Monday, May 23, 2016


Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, North

Sidewinder Trail near Desert Hills Trailhead

We desert dwellers have been lucky this year. May temperatures have been more balmy than blistering, thus extending our cool-weather hiking season by several weeks. But, we all know what's coming--triple digit heat and the ominous whir of rescue helicopters circling above Valley trails. Each year, more than 200 hikers get into trouble on local paths. Although accidents do happen, emergencies like dehydration and heat exhaustion are avoidable. At the new Desert Hills Trailhead that was opened last week, a colorfully illustrated sign gives concise pointers on how to stay safe. The new site provides access to more than 35 miles of trails in the north end of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve including the two longest routes, Sidewinder (6.98 miles) and Ocotillo (6.25 miles). Sidewinder makes a roller coaster style swing up and around the preserve's hills while Ocotillo wanders along the lower slopes. The trails head out in opposite directions and reconnect at the preserve's southern Apache Wash Trailhead for a 13.23-mile loop. If you're not interested in a long trek, a map kiosk at the trailhead shows how to use any of the 11 connecting paths suit your fancy. All preserve routes are well-signed and sustainably designed, however, hiking these beautiful trails could be deadly for those who are unprepared for heat and rocky, thorn addled desert terrain.
The trailhead sign outlines the Take a Hike, Do it Right campaign that was rolled out last year to promote preparedness. Most of the tips are no-brainers, such as, bring plenty of water, hike in early morning, wear sturdy shoes and stay on designated trails. Skilled trekkers are not immune. (In the human brain, it seems the confidence synapse lives next door to the one for risk taking). Think about it--news coverage of trail tragedies often describe the victims as "experienced hikers". So, while checking out the Valley's newest trailhead, take a few minutes to review the Do It Right sign. Being properly supplied and geared up will enhance your hiking enjoyment while assuring that the trail photos you posted to social media don't become "before" images on the evening news.
Desert Hills Trailhead

Sidewinder: 6.98 miles one way
Ocotillo: 6.25 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,720' - 2,002'
Ocotillo Trail
Desert Hills Trailhead:
705 W. Carefree Highway (7th Ave. & Carefree Hwy.), Phoenix.
There's plenty of parking, equestrian lot, shade ramada with seating, restrooms, but NO WATER.
INFO & MAP: City of Phoenix
Take A Hike, Do It Right:

Monday, May 16, 2016


Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff
Orange paint marks tress to save during 4FRI (Okay Orange)
The heat is on and with it comes the annual migration of Valley hikers to the cool forests of Northern Arizona. While trekking along high country trails, you might encounter trees bearing orange or blue paint blazes. These colorful codes are part of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), a planned 20-year effort to restore fire-adapted ecosystems in Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forests through hand thinning, logging and prescribed burns.
Orange paint designates trees that will not be cut (and may also indicate treatment area boundaries) while blue marks those to be removed. An easy way to remember this: Okay Orange, Bye Bye Blue.
Scars of the 2010 Schultz Fire

Many Arizona forests are rife with unhealthy, tinderbox conditions. The major goals of 4FRI are to reduce fuels that contribute to unnaturally catastrophic wildfires, protect watershed resources, increase plant diversity and preserve wildlife habitats. The project is currently active in Flagstaff's Dry Lake Hills area. You can observe some of the prep work by taking a hike on the Oldham Trails. The tour begins in Buffalo Park with an easy half-mile walk north to the Lower Oldham/Arizona Trail junction. From here, follow the Arizona Trail signs.
Blue means cut. (ByeBye Blue)
Numerous, unmarked secondary trails run through the area and can be confusing. Oldham Trail runs to the east, nearest the mountain, but if you miss it, no worries---just keep heading north and you'll end up on Elden Mountain Road roughly 2.5 miles north of the park. Along the way, stop and contemplate the woodlands and see if you can figure out the logic behind the save/cut markings on the Ponderosa pine trees. Once on the road, signage improves and you can continue on to Upper Oldham or any of the Dry Lake Hills system trails. To keep with the theme of forest health, hike Upper Oldham Trail to Sunset Trail, turn right and walk 1.3 miles across a barren ridgeline to the summit of Mount Elden. Here, the devastation caused by the 2010 Shultz Fire is clearly visible on the mountain's flanks. This is exactly the kind of disaster the 4RFI is trying to prevent.
Logging activities in treatment areas may cause temporary trail closures, so be sure to check the forest service website before heading out.
Upper Oldham Trail
All distances include the 0.5-mile park access trail.
Lower (Easy) Oldham: 2.5 miles one-way to Mt. Elden Road
Oldham #1: 3.2 miles one-way to Mt. Elden Road
Upper Oldham: 5.3 miles one-way
To Mount Elden: 6.6 miles one-way
RATING: easy - difficult
Lower Oldham: 7,040' - 7,380'
Oldham #1: 7,040' - 7,590'
Upper Oldham: 7,040' - 8,920'
Sunset Trail to Mount Elden: 8,920' - 9,299'
From Route 66 in Flagstaff, go 0.6 mile north on Humphreys St. to Fort Valley Road (US180). Turn left and continue 0.3 mile to Forest Ave., turn right and continue 1 mile to the stop light at Gemini Drive. Turn left and follow the signs to Buffalo Park.
INFO: Coconino National Forest
Four Forest Restoration Initiative

