Southwestern Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Forest Service packer with mule carrying supplies to Escudilla Lookout. In October, this portion of the trail has a "golden" light from aspen turning colors. Photo Credit: M.R. White, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
Toolbox Draw Along the Escudilla Trail
Forest: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
District: Alpine Ranger District
Description: Escudilla trail is within the Escudilla Wilderness and climbs to the fire lookout tower on Escudilla Mountain, the third highest mountain in Arizona at 10,912 feet. Toolbox Draw is about 1 mile up the Escudilla Trail. No one knows how it got the name, but it may be related to a mule packing accident or two, when tools went flying off the pack animal - a pretty likely scenario! Because the Escudilla Trail is within the Escudilla Wilderness (established in 1984), supplies are still packed by mule to the lookout tower, including mattresses and, most recently, a propane refrigerator! The first mile of the trail follows an old logging road through a stand of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) with old stumps of large Douglas fir trees (Psuedotsuga menziesii). The fir trees were removed and the aspen came in after the June 1951, Escudilla Fire, which consumed almost 20,000 acres.
Viewing Information: Coming out of the aspen stand you will see a large, open, grassy draw to the west (your left). This is Toolbox Draw. Beautiful vistas open to the southwest toward the Black River country; to the immediate south you will see Terry Flat and portions of the loop road; and to the southeast, you will see the Gila Wilderness on the horizon.
Wildflowers to look for: Sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii), elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), red cinquefoil (Potentilla thurberi), silverstem lupine (Lupinus argenteus), Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.), Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), orange sneezeweed (Hymenoxys hoopesii), western yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. lanulosa), wooly cinquefoil (Potentilla hippiana), and Rocky Mountain pussytoes (Antennaria parvifolia). All of these species can be found in A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple.
Summer rains typically start in the latter half of July making August one of the best times to view wildflowers. Depending on winter snowfall, springtime (typically May) can also be a good time to view wildflowers. Be sure to check with the Alpine Ranger District regarding snow and road conditions before heading up Forest Road 8056 in the spring.
Toolbox Draw itself is an excellent example of subalpine grasslands, which are rare in Arizona. The dominant grass is Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica) with its narrow, needle-like leaves. The “heads” on this and other grasses contain the plant’s flowers but they are small and lack showy petals. This is because they are wind, not insect, pollinated.
Safety First: This trail has both gentle and very steep trail segments so do not attempt the steeper portions if you have any health issues. Weather can be erratic even in the summer, with intense sun, high winds, and rain or snow. Be prepared with multiple clothing layers, sun screen, hat, and plenty of water. Toolbox Draw is an open, exposed expanse of trail so in the event of lightning or even the build up of cumulus clouds, seek cover under continuous forest (not small groups of trees). Before you leave, notify someone of your expected return time.
Unless you are an experienced hiker and have excellent orientation skills, do not travel cross-country off of the trail; the mountain is densely vegetated and has numerous ridges and ledges making off trail navigation very difficult.
Directions: From Alpine, Arizona, drive 5.5 miles north (toward Nutrioso) on US Highway 180/191 to Forest Road (FR) 8056. Turn right on FR 8056 and drive 3.6 miles to Terry Flat Loop. At the loop junction, bear left and continue 0.5 mile to the Escudilla Trailhead (National Recreation Trail #308). Toolbox Draw is approximately 1 mile up the Escudilla Trail. The trailhead is at an elevation of 9,560 ft. and proceeds about 3 miles, ending at Escudilla Lookout tower at 10,877 ft.
Contact: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, Junction of US Highways 180 and 191, Alpine, Arizona 85920. Phone: (928) 339-4384.
Closest Town: Alpine, Arizona.