To the northeast of Phoenix lies an off-road playground frequented by hordes of city dwellers on the weekends. They come to four-wheel or ride ATVs or dirt bikes. Although this area is a part of the Tonto National Forest, it lies on the southern end and consists of desert terrain at elevations from about 1,800 to 2,500 feet above sea level. Here you'll find wide, sandy washes, decomposed rock trails and hills, and some rockcrawling in the low-lying areas. Seasonal rains can produce flash floods in the canyons and dry stream beds, causing heavy erosion and reshaping the trails every once in a while.
We hit the trail with an assortment of vehicles for a day of playing in the desert. Once off the highway, we aired down tires and ventured down winding dirt trails and dry wash crossings. We saw only small amounts of water as the weather had been dry for while, but these sandy beds can be more interesting with a good flow of water in them.
As we traveled upstream into Otero Canyon, the dirt walls along the trail rose higher and the canyon narrowed. Soon, the trail was maybe only 10 to 12 feet wide. A 3-foot rock ledge marks the start of a short stretch of obstacles aptly named Rocker Panel Pass. This rocky area got its name nibbling at sheetmetal on more than a few rigs.
Our group tackled this series of obstacles and then climbed upward into loose hills of decomposed granite. We wound our way up and down eroded trails, some with deep, washed-out crevices.
Dropping into Sycamore Creek, we could see Sugarloaf Mountain looming in the distance and made our way southward where we passed an old water tank at Sheep Camp. Crossing a concrete dam at a low point on the wash, we hit dirt road and wound our way back to the highway.
We'd had a good day wheeling and enjoying the scenery. This trail is of medium difficulty, with the most challenging parts at Rocker Panel Pass and possibly climbing a few of the loose hills. You're sure to like it.
|ODOMETER ||LATITUDE ||LONGITUDE ||NOTES |
| ||Exit Highway 87 at Mile 207.5. Cross over to east side of highway. |
| ||33 43.47N ||111 30.40W ||Enter gate onto dirt road and continue several hundred yards to open dirt area. Good spot to air down. |
|0 ||33 43.49N ||111 30.42W ||Turning right at the open dirt area, you'll see an FS 160 marker. Follow this road. |
|0.22 ||33 43.56N ||111 30.53W ||Several roads funnel together here. Cross the wash and follow it northwest. |
|0.45 ||33 44.09N ||111 30.56W ||Turn left out of wash (optional harder rocky route staying in wash). |
|0.64 ||33 44.18N ||111 30.56W ||Bear left and cross creek. |
|1.12 ||33 44.36N ||111 30.50W ||Turn left and follow sandy wash trail. |
|1.68 ||33 44.49N ||111 31.18W ||Turn left in wash. |
|2.16 ||33 44.44N ||111 31.45W ||Wash narrows and you arrive at the start of Rocker Panel Pass. |
|2.57 ||33 44.34N ||111 32.05W ||Top of dirt hill. Continue straight ahead. |
|2.64 ||33 44.32N ||111 32.07W ||Turn right onto FS 1855. |
|2.86 ||33 44.24N ||111 32.12W ||Bear right at fork and continue southwest. |
|3.17 ||33 44.13N ||111 32.24W ||Continue straight (left). Parallel road on your right. |
|3.63 ||33 43.59N ||111 32.27W ||Stay to the left. Black Mountain is on your left. |
|3.89 ||33 43.47N ||111 32.27W ||Drop into sandy wash. |
|5.15 ||33 42.50N ||111 32.26W ||Road uphill to right goes to the Rock and Wall play areas (see topo map below). |
|5.71 ||33 42.28N ||111 32.10W ||Turn right into sandy wash (boulder area) or follow parallel dirt road. |
|6.16 ||33 42.05N ||111 32.18W ||Turn left and follow sandy wash. |
|10 ||33 40.45N ||111 30.14W ||Sugarloaf Mountain, Highway 87 turnoff. |