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Monday, November 28, 2016


Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Ridgeback Trail
Hikers approach the Ridgeback Overlook 
There's no better time than around the holidays to take advantage of the head-clearing benefits of hiking. When overwhelmed by travel plans, entertaining guests, shopping, decorating and hyper-excited kids, sometimes you just need to break away and breath on a peaceful mountain top. You don't have to drive far, load down on heavy duty gear or spend an entire day in the wilderness to get to such a place. In fact, if all you have is a few hours to spare, you can still knock off a double header high point trek in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. Beginning at the Apache Wash Trailhead, follow Sidewinder Trail 0.86 mile to the Apache Vista turnoff. This 0.51 mile spur trail circles over two minor peaks above sprawling desert arroyos where on most mornings, commercial hot air balloons float overhead.
Apache Vista Trail
Enjoy the show then descend and continue 0.3 mile on Sidewinder then turn left onto Apache Wash Trail, hike 0.4 mile an turn right on Ocotillo. From here, follow the signs to Ridgeback Overlook for a second short loop on a desert mountain peak. If you're satisfied with just this double peak circuit, hike back down to Ocotillo Trail and hoof it back to the trailhead. Otherwise, download the preserve map and make a day of it on the more than 35 miles of trails that criss-cross the preserve's northern sector.
Ridgeback Overlook Trail
LENGTH: 5.1 miles round trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1720' - 2002'
Apache Wash Trailhead, 1600 E. Sonoran Desert Dr., Phoenix.
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, take Cave Creek Road exit 28 and go 4.5 miles north to Sonoran Desert Drive. Turn left (west) and continue 3.5 miles to the trailhead on the right. The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There are restrooms but no water at the trailhead.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Tonto National Forest
Looking east over Horseshoe Lake
Sometimes I just feel like a brainless hike up a hill with no route finding, treacherous terrain or precarious precipices. Just. Up.  Thankfully, Humboldt Mountain meets this criteria and it's not too far from downtown Phoenix.  You've probably seen this hill and wondered about it ---there's a huge, white “golf ball” (as it’s commonly called) on the summit that’s visible from the back roads north of Cave Creek and Carefree. The white ball, which is an FAA radar station used for air traffic control, shares the summit with a fire tower and a hardware jungle of tech equipment. The hike involves walking up a narrow road of crumbling asphalt via a series of gentle switchbacks and a combination of flat and fairly steep segments. 
Summit views
The 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire took a toll on the area's vegetation, but recovery is underway and desert shrubs are popping up everywhere. With every few feet of elevation gain, the views get bigger and better.  Much of the lower road winds through cactus-studded grasslands with Cave Creek Mountains, Pinnacle Peak and New River Mesa on the horizon. Higher up, the road winds around to the eastern slope of the mountain where there the sprawling Verde River Valley and Horseshoe Lake come into view. Just below the summit, the one and only hairpin turn in the road kisses the edge of a scenic saddle. Here, sycamore-and-cottonwood cluttered drainages appear as  twisted meanders nearly 2,000 feet below. From this saddle, the final uphill slog to the summit rewards with more excellent views and the revelation that “golf ball” is hardly an accurate description of the FAA tower. It is most indubitably, a
soccer ball.
Final switchback to the top
LENGTH: 7.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 3,570' – 5,204'
BEST SEASON: October – April
Stunning mountain views all around
From Loop 101 in North Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit and go 13 miles north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road.  Turn right (east) and continue on Cave Creek Road (a.k.a. FR 24, Seven Springs Road) to FR 562 (Humboldt Mountain road) located between MCDOT mile markers 9 and 10.  The turnoff is easy to miss—it’s on the right, paved and there’s a “562” sign about 100 feet up the road. If you get to Seven Springs Recreation Area, you have gone roughly 2 miles too far. Park in the turnouts along FR24 and FR562 and hike up FR562 to the summit.

INFO: Cave Creek Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, (480) 595-3300

Saturday, November 19, 2016



Maybe you've noticed hikers sporting colorful Arizona Hiking Group patches and wondered what they represent. Since they became available in September, several hundred trekkers have attached patches and stickers to their gear in hopes of running into other group members while out on the trails.
Members on a group hike in McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Arizona Hiking Group is a virtual meeting place, photo-sharing site and educational resource on Facebook. Established in September 2012, the group has grown steadily to over 7000 members. Group admins seek to foster a friendly, nonsense-free zone where hikers of all levels and backgrounds feel welcome in sharing their experiences and asking for advise. Haters, trolls and off-message interlopers will feel the swift swing of the "ban hammer" because the group values on-topic dialogue. Issues such as heat-related hiking tragedies, trail etiquette, land stewardship and preparedness are vigorously discussed with the goal of promoting safe, leave-no-trace hiking practices. As the group grew in numbers and diversity, members voiced a desire to develop ways to connect with fellow hikers in real life.
In response, group leaders produced the patches and stickers and began organizing events and hikes. In the few months since the patches first went into the wilderness on the hats and backpacks of hikers, dozens of "patch sightings" have been shared on the Facebook group page. It's turned into a sort of a Pokemon Go exercise, except with real people. Social events such as camping, cookouts and learning opportunities are also being added to the calendar. There are no membership fees, but if you want an optional logo item, they are sold at just over cost with the profits used to fund events.
Arizona Hiking Group:

