Rim Country Middle School teacher Ned Schall knows the twists, turns and angles of the Barnhardt Trail almost as well as his own back yard.
For two summers, the RCMS teacher helped repair and maintain the trail as part of his duties as a summer employee in the Payson Ranger District of the US Forest Service.
With fall descending and the temperatures cooling in the high deserts of Mazatzal Wilderness where the Barnhardt is located, the trail will become increasingly popular among outdoorsmen looking for a brief getaway from the rigors of the work place.
But the popularity of the Barnhardt shouldn't fool potential hikers into thinking the 12-mile round trip is a stroll in the park.
"It's a steady climb up and can be pretty tough," Schall said.
From the trailhead, at an elevation of about 4,200 feet, the Barnhardt ascends to 7,000 feet at the Mazatzal Divide, where hikers will be surrounded by a pristine mixture of ponderosa pines, oaks and manzanita.
"It's a beautiful place," Schall said.
Before undertaking a trip along the Barnhardt, Schall recommends hikers take plenty of water, nutritious snack food for an energy boost and make a quick check of weather conditions.
During one of his summers on the trail, Schall and his crew found themselves caught in a summer monsoon complete with an electrical storm.
Huddled inside a tent they'd quickly pitched, the crew wondered if the next lightning strike would be the last they'd ever hear.
"We had a big ponderosa (pine) fall right in the middle of our camp but luckily it didn't hit a thing. It's not a place you want to be in a rainstorm," he said.
Forest Service officials also ask hikers to plan for the weather before undertaking a hike and also to take along rain gear in case of an unforeseen shower.
Schall suggests hikers be in reasonably good physical condition, have maps of the Mazatzal Peak quadrangle, stay on the marked trails and practice safety at all times.
To reach the Half Moon Trailhead (No. 288), which is the northernmost of three in the area, take the Beeline Highway south to Forest Road 419, which is well marked as the Barnhardt Trail. Turn right and drive about five miles along the gravel road. The road is suitable for passenger cars and light duty trucks.
Once on the trail, you'll reach Barnhardt Canyon first and then ascend through the Mazatzals on the Rock Creek drainage trail. In less than a mile you will have climbed over 400 feet in elevation.
Next up is a series of switchbacks that will take you through covers of chaparral and along several cliffs and drainages.
"That's where the trail can be a little rough," Schall said.
Along the way, there is a narrow canyon which during the monsoon season and spring snow melts harbors a 40-foot waterfall.
Just past the falls, on the north side of the trail, is Chilson Springs, named after a pioneer ranching family in the area.
About six miles into the trail, a hike of just over three hours, the Barnhardt intersects with the Shake Tree Trail. A left turn here will return you on a more southern route to the trailhead at the parking lot.
Schall says the Shake Tree is almost as picturesque as the Barnhardt but is easier on the hiker in that it descends through the wilderness area.
Those set to test the Barnhardt trail should obey the hiker's creed of "leaving no trace." Officials recommend you pack out what you pack in and bury human waste away from water sources.
Call the Tonto National Forest at (602) 225-5200 in Phoenix or (520) 474-7900 for more information.