Backpacking the Blue Range Primitive

My Adventure into the Blue Range Primitive

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

My adventure into the Blue Range Primitive (Blue), in Arizona was epic, (April 27 – May 1).   I spent five days and four nights in this remote and rugged wilderness area. The Blue Range Primitive is one of the last designated areas to be called a Primitive in this country.  A Primitive is in its essence a Wilderness area.  The Blue was designated a Primitive in 1938.  The wilderness act of 1964 changed the terminology from Primitive to Wilderness. This area has been on my list of wilderness areas That I wanted to explore.

I spent two nights in Alpine, Arizona before my trip into the Blue by acclimating myself to the high elevations of this wilderness area.  I traveled on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US-191) to get into Alpine. This highway was named after the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who explored this area in 1540. This long stretch of road brings many to this area for its very scenic views especially around the Mogollon Rim. The elevations in this area range between 8000 to almost 10000 feet above sea level. 

I stayed in a motel called the Sportsman’s Lodge, which is approximately about 22 miles from the trailhead I started from. Below are some pictures of the Sportsman’s Lodge, (owner Frank), the Bear Wallow Cafe where I had a nice dinner, and the sign for US-191. The Apache National Forest Ranger Station is also located in Alpine, Arizona.

(Above) Pictures from my stay in Alpine Arizona

I began my adventure from the Hannagan Meadow trailhead located off off 191. There was some residual snow at the trailhead with some downed trees that I had to move.  Once at the trailhead I signed the roster at the information kiosk. The kiosk had some good information on the 2 trails available for you to travel from this trailhead, (Steeple trail and the Foote Creek trail).  I took the Steeple Trail, (#73), south and I worked my way to trail #65, heading east  This trail is a primitive trail that paralleled Grant Creek. 

As I worked my way along this trail, I found myself going over downed trees and doing a lot of creek crossings. I was glad that I had my water shoes on this trip.  The temperatures were in the lower 70’s which was very pleasant. (Below are pictures of the Hannagan Trailhead, Kiosk, and the trail sign for the Foote Creek and Steeple trail.

(Above) Hannagan Meadow Trailhead Photos

 At the 6 mile point into my journey, I began seeing the bones of large elk and deer.  These animals are a food source for the Mexican Gray Wolthat inhabitthis area.  The Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as the El Lobo, are an endangered species. These wolves roamed the Southwest portion of the United States before European settlers began populating this region. There were thousands of these wolves that were hunted and poisoned to almost near extinction by the 1970’s. 

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.  By this time, there were only seven of these Gray Wolves left. All of which were in Mexico and none in the United States. A wolf recovery program was developed and the Mexican Gray Wolf was re-introduced into Arizona and New Mexico in the mid-1990s. There are approximately 100 of these Wolves roaming these areas today. (Below are pictures of some of the bones I saw on my adventure).

(Above) Various Bones I came across during my Adventure

On my first nightI set up my basecamp off Grant Creek a mile from Moonshine Park. It was a long day of slow travel as I navigated this primitive trail.  Once at my basecamp, I began a fire and dried out my boots and socks. I had a nice meal by the fire while relaxing and reflecting on my days journey to this point.  That evening was relatively quiet and I heard some wild turkeys not far from my camp. I enjoyed the cooler temperatures which got down into the 40s that evening. Around midnight I experienced some severe leg cramps in my hamstrings. These leg cramps were from my strenuous exercise getting to this basecamp. 

I had been drinking plenty of water, but I wasn’t replenishing the salts and minerals that I was sweating out. I corrected the situation by implementing the use of electrolyte replenishment packets I had with me.  I slept outside under the stars without a tent enjoying the night’s view and cool temperatures. I stayed warm in my sleeping bag, (Sierra Design Mobile Mummy) with my Klymit insulated air mat. (Below are pictures of my first basecamp, my fire, and a partially built cabin nearby).

(Above) Pictures from my different Basecamps

On Day 2, I awoke and started a fire.   I had a warm breakfast as checked my top map and planned my next route.  I broke camp and I traveled to Moonshine Park which was an open flat scenic area that in many ways looked like a large park you would see in the city.  There was some green grass with many trees surrounded by hills.  I observed a lot of bones from elk and other animals in this area. This area was probably the hunting grounds for the Mexican Gray Wolf.