Friday, November 11, 2016


Get hooked on the aroma of creosote
I love fragrance. Scented candles, incense, potpourri and rosemary oil soap are staples at my home, especially around the holidays. Like many people, I have occasionally taken the bait of Black Friday hype and ended up committing budgetary indiscretions at a mall perfume counter. But no more. For the past 15 years, hiking has been my day-after-Thanksgiving indulgence. If this is a habit you'd like to adopt but would prefer to ease into it rather than go cold turkey (sorry) let me suggest a few Metro Phoenix-area trails that are close to malls. Just replace the pre-dawn, door-buster sale with a sunrise hike that will burn off those gravy and pie calories and leave plenty of time to go shopping later. Who knows, maybe the sweet smell of creosote in the morning will get you hooked on a new holiday tradition.
SHOP: Emerald Center, Warner Road & 56th St., Tempe.
South Mountain Park, Phoenix
Bursera Trail, South Mountain park
Twisted in organic, balletic form and smelling like perfume, Bursera microphylla---better known as the Elephant Tree—lives on the slopes of South Mountain Park. Brush up against one of these squat, red-green-barked trees with swollen, contorted pachyderm-like trunks and a pungent aroma of camphor will waif from its tiny leaves. Related to the plants that produce frankincense and myrrh, sap from the elephant tree also can be dried and burned as incense. But, don't rush out with a collection bucket—the trees are a protected species in Arizona.
To get an up close look at this plant that grows only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and parts of southern California and northwestern Mexico, just follow the Bursera Trail which was completed in 2011. The route is simple-to-follow and connects with both the National and Bajada Trails for those who want to add mileage to their hike. Also, because it's wide and not too steep, the route is very popular with mountain bikers. One bit of advise—although the elevation change for the hike is only 653 feet—you’ll do it twice for an out-and-back-hike.
LENGTH: 2.9 miles one-way (6.68 miles roundtrip including access trail)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,235' – 1,888'
BEST SEASON: October -April
From Phoenix, take Interstate 10 south/east (Tucson) to Pecos Road exit 161. Turn right and continue 7.2 miles to 17th Avenue. Turn right again and continue 0.7 mile to Chandler Blvd. Turn left and go 0.3 mile to the end of the road. There’s only parallel parking—do not block private drives. A generic "trail" sign marks the start point.
From the trailhead, begin by hiking west, making a sharp right about 0.1 mile in at a post for Pyramid Trail. Continue 0.44 mile to the junction with Bursera Trail, veer left and follow the signs.
INFO: City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation

SHOP: Paradise Valley Mall 4568 E. Cactus, Phoenix.
HIKE: NORTH MOUNTAIN, Phoenix Mountains Preserve.
North Mountain
Known locally as one of the "Seven Summits of Phoenix", North Mountain National Trail #44 is an urban hiking treasure that's also part of the annual Phoenix Summit Challenge competition held each November. Its central location, trailhead amenities and easy access from major travel routes contribute to this trail's popularity. The ascent begins on a set of rough-hewn stone stairs worn ragged by the constant pounding of hiking boots and running shoes. This vertical segment deposits hikers on a cracked asphalt road hacked out of the mountain’s slope that climbs 600 feet in just under a mile. Although the tower-cluttered summit is where many trekkers turn and head back the way they came, it's not the end of the trail. Beyond the hardware jungle, trail #44 continues down the south ridge through creosote, cactus and crumbling schist, descending steeply on a less crowded, unpaved path.
LENGTH: 1.6 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1490' - 2104'
HOURS: 5:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. (trails open until 11:00 p.m.)
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables
GETTING THERE: North Mountain Park, 10600 N. 7th Street, Phoenix (7th Street & Peoria).
Trail begins at the Maricopa picnic area.
INFO & MAPS: City of Phoenix, (602) 262-7901

