PINE MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS, Ariz. —Wilderness areas, such as Pine Mountain Wilderness area, are not like national or state parks. National and state parks usually have visitor centers for information and rangers patrolling the parks to see if people need help. Wilderness areas do not have either and often you probably won’t find anybody else on the trail.
The good news is you can find solitude and pristine beauty in wilderness areas. Some find spiritual renewal. Wilderness areas also safeguard archaeological artifacts.
But wilderness areas are not something that should be done alone or by inexperienced hikers, because if something happens like a rattlesnake bite, or if you get lost, there isn’t going to be much help.
This hiker went with three experienced hiking buddies to the Pine Mountain Wilderness. Larry Byk, Fred Stellbrink and Nelson Zarate were the experienced hikers while I just tagged along. Stellbrink had the double duty of keeping me on the trail and then getting us home through the muddy, flooded road.
Wilderness areas are usually managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, but that doesn’t mean you will find them on site; wilderness areas are considered undeveloped federal land. Pine Mountain Wilderness is part of Prescott and Tonto national forests.
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition works to keep wilderness areas pristine, but there are 90 wilderness areas in Arizona and not enough resources to keep them all up. The Arizona Wilderness Coalition, on its website, defines wilderness as ‘wild places for wild things to be wild.” About six percent of the state is wilderness.
Don’t expect to find any restrooms at Pine Mountain Wilderness, but there are campgrounds. The wilderness areas can be used for hiking, fishing, hunting and horseback riding, as well as watching birds and animals without interference. Road building is prohibited in wilderness areas.
I was on this trail a couple years back. At that time it was dry, so there was hardly any water running through Sycamore Creek, which runs through the mountain. This time there was plenty of water so we could hear the cascading waters as we hiked.
The way into Pine Mountain Wilderness is on Dugas Road, just off of I-17. This cannot be done in a sedan and even with a high clearance vehicle you have go to slow and you’re going to bounce around like you’re in a pinball machine. The surprise on the way back was a section of the road that was essentially dry in the morning had turned into a raging river by mid afternoon, so we could not pass until the water receded.
Rain from previous days washed out a part of the trail, making our 12.5 mile trek 14. 1 miles.
Congress adopted the Wilderness Act in 1964 to protect the most sacred areas of federal land from commercialism, motorized vehicles and mining. Pine Mountain was designated as a wilderness area by Congress in 1972. The Pine Mountain Wilderness is more than 20,000 acres. The entrance sign states that Congress gave Pine Mountain the wilderness designation because of its natural beauty and solitude. The biggest takeaways from this hike is the stream running through some of the mountain, the panorama views from the top and the huge sycamore trees.
From the top of the mountain, hikers can see Horseshoe Lake to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the east, Verde Valley to the north and the Bradshaw Mountains to the west. The Pine Mountain Wilderness area starts at 4,600 feet and Pine Mountain tops out at 6,814 feet, which is the highest point of the Verde River Rim.
Nelson Trail, Pine Flat Trail, Willow Springs Trail and Salt Flat Trail are some of the trails which give hikers many options for Pine Mountain Wilderness. The Nelson Trail, which we were on, is an old service trail for livestock and connects into other trails. White tailed deer, mule deer, elk, javelina and black bear all visit this trail, but all we saw was a woodpecker.
Large stands of ponderosa pine, juniper alligator junipers and sycamores can all be seen.