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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes 2017-2018 Season

Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes 2017-2018 Season
A Wag & Walk participant takes a snuggle break
A handsome boy and his volunteer handler.
October brings cooler temperatures, sunny days and the beginning of hiking season in the Valley. Few creatures are happier about this than the adoptable dogs at the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control shelter in Mesa. That’s because on the first Saturday of every month from October through April, they get to strut their stuff along the Merkel Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Shelter volunteers are on hand to assist you
 The public is invited to join the four-legged sweeties on these easy, 1-mile Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes and also stick around for a meet-and-greet play session back at the trailhead. Shelter volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions about each dog’s personality, activity level, trick repertoire and history.
You can even “test drive” the dogs to see how well they behave on leash. For those looking for a potential canine hiking partner, this is a great opportunity to interact with dogs outside of the kennel environment where they are more relaxed and better able to display their true characters. All participating dogs will be spayed or neutered, up-to-date on their shots and ready to go home with you on the spot!  But, you don’t have to be considering adoption to join the fun. 
An adoptable dog demonstrates his hiking skills.
Perhaps you’re thinking about becoming a volunteer or looking for a way to add miles to your 100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge—a Maricopa County Park program that encourages hikers, bikers and horseback riders to log 100 trail miles between November 1, 2017 and February 8, 2018. We can help you with that. So why not double down on the fun?
Looking for her forever home....

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Area 6.
3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
DATE: Saturday, October 7, 2017 and every first Saturday through April.
TIME: 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Wag & Walk
100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge

Monday, September 18, 2017


Summit of Quartz Mountain
Over its 54-mile course, the Prescott Circle Trail tours some of the most spectacular country in Arizona’s central highland region. The city-circumnavigating route is organized into 10 segments that range from 2.7 to 9.1 miles in length with unique features that transport hikers through shady pine forests, lakeside coves, granite dells, grasslands and juniper scrub.
Summit of Quartz Mountain
But if highpoint vistas are your thing, Segment 4 delivers two juicy side trips: One tops out on an exposed crest with terrific sights while the other explores a solitary quartz-studded knoll. The segment is tethered by two trailheads. The White Spar Road trailhead is near a campground while the Aspen Creek trailhead is hike-in only.  The quickest access to the peaks is via the latter. Begin on Aspen Creek Trail #48 across from the parking area on Copper Basin Road. First up is Wolverton Mountain.
Wolverton Mountain Trail
To get there hike 1.7 miles on Trail #48, pass a gate and make an immediate left at a fork. This unsigned dirt track climbs 0.2-mile and 130 feet to a scenic lookout. The “peak” is just a weathered nub on the edge of a ridgeline, unremarkable except for its views of the Prescott lakes area and the Bradshaw Mountains.
Aspen Creek Trail