SHOP: Arrowhead Towne Center, 7700 W Arrowhead Towne Ctr, Glendale.
West Wing Mountain, Peoria
Every town and city in the Valley has its popular workout trail where the hordes converge for their daily dose of sweat and grind. Examples are Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and, Scottsdale's Pinnacle Peak. Not to be left out of the fitness frenzy, Peoria's trek of choice is West Wing Mountain. Unlike its neighbors, which offer one option---moderately difficult, straight up-and-down trudges-- this system of loop trails offers you a choice of difficult and extreme options. Although the trails are well maintained and not too steep, the difficult rating is likely because of the slick rock and loose scree underfoot.
The mountain is actually an undulating ridge line with trails wrapping up and around scenic viewpoints and a high summit. Rising above a Northwest Valley suburban domain of kids and cul-de-sacs, the trails dodge among crusty cliffs and barrel cactus showcasing ever-improving views as the routes gain elevation. At the top of the extreme loop, views of a sea of terra cotta roofs nuzzling up to the mountain’s base and West Valley mountains form a 360-degree panorama beyond a familiar landscape of freeways and shopping malls.
LENGTH: 3.4 or 3.5 miles (including 0.2-mile access trail from the park)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 1,400'- 1,903’
27100 N. West Wing Parkway, Peoria.
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Loop 303 exit 22. Turn left (west) and continue 7 miles to Lake Pleasant Parkway exit 131, turn left (south) and go 2.3 miles to West Wing Parkway, turn left and go 1 mile to West Wing Park on the right. Trail begins at the far west side of the parking lot. Although there are numerous access points from residential streets, The City of Peoria wants hikers to park at the West Wing Park lot.
INFO: City of Peoria, 623-773-7120

SHOP: Scottsdale Quarter/Kierland Commons, Scottsdale Rd & Greenway-Hayden.
HIKE: GATEWAY LOOP, McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Gateway Loop
One of more than two dozen designated trails within this Sonoran desert preserve, the Gateway Loop is a good way to get to know the area. One of the best benefits of hiking in the preserve is the abundant, directional signage and the beautifully maintained trails---even novice trekkers will have no trouble getting around. Gateway Loop swings around the foothills treating hikers to ever changing vistas that culminate at a particularly fine scenic saddle. For a more ambitious hike, the Loop is also a “gateway” to other trails like Windgate Pass and Bell Pass that climb to the higher elevations and ever better views.
LENGTH: 4.5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,780-2,375
GETTING THERE: From Scottsdale, exit Loop 101 at Bell Road. Go east to Thompson Peak Parkway, turn left (north) and go less than a mile to the Gateway Trailhead on the right.
FACILITIES: restrooms, maps and there are usually very knowledgeable preserve stewards on hand to assist you.
HOURS: open daily sunrise to sunset
DOGS: leased dogs are allowed. Owners must pick up after their dogs.

SHOP: Fiesta Mall, 1445 W. Southern Ave., Mesa
HIKE: PASS MOUNTAIN TRAIL, Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Pass Mountain Trail
Situated on over 3,000 acres of unspoiled desert terrain just south of Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park has more than 29 miles of hiking trails. Pass Mountain trail is the most difficult and longest of the twenty designated routes within the park. Open to horseback riders and hikers, the path makes a wide loop around the multiple 3,000-foot-high peaks of Pass Mountain for continual panoramic views of cholla-dotted arid plains and the jagged volcanic ridgelines of both the Superstition and Goldfield mountains. When hiked in a counter-clockwise direction, most of the strenuous uphill hiking happens in the first couple of miles as the trail climbs 600 feet before it levels off on the slopes beneath the peaks. After that, the route rambles over minor humps and shallow ravines until at near the 4-mile-point, it encounters a wide pass with spectacular views of a sprawling valley. Beyond the pass, the trail winds downhill through a maze of boulders cactuses, and palo verde trees that frame distant urban landscapes.
LENGTH: 7.1-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,000-2,600 feet
FEES: $6 daily fee per vehicle
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 60 east to exit 191, (Ellsworth Road) and go north (right). Continue on Ellsworth (which will turn into Usery Pass Road) for 6.7 miles and then turn right onto Usery Park Road. Follow the signs to the Horse Staging Area. The trail begins at the east side of the lot where there are porta potties and shaded picnic tables but no water.
SHOP: The Market at Estrella Falls, McDowell Rd. & Pebble Creek Pkwy., Goodyear
HIKE: WATERFALL CANYON, White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
Waterfall Canyon
How many people can fit into the 12' x 12' box canyon at the end of White Tank Mountain Park's Waterfall Trail? By my observations, at least 16--while a constant que waits on deck to rotate in. Perhaps a better question might be; what on earth could possibly be so interesting that 16 people would want cram into such a place? Welcome to one of Arizona's premier mostly-barrier-free hiking destinations. This extraordinary trail's popularity is bolstered by its wide, flat surface which is advertised as suitable for strollers, wheelchairs and walkers for at least the first 0.6-mile. However, I've seen wheeled trekkers make it all the way up to the final 300 yards where a set of stone stairs leads to the box canyon---and beyond with a little assistance. This is a beautiful thing. Because so many of Arizona's special hiking trails require physical stamina and equipment lists beyond the scope of casual day trippers, it's good to know that Waterfall Canyon offers a glimpse of desert splendor to anyone willing to get out of their car. Besides the sometimes-flowing-sometime-not waterfall, galleries of ancient rock art line the entire route. "Petroglyph plaza"--an open-air amphitheater with benches--displays several major design panels with trailside signs explaining their significance. Just below the waterfall, another considerable heritage site includes an eclectic mix of astronomical, hunting and magical designs tapped into boulders. Here, the trail meets stone stairs for a short climb to the waterfall box canyon. Inside, a trio of stone walls, worn smooth by a million rainy seasons, jut vertically skyward from a white sand beach and plunge pool echoing a serinade of digital camera clicks and whizzes.
LENGTH: 2 miles round-trip
RATING: easy, barrier-free up to the last 300 yards.
ELEVATION: 1500' - 1700'
DOGS: leashed dogs are allowed
FACILITIES: restrooms
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
From Phoenix, go 18 miles west on Interstate 10 to Loop 303.  Go north on 303 to Olive.  Turn left (west) on Olive and proceed 4 miles to the park entrance. Once in the park, go 2 miles on the main road (White Tank Mountain Rd) to Waterfall Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 mile to the signed trailhead on the left.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