Monday, May 9, 2016


Tonto National Forest
Red Rock Spring
Water is the life force of the forest. In Arizona, where water is too often in short supply, the forests have some creative ways of storing and distributing the precious liquid. An example of a natural water system can be observed near the base of the Mogollon Rim near Pine. Beneath the imposing, vertical cliffs that mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau, numerous springs provide reliable water sources for wildlife and long distance hikers. The springs are charged when melting snow and rainfall on the 7,000-foot escarpment, soaks through the porous rocks emerging hundreds of feet below as gushing waterfalls (Horton Spring) oozing seeps (Dripping Spring) and trickling fountains like those encountered on a hike from Forest Road 64 to the Geronimo Trailhead. Using Red Rock Trail #294 and part of Highline Trail #31, this customizable, water-themed trek visits two springs and a creek on its way through scrubby foothills and damp, pine-oak woodlands. Trail #294 climbs more than 600 feet on a juniper-shaded, rocky road that uses subtle turns and natural stone staircases to ascend the rugged slopes below the Rim. At the half-mile point, veer right at a rock barricade and pick up the narrower, loose rock path heading skyward. On the way up, glimpses of the Mazatzal Wilderness tease of sweeping vistas to come. With every few feet of elevation gained, the views blossom into ever expanding panoramas of emerald valleys and distant mountains.
Approaching Pine Spring
At the 1-mile point, the trail meets Highline Trail #31 which is also part of the state traversing Arizona Trail Passage #27. With the major climbing done, you can now breath easier and enjoy hiking to the water spots strung out along the route. Red Rock Spring is located a few yards to the left (west) of the junction. It's a beautiful, shaded spot with a concrete trough that usually has water suitable for drinking once its been filtered. From here, hike one mile east (go right at the junction) to Pine Spring. Sheltered among tall pines and whispering maples, this historic site features two antique wooden spring boxes that are no longer effective at trapping the flow. The wayward water runs downhill in lazy rivulets, supporting a ribbon of greenery and a healthy population of Yellow Monkey Flowers growing on a soggy embankment. In a pinch, you could filter some drinking water here, but, don't count on it. The next three miles of the route duck in and out of dark forests and sun exposed, yucca-fringed ledges before coming to the cool waters of spring-fed, Webber Creek near the Geronimo Trailhead. If you're up for more, the Highline Trail continues 8 miles east to the 260 Trailhead while the Arizona Trail turns north at Washington Park on its way to the Utah border.
Mountain views all around
LENGTH: 5 miles one way to Geronimo Trailhead
To Red Rock Spring: 1 miles one way
To Pine Spring: 2 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5,390' - 6,050'
Red Rock Spring (west) Trailhead:
From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go 12 miles north on SR 87 to milepost 265 (2 miles north of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park) and turn right on Control Road (Forest Road 64). Continue 2.4 miles to the trailhead on the left. This is easy to miss because the trail sign is located about 30 yards up from the road. There’s no parking lot-- just find a spot in the turnouts along the road. Control Road is maintained dirt suitable for passenger cars.
Highline Trail #31
Geronimo (east) Trailhead:
From the Red Rock trailhead, continue another 3.5 miles on Control Road to Forest Road 440 (Webber Creek Road). Go left (north) on FR 440 and continue 2 miles to the Geronimo trailhead on the right. High clearance is recommended on FR 440.
INFO: Payson Ranger District, Tonto National Forest:
Arizona Trail Association:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Desert Hills Trailhead Grand Opening: May 21, 2016
Sidewinder Trail, Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

Grand Opening ceremonies for the Desert Hills Trailhead in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve will be held Saturday, May 21, 2016.
VIP remarks, ribbon cutting and ranger guided hikes will mark the festive occasion.
Located along Carefree Highway in the preserve's north sector, this eco-friendly site will provide plenty of parking and easy access to over 35 miles of pristine desert trails. The trailhead has restrooms but no water.

DATE: Saturday, May 21, 2016
TIME: 8 a.m.
WHERE: 705 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix (Carefree Hwy. & 7th Ave.)
INFO: City of Phoenix Natural Resources Division, 602-495-5458

Monday, May 2, 2016


South trail along Oak Creek
Finding a suitable place to hike with young kids can be a challenge. However, there are plenty of trails that cater to a child's ticklish blend of boundless curiosity and brief attention span. When asked for recommendations, I point parents to short, easy paths that have plenty of interesting distractions and a big bang reward at the end. One such destination involves a hike with the fishes. Page Springs Hatchery in Cornville shares forested acres with the wildlife rich, Lower Oak Creek Important Bird Area. The site's trail system consists of connected north and south loops. For hiking with tykes, the south loop is the most entertaining. The mile-plus maze of paths offer the best opportunity for critter sightings and has viewing decks, benches in cozy alcoves, picnic tables and signs identifying native plants. Part of the trail network meanders near the creek through shady groves of cottonwoods, red willows and wild roses entangled with wild Canyon grape vines. The area's unique mix of climate, soil and slope is ideal for growing both wild and cultivated grapes. You can witness this first hand from a trail side bench wrapped in the tendrils of feral vines that overlooks the contrasting geometric order of a hillside vineyard.
Wild Canyon grape
The promised big bang reward at trail's end is two-fold. For the little ones, there's a self-guided stroll through the hatchery raceways where more than 700,000 trout are raised annually for stocking in Arizona lakes and streams. Although the hatchery pools are "hands off", just a few steps away, you can have an interactive experience at the site's Show Pond where fish food can be purchased for 25 cents and tossed into the water. The resultant feeding frenzy is a real kid-pleaser. For tippling adult trekkers, the surrounding area is home to several wineries (Javelina Leap, Page Springs Cellars) with tasting rooms. After all the excitement of the day, perhaps mommy could use a little splash of Merlot.
Hatchery Show Pond
LENGTH: 1.8 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3,450' – 3,495'
PETS: leashed pets are allowed
HOURS: Visitor center: 7 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. South trails are open dawn to dusk daily.
FACILITIES: restrooms
Wild and cultivated grapes alike thrive in the area
From Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde, take the McGuireville exit 293 (County Road 30), go 8 miles west toward Cornville and turn right onto Page Springs Road (County Road 50). Follow Page Springs Road 4 miles to the hatchery entrance on the left.
Arizona Game & Fish Department, 928-634-4805

