Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bassett Peak, 7,663': Galiuro Mountains

Essence: Summit the highpoint of the Galiuros, one of Arizona's more isolated sky islands, renowned for autumnal foliage and fanciful rock formations.
Travel: Three hours from Tucson. Take I-10 east to Exit 336 in Willcox. Head north on Taylor Road 4 miles until it becomes Fort Grant Road. The road bends and the names change but just stay on pavement heading primarily north for 31 miles to aptly named Bonita. At the Bonita Elementary School, go left/west on High Creek Road, a smooth and straight, flat and fast dirt road. The road turns south in 13.6 miles at Sunset Loop Road. Go 3.5 miles to FR 660. Turn right and follow the high clearance track about 3 miles to a circular parking area, taking the right spur at 1.1 miles. The TH sign is just beyond the parking area. We parked .75 mile before the TH at about 5,000 feet and our hiking mileage reflects that addition.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.5 miles, 2,800 feet of climbing
Time: 6:00 to 7:00
Difficulty: 4WD road tapers to trail; easy navigation with trail signs; no exposure.
Map: Bassett Peak, AZ, 7.5 Quad
Date Hiked: February 8, 2014
Quote: If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  Vincent Van Gogh 

Route: Yes, it is a long schlep from Tucson, but driving north through the Sulphur Springs Valley is a positive prelude to the hike. The valley is cradled between the Galiuro and the Pinaleno ranges and bifurcated by waters coming through Aravaipa Canyon. West of Bonita is a substantial soaptree yucca stand. The beginning of the trail is marked by a weathered sign. It is 4.1 miles from the trailhead to the junction with the East Divide Trail which traverses the range. The Bassett Peak Trail utilizes a portion of the EDT.

From the TH, it is a 25 minute stroll to Lower Ash Spring on an ATV two-track. The pathway stays in or beside Ash Creek under a thick forest of towering conifers and oaks presiding over moss and lichen covered boulders
(THW, photo).

The lower spring is notable for two picturesque, historic water tanks, now empty. Coiled before them is black piping that extends to the upper spring. One could stay on course by simply following the pipe.

Another gentle grade mile flies by to the wilderness boundary sign. Here the route constricts to a footpath, turning left at a west tributary of Ash Creek. About 500 feet is gained over half a mile but it seems truly effortless. For here we are amazed by the maples that boarder our leaf covered trail. While these leaves have had their day, they still cling to speak of autumn splendor in mid-winter.

At Upper Ash Spring we are startled by a mature grove of aspen. Clearly, fall is the ideal season for this hike. Alas, we may only imagine lusty red maple, rusty orange oak, and sunny yellow aspen. The track leaves the dry spring to switchback up 600 feet to the eastern spur of Pt 6,996'. Manzanita and pinion predominate and practically take over the trail on the south facing slope. Bassett Peak comes into view as well as the ridge we will soon traverse (THW, photo).

Prior to the lateral spine is a wedge of rock with a balanced feature creating a window. From this ridge we can see the principal divide, broken and dotted with high points, all the way to Sunset Peak seven miles to the north.

The trail takes aim directly for the east wall of Pt 6,996', veering left just in time, and pressing up a weakness in the cliffs to gain the north/south running divide that defines the Galiuro range. There are two seasoned trail signs. Judging from the elaborate engineering that characterizes the route, it is likely this ambitious treadway was created by the CCC in the 1930's. My friend wonders why they built a trail to the, "backside of nowhere." Regardless, we are grateful, for bushwhacking up Bassett would be a gigantic chore. From the junction, it is 1.4 miles and 800 feet of gain to the summit.

The Galiuros are volcanic with some sedimentary layering. The range is known for fantastical formations made from thick, welded tuffs of volcanic rock.

For almost a mile, the track stays to the west of the rock towers that decorate the ridgetop, with one foray to the east side. This affords a look back on the zigzag coming out of Ash Creek, and Sunset Peak afar.

The ridge is abundant with blue agaves that delight us with their beautiful, symmetrical perfection (THW, photo).

The trail switches up the north side of Bassett, gradually ascending across the high angled, gravelly slope. Sloughing debris is obliterating the trail, compromising the thin track which, on this day in February, had a slick layer of snow. The winter of 2014 is warm and dry; normally Bassett Peak is off-limits this time of year.

We allowed the path to simply draw us onto Bassett's southern ridge. There, we left the EDT and, turning sharply north, thrashed our way through a tangle of beargrass, pinon, and manzanita for five minutes and 150 feet to the summit. The crest was void of footprints but it enjoyed the company of swarms of ladybugs.  Looking west we could see familiar mountainous friends in the Catalinas and Rincons, and even Baboquivari 92 miles away.

In the east is the Mt. Graham observatory cresting the Pinalenos and sailing 6,000 feet above the Sulphur Springs Valley. 

Close by to the southwest are the ripply shadowy Winchesters and well beyond them, Dos Cabezas.

We scampered back to our junction on the EDT. I have never seen trail signs this charming.

The sun, low in the sky, lit up rock fins that stand guard above the venerable aspen grove.

Bassett Peak is easy to spot from the Catalina Mountains. We long wondered of its secrets, but hesitated because of the commute. As it happens, the drive had its own pleasures and the mountain, intimate now, revealed so much more than we could imagine.

Not to have known--as most men have not--either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one's self. Not to have known one's self is to have known no one. Joseph Wood Krutch

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