The Santa Catalina mountains viewed from the wetlands
Not so long ago, the area surrounding Tucson's Sweetwater Wetlands was home to dusty croplands and tumbling tumbleweeds. This desert expanse along the usually dry* channel of the Santa Cruz River provided little in terms of quality wildlife habitat. Recognizing an opportunity to transform the site into a desert oasis with a multi-faceted set of objectives, the City of Tucson constructed the wetlands to serve as a water reclamation facility that recharges the local aquifer and provides reclaimed water for reuse in city turf irrigation thus conserving potable water for human consumption. The project also restores and protects important plant and animal ecosystems. According to the Tucson Audubon Society, more than 300 bird species have been spotted at the site. Warblers, waterfowl, song sparrows and wading birds are drawn to the watery, green oasis along with critters like racoons, deer, reptiles and amphibians.
The site is an oasis of water-loving plants and trees
Finally, the wetlands provide an outdoor classroom with recreational trails and interpretive signs enhanced by Discovery Program Journeys-- an activity developed by Tucson Water and the University of Arizona Project WET that allows guests to access information on botany, wildlife and hydrology by using a QR code smart devise app to scan posts placed at points of interest on the trails. Additionally, Tucson Audubon Society conducts year-round bird walks on Wednesday mornings. Check their website for times.
View from an observation deck
For the casual hiker, the property's pair of half-mile loop trails and a barrier-free paved walkway lead to observation decks and peek-a-boo sites with benches for spying on waterbirds among house-high cattails. Additional cottonwood-and-willow-shaded routes around the perimeter provide up to 2.5 miles of flat, easy hiking opportunities.
* Tucson Water has announced plans to divert some surface flow back to the river beginning in 2017. Stay tuned for updates.
LENGTH: 2.5 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2250' - 2265'
HOURS: open daily from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
The site opens late (8:30 a.m.) on Monday mornings from late March thru mid-November due to scheduled mosquito control operations.
FACILITIES: restrooms, drinking fountain, seating, information kiosk
RULES: No dogs or bike riding allowed.
Resident waterfowl float happily in a pond
From Interstate 10 in Tucson take the Camino Del Cerro/Ruthrauff Road exit 252. At the bottom of the off ramp, continue straight ahead on the frontage road past the Camino Del Cerro intersection and go 1.2 miles and turn right on Sweetwater Drive. The parking area is 0.2 mile Go 0.2 mile and look for the Sweetwater Wetlands entrance on the left (there is a small parking lot on your left and a larger one on your right).
City of Tucson
Tucson Audubon Society Bird Walks:
Arizona Project WET

