Hiking Mescal and Climbing an Old Tree

March 24, 2023

By Sara Stiffler

Hiking around Mescal Mountain provides views in almost every direction imaginable. Here we see the yet another example of wind and water working their magic..

It was a beautiful sunny and warmish Saturday morning in February with blue skies streaked with white clouds overhead. We’d met up at the Posse Grounds for roll-call then made our way by carpool to the new Mescal Parking lot off Long Canyon Road. Soon we were off on the Mescal Trail led in two groups by John and Deborah Losse. Our goal was to make it up Mescal Mountain, which would afford us stunning views from all directions as we continued on the trail. Jim Meade commented that he hoped we didn’t have to climb down the “O.S.S.” More on that later.

For most of the first half of the trail we were on our own. We could see or hear other hikers off in the distance, but the trail was peaceful, and for a time it was all ours. 

The sun provided ample warmth and soon we were removing our winter hats and gloves, and eventually our jackets. Sunglasses stayed on as we joined Long Canyon Trail.

We’d been told that a section of the trail would involve a little rock climbing and a tree. I wasn’t sure what that meant until we got there. An old tree overhung a tall rock ledge. The trick was to use the tree for support to get up onto the rock ledge. John made quick work on the climb with his long legs. I was next. I threw my backpack and hiking pole up onto the ledge. A climb like this is all about positioning yourself just right, your back against the ledge, and using the tree as leverage. I stepped onto the tree's lower limb and pushed, backward crawling up the ledge to the top. Others followed with varying degrees of success on their first or second tries. The hikers all rallied around one hiker who was having a particularly difficult time maneuvering the tree and ledge. At one point she had nearly pinned herself between the two. Finally, she made a final attempt at the climb and that time made it up onto the ledge, much to her delight and that of her fellow hikers. 

Another steep rock scramble followed and now we were atop Mescal Mountain. We made our way across the trail of red dirt, red rocks, brush, and prickly pears, still climbing, but at a more moderate incline at this point. As we looked across to the Boynton Canyon Vista and the Kachina Woman, someone noted the silence. Oftentimes hikers can hear the music of a flute being played at the vista. A local hiker named Robert is a frequent visitor to the Canyon and serenades hikers with his music. He was absent today. Many in the group knew of Robert. I had met him the previous week on another trail and he had given me a rock in the shape of a heart. Another of his trail traditions. No doubt he will return to the vista another day.

We stopped for a snack break atop the mountain overlooking the Seven Canyons resort and a panorama of views on either side of us. Someone pointed out the Ice Cream Cone, a rock formation that looks like… well, you know. John tried to make out the doorway to a ruin on the ledge across from us. He pointed in the general direction of where it was. They’d taken a Westerners hike there before. Perhaps a hike for another day. 

After we parted for a bio-break (a bathroom break), we headed through some tall white/beige bunchgrass and around beautiful yucca plants toward what looked like the edge of the mountain. We met a couple of hikers there who were trying to communicate with their friends on the path below by making bird sounds. They continued on ahead of us. And just as well, because we had finally come to the dreaded “O.S.S.,” a steep slope of rocks leading down the side of the mountain. The “O” means “Oh,” and the second “S” stands for “slope.” Channel your inner George Carlin and your imagination to guess what the other “S” is. As the saying goes, what goes up must come down. The slope was challenging, but seemed less so than the tree and ledge earlier, to me at least. We each took our time maneuvering the slope and were glad to be on level ground again. We now hiked along the base of Mescal Mountain and enjoyed more views of mountains to the north and west. The trail intersected the Mescal Trail where we found ourselves across from the Boynton Canyon Vista once again.

John pointed out an aging telephone pole laying on the ground. Telephone lines once hung above this scenic trail but have since been replaced with underground wires. The old poles have been put to good use in the construction of the trail and many examples could be seen along the way.

I would mention that we found a pair of men's underwear on the side of the trail but I'm still trying to wrap my head around how it got there. Nonetheless one of our intrepid hikers bagged it up and packed it out to dispose of it properly following the wise "Leave No Trace" policy.

As we came along the south side of Mescal Mountain, both hiker and mountain bike traffic increased dramatically. Jim was counting people we saw along the trail. By the time we returned to the parking lot, he had tallied 210 hikers and 63 bikers. This was a busy day on the trail which now skirted the mountain along a ledge of rock that sloped down toward an amphitheater of trees. The path divided several times – one way “difficult,” the other “intermediate.” Someone in the group pointed out those were indicators for the bikers. And indeed, at one point on the difficult section, we saw bikers carrying or rolling their bikes along the ledge.

We lost part of our crew for a few minutes as we continued along. They had spotted some graffiti on some rocks, and since they had the proper training they and had been able to remove the unwelcome markings. 

Together we wound our way down the mountain and ledges past lichen covered rocks back toward the parking lot. Several gusts of wind kicked up the loose dirt forcing us to shield our faces to protect our eyes. Just one last reminder that we were in the wild and at the whim of Mother Nature despite having conquered her difficult slopes and ledges

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