ALL HIKERS

MARCH 2006 DRIPPING SPRINGS - WALDRON HIKE

     After doing the Hermit and Boucher Trails, I knew I had to complete both the Dripping Springs and Waldron Trails as a loop day hike.  One of my contributing authors, Marsha, is joining me on this hike.  We meet at the General Store Deli and head out to the Waldron trailhead in her jeep.  It snowed quite a bit yesterday, so we actually slip and slide our way there.  Our plan is to walk the roads on top over to the Dripping Springs trailhead, go down it to Dripping Springs, then across to the Waldron Trail and up it to the parked jeep.

     There is still a lot of snow on the ground as we start out.  The Waldron trailhead sign is only a few hundred feet away, but don't plan on driving past the trailhead very far as several trees have fallen across the road just after that.

Marsha at the trailhead
3-30-2006 @ 10:05
A snowy road
3-30-2006 @ 10:05
Waldron trailhead sign
3-30-2006 @ 10:14
Upper Waldron Trail
3-30-2006 @ 10:14
Fallen tree
3-30-2006 @ 10:32

     I am carrying my GPS with topographical software installed.  It clearly shows all the roads and trails, so that should make getting to the Dripping Springs trailhead easier.  These roads are very muddy and difficult to walk on.  We are just walking along and talking when I look at my GPS and realize we have taken a wrong turn someplace.  With the aid of the GPS, we travel cross-country and get back to the right road.  We remark to each other that, absent the GPS, you would not realize you had made a wrong turn.  In just under two hours, we reach where the trail starts downhill.  After another hundred yards or so, we come to a galvanized post.  We speculate that this once held the Dripping Springs trailhead sign.  There is still a lot of snow in the shaded areas of the trail.

Downhill start of trail
3-30-2006 @ 11:55
An interesting galvanized post
3-30-2006 @ 12:01
Snow on trail
3-30-2006 @ 12:03

     The trail continues generally to the east and begins to descend at a more rapid pace.  You are teased into thinking you are approaching the Hermit Gorge, but you are not.

Initial descent on the Dripping Springs Trail
3-30-2006 @ 12:08
Initial descent on the Dripping Springs Trail
3-30-2006 @ 12:32

     In a little while, the trail transitions to the north side of this small gorge where the walls gradually turn to mostly solid stone.  Eventually, you reach a series of switchbacks with a few very minor scrambles, which take you to down to the springs.  As we descend, we can see hikers on the other side of this gorge leaving the springs.

Hikers leaving Dripping Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:03
Cliff above Dripping Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:05
Drippings Springs from above
3-30-2006 @ 1:05

     In just a few more minutes, we reach the springs.  The water drips from the ceiling of the cavity and forms a pool beneath it.  This is a very pretty spot and is shaded from the afternoon sun.

Marsha at Dripping Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:10
Dripping Springs sign
3-30-2006 @ 1:07
Richard at Dripping Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:10
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Dripping Springs
Drippings Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:07
  Drippings Springs
3-30-2006 @ 1:07

     Click here for a brief history of Louis Boucher and his camp at Dripping Springs.  We relax at the springs for about twenty minutes and then leave.  Just outside the springs, there is an interesting rock with several metal rings imbedded in it.  This must have been used in the past to anchor something heavy.  We can now see the east side of the Hermit Gorge.

Metal rings in rock on the trail
3-30-2006 @ 1:29
East side of Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 1:30

     This part of the trail is flat and extremely easy walking.  We soon come to the Boucher Trail sign.  Marsha is doing a South Bass hike next week, so we take a half-hour side trip down the Boucher a little ways to cache some food and water for her group.  The Hermit Gorge is very pretty from here.

Boucher trailhead sign
3-30-2006 @ 1:45
Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 1:58
South view of Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 1:58

     We return to the Dripping Springs Trail and continue eastward.  I simply can't get over how pretty the Hermit Gorge is.

Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 2:20
Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 2:27
West view of Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 2:27

     We are making good time when suddenly, I come upon a Bighorn Sheep right in the middle of the trail.  He is just standing there watching me while I am taking pictures of him.  It occurs to me that he probably wants to continue down this trail in the opposite direction that I am going.  On a whim, I move to one side of the trail with my back against a wall.  He seems to understand what that move means and unbelievably he starts walking towards me.  I take more pictures as he walks by, passing within inches of me.  I am relieved he was not aggressive.  His horns were large and formidable.  Marsha has to play peek-a-boo with the Bighorn from behind a large rock until he passes by her.

Bighorn Sheep
3-30-2006 @ 2:41
Bighorn Sheep
3-30-2006 @ 2:42
Bighorn Sheep
3-30-2006 @ 2:42

     In about fifteen minutes, we come to the Hermit Trail sign and a little while after that we reach the Waldron Trail sign.  We turn here and head up the Waldron Trail.

Dripping Springs - Hermit Trail sign
3-30-2006 @ 3:00
Waldron - Hermit trail sign
3-30-2006 @ 3:14

     The trail is easy walking and meanders toward the south.  We are not sure if the trail will head southeast toward the break in the cliffs like the Boucher Trail does coming up from Boucher Creek or go a little farther south through an easier pass.

Cliffs to the southeast
3-30-2006 @ 3:42
Pass to the south
3-30-2006 @ 3:42

     The trail actually goes to the south through the pass.  We reach a series of gravel switchbacks and start up those.  They seem to go on forever.  The view of the Hermit Gorge looking back to the north is quite good.  We eventually reach the top of the switchbacks and start the final push to the trailhead.  As we near the trailhead, we come to Horsethief Tank.  One would expect this pond to occasionally have some water in it, but with the driest winter on record in northern Arizona, it is dry.

Hermit Gorge
3-30-2006 @ 3:58
Horsethief Tank dam
3-30-2006 @ 4:37
Horsethief Tank
3-30-2006 @ 4:38

In just a few more minutes, we reach the trailhead and Marsha's jeep.  All the snow from this morning is gone.

Waldron trailhead sign
3-30-2006 @ 4:46
Marsha's jeep at the trailhead
3-30-2006 @ 4:49

     This was a really great day hike.  It is one I think you will enjoy and I highly recommend it.  Our trip highlights were:

  • Dripping Springs.

  • The wonderful views of the Hermit Gorge.

  • Our close encounter with the Bighorn Sheep.

If you are doing this loop, I have the following recommendations:

  • This hike is suitable for either direction.  If it is very dry, you might want to do it the direction we did it to avoid going down the steep, gravel switchbacks on the Waldron.  You are allowed to drive on Horsethief Trail, but not on Old Pasture Wash Road.  Therefore, it makes sense to drive to the Waldron trailhead and park there.  [Editor's note - subsequent to this hike, the Park Service installed a locked gate about one mile east of the Waldron trailhead where you now have to park.]  You will need a high clearance vehicle, but four-wheel drive is not necessary unless it is wet.  Be sure you get directions from the Rangers at the Backcountry Office and have a detailed map or GPS with topographical software.  Even with all of the above, we inadvertently got off the correct road for a while walking to the Dripping Springs trailhead.

  • The walk from the Waldron trailhead to the Dripping Springs trailhead is approximately 3.5 miles.  The total hike length, not counting our side trip on the Boucher, is 8.1 miles.  The elevation loss going down the Dripping Springs Trail is approximately 1200 feet and the elevation gain going up the Waldron Trail is approximately 1050 feet.

     I am looking forward to doing the Grandview - Tonto - Bright Angel Trails day after tomorrow.

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