Monday, November 7, 2016


Saguaro Vista Trail

Protecting a critical wildlife corridor between the Tucson Mountains and the Santa Cruz River, Sweetwater Preserve also complements a trail-rich area of west Tucson that includes Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Within the 880-acre property, 16 interconnected trails combine for over 12 miles of non-motorized-use routes. For a smallish site, the trails are surprisingly varied. Based on conversations I had with local hikers and riders in the parking lot, the Saguaro Vista Trail is the best place to start exploring. Turns out, that was great advise as this cactus-cluttered pathway gets you into the good stuff quickly. Within a few minutes of mild uphill hiking, views of the Santa Catalina Mountains rising over downtown Tucson and a wildly contorted crested saguaro provide ample photo opportunities.
Santa Catalina Mountains viewed from Black Rock Loop
The trail then swings northwest where the graceful arms of chain fruit cholla and Palo verde trees frame the mounds of Wasson and Amole Peaks. Although Saguaro Vista lives up to its popularity hype, the fun doesn't end there. Each trail junction within the preserve is marked with excellent map signs that make finding your way around a cinch. The signs show a mind-boggling menu of trails that might leave you wondering which way to go. No worries though, there are no bad choices. For instance, Black Rock Loop shirts the preserve's far north sector for expansive views and a walk among jumbled basalt outcroppings. Lost Arrow Trail contours foothills above the gorge of Sweetwater Wash while The Spine traces a decommissioned road atop a sunny ridgeline. Take your pick, each trail has it's own flavor and scenic qualities making for a perfect way to spend an hour or a day in the desert.
View of Tucson Mountains from Saguaro Vista Trail
The Spine
LENGTH: 12.93 miles total
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 2466' - 2680'
HOURS: dawn to dusk daily
Dogs must be on leash and owners must pick up and pack out waste.
Wildflower Ridge
Sweetwater Trailhead: 4001 N. Tortolita Road Tucson.
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the El Camino Del Cerro/Ruthrauff Road exit 252. At the bottom of the off ramp, head right (west), go 2.6 miles to N. Tortolita Rd, turn left and continue
1 mile to the trailhead.
INFO & MAP: Pima County Parks & Recreation

Monday, October 24, 2016


Little Bear Trail, October 2016

Before the 2010 Schultz Fire charred much of the forest around Flagstaff's Dry Lake Hills, a stand of Big-tooth maples on Little Bear Trail filled a gorge overlooking cinder cone dotted plains. The sound of their whispering leaves bounced off nearby cliffs where the trail wound around one of a dozen or so switchbacks that ease the hike's 1,100 foot haul to connect with the upper trail system that flows over the slopes of Mount Elden. The maples tickled the edges of a stony ledge with broad views of O'Leary Peak and Sunset Crater jutting from stark, volcanic highlands. On really clear days, the pastel tints of the Painted Desert glint in the distance. This had been one of my favorite contemplative spots in Flagstaff.
Little Bear Trail , July 2009
Little Bear Trail took the brunt of the blaze, which reduced the once deeply wooded trail to charcoal and ash. A heavy monsoon season that followed added to the damage, so the forest service decided to shut the trail down due to safety concerns. Since the fire, I've often wondered if the smattering of maples and aspens along the route had survived. I'd have to wait six years for the answer. After intensive rehabilitation, the trail re-opened on October 20, 2016. Thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers, organizations and local businesses, the trail's treacherous, rocky terrain has been restored to again provide safe passage for non-motorized recreation. Eager to visit my favorite lookout ledge and maples, I hit the trail the day after it re-opened. Starting from the Little Elden trailhead, moderate fire damage appears in fits and starts. Patches of blackened snags interspersed among intact pine-oak woodlands, teased that the fire might not have been that bad. Then, it got worse.
The 2010 Schultz Fire damaged Little Bear Trail
At the Little Bear junction, a panorama of destruction takes center stage. The sight of barren foothills, charcoal matchsticks that had been Douglas firs and sun washed meadows where Gambel oaks once grew in profusion beneath old growth Ponderosa pines felt like a kick in the gut. Although much of the 3.4-mile route was unrecognizable, short segments of surviving forest and the brilliant trail restoration work lifted my spirits. My stony ledge lookout was there, but the pines that had framed it were gone, but hints of maple resurgence and piles of spent aspen leaves inspired me to keep moving. Near the trail's high point, it appears the fire ran out of energy, thus sparing the forest and a patch a spindly aspens abutting the Sunset Trail junction. All was not lost.
On the way down, I ran into a couple of hikers who had not experienced the route before the fire. "Isn't this a beautiful trail?" one of them blurted out. "Yes, and a beautiful day, too." the other gushed. On both accounts, it was.
Pine seedlings are part of the restoration
LENGTH: 8.6 miles (up and back)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 7320' - 8430'
In Flagstaff, go north on US 89 to Forest Road 556 (Elden Spring Road, just past mile post 429) turn left and continue 2.4 miles to the trailhead on the right. From the trailhead kiosk, follow the access trail 0.3 mile to the Little Elden (Arizona Trail) junction, go right and continue 0.6 mile to Little Bear Trail. Hike 3.4 miles uphill to the Sunset Trail. Turnaround here or consult maps to make a loop hike.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Monday, October 17, 2016



