Mt Wrightson from road.
Trip Details
Forest Service Info
Unburned forests stir hiking memories

Before Mount Wrightson became wilderness, I hiked it on my first backpacking trip in the forested ‘Sky Islands’ of southern Arizona in 1973.

Forty-five years later, piney slopes and oak shaded canyons we traversed through Mount Wrightson Wilderness recalled other Southern Arizona mountain hikes before recent fires changed vegetation, texture and trails in most of them.

My 1970s hike ascended Mount Wrightson, high point of the Santa Ritas and popular day hike from Madera Canyon. I came up lesser-used Florida Canyon with the University of Arizona Ramblers hiking club. With cheap frame backpack, sleeping bag bouncing on a bungy cord, wearing t-shirt, blue jeans and boots; I shadowed the pack leaders winding up from rocky desert to grassland into the needle-carpeted pine forest. From forested camp by Florida Spring, I started my peak ascent in predawn dark, sunrise lighting the Crest Trail. At Baldy Saddle, big colorful caterpillars among the trees marked backpackers from Madera Canyon. From the 9,453-foot summit a panorama of Southern Arizona ‘sky islands’: Santa Catalinas, Rincons, Huachucas, Chiricahuas. During my UA years I hiked them all. 

Next year I again climbed Florida Canyon with David, who offered a consolation trip when I overslept and missed a longer Ramblers venture. We talked all the way up and camped in trees along the Crest Trail in a thick fog that blanketed Mount Wrightson. We didn’t see a thing. Hikes continued; we married in 1977.

In 2013 we returned to a different Florida Canyon. Florida Fire of 2005 consumed the mixed conifer forest and most of the ponderosa. Trail was eroded and rocky; Florida Spring gone, Crest Trail hard to follow. The canyon was cloaked with young pine trees reclaiming the area after fire. Still many hikers on the peak. 

In January 2018 we skipped Florida canyon and looped through Mount Wrightson Wilderness, designated in 1985 and encompassing 25,260-acres of soaring peaks, deep canyons, grasslands and dozens of trails. Starting at Cave Creek we followed Arizona Trail (AZT) south, swung up Temporal Gulch to a saddle west of Wrightson, dropped into Madera Canyon and around the north side of the peak, along ridges and out Sawmill Canyon trail / road for a four-day, 46-mile trip (including an impromptu evening hike around Mount Wrightson). 

We were pleasantly surprised. Many oak-lined canyons and pine needle carpeted slopes were intact, not affected by the fire that burned on top. After moonscape, downed logs and eroded trails in most of our favorite mountains, this unburned oasis was a treat.

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Google Earth KML
Arizon trail sign on Cave Creek road.
Ditch on AZT.
Mt Wrightson 2013.
Unburned Douglas fir on summit trail 2013.
Regrowth after Florida fire.
AZT Santa Ritas
Florida 2005 Fire 
Cabin Rental
Hopkins Observatory

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