By Tom Pfaendler
The Arnight Trail is the southernmost leg of three trails that together make up the lengthy Escarpment Base Trail, starting with SMYC to the north and continuing along Dale’s Trail, which ends at the gate to the old Wilson Ranch on the Pine Creek Canyon Trail. The ranch house foundation is about a quarter-mile west of the gate and it’s one of the best picnic spots in Red Rock, so feel free to relax and soak up all of the cool green beauty. Avoid munching on the Jimson Weed (Datura) growing here. It may look appetizing, but it can ruin your whole day.
When you’re ready to get moving again just get back on the Pine Creek Canyon Trail and head southwest through the meadow and across the creek. The good news about Pine Creek is that you can find water in it just about year-round. The bad news is because of this lush wetland; the trail tends to give way to a field overgrown with cattail, grapevines, grasses, flowers and weeds. Just be diligent about picking your way through the brush, you should be able to distinguish the path from the surrounding jungle. Be on the lookout for a helpful trail sign marking the official beginning of the Arnight Trail. From there it’s just a short distance south across a field toward the foothills of Juniper Peak
The trail climbs steeply now and before you know it, Pine Creek Canyon will be far below and you’ll have sweeping views of Mescalito Peak, Bridge Mountain and beyond. This is a good opportunity to take a short break, sit quietly and listen to the birds while you pick all of those sharp little stickers out of your socks. One of the best things about hiking is finding a viewpoint like this and pulling up a big flat rock to stretch out on. It gives a person time to think and just enjoy being a part of nature. It’s amazing how much wildlife you’ll notice if you take the time to “blend in” with the environment.
Continuing south, you’ll soon pass a Winnebago-sized rectangular rock on the right. Next to the rock, and nailed to a burned juniper tree, is a wooden birdhouse. (I don’t know why it’s there; I just thought you should know about it.) Get ready to join an exclusive club whose members have actually hiked near Juniper Peak, a rugged, beautiful and rarely accessed area. The Arnight Trail is the only way to get up close and personal with this majestic mountain. There is an “unofficial” trail that breaks away from Arnight and leads west, up toward Juniper and Gunsight Notch Peaks. As long as you keep to the east you’ll stay on the “official” trail and drop down into the Juniper Canyon wash. This is one of the last shady spots, so take a few minutes to cool off and hit the ol’ canteen.
As you hike up out of the wash you’ll reach the intersection of the Arnight and Knoll Trails marked by a little trail sign nestled under a huge juniper tree. It’s possible to take the longer Knoll route around Rainbow Mountain to Oak Creek Canyon, but if you’re determined to finish the proper Escarpment Base Trail, then follow Arnight to the east. From here the path makes a hard left away from the Escarpment and leads through the open desert. It now becomes an easier hike with a nice wide sandy path leading around various washes and scenic little desert gardens. Sometimes it’s good to have the easy part at the end of a long hike. When you reach the Oak Creek Canyon parking lot you can celebrate twice because you’ve made it to the end of both the Arnight Trail and The Escarpment Base Trail!
If you’re planning on hiking the entire Escarpment Base Trail in one day, you may want to utilize the “buddy” system. That is, take two cars; leave one up north at the Lost Creek parking lot for access to the SMYC Trail and one down south at Oak Creek. If you’ve just finished hiking all three legs of the Escarpment Base Trail, you’re gonna be tired, guaranteed. And don’t forget to pack a LOT of water. You’ll need it. For the high-point views of Pine Creek Canyon and the exclusive members-only view of Juniper Peak, I’d rate The Arnight Trail seven boots out of ten!