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Massive granite boulders flank Renegade Trail
In many ways, hiking is a renegade sport. Rebellious souls who answer the call of the wild grow impervious to heavy packs, sore feet, gross food, weather and self doubt. They pee in the forest and sleep on the ground while working around physical obstacles and an array of toxic plants and poisonous critters. To the hiker-at-heart, this is fun. So it's fitting that a new trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve pays homage to those who approach the trails unwashed, unshaven and living the dream. Renegade Trail is just one example of the preserve's route monikers that embrace our Western heritage with seasonings of humor and irony. Examples include, Wrangler, Rustler, Buckshot, Cow Poke and the crown jewel--Whiskey Bottle. Kudos to the preserve's naming committee which I imagine conjure these names over beers at a honky tonk.
A blind corner on Desperado Trail
Tucked into the preserve's northeast corner, Renegade Trail rumbles through a mix of wide open spaces and boulder-choked passages miles from established trailheads. The primary reward of hiking the extra miles to reach this route is escape from the crowds that tend to wander the curiosity-rich trails to the south. Quieter surroundings make for better opportunities to spot the Red-tailed hawks, ravens, coyotes and reptiles that disappear among the area's rocky crevasses when human traffic is high. Like all trails in the preserve, there's more than one way to incorporate the Renegade Trail into a day hike.
The "Michelin Man" 
Here's one circuit that takes you through a gnarly bike path and a scenic box canyon with swings around a "Michelin Man" cactus and a magnificent crested saguaro.
Big desert views on Renegade Trail
From the trailhead, follow the 136th Street Trail 2.2 miles north to the Renegade Trail junction. Follow Renegade 2.1 miles to where it ends at High Desert Trail. Backtrack 0.7 mile, veer right onto Desperado Trail and follow it 0.5 mile to Coyote Canyon Trail. Turn left, hike 0.5 mile and head right on Dove Valley Trail. Follow DVT 1 mile to 136th Street Trail, go right and hike 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 8.3 miles round trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,614' - 2,849'
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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


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Monday, October 10, 2016


The flowing profiles of Mingus and Woodchute Mountains are familiar sights hovering over the arty community of Jerome. Popular year-round for hiking, camping and day-trip picnicing, this recreation hub located between Prescott and Jerome features trails that wander around the rounded summits and precipitous edges. In autumn, forests of Gamble oaks and Big-tooth maples that drench the slopes in warm shades of crimson and gold add spectacular color to an already amazing set of trails. Here are three to try.
Woodchute Wilderness Area
Woodchute Trail
Cooler temperatures and shorter days of autumn work together to paint the oak trees on Woodchute Mountain in a palette of orange and gold. The mountain is really more of a long ridgeline with Prescott Valley on one side and grand views of the red cliffs of Sedona and the peaks of Flagstaff on the other. Easy-to-follow, trail No. 102 meanders 3.7 miles up the mountain on a moderate slope that swings from east to west showcasing vistas of much of northern Arizona.
Beginning at 7,000', the hike culminates with an easy stroll across a breezy high prairie that dead-ends at the 7,600' east face of the mountain. Here, blood-red maples and honey-colored scrub oaks frame views of Jerome and the Verde Valley.
Gambel oaks on Woodchute Trail, Oct. 17th
GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on State Route 89A to the turn off for Potato Patch Campground. Turn right and continue .3 mile to the signed road for the Woodchute trailhead on the left and follow it to a parking loop with restrooms. Those without a high clearance vehicle should park here. To find the trailhead, head right (east) and hike or drive (high clearance needed) up Forest Road 106 (also signed as FR 102/106) for a half-mile to the wilderness sign and trail register. If you opt to hike the road, add 1 mile to the trip length above.
Prescott National Forest
View Point Trail, Oct. 10th
A traipse through an archway of toasty golden oaks sets the stage for the hallmark mountain vistas and brilliant foliage of the View Point Trail No. 106. Beyond this “grand entrance” the slender path begins its gradual, 2-mile descent along the east face of Mingus Mountain weaving through a mixed bag of terrain including exposed juniper-agave high desert and pine-oak forests fringed with Big-tooth maples. From the trail’s high vantage point, the towns of Jerome and Cottonwood appear like scribbles on a map far below while the course of the Verde River paints a lazy swath of green on a brown landscape. Just past the 1.3-mile mark, at the junction for trail 105A, the route makes a severe dip into the canyon. It’s here where the hike rating goes from moderate to difficult as the path clamors roughly 700 feet downhill on loose rocks to the turn around point at Allen Springs Road. Casual hikes can opt to stay on the high road and make the junction their turnaround point instead. Elevation range is 7,800' - 6,000'.
View Point Trail, Oct 10th
GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on State Route 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Take an immediate left and park in the circular turnout near the “106” trail sign.
Prescott National Forest
North Mingus Trail, Oct 11th
An eclectic mix of scenery and forests are the highlights of the North Mingus Trail No.105. Although there are two trailheads for this route, most hikers choose to start at the top of Mingus Mountain and hike downhill. That’s because the route is easier to follow when hiked in this direction. Right from the start, this popular trail will “wow” you with magnificent views from 7,800 feet atop a pine-shaded hang glider launch pad.
Here, the rugged Verde Valley rolls out 1,600 feet below. The 8.5-mile roundtrip hike begins with a pleasant stroll across the mountain summit under a canopy of warm gold Gambel oaks huddling beneath enormous conifirs. After this short “warm up” section, the trail dips downhill along the north face through colorful corridors of Big-tooth maples, boxelders and velvet ash. Soon, the path enters an enchanting passage where a mass of volcanic boulders cascade down a slender slot canyon where vertical stony walls and a stand of aspens thrive in the cooler microclimate. Past the aspen grove, the trail enters a more arid clime with intermittent sections of grasslands, fields of agave and ridgelines studded with whispy mountain mahogany. An abandoned mine marks the point where the trail merges with an old Jeep road that leads downhill to Mescal Spring at 6,000 feet, the turnaround point for the hike. This trail also can be hiked one-way using a car shuttle at each trailhead.
North Mingus Trail, Oct 11th
GETTING THERE: Mingus Mountain trailhead: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on Highway 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Turn left here and go uphill to the trailhead near the hang glider launch pad. Mescal Spring trailhead: From Jerome, go 4 miles southwest on Highway 89A. Just before sign for Prescott National Forest, between mileposts 339 and 338, turn left onto an unmarked dirt road (Forest Road 338). FR 338 is a very rough 4x4 road so those without appropriate vehicles should park in the turnouts along the highway. Continue down FR 338 for a half-mile to the cement tank that marks Mescal Spring. From here, veer right (southwest) and go uphill. Bear left at all unmarked junctions until you reach the signed turn off for trail No. 105 on the right. This route adds one mile to the hike description above.

