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Barnhardt Falls Day Hike
Mazatzal Mountains
February 8, 2014
by John Richa

The Barnhardt Trail takes you on a scenic tour into the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness, offering thrilling views into deep gorges, up rugged mountains, and across picturesque hills. Rocky cliffs and spectacular waterfalls during the early spring season accentuate an already dramatic landscape. The “falls” are seasonal. Due to the current drought in Arizona, the waterfalls were barely allowing a trickle of water. Throughout this narrative, I will contrast the current and past experiences on this trail.

At seven o’clock in the morning, while it is almost still dark, ten trailblazers met at the Target Shopping Center in Fountain Hills. The eleventh hiker, George, met us at the trailhead since he lived nearby. We packed our gear into two trucks driven by Michael and Bruce and off we go. The drive was one hour to the north, up the Beeline Highway (AZ 87). We arrived at the trailhead about 8:30 AM. We saddled up our back packs and posed for our traditional group picture.

The Fabulous 11: John, George, Monika, Bruce, Edith, Clare, Quy, Dave, Dottie, Michael, Nancy
That-a-way → said the sign. We were equipped with only four GPS’s.

The temperature of 44 degrees was fairly warm for an early morning adventure starting out at an elevation of 4,214 feet above sea level. At the trailhead there were no facilities, however, “mother nature” provided abundant hide out places.

Ready, set, go. We started our trek at 8:50 AM. Immediately, a sign pointed us in the right direction.p02

Dave’s new hiking pole.
Now we know where this hiking pole came from!

The draught was noticeable along the entire trail. Last year on a similar hike with the Trailblazers, it was a very cold morning. The trail was covered with snow as if we were doing an “Alpine Hike” in Arizona.

Feb 24th, 2013, group picture.
Lots of snow on the trail in 2013.

However this year, this is what the same trail looked like:

2014.   Where’s the snow?
Hikers shed some clothing.
Layers shed, we take a two minute respite.

The trail, though moderate in intensity, the seemingly unrelenting uphill kept your heart racing and your legs burning. The trail was very rocky and one had to be careful enough not to break or twist an ankle. The trail meandered into thick shrubs where alligator Junipers, and live oak provided shade. Manzanita shrubs, yuccas, cacti and agaves provided additional greenery and accent.

Dense Vegetation along the Barnhardt Trail.
Hikers continue onward and upward.
Hmmm, this must be the Mazatzal Wilderness.
Contrasting the thick shrubs is a bare mountain top.
L to R: Dave, Bruce, Clare, George, Dottie, Monika, Edith and Nancy.
In the background, hidden in the shrubs: Michael and Quy.

Trailblazers admiring the view from high above a lookout point.

Can you identify the silhouettes?

This is what these silhouettes were admiring, an awesome view!

We’re high above the valley now.
Snow on the Sierra Ancha.

Can you see in the distance the silhouette of one of our trailblazers?

That is Edith.

Half a mile before reaching our destination at the “waterfalls”, we decided to stop for a quick lunch break and rest our feet. Heretofore, we have been steadily climbing the mountain and the trail was quite rocky.

A lunch break was quite welcome. The view from this rocky clearing was just beautiful.

L to R: Michael, John, Dottie & Clare. Eating lunch.
Michael & George.
L to R: Edith, Nancy, Quy & Dave.

I am clarifying an important point: we did not violate club rules of “No dogs on our hikes”.

This was a self-sufficient friendly dog; let’s call him “Rudolph”, belonging to a couple of hikers who happened to run into us on their ascent to the waterfalls while we were eating our lunch.

Onward marching. Half a mile more and we will reach our destination. The trail becomes quite rocky but beautiful red rock such as in Sedona.

We finally reach our destination: the “waterfalls”! But where is the water? Well, the drought just about dried up the falls. There was just a trickle of water flowing down and the pools below the falls are usually overflowing, but alas, today, they were very low and almost dry. Dave’s first ever view of the falls. A snapshot for the pictures album is a must.

Dave, Dottie & Clare.
Dave, Monika, Dottie, Edith, Clare.

Contrasting the present with past experiences the following are some pictures of the same spots reflecting today’s conditions and prior years.

THEN: gushing water, plenty of snow.

p35 p37

NOW: Where’s the snow? Where’s all that gushing water?

p28 p28
This was Dave’s first hike to Barnhardt Falls.
Quy posing under the waterfalls.
Bruce, Nancy, George & Michael.
Just a trickle.

Time to descend and head back to our cars. George stands guard should anyone slip on the water polished red rocks while Michael, John, and Dave carefully negotiate the rock-hopping challenges without falling into the water.

Sure-footed Michael.
Watch your step, guys!
The water isn’t deep, but it’s sure cold.
This tree was a casualty of the fire.
    The hazards of the drought can be seen in the 2004 Willow Fire which devastated more than 100,000 acres of forest in these Mazatzal Mountains.

Those of us who have hiked the trail before the fire can savor the memory of the Barnhardt Canyon in its full glory. Notwithstanding, Barnhardt Canyon remains a pleasure to visit.

Along the descent, a less strenuous effort, one can indulge in a leisure photo shoot galore. Here we can see the twisted and gnarled layers of sedimentary rock lay exposed across the canyon, a testament to the violent geological forces that created this rocky wonderland.

p50 p53

Finally at 1:00 PM, we reached our trailhead. Dave had a nice little surprise for all of us: cold and savory beer to quench our thirst. We all made it back safely.

Dave’s cold and savory beer to quench our thirst!
Hike Statistics
Starting time:8:50 AM
Starting temperature:44 degrees
Lunch break:10:30 AM: 20 minutes
Temperature at waterfalls:41 degrees
Starting elevation:4,214 ft.
Waterfalls elevation:5,707 ft.
Total elevation ascended:1,528 ft.
Total round trip hiking time: 4.5 hours.
Total round trip miles:6.5 miles. In and out.
Total Trailblazers hikers:11 fabulous hikers.

It was a fun-filled hike with good cardio vascular exercise, great company and phenomenal hikers. Although the hike leader would have liked to have seen some snow, as it was the case last year, it seems that Clare and Quy had a direct line for their prayers to be heard for a nice and warm weather day hike.

You both got your wishes fulfilled. But I promise, I’ll be back next year and hopefully my prayers will be answered.

Pictures for the report were contributed by Quy and John.
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated February 13, 2014