A drive up Pine Mountain unveils the rugged beauty of Arizona's chaparral country. Located in the Tonto National Forest, at 2,873,200 acres, the largest of Arizona's National Forests, the drive offers long views across a vast landscape of rolling hills and deep sycamore-lined canyons carved by small streams fed by runoff from the looming Mazatzal Mountains. The name Mazatzal is difficult to pronounce. Locals often just refer to the Mazatzal Mountains as the Mazzies. The name is attributed to an obscure native language now only spoken in central Mexico. It means "place of the deer." As difficult as the name may be, traversing the Mazzies is infinitely harder. The rugged and nearly impenetrable mountains, encased in the Mazatzal Wilderness Area, form a north/south spine in central Arizona crossed by no roads and very few foot trails. Pine Mountain leads to one of those trails, the famed Arizona Trail, a National Scenic Trail that traverses the entirety of Arizona from Mexico to Utah. Pine Mountain climbs steadily, beginning in the chaparral of grasses, pinion pines, juniper, agave, and prickly pear cactus and ending at the Mount Peely trailhead amongst the tall Ponderosa Pines of Arizona's high country. Mount Peeley, at 7030 feet, towers over the trailhead. Portions of the trail were affected by the 2004 Willow Fire and the 2012 Sunflower Fire. The evidence of regrowth in this area is impressive as nature seeks to heal itself. While you might not be hiking the Arizona Trail, a drive up Pine Mountain reveals much of the rugged and diverse beauty of central Arizona.
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