Monday, September 26, 2016


McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale.
North Diablo Trail 
A sign at the entrance to the Diablo Trails in McDowell Sonoran Preserve warns of steep rock slabs, vertical drops, uneven terrain and protruding rocks. Count me in! This recently revealed "forbidden zone" was developed as a technical bike circuit replete with slick stone traverses, boulder hops and swooping bends divided into a maze of loops with varying levels of difficulty. Located north of Cholla Mountain, the trails wind among granite outcroppings and rolling foothills with big sky views of Tonto National Forest peaks.
Entrance to Diablo Trails
Although it's clear that this compact mosh pit caters to bikers who want to test their mettle, hikers need not stay in their lane. The circuit is open to foot traffic as well and makes for an endlessly customizable trip for hikers who enjoy exploring semi-uncharted land. There are numerous ways to get to the site, but the quickest begins at the Brown's Ranch Trailhead with a 2.8-mile trek on connecting paths. Here's how: hike 1 mile north on Brown's Ranch Road and turn right onto Maverick Trail. Continue 0.8 mile to Cholla Mountain Loop, turn left and hike 0.7 mile to Stagecoach Trail. Follow Stagecoach 0.3 mile to the Diablo Trails entrance. Beyond the gate, the trails are not marked with mileages. I hiked around using The Divide Trail (Maricopa Trail) to connect the North and South systems for 3.4 miles, but I did not do all the side loops. A rider I ran into on the trails told me that this maze has been known to bikers for awhile, but it first appeared on official preserve maps released for Fall 2016, thus exposing its existence to the rest of us.
South Diablo Trail