Cacti on quartz
To the east, a pyramid-shaped, white-speckled outcropping stands out among swaths of junipers. This is the next destination: Quartz Mountain (a.k.a White Spar).  To get there, descend to the gate, go right onto Wolverton Mountain Trail #9415 and hike 0.8-mile to the Quartz Mountain Trail #9415A turnoff. The 0.2-mile trail leads to a dirt roundabout at the base of the hill. A raceway of rough ATV roads circle and spiral up a jewel-box bluff of clefts and pinnacles.
View from Wolverton Mountain
The maze of deeply-rutted roads is iced with a layer of creamy quartz nuggets laced with bands of pink and black minerals. Agaves, cacti and swaying grasses grow from cracks in massive white embankments that crumble into glinting landslides of beautiful, but worthless gems. The roads reach to roughly 50 feet from the summit and offer great valley and mountain vistas that stretch all the way to Flagstaff, but if you want to get to the top, you’ll need to do some tricky, hand-over-foot scrambling on one of the several paths-of-use that lead to crown of quartz spires. The most direct base-to-summit route is a difficult, 0.2-mile hike with 112 feet of elevation gain. Loose rock and thorny plants can be dangerous, so opt for the paths most travelled. Once done exploring, descend and hike back to Trail #9145 which continues 3.4 miles to its terminus at White Spar Road.
Roads on Quartz Mountain are paved with "gems"
LENGTH: 5.9 miles one-way, 7 miles with summit spurs.
RATING: moderate (difficult with Quartz Mountain summit)
ELEVATION: 5,600’ – 6,704’
WEST: Aspen Creek trailhead:
From Courthouse Square in Prescott, go 1 mile south on Montezuma Street (turns into State Route 89/White Spar Road) and to the light at Copper Basin Road.  Turn right and continue 4.6 miles on Copper Basin Road (turns to good dirt after 1.6 miles) to the Aspen Creek trailhead on the right. The hike begins across the road on Trail 48.
EAST: White Spar Campground trailhead:
From Courthouse Square in Prescott, go 3 miles south on Montezuma Street (turns into State Route 89/White Spar Road) to the parking lot on the left.  Trail access is south of the campground on the west side of SR89.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Aspens and pines around Willow Springs Lake
Although it’s best known as one of the best mountain bike trails on the Mogollon Rim, the Willow Springs Lake Trail also provides an invigorating trek for those who prefer to hoof-it. Located 30 miles east of Payson with easy to find trailheads along State Route 260, the route is made up of closed double-track dirt roads and lakeside footpaths that ramble through ponderosa pine forests and boggy backwaters above the spring-fed fishing hole.  Blue diamond tree blazes and generic bike signs mark the way. 
Willow Springs Lake
Some turns are easy-to-miss, so be sure to spot the next marker at each junction.
The loop swings through prime wildlife habitat where there’s always a good chance of spotting deer, elk and waterfowl during the hike. Black bears also inhabit the pine-aspen woodlands but are much more elusive.
Hikers take a break at the lake
Where the forest is thickest, you’ll notice orange and blue bands on some pine trees. These markings indicate areas prepped for thinning projects that will improve forest health, biodiversity and wildlife environments while reducing the chance of catastrophic wildfires.   Near the half-way mark, the route passes several shallow ponds and marsh areas before meeting the shores of the lake.
Members of Arizona Hiking Group gather at a junction
Slabs of limestone that line the 150-acre lake serve as convenient seating to take a break and watch for ospreys gliding above and diving for trout. The trail parallels the water for about a quarter-mile before it turns uphill and heads back into the forest.
A Great Blue Heron hunts for trout
The return leg of the loop climbs up along a shaded ridge where bright blue Western daylilies and brilliant red paintbrush flowers blossom in the cool sheets of spring water that cascade over the trail and into the lake below.
Leafybract aster late summer bloomer
LENGTH: 7.9 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 7600’ – 7300’
Horse Trap Trailhead:
From the AZ87/260 junction in Payson, go 31 miles east on AZ260 to the Horse Trap trailhead on the left between mileposts 284 and 285 (across from Young-Heber Road). Follow the short access path and head right at the first junction.
Horse Trap trailhead
Larson Ridge Trailhead:
From the State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go right (east) on SR 260 to Larson Ridge Road (Forest Road 237). Turn left on FR237 and continue a short distance to the parking area with restroom on the left just south of Forest Road 237A. The trail starts a few yards up the road from the parking area at an unmarked gate on the left.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Sunday, September 3, 2017



Kaibab National Forest
J.D. Cabin site on the Kaibab National Forest
Literature is rife with tales of creatures both real and imaginary. Books like J. K. Rowling’s "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and the 1963 classic "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak introduce readers to magical places and whimsical creatures. These fanciful tales might inspire you to explore the equally enchanting real-life critters and locations of Arizona. There’s an easy way to indulge your curiosity and step back in history along the dirt roads and prairies southeast of Williams.  This two-part outing begins at Sunflower Flat Wildlife Area. Situated in a high-country wet meadow surrounded by mountain peaks of Kaibab National Forest, the site is unique in that its condition varies with rainfall, and visiting wildlife responds accordingly. When there’s lots of rain, the 160-acre Arizona Game & Fish property is a shallow lake that plays host to myriad waterfowl and shorebirds like ruddy ducks and mallards.
Many varieties of sunflowers bloom in the marshes
As the water wanes, look for cinnamon teals, herons and northern shovelers poking around in the marsh. Even during the driest times, residual puddles and reflecting ponds draw hawks, elk, pronghorn, black bears and deer and there are always plenty of frogs, lizards and gartersnakes enjoying muddy bogs. Exploring this ephemeral wetland begins at an information kiosk where you can learn about the site and its special place in the landscape. Because the objective of this peaceful enclave is to protect and enhance wildlife habitats, please read and respect the trailhead sign that has tips about how to view the local fauna responsibly.  Spot any bald eagle nests along the way? The majestic birds nest here in winter. Also, look for areas where tall grasses have been flattened into circular beds. These are animal wallows--places where elk, deer and other beasts sleep and rest.
Bill Williams Mountain over Sunflower Flat
The hike follows the perimeter fence and takes roughly two hours.
A favorite spot for waterfowl at Sunflower Flat

