Trail Time: 5-6 hours
Location: Coronado National Forest, SE of Wilcox Arizona. The trail starts at the intersection of Route 181 and the Pinery Canyon Road
Mapping / GPS / Waypoint File: .gif Map Image (Main) (Area) / Topo 100k (Note: I have detailed GPS and track data available for this trip, but would like to limit its recipients to properly equipped and environmentally conscious travelers. Please contact me if you would like additional detail or GPS information)
Trail Rating (1-5 scale): 2.5- This trail is lightly used and unpredictable.
Major Obstacle: This trail was full of surprises, including several off-camber traverses, rocky wash bottoms. We had to drive over and under several large trees, and one required an extensive winch exercise to remove it safely from the trail.
Brush (minor, moderate, severe): Severe
Scenic Value (1-5 scale): 4- This is a beautiful area, with large trees, ferns, running creeks and green meadows.
Scott Brady- 1998 Isuzu Trooper
Doron and Family- 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser UZJ100
The area we explored for this expedition centered in the Chiricahua Mountains just south of the national monument wilderness site (12,000 acres). Our journey started at the end of Route 160 which heads east from Route 186 into the Coronado National Forest.
You start on the dirt Pinery Canyon road that winds east towards New Mexico (you can actually take a series of trails all the way to NM). We wanted to explore a small, rugged trail that follows Rattlesnake Canyon between the Rattlesnake and Ida peaks (~ 8,000′ each). The entire trail system in this area is at high elevation, and affords very cool summer temperatures.
The ecology of this trail changes quickly as you rise in elevation from 5,100 feet at the 180 intersection to 9,000+ feet at trail’s end. Several species of wildflower were in bloom, and we enjoyed the cool temperatures as desert gave way to pine forest.
The Pinery Canyon trail is well traveled despite its remote location, and we were glad to leave this main graded road to explore the lesser Pine and Rattlesnake canyons.
Not quite a dead end…
One of several crossings
About a mile after the trail starts, the trail is severely washed out and requires a ~25 degree off camber traverse with a very loose shoulder. The slightly wider (and much heavier) Land Cruiser required several attempts, as the rear tires were sliding off the shelf. The challenge was exaggerated by the need to fit between two pine trees.
Immediately after the off camber shelf, we dropped back into the wash over a series of rocks, and were required to climb a small ledge before proceeding. The trail continues to gain in elevation as it works its way up the canyon, with several small rock gardens to negotiate with proper wheel placement required on lower clearance vehicles. We stopped for lunch here along Pine Spring and enjoyed the cool weather and a nice waterfall that cascaded over a series of tree routes.
Dropping back into the creek
A great lunch spot!
Video Crossing Washed Out Trail
The greatest challenge of this moderate trail proved to be the fallen trees, two of which provided minimal clearance and one blocked the road and required removal. One of the larger pines provided only a few inches of clearance for the tall Land Cruiser to pass under. There were also several smaller (8-10″ diva.) fallen trees that required us to drive over them at an angle. There were several other small rock obstacles and on very narrow off-camber shelf with a few foot drop to the creek bottom. This obstacle would require very careful tire placement and caution in a full size vehicle. None of the challenges were outside the capability of a stock, high clearance SUV, but driver caution and skill proved more critical.
Another narrow shelf
More logs to cross
As we neared Barefoot Peak we were stopped by a 20″+ diameter pine that blocked the trail. Having come across this issue on other adventures, we wanted to try and clear the tree from the trail. This proved to be a great exercise, and we utilized the vehicles, levers, winches, snatch blocks, and other tools to properly extract the tree. As we pulled the tree out of the way, it was in danger of killing a smaller sapling that had reached a height of 6-8′. So we used a combination of the Land Cruisers winch (Warn HS9500), and the Trooper to move the log the last few feet while saving the smaller tree.
View the complete album of the tree extraction here.
We finished the day by setting up camp near Rustlers Spring. The temperatures dropped lower than expected due to a low pressure system and the high elevation. After the sun set we all climbed in the big tent and watched the pictures from the day’s adventure. Not a bad way to end a great day!
We woke early the next morning and hiked to the top of Buena Vista Peak (N31 54.989′ 0, W 109 16.418′ 0 NAD83) via the Barfoot Lookout trail. The trail ends at a fire lookout with INCREDIBLE 360 degree views of the Chiricahua’s. Elevation is 8,800 at the lookout. The lookout was abandoned during our visit, but may still be used in the summer months.
We finished our hike and returned to the Pinery Canyon Road and on to Wilcox.
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