Barnhardt Trail 1

The tough seven-mile Barnhardt Trail offers a wonderful lesson in geology, but the elevation makes it a hot slog in the summer.

Cliff crawling.

Geologic wonders.

Botanical jewels.

Water in the desert.

That’s what’s in store when you hike the Barnhardt Trail.

It was another beautiful day in Arizona with clear skies and puffy clouds as we drove the nearly five-mile bumpy dirt access road to the trailhead from the High-way 87 turnoff just south of Rye. Signs of spring bloomed along the road.

We parked next to the sign marking the Barnhardt Trail. There is another trail sign on the north side of the spacious parking area, leading to the Y Bar Trail number 44. Be sure to take the Barnhardt Trail number 43. Already it was warmer than in Payson, but we put light shirts or fleeces in our packs or around our waists. They would be needed later.

We started up the rock-strewn path leading through the canyon and passed through a crooked gate designed to let hikers through and keep cattle out of the Mazatzal National Wilderness Area. The trail is marked for both hikers and horses and we certainly saw hoof prints on the trail as we scrambled for good footing.

The first part of the trail leads upward through a small woodsy area.

Grassy plots line the left, uphill side of the trail at the beginning making a lovely spot for a picnic.

The right, downhill side, becomes steep and the drop-off a long way down almost as soon as you start the uphill hike.

The steep trail offers impressive views of the Rye Valley framed by the mountain. Stopping to breathe is a regular part of hiking up the Barnhardt Trail. We had our friend, Pete the geologist, with us to explain what we were looking at during those pauses.

Rare rock chevrons occur along the trail. As I remember Pete saying, the layers of rock were originally several kilometers or more underground where the heat and the pressure made the rock very plastic. As the layers were pushed horizontally by immense tectonic pressure, they solidified into the fantastic chevrons and whorls, distinctive as fingerprints when ex-posed to the light and air only after 1.5 billion years.

Massive examples of these dynamic folds called a saddle reef are clearly visible across the canyon from the trail, but small examples outcrop at the trail’s edge. We’re lucky to view such formations visible so clearly in only a few places on the planet. Fortunately, they aren’t too far up the trail, perhaps a mile or mile and a half at GPS 34 5.520N 111 26.070W.

Also along the trail are viewpoints that allow a clear view down to the canyon bot-tom where a stream flows — at least in the spring. The bottom, like the rest of the can-yon, is multi-colored — red rocks that look like jasper. We can hear the water gurgling and splashing even high up on the cliff side.

Did I mention cliff crawling earlier? Yep.

We’re high up and on a narrow track. I suspect persons with vertigo might want to skip this hike. But it’s worth it.

At any rate, we kept trudging uphill. About the two-and-a-half mile mark, the trail passes through another woody area. The tiny forest en-clave is a welcome shady relief after climbing the dusty trail in the sun. At about mile three, we come to a small waterfall tucked back into a cleft in the mountain. This year there wasn’t much water flowing, but the tiny stream does support a lovely colony of jewel green moss on red rocks. Anyway, it’s another steep, half a mile to the second waterfall. By now most of us turtles, the ones stopping to breathe all the time, are tired and ready to turn around.

Don’t do it. The second waterfall is the reason you’re making this climb. As an incentive, the views of the second waterfall, 1,550 feet above the trailhead, isn’t immediately obvious after crossing the small stream. But wait — at the mossy pool, 34 5.227N 111 27.176W, turn left and clamber up and over a six-foot waterfall and boulders of red rock into the cleft in the mountain. Follow the sound of splashing water.

In the cleft it’s very cool, nice after the long climb. You’ll see the several falls and there are a lot of boulders to sit on.

All too soon it’s time to leave. The 3.6-mile hike down the mountain is anti-climatic, but we still have to be careful.

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