Monday, April 25, 2016


Aspens near the summit of Bill Williams Mountain
Heading west from Flagstaff on Interstate 40, the distinctive profile of Bill Williams Mountain juts over sprawling prairies criss-crossed with railroad tracks and remnants of Historic Route 66. The mountain's lumpy appearance is the result of multiple volcanic events that caused lava to accumulate in irregular heaps. The eruptions that occurred roughly 4.2 to 2.8 million years ago mark the western edge of the San Francisco Volcanic Field---an arc of molten rock relics that includes San Francisco Mountain (Humphreys Peak) stretching from Williams to north east of Flagstaff. Mountains like this one are just too tempting not to conquer. Because it's there, three ways to get to its summit have been established. You could drive to the top on the dirt road, but what fun is that? A more entertaining way up is to hike one of the single track trails.   Although both routes are about the same length, each offers a unique experience. Bill William Mountain Trail makes a straight up climb on massif's lush, aspen and fern populated north face. An easier, albeit still challenging route is the Benham Trail which employs long switchbacks to take much of the sting out of its ascent of the mountain's dryer eastern flank.  On the way up, look for expansive views of Garland Prairie, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and a living slide show of Flagstaff-area peaks poking thru canopies of Gambel oak. Near the top, you'll encounter some aspens, fir, spruce and mossy rocks before the trail lands at a saddle with photogenic views of an impressive, pine-fleeced pinnacle called Finger Rock. From this scenic landing, head right on the dirt road for the final half mile trudge to the top. On the summit, an array of humming communication towers and a 1937 vintage fire lookout hover above swarms of brilliant red-orange ladybugs that congregate on shrubs and stony outcroppings. The best time to see the annual beetle convergence is from late spring thru summer.
Summit vista

LENGTH: 9 miles roundtrip
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 7,300' - 9,256'
San Francisco Peaks 
From Interstate 40 in Williams, take exit 165 and follow Railroad Road 2.4 miles to 4th Street. Turn left and continue 3.6 miles south (4th St. becomes Perkinsville Road/County Road 73) to the trailhead turnoff past milepost 181. Roads are paved/gravel and sedan-friendly.
INFO: Williams Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest

Monday, April 11, 2016


City of Peoria
Calderwood Butte
The City of Peoria's long incubated land preservation effort has spawned quadruplets. Four beautiful mountain-centric preserves--East Wing, West Wing, Sunrise and little sister, Calderwood Butte--have been saved from development, built out with trails and are being nurtured for future generations of recreational enthusiasts. All are located within burgeoning suburban communities lodged between Interstate 17 and the Agua Fria River. For hikers, the three "big sisters" offer excellent routes with challenging climbs, tiered loops and easy options. On the other hand, to those unfamiliar with it, Calderwood Butte gives the impression of exactly what you'd expect of a stereotypical baby of the family--a fussed over, coddled, hyper-protected spoiled soul surrounded by toys. Its short length and the fact that it's swaddled among manicured yards and swimming pools causes some to shrug it off as too wussy to try. These misconceptions do not apply to the actual hiking experience. Sure, it's a short hike and yes, the trail is primped and trimmed; but with not one, but two high-point clambers, walks beneath sheer cliffs and 360-degree views, this compact trek is a satisfying journey. From the 99th Avenue trailhead, the path makes an immediate ascent into the chiseled clefs of the oblong butte. Flowing switchbacks wind around jagged pinnacles that hover over mountain vistas, flood plains and the distant skyline of Downtown Phoenix. The only thing "spoily" about this tiny trek will be your regret for not hiking it sooner.
Overlooking Agua Fria River

LENGTH: 1.2-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,390' - 1,686'
99th Avenue Trailhead:
From Interstate 17 in north Phoenix, take the Loop 303 exit 221 and go 7.2 miles west to Lake Pleasant Parkway exit 131. Turn left (south), drive 3.3 mile to Jomax Road, turn right, go 0.3 mile to 99th Ave., turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the paved parking area on the right. There's a picnic table, trash can and dog waste bag dispenser, but no other facilities.
Jomax Parkway access:
From 99th Ave. continue 0.6 mile west on Jomax Rd., veer right at Jomax Parkway and continue 0.2 mile to the trail cut. From here, it's roughly a mile to the loop. There's limited parking along the road. No facilities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


View from Soldier Pass
Simply put---there's hardly ever a bad time to hike in Sedona. It's scenic beauty and myriad trekking environments are unparalleled. But, of all the months in the year, April stands out as one of the best to hit Red Rock Country trails. The climax of spring in the high desert brings fresh leaves, blooming shrubs and the emergence of flowering stalks on yucca and agave. It's nature's last hurrah before settling in for summertime heat and monsoons.
For hikers with limited time, the area's multitude of options can be overwhelming. That's why the Soldier Pass-Brins Mesa Loop is an oft recommended route. Along this moderate excursion, you'll be treated to samples of everything that makes Sedona such an outdoor recreation hot spot. Right out of the chute, you'll encounter Devil's Kitchen sinkhole. An interpretive sign at the site explains the complex geological forces that created the impressive gap. At the 0.6-mile point, a chain of natural water tanks known as the Seven Sacred Pools reflect russet pinnacles and attract hordes of birds and thirsty critters. After 1.25 miles, the trail enters the non-motorized use cloister of Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness and the sound and fury of swooping bikes and Jeep tour crowds are soon vanquished. Roughly halfway up the trail, look for a set of arches-in-the-making weathering out of sandstone cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon.
The hike's glory note resonates at Soldier Pass--a breezy, high point vista where cliff-rose blossoms perfume the air and bees collect nectar from Feather Dalea bushes and tiny buds on Sugar Sumac trees. Here, far-reaching mountain views will have you conjuring your best "Singing Nun in the Alps" happy twirl. Beyond the pass, spotty stands of cypress and juniper provide welcome shade before the route moves onto sunny Brins Mesa. In the summer of 2006, a wildfire torched some of the vegetation on this 2-mile traverse over a wide plateau. The area is recovering nicely and the damage has not sullied the experience at all. Be sure to check out a short spur trail that leads to a lookout pinnacle. The hike down off the mesa requires some big step maneuvers and route finding. Watch for log blockades and basket cairns to stay on course in the dodgy bits. The final short segments on Cibola Pass and Jordan Trail weave in and out of wilderness, slick rock mounds and flood scoured drainages before coming full circle.
Hike Directions:
From the trailhead, hike 0.2 mile to Devil's Kitchen. Turn left, hike 1.7 miles on Soldier Pass Trail and veer right at the Brins Mesa Trail junction. Hike 2 miles to Cibola Pass Trail, turn right and follow it 0.6 mile to Jordan Trail, turn right and go 0.3 mile then turn left and hike 0.2 mile back to the parking area.
LENGTH: 5-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,140' – 5,075'
From the traffic circle at State Routes 179/89A in Sedona, go 1.20 miles west on 89A to Soldier Pass Road. Turn right and continue 1.5 miles to Rim Shadows Drive, turn right and go 0.25-mile to the trailhead on the left.
The parking lot is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest

Monday, March 28, 2016


Peck's Lake and Tavasci Marsh

This place is for the birds---and the hikers who love them.
Designated an "important birding area" by the Audubon Society, Tavasci Marsh occupies a placid strip of green bounded by Tuzigoot National Monument, Dead Horse Ranch State Park and Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. The 96-acre, spring-fed wetland hosts a colorful cocktail of winged beasts chipping among reeds, roosting, wading or gliding over the waters in feathered flotillas.
Access is via a free parking area near Tuzigoot or at DHSR ($7 fee per vehicle). Both entry
points funnel hikers into a network of trails that wind among enormous cottonwood trees, mesquite forests, cattail choked bogs, sandy flood plains and riverside riparian corridors. Another way to enjoy the site and tag on some educational benefits is to enter through the Tuzigoot monument. There's a $10 fee per person, but you'll get to explore a Sinagua pueblo and learn from visitor center displays and interpretive signs along short, barrier-free walkways. The hiking paths are mostly old dirt roads marked with lathe-style posts. The Tavasci March Trail explores the site's east flank, culminating at a wooden observation deck at Peck's Lake---an oxbow pond that's a remnant of a former channel of the Verde River. The Tuzigoot trails meander west and south along the stream.
It's not necessary to be a birding expert to spot some of the more than 245 species that call the marsh home for all or part of the year. Sightings of Red-winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, Wood Ducks and Osprey are almost a given, but a pair of binoculars (and a substantial dose of patience) will aid in scoping out the more illusive Lesser Nighthawks and Peregrine Falcons.
If you're lucky, you might also spot river otters and beavers where the marsh drains into the Verde River.
Tavasci Marsh Trail: 0.9 mile one way
Tuzigoot Trails: variable, we hiked 3.6 miles along the loops.
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3,130' – 3,410'
From Interstate 17 in Camp Verde, go west on State Route 260 to Cottonwood and follow the signs to either Dead Horse Ranch State Park or Tuzigoot National Monument.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Tortolita Mountains, Marana
Yucca on Wild Mustang Trail frames Santa Catalina Mtns.
If you dig deep enough into the barrel of misunderstood hiking routes, you just might discover a gem like the Wild Mustang Trail. Because it snuggles up to the Ritz-Carlson Dove Mountain property in Marana, access to the trail requires a stroll past groomed gardens, posh casitas and a golf course. Not exactly the stuff of hardcore hiker dreams. But hold on to your horses--the scenery quickly transitions from fancy to fierce. Getting to the Wild Mustang Trail requires the use of connecting routes that are signed with color-coded posts. The trail can be hiked as an out-and-back or tied into several loop options. We decided to try the West Rim Loop as described on the Dove Mountain Hikers website (link below). The first 1.4 miles of the hike follows a wash in full view of the resort. After that, it ascends 1,250 feet into the raw beauty of the Tortolita Mountains, where crested saguaros can be spotted at nearly every turn. At one time, there were 43 documented in the area. A recent freeze culled the count to about 30 specimens. Some of them are located along the trails while others hide out in distant clefs and gullies. With patience and a keen eye, you can see 9 contorted cacti on this loop. When hiking here, it's important to respect the terrain and know your limits. Despite the various springs shown on maps, there's no water and very little shade. While the lower trails are simple strolls, the mountain routes are rough, so you'll need lots of H2O, sun protection and power snacks. What the hike lacks in terms of feral equine sightings it more than makes up for at a 3,850-foot saddle with views of a dozen mountain ranges jutting over the Tucson area. The site is outfitted with interpretive signs and a bench that makes for a perfect spot to take a break and scope out the profiles of Mt. Wrightson, Kitt Peak and a patchwork farmlands of the Santa Cruz and Avra Valleys.
At 3.8 miles, the Wild Mustang Trail is the longest leg of the loop and exudes a primitive, remote feel. At one point, its cactus population rivals that of nearby Saguaro National Park, accented with a plethora of blooming yucca and sotol growing among granite boulders and metamorphic slick rock. The trail's highpoint features dizzying vistas of the Santa Catalina Mountains and Pusch Ridge without an aqua pool or putting green in sight. After the long climb, the route makes a steep, rocky dive onto Wild Burro Canyon. You'll pass Alamo Spring, two historic line houses and several scenic lookouts before landing in sandy washes for the final trudge back to the trailhead.
From the trailhead, follow the short access path, and turn left (north) on Wild Burro Trail (purple). Go 0.5 mile north and turn left onto Upper Javelina Trail (red) and follow it 0.9 mile to Wild Mustang Trail (orange). Turn right and hike 4.2 miles to Wild Burro Trail (purple), turn right (south) and follow it 2.7 miles back to trailhead. 
Crested saguaro on Wild Mustang Trail
LENGTH: 8.7-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2810'- 4060'
Wild Burro Trailhead,14810 N. Secret Springs Drive, Marana. From Phoenix, go south on Interstate 10 to Tangerine Road exit 240, go 4.9 miles east to Dove Mountain Blvd. turn left and continue 4.5 miles to a traffic circle. Turn right through the circle and and pass the Ritz-Carlton gatehouse. Trailhead is less than a mile up the road. There are no fees.
INFO & MAP: Town of Marana
Dove Mountain Hikers:

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Payson Area Trails System
View of the Mogollon Rim from Houston Loop
For a short, moderate-rated trail, this one really packs a punch. It's wide, well-signed and within shouting distance of suburbia, but what's not advertised about Payson's Houston Loop is its unrelenting ups-and-downs that can catch the first-timer off guard. The quad burning workout pays off with
high point vistas of the Mogollon Rim hovering above the metal rooftops of woodland retreats. Where the trail dips into the canyons around Houston Creek, Ponderosa pine trees throw shade over moist drainages imprinted with elk tracks. Elk rarely venture more than a quarter mile from water sources, so keep an eye out for them where the trail hops over rivulets and puddles. The trail's bonus attraction is a Cold War Era curiosity known as a seismic bunker. The metal structure built into a hillside has been abandoned for years and is now under siege by local graffiti rebel forces. It's a dank, creepy place (mind the Bud Light cans underfoot) that you'll want to observe from the outside only. Beyond the den of debauchery, the trail redeems itself as it ascends an exposed ridgeline and heads into the woods. The route follows deeply rutted, dodgy 4x4 roads that are popular with bikers and ATV riders. In my experiences on this trail, the wheeled users have been responsible and courteous around hikers. With its carousel of changing scenery, history side show, challenging dips and climbs and close-to-town access, this trail makes for an entertaining Rim Country trek.
LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6 miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead
RATING: moderate
4,800’ – 4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)
Chaparral Ranch Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go right (east) onto 260 and continue 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive. Turn left (north) and go 1.2 miles to the Chaparral Ranch Trail access turnout. There's parking for about 3-4 vehicles. Do not block private driveways in the area. Large groups should access this trail via the Houston Mesa Trailhead. Houston Mesa Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go 1.7 miles north on 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right (east) and continue 0.8 mile to the trailhead on the right (past the “horse camp”). From here, follow Houston Trail 3 miles to the loop.
Cold War Era bunker

Monday, February 29, 2016


McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
Bootlegger Trail

Despite abundant winter rains and mild temperatures that raised our expectations for a banner wildflower season, this year's showing of desert blooms has turned out to be a more low-key event. The hype may have fizzled, but there are still plenty of flowering plants to enjoy along Valley trails.
One of the best places to observe a wide variety of specimens is in the far east side of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. In this area of desert, wildflowers thrive best among boulder outcroppings on the flanks of Granite Mountain
where precious bits of shade and trapped moisture nurse blooms to fruition. When the elements dole out perfect measures of rain, warmth and sunlight, poppies and lupines paint the desert floor in blazing shades of purple and orange. This spectacular but rare event is beautiful to behold but, there's also joy in spotting a lone poppy or colorful patch of brittlebush during less productive seasons.
On a recent hike along the Bootlegger Trail, I compiled a list of wildflowers we observed. There were many bloomers, but you'll have to stay alert to see them. Are you up for a scavenger hunt? Here's a partial list. Happy hunting!
1. Lacepod
2. Mexican Gold Poppy
3. Desert Chicory
4. Desert Wishbone
5. Desert Rock Pea
6. Scorpionweed
7. Filaree (Stork's Bill)
8. Desert Lavender
9. Popcorn Flower
10. Fiddleneck
From the Granite Mountain Trailhead, hike 1.3 miles on Bootlegger Trail. Head right on Granite Mountain Loop and continue 1.1 miles to Coyote Canyon Trail. Turn right and hike 1.3 miles (note the crested saguaro at the 0.8-mile point) to Dove Valley Trail. Veer right and go 1 mile to 136th St. Express and follow it 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 6-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,415' – 2,822'
Granite Mountain Trailhead, 31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit #36 and go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd./Rio Verde Dr. Turn right and continue 5.9 miles to 136th St., turn left and go 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left. Trailhead is open sunrise to sunset. No facilities.
INFO & MAPS: McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Friday, February 26, 2016



On February 26, 2016, the Tonto and Coconino National Forests announced that access to the Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs Area near Pine-Strawberry will require reservations during high season. In order to park at any of the access lots  from May 1st (April 1st, beginning in 2017) and October 1st, you'll need to secure a permit. This extremely popular recreation area has been negatively impacted by over-crowding that creates pressure on the natural resources, traffic backups, mountains of trash (and worse) as well as safety concerns. The goal of this program is to better manage these problems.
The reservation system will go live on March 1st. You can book online up to 6 months in advance at or by calling 877-444-6777. Permits are $6 and there's a limit of 6 reservations per person per year. 

