Todd Halvorsen of Tempe maintains a healthy respect for wild weather and beasts while hiking Arizona’s wildlife-rich White Mountains. “I’ve seen over a dozen bears in Arizona and never had even a remotely scary experience,” Halvorsen says. “I’ve also encountered several mountain lions while hiking, and while that definitely gets my adrenaline pumping, they have always been quick to flee.”
In addition to keeping an eye out for wildlife, Halvorsen, who enjoys camping and trekking along high-country streams, is keenly aware of a more dangerous aspect of mountain hiking. “I’m always prepared for rain in the White Mountains,” Halvorsen says. “I’ve witnessed thunderheads building over Mount Baldy before 9 a.m…. it can be a cloudless morning, but rain all afternoon.”
He offers this common-sense tip: “During the monsoon, I usually car-camp and plan hikes early in the day. I want to be relatively close to a vehicle by early afternoon, when lightning storms are more likely. Without hesitation, I’d rather encounter wolves, lions and bears before a lightning storm in the mountains with nowhere to shelter.”
An ideal streamside hike for summer monsoon season is Thompson Trail No. 629. “It’s just a relaxing stroll in a grassy meadow along a meandering mountain stream,” Halvorsen says of the popular route south of Greer. “That kind of terrain is so rare in Arizona that it’s hard not to appreciate it. In late summer, wildflowers add some different colors to the meadow, too. There are still plenty of trees along the river that weren’t affected by the [Wallow Fire in 2011]. It’s easy to spend a few hours on this trail and forget the burn scar that surrounds you!”
Halvorsen has some advice for those who might be concerned about hiking through prime bear and wolf territory. “I always tell people… to carry a camera, because if you try to take a picture of that wolf or bear, it will for sure be gone before you can snap a picture.”
IF YOU GO
LENGTH: 6.5 miles round trip
ELEVATION: 8,600-8,840 feet
GETTING THERE: From Show Low, go 35 miles east on State Route 260 to State Route 273, just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area. Turn right and continue 14 miles to Forest Road 116 (signed for Reservation Lake), turn right and go 4 miles to the trailhead on the right. Roads are paved except for Forest Road 116, which is sedan-friendly gravel.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, fs.usda.gov
A combat veteran navigates Hellsgate Wilderness.
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