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Little Pan Loop Day Hike
Black Canyon City
January 25, 2014
by Jim Buyens
  GPS Map
  GPS Map
by Bill Zimmermann

The Black Canyon Trail north of Phoenix began centuries ago as a pathway between Native American settlements. Recorded use of the trail for people and livestock dates from the 1600s. The Interior Department named it in 1919 as a livestock route. Ranchers used it to drive sheep between summer and winter grazing areas, and they still drive sheep in portions north of Highway 69.

When completed, the trail will run 78 miles through the Bradshaw Mountains, starting from Carefree Highway and ending at the town of Mayer, somewhat West of Interstate 17.

This trail was interesting because of its close location, because I'd never hiked it, and because apparently the Trailblazers hadn't either. Plus, I discovered a ten-mile loop hike with favorable reports on-line. (Yes, I'm a sucker for ten-miles loops.)

Nancy A., Gene, Gary, Dan,  Monika, Bill, Nancy S., Gabrielle, Michael, Quy, Cathy, Linda, and Jim ready to go.

Finding the trailhead was a bit tricky, with several unmarked dirt-road intersections along the way. It's only about three miles from the Tabel Mesa Road freeway exit though, and we found our way without incident. It was good to have a map.

The Bradshaw mountains provided attractive scenery. [photo by Quy]

The hike began with with a flat but serpentine path around the local vegetation. Them, after a half mile or so, we found ourselves skirting the edge of a pleasant little ravine. Notable here were a loose cluster of palm trees growing in the desert. No doubt this was possible because of the extra water this area receives compared to further south in the Valley.

These palm trees are growing wild in the desert landscape!

A large cairn marked the three-way intersection where the handle of our lollipop-loop trail met the loop. We headed left, navigating the loop clockwise.

 A mile or so into the hike we stop to remove a layer of clothing.
That's me walking to the left, to snap a photo.[photo by Quy]
Here's that photo. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

The hike featured two crossings of the Agua Fria River, both often noted as hard to follow. I suppose that's because trail markings near the waterbed tend to get washed away.

To navigate the first crossing, first follow the trail down the side of a canyon to the river bed. At the bottom is an unmarked road, or at least what looks like one. Turn left and go about a hundred feet, looking for a yellow cattle gate. When you see it, go through.

This cattle gate marks the start of the Ague Fria riverbed.[photo by Quy]

When you get to the open river bed, head across at a 30° angle until you see a flexible brown-and-white trail marker on the other side. It's to the right of a fallen tree and just in front of a small ravine. Head there and use the stepping stones to cross.

Note: During our hike, the river flow was only a trickle. Crossing will be much tricker (and possibly more dangerous) when the river is flowing strongly.

The mighty Agua Fria river which, because of recent dryness, was just a trickle.
One by one we step across the river.[photo by Bill]
Nancy A. crosses the river while Linda, Gabrielle, and Nancy S. wait their turn.

After the river crossing the trail continues up an incline to the left.

Once across the river, look for a trail on the left that angles up the canyon wall. This is the continuation.

Bill takes aim with a section of pipe someone left behind.
There was a geological marker in the area, which may have had something to do with it. [photo by Quy]
Quy ascends the trail.
Bill shares a drink with Nancy S. during a break.
A skeleton we passed along the way,

After crossing the river the trail continues north two or three miles to the top of the loop. The trail here is generally rolling, with typical desert views and surfaces. But again, the presence of more water makes the vegetation a little thicker and greener than that near the city.

This rider was riding cross-country, bushwhacking by horse.
It's almost a scene from the old West.[photo by Bill]
Here's the same rider up close.
Bill takes a few steps off-trail.
Quy stops for a photo.
This nice view is almost at the halfway point.

The top of the loop is another tree-way intersection, marked Black Canyon Trail in all three directions. It's pretty obvious, though, that the left fork heads north and the right fork heads south for the return loop.

Being halfway through the hike, this is where we decided to stop here for lunch. Several of us climbed a nearby crag in search of more seating and a better view.

This is the spot we picked to stop and have lunch.[photo by Quy]
Cathy and Gabrielle eschew the rock climbing and enjoy lunch on flat land.[photo by Quy]
Nancy S., Jim, Monika, Bill, and Gary enjoy the comfortable seating.
Remarkably, Bill is also the photographer here.
I suppose he had help. [photo by Bill]
Nancy A. and Nancy S. discuss the hike.
Another lunch photo and no, I don't know why there's so many.Must've been a good lunch. [photo by Bill]

The route south begins at the top of the loop and continues down a dirt road for about half a mile. Watch out for Jeeps, ATV's, and dirt bikes, all of which are authorized here. Soon, though, the trail turns right and continues down another dirt road to the second river crossing.

To cross the river, ignore the side roads to the left and follow the road all the way down to the riverbank. You'll pass a point beyond which vehicles aren't allowed. Once you're at the bank, head left (south) a few hundred yards and watch the opposite side for a nearly-vertical canyon wall with a pool of water at the bottom. The crossing is at the far end of the water. Use the stepping stones to cross, then climb the sandy embankment on the other side.

This was our approach to the second crossing of the Agua Fria river.[photo by Quy]
A sand beach in the desert! Not much water, though.[photo by Bill]
Nancy A. steps across the river while Bill waits his turn.

From the sandy embankment head left a short distance until you see two trail markers about six feet apart. Turn right to go through, then turn left and follow the trail up the canyon wall. (Again, this will be much trickier and probably more dangerous if the river is flowing across its entire width.)

Bill gives Nancy S. a welcome foot massage. We're about eight miles into the hike, here.[photo by Quy]

The last four miles are typical desert hiking, with perhaps a bit more climbing than the earlier portion. But even so, there's nothing too tough. When you get to the cairn that marks the loop junction you'll know you're close to being done, and then in fairly short order you're back at the trailhead.

One thing about the trailhead: There's a shooting range across the road. The shooters won't be aiming anywhere near the trailhead but if you hear shots, that's the reason.

Everyone assembles at the Shanghai Club in Anthem.[photo by Quy]

After the hike we all headed to the Shanghai Club in Anthem, which offers a variety of French, Mandarin, and Vietnamese oriental cuisine. The menu offerred a nice variety and wasn't too expensive. The food was well-prepared, but I though it was only average in taste. They have a complete bar but no beers on tape, just half a dozen bottled choices.

All in all, this was a pleasant and interesting hike that I would take again. See you next time!

Hike Statistics
Total Distance: 9.48 miles
Moving Time: 3:31 hours
Stopped Time: 1:15 hours
Average Moving Speed: 2.7 mph
Overall Average Speed: 2.0 mph
Starting Elevation: 1952 feet
Maximum Elevation: 2096 feet
Total Elevation: 997 feet
Starting Time: 9:16 AM
Ending Time: 2:02 PM
Starting Temperature: 58°
Ending Temperature: 70°
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated February 11, 2014