Monday, February 22, 2016


Granite Basin Recreation Area, Prescott
View of Granite Basin Lake from Mint Wash Trail

As a perennial bucket-lister, Granite Mountain Trail #261 lives up to its hype with a strenuous 1,400-foot ascent on a hulking mound of billion year old rock. It's one of Prescott's most glorious hikes, serving up a wilderness summit experience with a substantial side of sweat. Once you've got that one out of your system, there's plenty more to explore around the base of the mountain. In the shadow of the massif's intimidating brow, a maze of looping paths in Granite Basin Recreation Area offer more than 33 miles of easy and moderate rated hike alternatives. The site is cradled in a craggy, forested pocket lodged between a wilderness area and suburbia. Built out with creature comforts like restrooms, picnic tables and a tiny lake, the area's trail complex is family-friendly, well-signed and designed for either short strolls or day-long treks. Whichever trail or trails you select, you'll be walking through a bizarre landscape of volcanic rock outcroppings weathered smooth by eons of exposure. Water trickling though drainages nourishes a mash up of wild mint and cacti huddled beneath tall Ponderosa pines. Like sister trail #261, there are plenty of spots where views of the sprawling flatlands of Williamson Valley and the cloud-brushing peaks of Flagstaff are framed by  tunnels of arching oak.
A detailed map available for download on the forest service web site shows how the trails connect. Here's one circuit that includes a swing by Granite Basin Lake, lots of shade and a high saddle vista point. From the Cayuse Trailhead begin on West Lake Trail #351 and hike 1.2 miles then veer right onto Mint Wash Trail #345. This junction is located just before a road crossing and is signed but easy to miss. Hike 0.7 mile on #345 and turn left on Mint Wash Connector Trail #352. Continue 1.1 miles to the Chimbley Water Trail #348, turn left and hike 0.5 mile to Willow Trail #347, turn right and follow it 0.8 mile back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 4.3-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 5,400' – 5,770'
HOURS: day-use gate hours vary by season but are roughly sunrise to sunset daily
FACILITIES: restroom, picnic tables.
Cayuse Trailhead:
From downtown Prescott, go north on Montezuma St. (turns into Whipple St.) to Iron Springs Road.
Go 3 miles on Iron Springs to Granite Basin Road (Forest Road 374), turn right and continue 2.4 miles to the Cayuse Equestrian Trailhead on the right. Parking is 0.1 mile up the road.
FEE: $5 daily per vehicle (free on Wednesdays). Bring exact change for the self-serve pay station.
INFO & MAPS: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, 928-443-8000

Monday, February 15, 2016


Oak woodlands in Long Canyon
There's something magical about the way hiking in a canyon can make the stresses of everyday life melt away. After a long week of juggling priorities, chores, shuttling kids and trying to maintain a semblance of work life balance, who couldn't use a good squeeze? In terms of sheer quantity of canyon trails, Sedona offers a pulsating super nova of choices. Boynton, West Fork, and Fay canyons are easy access crowd favorites while Secret and Loy attract those looking for more challenge and solitude. In between, there's Long Canyon. Located near a hub of newer routes, this oldie but goodie is mostly overlooked by hikers seeking fresh dirt. But, to shrug this trail off would be to miss a journey through four types of forests pressed between converging sandstone bluffs weathered into bizarre, russet pinnacles. Stepping out from the trailhead, the path is wide and well worn, passing an upscale resort (golf course, eyes right) before dissolving into the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. The massive profiles of Steamboat Rock and Maroon Mountain act as sentries at the canyon's entrance. For the first mile, the trail passes through typical high desert scrub dominated by manzanita and yucca. As the canyon walls begin to close in, the trail transitions into a forest of juniper and Arizona cypress trees with their characteristic shaggy bark. Several drainage crossing and a tighter pinch of canyon walls precede the entry into a deciduous woodland of Emory oaks and alders. Here, the trees are so thick they nearly block out views of the soaring stone walls that rise hundreds of feet over head. After a short climb, the first Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs appear, sharing the ever narrowing gorge with an understory of jostled washes and low-growing brambles. Although the official trail is 3 miles long, it's difficult to tell just where it ends and rudimentary footpaths take over. I had hiked to a point where the path became overgrown. When I checked my GPS, I had hiked 4 miles. At this point, a fortress of canyon walls surround a damp, earthy cloister devoid of all the hassles of civilization. Ponder the calming effects of bird calls bouncing off stone escarpments and breezes exhaled from the head of the canyon. It feels like nature hugging you closer.
LENGTH: 3 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,200' - 5,600'
FEE: None. A Red Rock Pass is not required.

From the State Route 89A/179 traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west on 89A (left, toward Cottonwood) to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), turn right and continue 2.9 miles to Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 152D), turn right and go 0.5 mile to the trailhead on the left.
INFO:  Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest

