. It’s illegal to disturb ancient sites. If you’re a good detective, following the pot shards will lead you to the remains of dwellings nearby that are many hundreds of years old. You’ll recognize the stone outlines of what were once rooms.
When you reach the point on the trail where it goes steeply down into a canyon, that’s a good time to turn back – unless you’re an experienced hiker in good shape. Enjoy the forest – it’s yours to protect. Make sure you take enough water and let someone know where you went and when you will return. If you want more information, contact the visitor center at Lake Roosevelt at (602) 225-5395.
Know before you go:
- Please be prepared for limited sight distance and bumpy driving on all Forest Service roads.
- Bring extra clothing, food, water, blankets, first aid kit, and let someone know your destination and expected time of return.
- Check weather reports and for campfire restrictions prior to your trip.
- Motor vehicles are prohibited on this trail.
- Carry an adequate supply of drinking water. One gallon per person per day is recommended during hot periods.
- At the lower elevations, temperatures can exceed 110°F in summer. At the higher elevations, snow occurs during the winter.
- Help keep your trails clean: If you PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT!! Trail is open to hikers, horses and mountain bikes; however, travel by mountain bike is difficult due to rugged terrain and steep slopes.
The Tonto National Forest is assisted by volunteers who help clear trails, put up signs and in general make the trails easier to use for everyone. This winter, we launch a new series written by volunteers and featuring area hikes from Tonto Basin to the Pinals. If you would like to lend a hand and become a volunteer, you can visit www.volunteer.gov to view position descriptions and to apply. Or contact Sheryl Cormack in Globe at 928-402-6200, or Samantha Palm in Tonto Basin at 602-225-5395.
Mike Quinn retired early from a career working in underground coal mining, surface coal mining, and power generation. For twenty years Mike and his wife Cissie have traveled the southwest extensively in the winter away from their home in North Dakota. For the last five years they have volunteered on the trail crew at Tonto National Forest maintaining trails in the Lake Roosevelt area.