Col. Devin Trail will chal­lenge tough hik­ers

The Arizona Republic - - Explore Az - Mare Cz­i­nar Read more of Mare ari­zon­ahik­ing.blogspot.com. MARE CZ­I­NAR/SPE­CIAL FOR THE REPUB­LIC Cz­i­nar’s hikes at

For ca­sual trav­el­ers, the East Verde River is syn­ony­mous with wa­ter-play des­ti­na­tions along Hous­ton Mesa Road north of Payson. The Wa­ter Wheel, First, Sec­ond and Third Cross­ing re­cre­ation sites of­fer walkup ac­cess to the canyon-bound wa­ter course.

A trib­u­tary of the mighty Verde River, the slim water­way be­gins as trick­ling springs that em­anate from rugged es­carp­ments be­low the Mo­gol­lon Rim.

The river’s en­chant­ing wa­ter­shed can be ex­plored via the Col. Devin Trail #290 that fol­lows its course from Wash­ing­ton Park to the springs that feed it.

Named for Col. Thomas C. Devin, who used the route for mil­i­tary en­deav­ors in the 1880s, the dirt trail that al­ter­nates be­tween a rut­ted two-track and a slen­der path also makes up the last 2 miles of the High­line Pas­sage of the Ari­zona Trail.

The route’s prox­im­ity to the river and its drainages makes for a shady trek best done in fall or spring when wa­ter lev­els peak and fo­liage is at its most beau­ti­ful.

The first mile isn’t too hard

Al­though the For­est Ser­vice rates this hike as dif­fi­cult, just about any­body can man­age the first mile. Adding to the hike’s many nat­u­ral at­trac­tions, the trail is book­ended with trib­utes the area’s hu­man his­tory. At the Wash­ing­ton Park trail­head, the hike be­gins at an in­for­ma­tional kiosk with plaques that de­scribe past mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, pioneers and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Take a mo­ment to read the posters to gain an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the sto­ried past of the ter­ri­tory you’re about to walk through. Be­yond the kiosk, the path crosses the first of four bridges — two metal span­ners con­structed by the Ari­zona Trail As­so­ci­a­tion and two split-log cat­walks — that take the jump out of creek cross­ings.

Trac­ing the water­way through forests of mixed conifers, maples, box­elders, Gam­bel oaks and an un­der­story of canyon grape vines and bloom­ing shrubs, the first seg­ment of the hike is a not-too-dif­fi­cult vis­ual de­light. The sound of water­falls and cas­cad­ing rivulets adds a pleas­ant sound­track to this leafy stroll.

One mile from the trail­head, the route merges with the de­com­mis­sioned mil­i­tary road and be­gins its 1,000-foot climb to the top of the Mo­gol­lon Rim.

Start­ing to climb

The next half-mile is de­fined by a mod­er­ate as­cent on the banks above the river where drib­bling feeder streams and spring wa­ter tum­ble down to join the main chan­nel. Where wa­ter glides across the trail, a smat­ter­ing of as­pens and Ari­zona sycamores sprout from moist soils and sandy washes.

The de­mand­ing work be­gins where the trail makes a sharp right at the Tun­nel Trail junc­tion. En­ter the ele­phant in the room: the Rail­road Tun­nel.

An op­tional quar­ter-mile dif­fi­cult side trip to a much-hyped, graf­fiti-spoiled ex­ca­va­tion site can be an in­ter­est­ing di­ver­sion for his­tory buffs and hik­ers who en­joy an off-the-wall di­ver­sion.

Plans by the Ari­zona Min­eral Belt Rail­road to bore through the Mo­gol­lon Rim to trans­port ore from the cop­per-rich mines around Globe to Flagstaff didn’t pan out. The 1880s tun­nel project went bust and was aban­doned, leav­ing be­hind mounds of rub­ble and a dank, 70-foot-deep stone cave that’s been de­faced by modern-day van­dals.

The fi­nal push

Un­less you’re into vis­it­ing quirky bits of Ari­zona his­tory, skip the gritty climb and con­tinue up­hill in­stead. The fi­nal as­cent to Rim Road (For­est Road 300) creeps up a steep, rocky bench pass­ing by some of the springs and seeps that are the source of the East Verde River. These in­con­spic­u­ous trick­les even­tu­ally fun­nel into the Verde and Salt rivers that con­verge more than 100 miles south of here and just a few miles east of Phoenix.

Ma­jor climb­ing ends at a pair of trail signs just be­low the road. Al­though the great views here make for a sat­is­fy­ing turn­around point, the hike ends a few steps far­ther up the road at the Bat­tle of Big Dry Wash his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment that marks an 1882 clash be­tween the U.S. Army and the Apache In­di­ans.

Use this book­end to a scenic and his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant trek to ei­ther dou­ble back or con­tinue north on the Blue Ridge Pas­sage of the Ari­zona Trail.

Col. Devin Trail

Length: 2 miles one way.

Rat­ing: Dif­fi­cult.

El­e­va­tion: 6,097-7,280 feet.

Get­ting there: Use the Wash­ing­ton Park trail­head. From Payson, go 1.7 miles north on State Route 87 to Hous­ton Mesa Road (For­est Road 199). Turn right and go 10 miles the T in­ter­sec­tion at Con­trol Road (FR 64) in the Whis­per­ing Pines com­mu­nity. Turn left, go 0.6 mile and take a right on FR 32. Go 3.2 miles to FR 32A (some­times signed as Bel­luzzi Boule­vard), turn right and go 1 mile to the trail­head. From the big Ari­zona Trail sign, cross the bridge, head left and go right at the Trail 290 sign. Roads are main­tained dirt suit­able for all ve­hi­cles. No fees or fa­cil­i­ties at the trail­head.

De­tails: www.fs.usda.gov/tonto.

The up­per part of the Col. Devin Trail is steep and rocky.

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