Monday, February 8, 2016


Antelope Creek Segment
Corral at Hidden Treasure Mine trailhead
Nothing much has been going on in the town of Cordes since about the 1950s. Founded in 1883, the hamlet was once a busy stage stop serving sheep herders, ranchers, mail wagons and weary voyagers traveling between Prescott and Phoenix. Completion of Interstate 17 in the 1970s put the nail in the coffin as the new freeway pulled traffic off the bumpy dirt roads and onto smooth pavement. Business shifted west leaving behind a few hardy families to carry on the Old Arizona lifestyle.
Today, the area is seen mostly by travelers braving the road trip to Crown King and hikers setting out to explore the historic trail that runs through it. The Black Canyon Trail Coalition beckons hikers to "Experience the Arizona Outback" by stepping out on all or part of the 78-mile Black Canyon Trail that stretches from north Phoenix to the town of Mayer.
The northern reaches of the trail especially live up to the "outback" label and the Antelope Creek segment is a prime introduction to the canyon-riddled rangeland lodged between Agua Fria National Monument and Prescott National Forest. Winding around the ranches and ruins of Cordes, the segment's signature features are its endless ups-and-downs, cliff-hugging turns, corrals and stock tanks supplemented with occasional cattle encounters. To get your full dose of boots in the boondocks, try a 10-mile car shuttle hike. Begin at the Hidden Treasure Mine trailhead and hike north on the Antelope Creek segment. Most of the trail is well-signed, but there are a few head-scratcher junctions. At 3.4 miles, pass a gate (leave it as you found it), continue to the 3.8-mile point and turn left onto a Jeep road. An unsigned junction comes up at mile 4.1 where you'll veer right, hike 0.1-mile and pick up the signed single track on the right. At the 5-mile point, the trail crosses Crown King Road (1.2 miles south of Cordes) then connects with a Jeep route that overlooks Black Canyon with majestic views of the Bradshaw Mountains towering above the gaping chasm. As the route transitions into the Drinking Snake segment (segments are not signed) you'll see Dripping Spring Canyon off to the left and a functioning windmill just around a bend in the road. Beyond the windmill, the trail turns left past the corral and becomes a single track once again all the way to 9.4-miles where you'll turn left onto a road, hike 0.2-mile, turn right at a junction and hike the last fraction of a mile to the Spring Valley trailhead.
LENGTH: 10 miles one-way for car shuttle described here.
Antelope Creek Segment: 5.0 miles one-way
Drinking Snake Segment: 4.8 miles one-way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,656' - 4,192'
Hidden Treasure Mine Trailhead (south):
From Interstate 17, take the Bloody Basin Road exit 259. Head left (west toward Crown King) on Bloody Basin (Crown King Road, Forest Road 259) and go 3.3 miles to the stop sign in the town of Cordes. Turn left onto Antelope Creek Road (County Road 179), go 2.7 miles and veer left at the Bumble Bee/Crown King fork. Continue 1.3 miles to a stop sign, turn left and make an immediate left into the parking area marked by a rusty water tank and corral. Trail begins by the corral. The dirt road is washboard rough in spots with hairpin turns and drop offs but is passable by sedan.
Spring Valley Trailhead (north):
From Interstate 17, take the Bloody Basin Road exit 259, go 3.3 miles west (Crown King Road, Forest Road 259) to the ghost town of Cordes, turn right (north) onto Antelope Creek Road (County Road 74) and continue 3 miles to the trailhead on the left at Forest Road 9218A. Roads are sedan friendly dirt/gravel.
INFO: Black Canyon Trail Coalition

Monday, February 1, 2016


Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Cave Creek
Elephant Mountain stands out over fresh-cut Fairy Duster Loop

If you image the trails of Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area as an ice cream sundae, Fairy Duster Loop and Mariposa Hill Trail are the whipped cream and cherry on the top. Neither trail requires much effort to hike, but they perfectly complement the area's more rough-hewn, difficult routes with soft footing and sweet views. Opened in January 2016, they offer short, pretty detours that connect with backbone route Spur Cross Trail (Maricopa Trail) to explore new territory on the site's east side.
Fairy Duster Loop traces the foothills above mesquite-cluttered Cottonwood Wash where profuse plant life makes the trek sort of like hiking through a mini botanical garden. In addition to the shrub for which it's named, plants you'll find along the flowing path include joboba, buckwheat, filaree, ratany, cholla cactus, brittle bush and dozens of wildflowers, making it a good choice for a springtime bloom snooping hike.
Mariposa Hill Trail is named for a delicate lily that decorates its flanks. This trail follows what used to be Old Cottonwood Canyon Road to a lookout point with big views of Cave Creek and the saguaro-studded mountains of Tonto National Forest.
These fresh-cut routes can be hiked alone or tagged on to old favorites like the Metate Trail, for a longer loop. Here's one trail mix option.
From the trailhead, hike 0.1-mile north on Spur Cross Trail (SX) , turn right onto Fairy Duster Loop. Hike the 0.6-mile loop, then head 0.7-mile north (right) on SX to Mariposa Hill Trail. Hike 0.2-mile to the top and then back down. Continue 0.2 mile on SX to Metate Trail, follow it 0.8 mile back to SX, turn left and go 0.3 -mile back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 2.9 miles (loop described here)
ELEVATION: 2,200'-2,468' (loop described here)
Fairy Duster Loop: 0.6-mile loop (2,330' - 2,385')
Mariposa Hill: 0.2 one way (2,400' - 2,468')
RATING: easy-moderate
FEE: $3 daily per person. Bring exact change for the self-serve permit kiosk.
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive 15 miles north to Spur Cross Ranch Road. This is an easy-to-miss junction located just before entering the busy main drag of Cave Creek. It is signed and the turn off is on the left. From here, the road jogs north and then makes a tight turn to the left at Grapevine. Continue 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left. The last mile of the road is good dirt.
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:

Monday, January 25, 2016


Tonto National Forest, near Payson
Y Bar Trail on the edge above Shake Tree Canyon
Woe be to my judgment when I equate a trail's greatness with how much I want to puke while hiking it. I mean that in a good way. Trails that have lots of strenuous elevation gain and dizzying exposure are personal favorites. Heights, cliffs and edge-hugging bends all provide an adrenaline-fueled euphoria that can sometimes muddle decision making skills. While learning to conquer fear and build confidence are perks of the sport, it's important to crank up the brain cells when approaching the thin veil that separates exciting from stupid. Agonizing but ultimately wise hiking choices I have made include missing a summit because of an ear-infection-induced case of vertigo and abbreviating a recent trek on Y Bar Trail #44 when my group encountered more ice and snow than we were prepared to tackle safely. Next time. Although tame in comparison to some other notoriously arduous Arizona hiking trails, Y Bar still has several opportunities to pause for thought. The trail is steep, rocky and requires traversing of talus slopes and narrow, cliff-clinging turns with deep drop offs. On days when it's clear of obstacles, this challenging trail within the Mazatzal Wilderness is achievable by most well-conditioned, adequately equipped hikers. Do not underestimate the slowing power of constant elevation gain and unstable footing. Bring along extra water and food as this hike will likely take longer than you estimate. Even the most athletic hikers will want to allow extra time to soak in the scenery.
The hike begins with a moderate climb through juniper, oak and agaves with big views of the Mogollon Rim and Highway 87 a thousand feet below. After a series of switchbacks, the trail swings west, heading deeper into the wilderness where it dips into Shake Tree Canyon then moves up along the jostled terrain of Cactus Ridge to emerge on a magnificent, windy saddle. Here, 7,903-foot Mazatzal Peak towers above a craggy back country of rock pinnacles, scorched trees and fathomless scoured basins. The trail ends at the Windsor Saddle where it meets up with Mazatzal Divide Trail that's also part of Arizona Trail Passage #23. Unless you've researched and geared up for one of the marathon loop treks returning on either the Barnhardt or Rock Creek Trail, make this your turn around point.
LENGTH: 4.6 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 4,200' - 7,100'
Barnhardt Trailhead:
From Shea Blvd. and State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy.) in Fountain Hills, travel 51 miles north on SR87 to Forest Road 419. This road is located just beyond the sign for Barnhardt Trailhead roughly 0.25-mile south of the town of Gisela. Turn left and go 4.8 miles on FR 419 to the trailhead. FR 419 is a rutted one-lane track. Although sedans are frequently sighted at the trailhead, a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Trail heads left at a sign a few yards up the Barnhardt Trail.
INFO: Tonto National Forest

