Wednesday, June 29, 2016



Did you know there's an Arizona Hiking Facebook Group? Over 5000 active members share their hiking adventures, photos and advise.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Clover Spring
On a mountain with no shortage of summit-busting hiking trails, it takes will power to swerve off the epic routes onto one with a subtler kind of charisma. Whether bypassed due to time constraints, bad weather or dwindling supplies, secondary routes often get ignored in favor of heavily travelled arterial trails. Clover Spring Trail #46 epitomizes the joy to be found on the little trails that compete for love with the summit routes on Bill Williams Mountain.
Trough at Clover Spring
More an option than a diversion, this shady, moderate path is toggled to challenging Bill Williams Mountain Trail #21 and can be hiked as either a short loop or an alternative leg that adds less than a mile to the standard summit route. The "C"-shaped connector moves through beautiful woodlands overlooking the city of Williams. A short section of climbing among lichen-cloaked boulders precedes the arrival at a rustic concrete trough marking Clover Spring. Don't expect to find water, though. The spring runs best only during spring snow melt season. Beyond the spring, the trail continues on to Buckskinner Park, a municipal recreation site with its own trail system and fishing lake. To find Clover Spring Trail from the trailhead, hike 0.15-mile on Trail #21 and turn left at the signed lower junction. Continue 0.85-mile to the spring located just beyond the upper junction. Back track to the turnoff, hike 0.6-mile then either turn right and follow the signs back to the trailhead or continue up to the mountaintop.
Pine-oak forests shade the trail

LENGTH: 3-mile loop or 9.4 miles with summit hike
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6,900' - 7,200' (9,250' with summit)

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From Interstate 40 in Williams, take exit 161, go south on Railroad Ave. and follow the signs to the trailhead across from the Williams District Ranger Station.
INFO: Kaibab National Forest

Monday, June 20, 2016


Approaching Little Spring
From the looks of the place, it's hard to imaging a stage coach lurching through the bumpy terrain below the north face of Flagstaff's San Francisco Peaks. Between 1892-1900, the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach line did just that, braving rough back roads to shuttle guests to the South Rim during the summer season.
The stage service is long gone, but portions of its former route live on as footpaths used by hikers, bikers and for ultra running and long distance trekking events. One of the most beautiful segments of the historic trail wanders along the eastern edge of Hart Prairie just outside of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. The hike begins near Little Spring, a popular stop along the stagecoach route that's now part of a national historic landmark. Picking up the trail is a little bit tricky in the beginning. From the parking spot, hike 0.4 mile on an old dirt road to where there’s a split rail fence on the right. Leave the road and hike into the meadow aiming for a pair of fallen logs lying parallel on the ground. There’s a rough 2-track leading to the C. Hart Merriam Base Camp historic marker and the spring. Most of the time, the spring is but a trickling seep full of frogs and No-See-Um flies. The pesky biting insects can inflict irritating (but usually not too serious) stings. Eucalyptus or citronella based botanical repellants help ward off the swarms. To pick up the trail to Bismarck Lake, climb above the washout directly behind the spring then huff and puff your way 500 feet up a steep trail covered in pine needles and mushrooms. At the top of the hill, catch your breath in a sunny, fern-ringed meadow before heading right on paths that lead to the lake.
Little Spring
Bismarck Lake is actually an eroded, water filled volcanic crater that's more puddle than pond. Water levels in the shallow depression vacillate between knee-deep reflecting pool and barely there muddy bog. The soggy basin is surrounded by aspens, basalt boulders and fields of wildflowers in the shadow of Arizona's highest peaks. Although this is a satisfying turnaround point, it's easy to cobble together a longer trek. Just pick up the path on the western edge of the lake and hike 0.2-mile to the Bismarck Lake Trail junction. From here, it's 0.4-mile to the Arizona Trail Passage #34 where you can go right and hike 3.5 miles (8,880' - 9,000') through magnificent aspen forests to Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road or go left for for a 3.7-mile (8,880'-8,280') for a downhill trek through spruce and fir to Forest Road 418.
Bismarck Lake
LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip (spring to lake and back)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,300'-8,800'
Little Spring Trailhead:
From Flagstaff, travel 19 miles north on US 180 to the upper loop of FR 151 (Hart Prairie Road) near milepost 235. Turn right and drive 1.6 miles to FR418, veer right to stay on FR151, set your odometer and continue 2.4 miles to an Forest Road 418B and a sign indicating Little Spring on the right. You can drive it up to 0.25-mile, but it’s narrow and nasty. Find a place to park, before the “road closed” gate.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Sacred datura bloom along River Ramble Trail
The month of June is notoriously rife with wildfire activity. Historically, it's our driest month leading into monsoon season. Hikers who like to escape the heat on high elevation trails may find their plans thwarted by road closures, smoke and the possibility of more fires popping up with no warning. During those weeks when it seems like the whole state is on fire, it's good to know that that there's an alternative cool hiking destination located not too far from Downtown Phoenix.
The trails at Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg offer respite from the heat under canopies of cottonwoods, willows, mesquite, alders and enormous Desert fan palms. Straddling one of the few places where the 100-mile-long river flows above ground, the preserve has trails that explore the site's diversity. River Ramble Trail follows a channel of trickling perennial water through a tangled, green forest flush with wildflowers and an arboreal symphony of bird songs. The overhead avian chatter is a constant companion and it's nearly impossible to miss the brilliant red Vermillion flycathers, Summer Tanagers, hawks and flocks of song sparrows fluttering from tree to tree. Mesquite Meander Trail loops through a haunting maze of Velvet mesquite trees that arch over the sandy path. Other trails circle spring fed Palm Lake where viewing areas with benches are situated near prime habitats for ducks, egrets and herons.
Hassayampa River
Most of the trails are flat and easy except for Lykes' Lookout, that makes a short but very steep climb to a stony mound overlooking the rare desert oasis.
LENGTH: 2.54 miles
Lots of shade on the Palm Lake Trail
RATING: barrier free - difficult
ELEVATION: 1,900' -1,980'
49614 N. US 60/89, Wickenburg.
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway (State Route74) at exit 223. Go 3 miles west toward Wickenburg to US60. Turn right (north) and continue 6 miles to the Conservancy turn off on the left near milepost 114.
May 14-Sept. 16
Friday - Sunday
7 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Trails close at 10:30 a.m.
Pets are not allowed.
ADMISSION: $5 per person, $3 for The Nature Conservancy members.