Sitgreaves Mountain & the San Francisco Peaks on horizon

Corral at the J.D. Cabin site
The second destination is the J.D. Cabin and grave site. To get there, hike back up the wildlife area access road, turn left and follow the road 0.7-mile to a turnoff on the right marked "no camping here". This is the historic homestead of James Douglas. An array of rustic buildings with metal-roofs and rough-hewn log construction is remarkably well preserved and gives an idea of what life on the prairie must have been like back in the 19th century. A walk around the deteriorating bunkhouse, cabin, corrals and crumbling foundations takes about an hour.  Ol’ J.D. is buried nearby among soaring pines and wildflower meadows.
a wallow
KA Hill looms over the wetlands
Sunflower Flat: 3.7 miles
J.D. Cabin: 2.2 miles
RATING: easy
Sunflower Flat: 6620' - 6640'
J.D. Cabin: 6640' - 6680'
Sunflower Flat:
From Flagstaff, go 27 miles west on Interstate 40 to exit 167. Turn right and go 3.8 mile south on Forest Road 141 and veer left at a fork. Continue another 4 miles to Forest Road 109, turn right and go 3.3 miles to Forest Road Road 14. Turn right and continue 1 mile and turn left on Forest Road 14A. The trailhead is 0.4 mile down this road.  Roads are good gravel and passable by passenger car up to FR 14 where high clearance is recommended. Forest Road 14A is rough dirt and requires high clearance.

Monday, August 21, 2017


Indian Springs Trail
Late summer in Arizona’s White Mountains is prime time for wildflower viewing. Cooler evenings take the edge off daytime heat and mornings break in a crisp dewy dampness that hints of autumn and nurtures a colorful spectacle of blooming plants. Fields of sunflowers dress roadside pastures making the annual bloom frenzy accessible to anybody willing to take a drive and pull off onto a random dirt road.
Apache Lobelia
But if you want deeper access to high altitude botanical treasures, lace up your hiking boots, strap on a backpack and hit the Indian Springs Trail near Big Lake.
Paintbrush and ferns
The 2011Wallow Fire roared across this classic trail of fir-spruce woodlands taking out some segments while leaving others mostly intact.
Richardson's Geranium
The upside to the loss of coniferous canopies is a sunlight-generated surge in wildflower proliferation. The best part about loop trails like this one is its mix of sun, shade, hydrology and micro climates that produce a wide variety of flowering plants.
The blossom bonanza begins right from the get go in a bud-dotted meadow. Here, sun-loving fleabane and harebells bob in mountain breezes. Beyond the trailhead, the path moves into a section of survivor pines and the filtered light domain of species like Richardson’s Geranium, Pleated Gentian and brilliant orange Paintbrush.
Indian Spring suffered damage from the 2011 Wallow Fire
A passage of wild red raspberries and ferns culminates at the junction for the optional half-mile spur trail that leads to Big Lake Lookout. Although the fire tower that stood on this rocky knob succumbed to the blaze, there’s an upside. Lake views are now easier to see through toasted stumps and resurgent shrubs.
Wild Raspberry shrubs and ferns
The next section of the hike passes through an old growth forest of fir, spruce and mature aspens. This darker, wetter space favors Canada violets, mushrooms and  Blue-eyed grass. At the 1-mile point, the reliable trickle of Spillman Spring creates a water garden of clovers and Seep Monkey Flowers that grow in bright clumps in and around the rustic wooden troughs set up to catch the flow. Fire damage is much more visible throughout the remainder of the hike. Thickets of aspen saplings account for much of the regrowth.
Seep Monkey Flowers
In these areas, look for Common mullein, Apache lobelia and Spurred Gentian.
Indian Spring appears as a mucky pond at the 2.5-mile point.
Red Raspberry
The swamp’s fringe of Rocky Mountain irises that bloom May thru June, are  long past prime by mid-summer.
Beyond the loop’s halfway mark, marshy areas define the trail’s lowest elevation.  Runoff collects in soggy bogs and funnels into streamlets that feed the tributaries of the Black River. These swales are the habitat of False Hellebore, horse mint, New Mexican checker mallow, lupine and penstemones. At 5-miles there’s an option to add on the 6-mile round trip West Fork of the Black River Trail #628 before the route curves back to the start point. 
False Hellebore
Water Hemlock

