Nestled in the nearly 2.9 million-acre Tonto National Forest, Cedar Flat is a true central Arizona experience. On the way to the trailhead, you pass the historic Doll Baby Ranch. The ranch was purchased a few years back by a nature conservancy and put under Forest Service jurisdiction. Cattle still roam on the ranch's land, but continued access to the Baby Doll Trailhead for hikes into the Mazatzal Wilderness was ensured. Even more importantly, the section of the East Verde River that runs through the ranch property was protected. The ranch's original windmill still stands and turns in the breeze. Welcome to Arizona the way it used to be. There aren't many trails in Arizona that offer a smorgasbord of experiences. Besides the Old West vibe of just getting to the trail, having a cottonwood-lined perennial river to soak your feet in, listen to its ripples, camp beside, and perhaps even take a cooling dip in one of the deep pools is an extremely unique experience in the deserts of Arizona. The buffet continues with vast views of one of Arizona's most intimidating mountain ranges, the rugged Mazatazals. There isn't a single road that crosses that impenetrable range. You can see why as you gaze across at the looming presence, a wilderness only penetrated by a handful of difficult hiking trails. Even the name, Cedar Flat, is interesting. There isn't a single cedar tree on Cedar Flat. Early settlers were familiar with European cedars and mistook the western junipers as a species of cedar. Thus there are many Cedar Flats, Mesas, and Creeks across the West and about a trillion unappreciated juniper trees. Go check out Cedar Flat and take in all the items on the menu. You'll leave a fuller person for it.
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