Butterfly Trail

This is a popular trail, which is part of the reason that I had never done it until now.  I also didn't think there was any way to make it into a decent loop hike, and as an out-and-back hike it seems either awkward or short.  After exploring the Bear Wallow area I realized a loop could be made by connecting some unmarked trails with a segment of lightly traveled dirt road near Mt Bigelow.

Sept 23, 2011

Looking back on the burned out slope below Mt Bigelow.  The trail switchbacks down this slope from the top of the ridge through raspberry thickets that are proliferating in the now sunny clearing.  In the foreground are some of the New Mexico Locust thickets that are found along the length of this trail.  In this area along the creek there are some large Arizona Walnut that survived the fire, as seen next to the White Fir at center.  

Pan looking over Edgar Canyon from northeast to southeast across the San Pedro Valley to the Galiuro Mountains and more distantly the Santa Teresa, Pinaleno, Dos Cabezas, and barely visible Chiricahua Mountains.  Virtually all of the north slope and foothills of the Catalinas in this view were burned by the Bullock Fire a year before the Aspen Fire burned through most of the rest of the range.

The trail then crosses through this pocket of surviving forest before heading out to the point at the end of the ridge in the background.

View from the ridge over to the head canyons of Alder Canyon to Mt Lemmon.  The highway traverses the top of the range crest in the shadow.  The trail drops into Alder Canyon out of view to the left and then ascends the ridge at center before climbing up the slopes on the left.

Small aspen springing up along the trail in the wake of the fire.

The trail quickly crosses through a much drier area with a southern exposure that somehow escaped the fires.  Arizona Madrone, Pinyon and Alligator Juniper in the left photo and an almost pure forest of Arizona White Oak in the right photo.

Then as quickly as it appears, the dry area transitions immediately to a moist northern slope.  Some Arizona Walnut saplings and a variety of other plants taking advantage of the sunlight in a burned out clearing.

Looking down the first fork of Alder Creek that is encountered and hosts a pocket of old growth forest that was spared by the fire.  Oracle Ridge is in the background.

Nearby is this particularly lush cool area on the trail where it crosses the creek with large Arizona Alder on the right, Arizona Walnut, White Fir, Douglas-fir, Bigtooth Maples, and plenty of other species as well.  This is a panorama of vertical shots so it's a pretty expansive view, the ridge above in the background is near Mt Bigelow.

The trail continues into some areas that were devastated by the fire but are now filled with thick regrowth.  The trail contours across the lower third of this photo but is completely hidden under the short canopy of New Mexico Locust thickets and other shrubs.

Looking back to the ridge at left that the trail had crossed over, and yet another change in the ecology as the trail passes through an area dominated by ferns.  Horned lizard in this drier more exposed area.

The trail tucks into the next fork of Alder Creek to the west on its way up to the crest and crosses through more cool lush north-facing slopes that were partially burned by the fire.

Nearing the crest looking over some Gambel Oak to the San Pedro Valley, Galiuro Mountains, and Pinaleno Mountains (Mt Graham).  

Once at the other trailhead for the Butterfly Trail, the unofficial trail can be picked up by crossing the highway and dropping down to the wooden bridge that crosses the creek.  This trail heads up the creek on the south bank and then passes through the culvert under the highway to pop into this meadow on the other side.  The trail continues on the south bank until crossing the dirt road at which point it heads up the north bank.  

After passing the dirt road the forest changes again and this time becomes almost pure old growth Douglas-fir and Southwestern White Pine, the trunks of which are seen here on the left and right sides of the trail respectively.  Eventually this trail connects with the short stretch of road to Mt Bigelow, and then near the tower facility the last bit of trail can be taken to close the loop. 

Here's the GPS file butterfly.gpx.