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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

AZT in a Day Event: October 6, 2018.

Two Events Will Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Arizona National Trail System Act
AZT Passage 15, near Kearny.
Help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Arizona Trail System Act and the 25th anniversary of the trail, by participating in one or both of two commemorative events.
AZT Passage 28, Blue Ridge, Mogollon Rim
AZT Passage 27, Highline near Pine
On Saturday, October 8, 2018, hundreds of trail users across the state will join to collectively complete the entire 800-mile Arizona Trail in a single day.  Be part of history--sign up to hike, bike, run or ride a segment on this epic occasion.
AZT Passage 32, Flagstaff, near Rio de Flag
50 FOR 50
AZT Passage 1, Mexico border
AZT Passage 9 Hope Camp, Rincon Mountains, Tucson
Sign up to complete at least 50 miles of the Arizona Trail on your own during 2018 and you’ll receive a cool 50th Anniversary patch!


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Autumn Comes Early on Flagstaff's Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop

Aspens line Waterline Road on Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop.
With fall foliage season right around the corner, I’m already feeling the tug of the Abineau-Bear Jaw Trail.  Its location high on the north flanks of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Mountain means it’s one of the first places to show Autumn color.  Anxious hikers who can manage the rugged, 1,870-foot, thin-air climb in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness can get a jump start on aspen overload.
San Francisco Peaks seen from Abineau Canyon.
Aspens abound on the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop
A short access path leads to a junction where the loop begins. You can go either way, but using the Abineau Canyon leg for the uphill climb affords the best views of the peaks without having to stop and turn around all the time.
Aspen color peaks early in Abineau Canyon
Abineau Canyon's deep woods.
View from the top of Abineau Canyon.
Damp and chilly, the moss-laced mixed conifer woodlands of Abineau Canyon is reminiscent of the alpine forests of Colorado—dense and claustrophobic in its immensity. Canyon winds rattle leaves from the aspens that sway among the dominant Ponderosa and limber pines, corkbark fir, spruce and Douglas firs creating golden cascades and crunchy drifts of spent foliage.
Aspen leaves collect on conifers.

Colorful Bear Jaw Canyon.
The 2-mile Abineau segment tops out on an exposed ridge beneath 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, which is often snow-capped by early October.  Below, the cinder-cone dotted flatlands of the San Francisco Volcanic Field and the pastel wilds of the Painted Desert stretch out to the horizon. Next, you’ll catch a breather on the 2.1-mile walk along Waterline Road.  Wrapped in towering aspens, the wide dirt route and its easy tread is a real treat to hike. Without having to huff-an-puff, it’s easier to enjoy the surreal beauty of the white-barked forest, lemony canopies and mountain vistas. This is also prime habitat for blue grouse and the vociferous Clarks nutcracker. If you’re lucky, you might spot them swopping among the trees. Keep an eye out for a wooden sign for Bear Jaw Canyon on the left. This easy-to-miss turn off marks the start of the loop’s 2.3-mile descent.  A bit more open and less steep than Abineau, this twisting downhill passage is an enchanting trip through a ravine-riddled gorge. Near the bottom of the trail, sweet meadows harbor acres of fading ferns and the frazzled remains of summer wildflowers.  This is a hike I do almost every year and it never gets old.

Meadow near the trailhead. 
LENGTH: 7.2-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 8,530-10,400 feet
BEST TIME FOR FAL COLOR: Late September-Early October
From Flagstaff, go north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd.) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access). Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to Forest Road 418. Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to Forest Road 9123J (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. Dirt/cinder roads are rutted but passable by carefully driven sedans. 