Monday, January 18, 2016


Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Tucson
Finger Rock Canyon Trail

Commanding the skyline above Finger Rock Canyon is an eponymous stone pinnacle that resembles a clenched fist with its index finger pointing toward the heavens. This is your first clue to the nature of the trail that makes an aggressive, unrelenting ascent of its rugged domain. Finger Rock Trail #42 begins with a moderate walk among massive rock slabs, sheer cliff faces, saguaros and seasonal creeks replete with mini waterfalls and lush greenery. But don't get too comfortable because the party's over at the 1-mile point, where just beyond Finger Rock Spring, the trail begins its assault on your physical and mental fortitude. The route wastes no time gaining elevation. Like a giant staircase, the trail moves uphill via tight switchbacks and high-step maneuvers with few breaks in between. Much of the path clings to the edge of the canyon walls offering both terrific views and plenty of queasy exposure. In some spots, you're hiking just inches from sheer drop offs. The canyon's sharp-edged geology, hardy Upper Sonoran Zone vegetation and unspoiled ambiance are a tribute to its protected status within Pusch Ridge Wilderness.
Although the suburbs and industrial parks of Tucson are visible from the trail, the canyon oozes a strong, untamed character. Embrace the wild by inhaling the brisk mountain breezes, listening for tumbling water and the cries of raptors while keeping an eye out for desert big horn sheep creeping along clefts and ridge lines. (To protect the sheep, dogs are not allowed on the trails within the wildlife management area).
Conquering this delightfully agonizing trail is a feather-in-the-cap for experts, but trekkers of all skill levels can also enjoy the hike by adapting the length to suit. The super-high-octane version of this trek includes a side trip up to 7,258-foot Mount Kimball. To reach the summit, veer left at the junction with Pima Canyon Trail #62 at 3.9 miles and hike a half-mile on #62 to the summit spur. Other landmark-specific turnaround points are listed below.
Turnaround options:
Finger Rock Spring: 1 mile, 3,520' (400' elevation gain)
Wind Cave: 2 miles, 4,500' (1,380' elevation gain)
Linda Vista Saddle: 3.5 miles, 5,700' (2,580' elevation gain)
Mt. Kimball: 4.2 miles, 7,258' (4,138' elevation gain)
LENGTH: 6.3 miles one-way (Trail #42 only)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 3,120' - 6,880'(trail #42 proper)
RULES: dogs are not allowed
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Ina Road exit 248. Follow Ina Road to where it curves into Skyline Drive, continue to the 9.6-mile point, turn left on Alvernon Road and go 0.9 mile to the trailhead parking lot on the left. The trail begins a few yards up the road on Alvernon.
INFO & MAP: Santa Catalina Ranger District, Coronado National Forest
Desert Big Horn Sheep:

Monday, January 11, 2016


Skyline Regional Park, Buckeye
Turnbuckle Trail links to Valley Vista Trail for a summit climb
Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck was spot-on when he quoted Andy Warhol during the grand opening ceremony of Skyline Regional Park. The 20th-century artist famous for his paintings of soup cans and celebrities said, "I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want." Perhaps Warhol's spirit was riding shotgun on the mini track hoe that blazed the trails in this 8,600-acre West Valley outdoor recreation hub that was official rolled out on January 9, 2016. That's one possible explanation as to why the trail layout features so many beautifully framed vistas and organic vignettes. Much like a perfectly executed brushstroke or acrobatic back flip, the system is fluid and comfortable in its skin. The "skin" consists of the pristine washes and foothills of the southern White Tank Mountains. The dirt paths wrap around the terrain like whispers revealing secrets contained within area's natural elements without ever getting in the way. 
Although it's located just 2 miles north of Interstate 10, the blissfully quiet site has a wild yet accessible feel to it.
The 3-mile, moderate-rated Turnbuckle Trail is the longest of the seven Phase I routes. Like most hikes in the park, it begins with a stroll across a graceful, oxidized bridge spanning Mountain Wash. It loops around a prominent mountain peak and connects with Valley Vista Trail for an optional 0.33-mile, difficult climb to the summit. This short hiker-only trek involves some steep, narrow sections with drop offs.
So far, 6 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding are complete. Eleven more miles are on deck to open by September of this year. Mayor Meck concluded the opening ceremonies by describing future plans for even more trekking routes and enhanced facilities promising the crowds, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
LENGTH: 4 miles
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,500' - 2,300'
FACILITIES: Restrooms, picnic tables, campsites
FEES: None for day use. Camping is by reservation only.
2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit and go 2 miles north to the park. Roads are paved and
sedan-friendly dirt.