Miller Peak in snow from the Miller Canyon Trail. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Jonathan Patt, Wild Arizona’s Field Operations Manager

Wild Arizona’s Wild Stew Field Crew returned to the Miller Peak Wilderness for our most recent hitch, this time concentrating our efforts on the Miller Canyon Trail and a portion of the Arizona Trail. We brushed miles of overgrown trail, maintained or rebuilt almost 40 drain structures, and cut 7 fallen trees off the trails.

Hiking in to our campsite several miles up the Miller Canyon Trail, we worked as we went. Precipitation had been forecast and sure enough, it started lightly snowing by lunchtime. We decided it would be wise to set up camp before things got worse, and none too soon—shortly after we settled in, a wave of snow came through the canyon and continued until dinner time while we continued working nearby. Only several inches of snow fell, but the storm brought very cold temperatures with it, and our first night got down to 16°!

Temperatures gradually rose from that first night and we continued working our way up the trail as it climbed towards the top of the mountain and greater views. A majority of our work consisted of cutting back overgrown oak and ceanothus from the trail corridor, a task that can become rather monotonous despite its great importance to keeping the trail accessible for users. We also worked on drainage maintenance to ensure water from future storms does not cause erosion, and as we neared the top of the trail we were able to use our crosscut saw to cut several trees that were down on the trail—some previously cut a bit too narrow, others newer deadfall.

Cleaning up deadfall on the Miller Canyon Trail. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Sunday, we moved camp up to the top of the range and camped near the Arizona Trail, shifting our focus to work on a particularly overgrown portion of that trail passing through a burn scar north of our camp and got it opened up and much more enjoyable to walk on—just in time for thru-hiking season to begin! The weather took a turn for the worse again while we were at high elevation, with a day and two nights of very high wind that made everything a challenge and dropped the wind chill below 10° on Monday morning. Together, we were able to work through it and fortunately spent most of the day working in a more sheltered location. Tuesday morning was, in contrast, beautifully sunny and calm and a wonderful respite from the gale.

The Arizona Trail near Bear Saddle before and after brushing it out. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

We enjoyed meeting numerous hikers—and their dogs—throughout the hitch, some out for the day and others mid-journey. Multiple Arizona Trail thru-hikers were just getting started on their journey, and one southbounder was just about to finish. As we hiked out, we even met a man 80 miles into the Sky Islands Traverse. It was rewarding to see people immediately benefiting from our work, and one couple visiting the area from the midwest graciously thanked us with a bag of almonds that we all enjoyed!

Join us next hitch as we return to the Miller Peak Wilderness for a nice change of pace: working on a major drainage and erosion repair project on the Hamburg Trail.