Monday, September 10, 2018


Curious rock formations on the Easter Island Trail.
The best trails are those that respect the terrain through which they cut, following the land’s natural contours to unwind like humble spectators rather than intruders. The newest additions to the Prescott Mile-High Trail System do just that in a seemingly impenetrable labyrinth of stone.
The Boulder Creek Trail adds a splash of green.
Early in 2018, the City of Prescott purchased a 160-acre parcel east of Watson Lake to preserve the geologically-unique space while allowing for recreational use. Shortly after the land was acquired, work on the Storm Trails system got underway and the first routes officially opened on March 31, 2018.
Use the Peavine Trail to access the Storm Trails
Situated deep in the striking beauty of the Granite Dells, the loopy network spins off from the Prescott Peavine National Recreation Trail 1.5-miles north of the trailhead on Sundog Ranch Road.  
The Storm Trails explore Prescott's Granite Dells area.
The maze of short, interconnected paths meander among billion-year-old granite crags, secluded grasslands, washes and shady corridors of scrub oak. The first of several gateways to the system is located across from a vista point overlooking Watson Lake.  From here, the 0.67-mile Easter Island Trail wastes no time delivering the goods. The low-profile path dives right into a heart-of-rocks, artfully sidestepping obstacles on its way to a knoll above the lake with breathtaking views of Granite Mountain, Glassford Hill and a bizarre landscape of Precambrian stone pillars. Within the first half-mile, how the trail got its name becomes apparent. Perched atop a jumbled mound of weathered granite, two majestic monoliths that resemble the famous ancient sculptures found on Rapa Nui-- the volcanic Pacific reef also known as Easter Island—stand out above a basin of boulders. The nature-sculpted pair of human-esque forms---one with a bulging eye and the other wearing a mischievous smirk-- balance on a crest, silent and focused as if commanding an army of rock goblins.  Beyond the stony sentinels, the trail crosses Boulder Creek and evolves into an insanely entertaining web of stone-age-themed mini loops. 
Woolly Morning glories bloom near Watson Lake.
With names like Pebbles, Bam Bam, Dino Canyon and Bedrock City, the swooping footpaths that propel hikers through nooks, bends and narrow stone corridors are a perfect homage to their 1960s-era Flintstone’s cartoon namesakes. Immerse yourself in the playful theme and it’s almost like hiking in a page right out of history through the courtesy of Fred’s your two feet. (Props to the Hanna-Barbera jingle).
Follow the white paint dots to navigate slick rock sections.
Close up of the Easter Island sculptures look-alikes.
New Storm Trails are located east of Watson Lake.
There are no dull moments in this ticklish intersection of imposing natural wonders and amusing names.
A section smothered in high-desert vegetation.
Every turn reveals a fresh view or an interesting feature.  Even the stuff underfoot changes at the pace of a manic animated flick. 
The trails pass thru many stoney corridors. 
The mix of soft dirt single track, sandy washes and tricky slick rock passages where white paint dots guide the way make for a mildly challenging, ever tantalizing hike.  Even though the bizarre pillars and fractured joints of the Granite Dells are the main attractions, the system’s Boulder Creek Trail adds a splash of blue with a cottonwood-lined waterway, cascades and reflecting pools that soften the high-desert terrain. 
Secluded pockets of water add color to the high-desert trails.
The trails spin off the Peavine Trail 1.5 miles of the TH.
Scenic knoll with views of Watson Lake and Granite Mtn.
As satisfying as the Storm Trails are right now, they’re not finished yet. The planned 6-mile system is on track to be completed by the end of this year. Who knows; maybe Wilma and Fred will get trails too.
A grasshopper alights on a Sacred Datura flower.
LENGTH: 6 miles (not including the 1.5-mile one-way access hike on the Peavine Trail)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  5150 – 5300 feet
1626 Sundog Ranch Road, Prescott.
From State Route 69 in Prescott, go 1.7 miles north on Prescott Lakes Parkway to Sundog Ranch Road, turn right and continue 0.2-mile to the Peavine Trail/Watson Woods Riparian Preserve parking area. There’s a $3 per vehicle daily parking fee.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


View from Sheep Creek Point.
It has been argued that hiking isn’t always about the destination—it’s the journey that matters most. Still, objective-oriented hikes like those that culminate on mountain summits or in secluded, special places have their merits.
A marsh along Merzville Road
But, their wham-pow payoffs can eclipse what’s stuffed between the trailhead and the goalpost. Depending on your point-of-view, the stuffing can be viewed as either a means-to-an-end or the savory sweet filling between cookie wafers. 
Western dayflowers bloom through September.
When compared to interest-packed nearby Mogollon Rim trails, the “stuffing” on Merzville Road that runs between State Route 260 and Sheep Creek Point near Forest Lakes smacks of mediocrity. Its narrow, nondescript course is a mix of graded dirt and rutted, rocky passages. As a hiking route, the road has some obvious gigs. First, it’s open to motorized use and is used frequently by ATV and dirt bike riders. Second, with no spectacular natural features like those peppered throughout traditional hiking trails, everything great about this journey happens where it dead-ends at Sheep Creek Point.
Canyon Creek Hatchery 900 feet below the point.
Historical OW Ranch (mid-center) seen from the point.
Ponderosa pines dominate the forests that flank the road.

