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Hike a wild Arizona canyon.

FEW WOULD GUESS THAT Tonto National Forest, in central Arizona, is one of the most heavily visited national forests in the country. People come here for pristine desert skies, pure air, and desert wildflower displays you usually see only in books.

Barnhardt Trail (#43) gives you all these things in just 5 miles, but not the crowds you might expect in such a popular forest. The trail's off-the-beaten-path entry, about a 1 1/2-hour drive north of Phoenix, filters out casual visitors: you have to know to go.

Set out from the mouth of this beautiful, east-facing canyon, and pick your way up a remarkably rocky trail. Boots offer good ankle support here. March brings average daytime highs around 60 |degrees~ but be prepared for colder weather or rain. Bring water.

Within 1/2 mile, the trail emerges from oak-pinon-juniper woodland and snakes into Barnhardt Canyon.

As you amble up the trail, the flowers will win you over, but not with massed display: variety and individual beauty reign here. At one turn, purple penstemon takes the day. At another, fleabane. Where seep springs wet the trail, monkey flowers come into their own, while cactus, yucca, and agave stake out the dry places. The mix of blossoms varies almost weekly, with best displays in March and April.

If you're a botany buff, you'll probably be surprised to see flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) here. It grows in only a few widely scattered places outside California.

The stream in the canyon below comes and goes with the rains. When it flows, its sight and sound are a delight. Shortly after entering the canyon, you cross into Mazatzal Wilderness, well out of sight and sound of civilization. Besides the music of wind and water, the only sounds you'll hear are the croaks of ravens, the screams of hawks, and the gentler songs of smaller birds. The trail rises along the south wall of the canyon for about 4 1/2 more miles; stay left at the junction with Sandy Saddle Trail (#231). Finally, the path crests a ridge and ends at Mazatzal Divide Trail (#23), which heads south toward Mazatzal Peak, and north toward East Verde River. Continue or return, as your legs and lungs decree.

To get to the trailhead from Phoenix, follow State 87 north 61 miles. At about milepost 239, turn left on Forest Road 419 and drive 5 miles to the road's end. Barnhardt Trail leaves from the west (uphill) side of the parking lot. Be sure you sign in at the trailhead before you start. It helps to have a Tonto National Forest map on this hike. Pick up one ($3) from any ranger station in the forest.
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Author:McCausland, Jim
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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