The Bee’s Knees: Introducing a friend to hiking America’s Public Land

Update: Significant portions of the trails described here were burned in the 2016 Pinchot Fire. I have not been back to the area since the fire and cannot attest to trail conditions. Proceed at your own risk. For more details on the fire, click HERE

Update 2: As of the time of this writing (June 14, 2017) large portions of the Cabin Loop are closed due to the Bear and Highline Fires. Read more about these fires HERE and HERE, respectively. 

Even after all these years and international travel, it’s easy to forget just how spoiled we are in the western United States. With plentiful big mountains, wide open plains, and dry deserts, the West has everything you could want.

However, having this great expanse wouldn’t matter much if we couldn’t access it. The crux of the West lies lies not only in the fact that these mountains, plains, and deserts exist, but that anyone can access and use them. Not to get too philosophical here, but I remain convinced that being surrounded by this (at least theoretically) egalitarian resource is an enormous part of who we are. Don’t believe me? Then think about this: we are so inundated with public land that we need a flow chart just to figure out what kind of public land we are on. Like anything that you see, encounter, or are surrounded by every day, public land is a core part of who we, as a people, are.

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A few weeks ago I was reminded of all this again, when we took a friend from the UK, Alan Bee, hiking just north of Payson, AZ.  Alan is in great shape, but we still wanted to pick out something reasonable for his first time really out; and with that in mind, we settled on the Fred Haught Trail, leaving from FR300, and heading down the watershed towards East Clear Creek, stopping at Fred Haught Cabin.

Regular readers might recognize all this: the Fred Haught Trail is a part of the Western Cabin Loop, which I discussed tangentially while describing the Eastern Cabin Loop HERE. Fred Haught also has the distinction of being one of the prettiest sections of the Arizona Trail. I know everyone hates it when I talk geography and history, so I wont drag you through all that again. Instead, here are some links to all the crazy shit that has happened here since 1800: GIANT BATTLES, WIERDO’S USING SHEEP SHEERS TO CUT THEIR HAIR BECAUSE THEY ARE LONELY, and MYTHS OF GIANT HUMANOID MONSTERS.

I could go through a step by step trip report of the hike, but that’s not the point of this post. We have HikeArizona for that. Instead, I think Alan’s words tell the story better:

“So you’re saying people can just camp wherever they want?”

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“What do you do when people get lost?”

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“Wait, what do you mean, ‘This trail goes on for a couple hundred more miles?'”

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“Like, BEAR bears?”

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“Its great that you are allowed to walk off the trail.”

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“These are actually vodka tonics???”

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“No, we don’t have anything like this at home.”

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This post isn’t supposed to be a referendum on the outdoors of the UK or Europe. Alan is a great guy, and he was a particularly good sport on this hike– truly one of the best first timers I have ever taken out. But, walking behind him, listening to Alan ask questions about all the land I have always taken for granted, the land that is so much a part of me that I’m not sure you can separate it from me, I couldn’t stop thinking about just how lucky we are. We have land here. We have space that nobody owns but us, that we keep for us. I don’t know what that means, but I know it is something worth keeping.

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A quick apology to our regular readers: Sorry I haven’t been posting as much lately! The new semester is getting started and I always have a little trouble getting in the groove of a new schedule. Stick with us though, I promise we have some really exciting stuff coming down the pipe in the next couple of weeks.


Disclaimer: This post, and all posts on LesserPlaces, may contain affiliate links– links that allow me to receive a small kickback at no additional cost to you when you shop through them. This is how we keep the lights on. 



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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

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4 thoughts on “The Bee’s Knees: Introducing a friend to hiking America’s Public Land

  1. I love Arizona, it’s so beautiful in there. Although I’m from the north and can barely handle the Colorado summer, so my visits down there are limited to non-summer months. It’s interesting what you wrote about the public lands. Finland has an extended right to roam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam#Finland) and after moving to Denver it came to me as a shock that I can’t just walk anywhere I want to to see places, so I was very happy to find the public lands trail system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Winter is the best time in AZ, for sure!

      A right to roam, as in Finland, sounds amazing. I can’t really describe what it is about public land so much, but I think it is something about the fact that no one owns it. Obviously there are different rules depending on where you go (and different states have different amounts of public land), but there is just something really special about having a common resource.

      Liked by 1 person

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