LENGTH: 7.5-mile loop (8.5 miles with lookout side trip)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  8600’ - 9415'
Pleated Gentian
From the Hon-Dah casino in Pinetop-Lakeside go 19.6 miles east on State Route 260 to State Route 273, just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area. Go 19.2 miles south on SR 273 (turns into Forest Road 249 past the Big Lake turnoff) to Forest Road 249E, turn right and continue 0.4 mile to the trailhead on the left. Roads are paved up to FR 249E which is good gravel.
INFO & MAP: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Stump Tank along Forest Road 108
The year 1926 marked the birth of two American icons---Route 66 and Devil Dogs snack cakes. That year, the Mother Road, which runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, received its official numerical designation and the Drake Baking Company rolled out the chocolate cream-filled treats. So, how do these bits of trivia distill into a story about hiking? Easy—the subject route begins at the Interstate 40 Devil Dog exit and follows two decommissioned sections of Historic Route 66.
Although it’s more likely that the Devil Dog Loop #117 was named for the World War I moniker for U.S. Marines instead of the kiddie lunch box staple, the trail makes a name for itself as a history-steeped walk in the forest.
1922 alignment of Route 66
For much of the 20th century, Route 66 served as a major highway through northern Arizona. Its demise came with the construction of Interstate 40 which gradually replaced the scenic road with a modern freeway.
Walter (not a devil dog) on the 1932 alignment
The section near Williams was completed in 1984. Except for preserved segments that run through places like Flagstaff and Winslow, all that remains of Route 66 are weedy tracks and patches of cracked asphalt. But our nostalgia for artifacts of simpler times motivates us to preserve historic transportation corridors by repurposing them into recreational trails.   And, that’s what was done with the decommissioned 1922 and 1932 realignments of Route 66 west of Williams.
The woodsy circuit  isn't too difficult to navigate as long as you pay attention.  There are a few strategically placed bike emblem trail markers, but they are easy to miss. From the trailhead kiosk, continue hiking south on Forest Road 108.
Trail marker on the 1922 alignment
At 0.4 mile, the road meets the grassy swale of Stump Tank. Go left at the next junction, hike to the 0.7 mile point and veer right. At 0.9 mile the road meets the loop portion of the route, go right at the Hat Ranch sign (the left fork is the return route). After a short distance, a rough dirt road veers off to the left---this is the 1922 alignment (a.k.a Forest Road 45). Follow this road to the 2-mile point and go straight at the junction.
Mushrooms thrive along the route 
At 2.4 miles, the trail loops back on the 1932 alignment (a.k.a. Forest Road 9217E) and is easy to follow.
Remnants of pavement and stonework culverts conjure images from John Steinbeck’s depression-era novels and pre-digital days when folks cruised in Model Ts, Studebakers and souped up Chevys.  
Stump Tank
To get your fix of axle grease and chrome, the town of Williams hosts several classic car shows each year and you can almost always spot a few restored beauties parked near the mid-century-themed diners that line downtown streets.
Get your kicks on Route 66
1922 alignment of Route 66
For those who enjoy hiking to music, won’t you get hip to this timely tip: download one of the many iterations of the tune (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66. The 1946 Nate King Cole version is a master class in rhythm and blues, but if you prefer a rock spin, try the one by the Rolling Stones. Either one will put a hop in your step as you trek through history.
Wild geraniums are a familiar sight in summer
LENGTH: 5-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6236’ - 6800'
From Interstate 40 in Williams, go 6 miles west to the Devil Dog exit # 157 for Forest Road 108. Follow FR 108 to the first "T" junction, go right then make a left at the next "T" and continue to the kiosk and parking loop on the right.
INFO & MAP: Kaibab National Forest

Monday, August 7, 2017


Hiking among hoodoos
Few things in life are certain but what we know for sure is; wet dogs stink, Star Trek is great, some hikers think beer is the fifth food group and Red Mountain is one of the most magical places on earth.  Okay, those first three might be dubious, but the last one---an atypical volcano north of Flagstaff--- offers a singular hike that supports the claim.  If you’re looking for a mind-boggling, surreal experience, forget theme park attractions--Red Mountain is the real deal.
View of Red Mountain from the access trail
Located just off Highway 180 north of Flagstaff, the 740,000-year-old cinder cone offers a rare opportunity to walk inside the guts of a formerly explosive geological wonder.  Although the mountain’s fractured and fabulous form is a sight to behold, geologists aren’t certain about what caused its northeast face to slump away exposing the internal structure.
Inside the volcano
Thousands of years of wind and water erosion have sculpted the mountain’s multi-colored layers of volcanic ash and cinders into craggy pillars and honeycomb walls. Along the short, family-friendly access trail that winds through a pinion-juniper forest, views of the gaping U-shaped collapse give a taste of what’s to come. 
The ladder 
At the 1.24-mile point, the trail meets the inky black cinder slopes at the base of the volcano where a wooden ladder must be climbed to get to the good stuff.
Bizarre pillars of ash
Once inside the volcano, hikers are surrounded by 800-foot escarpments, stony passages and wildly contorted rock columns called “hoodoos”.
Hikers explore a stony passage
Footpaths wander among weather-blasted pinnacles, crevasses and pine trees and shrubs that somehow took root in the cracks.  There’s even a short trek through a tight passage where ongoing erosion washes out bits of shiny black hornblende minerals (often mistaken for obsidian) that collect in glinting streams underfoot. Look overhead to see chockstones (boulders caught in cracks) and lava caps that teeter atop grainy spires like fancy hats. Be sure to bring a fully-charged camera or phone to document the adventure in case you’re asked to prove what you know for sure about this Arizona natural treasure.

A hiker emerges from a tight spot
LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6700’ – 7000’
From Flagstaff, go 30.5 miles north on US 180 and turn left at the sign for Red Mountain Trailhead near milepost 247. Dirt access road is passable by passenger vehicle when dry.
INFO: Coconino National Forest