I contemplated on setting up a basecamp here but water was scarce. There was a mud hole here which looked like a watering hole for the local wildlife.  The water was not suitable for consumption due to the wildlife contaminants.  If you needed water you would have to travel a distance back to Grant Creek.  I spent some time in Moonshine Park walking the area taking both videos and pictures as I enjoyed the view.  (Below are pictures of Moonshine Park with that muddy watering hole).

(Above) Pictures from Moonshine Park

I set up my 2nd basecamp near Grant Creek.  I started a fire and settled in for a cool evening.  As I was relaxing by my fire,I did a perimeter check around my Basecamp sometime after 2000 hours, using my Petzl headlamp.  As I was scanning the area, I came across a pair of orange and green eyes less than 50 yards from my basecamp. these eyes belonged to a Mexican Gray Wolf that was watching me.  It was exciting to see this endangered species roaming the wild next to my camp.

As it stood there watching me, I took a picture of it. The picture came out grainy but you can make out the features of this endangered animal.  I estimated it’s size to be between 90 to 100 pounds. After five minutes, the wolf continued its track along a trail looking for food. After it left, I took out my floor Flir TK Scout (thermal imager) and I did a scan of my area wondering if there were other wolves around me. I saw none.  These wolves hunt in packs at night, and I am sure there were others around. This was a great experience for me and one that I will remember.  (Below are 2 pictures of the wolf and my second basecamp).

I went to sleep not long after my encounter enjoying the cool nights.  I heard howling from these wolves until the early morning hours. I awoke the next morning to a red overcast sky.  I checked the weather forecast on my Garmin Inreach Explorer Plus and it stated that rain was moving in. I broke camp and began heading west along Grant Creek.  I made it to my third base camp, day 3,  in an open area which looked like a prairie.   I spent my last two nights on my five day adventure in this area.  (Below are pictures of my 3rd Basecamp with a creek near by).

Not long after I set up my basecamp rain moved in quickly. The timing was perfect, as I just completed setting up my tent when the rain moved in. The temperatures quickly dropped into the 50s. It rained for about an hour as I stayed dry in my tent.  After it stopped raining, I started a small fire and had dinner.  There was a creek close by and I was able to get water easily and quickly.   (Below are pictures of me preparing dinner and a night picture of me getting water by my basecamp).

 I went to bed early that evening, and I awoke about midnight too loud thunder and lightning.  The temperatures were in the freezing range and the rain turned into hail as it was hitting my tent. The rain subsided sometime after 0130 hours and the temperatures dipped into the upper 20’s by 0500 hours.  I awoke around 0630 hours and started a fire with a quarter moon above. I had breakfast and I began exploring the area.  I conducted some camp maintenance and repairs on some damaged gear. (Below are pictures of the elevation, temperature, hail, and frost on my tent).

 That afternoon was sunny with the temperatures in the upper 60’s.  I was able to sit under the blue skies and reflect on my adventure up to this point.  I took many pictures and videos of the area.  There were no bones around my basecamp that I could see, but I did see the tracks of many different animals elk, deer and wolf. I saw nbear tracks on my adventure.  I had a sense during the day that something was watching me but I saw nothing. 

I did have a tree fall not to far from my camp but many of the trees in that area had been damaged by fire so it was not that unusual.  I made sure that I set all of my 3 basecamp’s up during my adventure utilizing the acronym that I came up with (W. E. S. S.), (Water, Elevation, Security, and Safety). I finished day four with a warm basecamp fire and meal. (Below are pictures of me at my basecamp and charging up my gear via solar panel).

CONCLUSION

If you are looking for an adventure where few travel than I highly recommend you planning an adventure into the Blue. There are many good trailheads you can start from with plenty of loop hikes to choose from.  Make sure that you carry a GPS, Compass, and a good Topographical map.

Much of the trails in this area were damaged by the Wallow fires and you will have to do some bushwhacking to navigate around the downed trees. It is a remote and rugged area and you will definitely have an adventure to talk about for many years to come. You may even encounter a Mexican Gray Wolf which will definitely make the experience more memorable.

Video on My Blue Range Primitive Adventure

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