October 2021
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Aztec Peak

Aspen glades and great views add to the allure of hiking Aztec Peak, at the high end of the20,850-acre Sierra Ancha Wilderness,  north of Globe and south of Young on the east side of the state. As with all our wilderness areas, it’s subject to our dynamic weather conditions, and things can change quickly, as we found on a recent hike.

Scarlet cinquefoil

I should mention that “we” are the Arizona Trailblazers, an adventurous group that hikes all over the state, sometimes into other states.

A lush summer walk

Aztec Peak, the highest peak in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, ranking 41sthighest in Arizona, offers a beautiful waterfall, running creeks, and abundant flowers, lizards and butterflies.

The area is just east of Roosevelt Lake, which you’ll pass on the drive in and see among the great views of Four Peaks and the surrounding mountains from the trail. You’ll also drive over an old bridge where the Salt River feeds into the lake, where people often sun and swim on the south side. Just north of the bridge we noticed a saguaro with a top that looks like a water dragon.

This trail is 9.2 miles round-trip to the top, and All Trails rates it as moderate. There was a good amount of shade, for some great resting spots along the way.

About a half-mile into the trek you come to Workman Falls, which on this day was  coming down hard and fast enough to create a spectacular scene, feeding into serene Workman Creek. We saw rock-climbers here, dropping ropes to scale the cliff.

The book Streamside Trails notes that Henry Wertman homesteaded a ranch here, and a mapmaker changed the spelling in naming the creek for him.

The section of the creek above the waterfall is lovely, making the hike even more inviting. About a quarter-mile up from the fall sits a USGS water-monitoring station, offering a close view of the stream and its flowers.

Aztec Peak waterfall

At points sunflowers towered over us. The more than a dozen types of flowers just off the trail include penstemons, daisies, dandelions and my favorite, the scarlet cinquefoil. Aztec Peak is mostly a pine forest, but toward the top there are a decent amounts of aspens and ferns.

Adverse conditions

The bad news is that Abbey’s Way Trail (151) was not practical to hike; the good news is that the Flintstones area is preserved.

Abbey’s Way, named after naturalist Edward Abbey, who worked at the fire tower years ago, is a great trail, but fire and flooding have downed trees and built up overgrown brush, making it virtually impassible, although it is not officially closed.

With the trail in such bad condition we chose to hike up the Forest Service road to the peak, which while closed to vehicles was well maintained, making for an easy trail.

About a mile from the top sits an old cabin, in pretty good shape on the outside, and the door isn’t locked, so you can walk in to see the kitchen and a ladder to a loft above. This is right by the Moody Point trailhead, a good choice for those who want more mileage.

Toward the top there is a section known as the Flintstones Picnic area, because the natural rocks there look like they are right out of the cartoon. The Flintsone furniture is beautiful,  with flat stones and one formation that looks like a perfect table. This area has thankfully been untouched by floods and fire.

Westarted at 6,200 feet. Aztec Peak tops out at about 7,700 feet, withthe fire tower at the top and the Flintstone area not far below.

Much to see

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is known for its box canyons and high cliffs. Other better known sections of the wilderness are Devils Chasm and Coon Creek, both known for their ruins. The Reynolds Creek trail is also popular for running streams.

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the trip to Aztec Peak.

Directions: From Prescott, you’ll have need to go east through Camp Verde and Payson or south through Mesa. From Mesa, take US60 east. Just before Globe, turn left at the light onto Highway 188, to Roosevelt Lake.

Drive14.5 miles and turn right onto Highway 288 to Young. The road is paved for the first 22 miles before becoming gravel and dirt, but it’s usually well graded. About 25.3 miles past the 188/288junction watch for Workman Creek Road (FR 487). First you’ll seethe Workman Creek Recreation Area sign on the right, then a smaller sign for Elks Youth Camp. Turn right here. Continue past the Creekside, Cascade and Workman Creek Falls campgrounds to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com