Monday, June 6, 2016


Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
A pond on the Meadow Trail
Taking a walk in the forest shouldn't be limited to the young and fleet of foot. High on the edge of the Mogollon Rim north of Payson, two paved trails combine for more than 5 miles of barrier free exploring. Both are suitable for wheelchairs, strollers and walkers so everybody can wander under the pines regardless of their mobility issues. Well known Rim Vista Trail #622 traces limestone escarpments overlooking rambling valleys of coniferous forests and distant mountain vistas. This popular route can be accessed from any of the viewpoint parking lots located along the first three miles of Forest Road 300. Meadow Trail #505 intersects Rim Vista at the Woods Canyon Vista trailhead and offers a less crowded option. Located within Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area, Trail #505 parallels the busy access road, passing several campgrounds on its way to the lake.
The well-signed route encompasses pine-oak woodlands, sunny meadows, myriad wildflowers, two rustic bridges and a good chance to see wildlife skulking along the margins of a swampy pond.
Bridge on the Meadow Trail
Upon its approach to the lake, the trail makes a gentle descent to land at a country store where you can purchase a day use permit if you want to continue exploring the more difficult Woods Canyon Lake Trail #336 that makes a 3 mile loop around the lake or rent a kayak for a cooling glide over the water.
Rim Vista Trail at the edge of the Mogollon Rim
Meadow Trail: 1.8 miles one way
Rim Vista Trail: 3.5 miles one way
RATING: easy/barrier free
ELEVATION: 7,540' – 7,640'

From Payson, go 29 miles east on State Route 260 to Forest Road 300 (Rim Road), turn left and continue 3 miles to the Woods Canyon Vista trailhead on the left. The trail begins across the road.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Monday, May 30, 2016


East Clear Creek

A leisurely amble through the pristine and complex canyon system of upper East Clear Creek reveals wonders that even the most well traveled Arizona hikers will find astounding. There’s the epic views from the coniferous forest rim, a scenic drop into the canyon along a fossil-encrusted limestone trail, and an emerald-green riparian environment along the water.
Sandwiched between two reservoirs, East Clear Creek slices into soft sedimentary pediments leaving behind a meandering sheer-walled canyon. This 50-mile-long ribbon of life-giving water flows northeast from Blue Ridge Reservoir to Clear Creek Reservoir near Winslow where it merges with the Little Colorado River. sandstone walls that look like dunes tilted on their sides in layer-cake formation. Tens of millions of years ago, the landscape surrounding East Clear Creek was part of a vast ocean and the fossilized remains of sea-dwelling algae, coral and brachiopods are strewn about like scattered bones. Like all of the “crossing” trails on the Mogollon Rim, this one continues up the opposite side of the canyon. Although traversing the entire length of this gorge would involve technical climbing skills, swimming and rafting, all that’s needed to hike the Horse Crossing trail #20 is a pair of boots, water and a day pack. Exploring the mid-section of the creek, Horse Crossing is hemmed in by vertical rock escarpments. At the bottom of the canyon, running water sculpts sandstone walls that look like dunes tilted on their sides in layer-cake formation. Tens of millions of years ago, the landscape surrounding East Clear Creek was part of a vast ocean and the fossilized remains of sea-dwelling algae, coral and brachiopods are strewn about like scattered bones. Like all of the “crossing” trails on the Mogollon Rim, this one continues up the opposite side of the canyon. However, it’s more fun to follow fisherman paths and  for several miles up or downstream where clouds reflected in mirror-like pools give the impression of walking on the sky.
LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6,900’ – 6,400’
From Payson, travel north on State Route 87 Forest Road 95 between mileposts 299 and 300, located 9.4 miles past Clint's Well. Turn right (east) on FR 95 and drive 4 miles to Forest Road 513B. Go left (east) on FR 513B and continue 2 miles to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required on FR 513B.

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 to 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