It’s not as if the road hike is terrible. There are oak-shaded wet meadows teeming with wild turkeys and a beautiful section where mature Ponderosa pines and a fringe of saplings create a sort of “green tunnel” that smells of butterscotch and fresh sap. Ravens roost and crackle in the gnarly snags. Under the coniferous canopy, wildflowers and mushrooms color the forest floor. The only obstacles along the road that makes a straight shot south through patchy woodlands are occasional mud puddles and uneven footing. Depending on where you parked along the road, the hike to Sheep Creek Point is about 2 miles one-way. You’ll know you’re close when canyon winds pick up and a broad mesa appears directly ahead.
Canyon Creek Hatchery supplies 20% of AZ's game trout.
A few more minutes of walking brings you to a precipice at the border of the Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forests.  The exposed nose of the point hovers above Valentine Canyon with views of historical OW Ranch and the Canyon Creek Hatchery situated along green creek corridors 900 feet below. Across the chasm, the ragged, vertical cliffs of Mule Creek Point to the east and OW Point to the west appear as flat-topped jetties with sporadic stands of pines that survived the 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski Fire.
The fragrant "green tunnel".
Aspen fleabane bloom through October.
A stroll along the point’s margins reveals intriguing glimpses of the hatchery complex.  Managed by the U.S. Forest Service (Tonto National Forest), the site’s water “raceways” produce an average of 80,000 pounds of trout annually that are used to stock Arizona’s lakes and streams.
Most of the trout that end up in White Mountains waterways and 20% of the statewide supply begin their journey here.   This wind-in-your-face edge is the turnaround point of a modest trek with a pretty sweet special place in the middle.
Shared-use Merzville Rd is a popular ATV route.
Puddles and uneven footing are the hike's only obstacles.
LENGTH: Depends on where you park, but it’s 2.7 miles one way from SR 260 to the point.
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  7530 – 7400 feet
Sheep Creek Point overlooks Canyon and Sheep Creeks.
From the State Route 260/87 junction in Payson, go 35.5 miles east on SR 260 to the community of Forest Lakes. Just before milepost 289, turn right (south) on Merzville Road (Forest Road 260B) and park in one of the many dirt turnouts within the first half-mile.  The road is open to motorized use and turns into a very rough 4x4 track after about a mile.

Monday, August 27, 2018


The north leg of the trail overlooks a sprawling marsh.
Pumphouse Wash is a tributary gorge of Oak Creek Canyon that runs between Sedona and Flagstaff, roughly paralleling State Route 89A.
The trail wanders through moist meadows.
Its rugged, lower channels—that can be accessed from SR 89A just south of the switchbacks 12 miles north of Sedona –are popular destinations for backcountry hiking and technical canyoneering. From the looks of the tangled corridor’s boulder-choked base, vertical walls, slots and pools of dubious depths, it’s difficult to imagine that its headwaters are located 600 feet uphill in unassuming meadows around the tiny community of Kachina Village.
Four O'Clock flowers are plentiful in summer.
Located 9 miles south of Flagstaff off Interstate 17, the mountain hamlet is an idyllic residential area of log cabins, A-frame summer homes and a hub of nature trails in the Pumphouse Wash County Natural Area.
The trail stays on the brown and out of the green.
 Less than a mile from the freeway, Raymond Park and Pumphouse Nature Trail offer short, effortless walks outfitted with observation decks overlooking acres of wet meadows that help with natural flood control and groundwater recharge while providing rich wildlife habitat. Just steps off the pavement, these two easy-access sites provide excellent opportunities to view elk, foxes, waterfowl and deer. For a longer hike, farther away from the asphalt and parking lots, the Pumphouse Wash Trail dives deeper into the woods, following damp swales that drain into Oak Creek and the Verde River.  This venture into the softer side of the wash doesn’t challenge hikers with harsh terrain navigation, rock scrambling or water obstacles.  Instead, the smooth, designated trail that traces vivid strips of sensitive wetlands is all about low-impact travel.
Late summer sunflowers in Pumphouse Wash.
The last thing delicate riparian plants and aquatic species need is human boots and loose dogs trampling their precious environments. The Coconino County Parks & Recreation Department, which oversees the site, advises visitors to “hike on the brown, stay out of the green”.
Limestone cliffs seen from the north leg of the trail.
Sticking to designated trails is always a good idea, but staying out of the weeds is especially important to help protect the health of rare watershed areas like this one.
Moth Mullein grows in most areas along the route.
From the roomy trailhead, the route departs in two directions. The 0.3-mile north segment follows a closed road above a scenic marsh area, but it’s the 1.4-mile south leg that leads to the best parts. 
Yellow Salsify (silver puffs) are common meadow bloomers.
The trail narrows as it moves south.
Just beyond the rustic fence entry, a sunny field flanked with limestone cliffs glows with summer wildflowers. 
Morning dew on New Mexican Checkermallow.
Showy sunflowers, blue flax and fleabane bloom among tall grasses and fruit-laden wild rose and currant shrubs.  The trail stays on the pine-shaded high banks of wide greenway as it twists past scoured embankments and spongy cienegas with water-loving patches of New Mexican Checkermallow, Shrubby cinquefoil and Moth Mullein. At about the 1-mile point, the wash corridor begins to narrow and thickets of willows and oaks gradually close in on the path.
Shrubby cinquefoil grows near marshes.
The route ends where the meadows morph into a jumbled, overgrown watercourse where Woody Wash comes in from the northwest.  Underbrush, log jams and thorny brambles preclude further exploration. 

If you need further incentive to hike on the brown and return the way you came; most of the green stuff ahead is poison ivy.
Fence at the beginning of the trail's south leg.
LENGTH: 3. 4 miles roundtrip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6670 – 6600 feet
From Interstate 17 just south of Flagstaff, take the Kachina Village exit 333. At the bottom of the off ramp, turn left onto Kachina Blvd. and go 0.1-mile to Kachina Trail. Turn right, go 0.3-mile, turn left onto Ancient Trail and continue 0.9-mile to the trailhead on the left located across from Oraibi Ovi. Dogs must be on leash.