LENGTH: Variable, but 9 miles as described here.
RATING: easy-moderate for hikers, difficult for bikes
ELEVATION: 2710' - 2969'
South Diablo Trails
Brown's Ranch Trailhead:
30301 N. Alma School Road, Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite, turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School Road. Turn left and continue 1 mile to the trailhead. There are restrooms, water and maps at the trailhead. No fee.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Oaks and Maples on Boynton Canyon Trail
Right about the same time when the aspens of Arizona's mountain climes have passed their fall color prime, the high desert forests around Sedona are just about ready to peak. Although there are dozens of Sedona-area trails with great autumn leaf viewing, the West Fork of Oak Creek gets most of the love.
With its sound-bouncing russet canyon walls, cascading water and brilliant stand of maples, it's no wonder hikers make a beeline to this hot spot in October.
Although it's arguably the top fall color spot in the state, it will cost you ten bucks to get in and if you arrive later than 8 a.m., you'll probably have to wait around for a parking space.
It's worth the money and the wait, so go ahead and get that one out of your system. Then move on to these other Red Rock Country canyons where you can soak up the eye candy in quieter, gentler surroundings.
Bear Sign Trail, Oct 25
Unlike some Sedona routes that have been worn smooth by love, this one feels raw and remote. Tucked into weather scoured hinterlands of Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness, the moderate hike rambles through classic high desert flora before ducking into the damp, upper reaches of Bear Sign Canyon. The color show here is courtesy of mustard-colored Gambel oaks, lemony Canyon grape vines, russet sycamores and shocks of crimson sumac scrambled among forests of Arizona cypress and juniper scrub. Actual bear sightings are rare, but signs of their foraging are common along the trail. The hike can be done as a 6-mile out-and-back or as a 7.2-mile loop with David Miller and Secret Canyon Trails. Elevation range is 4,880 to 5,640 feet.
Getting there:
From the "Y" intersection of State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right, go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152), hang a right and continue 4.5 miles to the Dry Creek #52 trailhead located past the Vultee Arch parking loop on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
Templeton Trail, Nov. 3
In a woodsy bend where Oak Creek swerves around Cathedral Rock, willows and cottonwoods arch over the steel blue waterway, caressing the flow that reflects autumn foliage in syrupy whirlpools. To reach the water from the trailhead, follow a 0.3-mile access path along a combo of constructed rock stairs and slick red sandstone marked by basket cairns to the Cathedral Rock/Templeton junction sign. Straight ahead is a short (0.4 mile), semi-technical rock scramble leading to two nice vista points----optional, but not this hike. Instead, head right and follow Templeton, which clings to a rugged, yucca cluttered slope. After about a half-mile, the path swerves for first views of Oak Creek and its flood plains. Here, the route makes an easy but edgy descent to the forested color frenzy along the waterway. A kaleidoscope of massive sycamore, cottonwood, of alder, sumac, willow, walnut and countless shrubs (beware of poison ivy) glow like beacons among cypress and junipers with a backdrop of rusty cliffs to boot. Along the next half-mile, the trail stays by the water exposing countless root-tangled coves and shady spots to relax in this high-desert oasis.
Getting there:
From Interstate 17, take the Sedona/Oak Creek exit 298. Turn left (west) and continue 11 miles on State Route 179 to the traffic circle at Back O’ Beyond Road near milepost 310. Veer left and go 0.6 mile on Back O’ Beyond to the Cathedral Rock trailhead on the left.
Boynton Canyon, Oct. 23
Already a hiker favorite for its spectacular geology and soul tingling vortex virtues, the haunting trip through Boynton Canyon also brims with autumnal color beginning in mid-October.
You'll need to hike a few miles through sunny yucca and manzanita before reaching the mouth of the canyon where a frenzy of maple, hoptree, alder and oak trees that sway in gorge-fueled breezes appear as animated watercolors and stained glass. The 7.4-miles roundtrip hike climbs from 4,500 to 5,050 feet, ending in a box canyon wrapped in red sandstone walls soaring hundreds of feet overhead.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right onto Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C) go 3 miles to Boynton Canyon Road, turn left and proceed another 0.3 miles to the parking lot on the right. Roads are paved. FEE: Red Rock Pass--$5 per vehicle is required
Secret Canyon, Oct. 24
A community of pinion pines, juniper and assorted cacti at the trailhead belie what lies ahead on Secret Canyon Trail. Epic views of Sedona’s red rock landscape dominate the first 1.75 miles of this 11-mile roundtrip hike before the trail makes a sharp westward swerve at the mouth of the canyon. From here, the route leaves the shade-less chaparral plunging into a stream bed where torrential storm runoff and blowing dust have carved bizarre sculptures in the sandstone escarpments flanking the path. Residual pools of water stand at the bases of moisture-hungry cottonwoods with heart-shaped, lemony leaves.
Near the 5-mile point, the trail enters “the narrows”, a series of slick-rock corridors hemmed in by a vertical fortification of sandstone with clusters of blood-red maples and rusty-orange oaks bursting from the rubble-strewn canyon floor. Beyond this point, the trail degrades into a quagmire of scree and undergrowth, which is why most hikers make the narrows their turnaround point. However, those with good route-finding skills can opt to scramble, squeeze and scoot along a sketchy footpath for another half-mile. Elevation range is 4,500 to 5,100 feet.
Getting there:
From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) and go 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152). Turn right and continue 3.4 miles to the trailhead on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
Red Rock State Park, Oct 17th
Tame by comparison to some of the aforementioned destinations, the 5-mile trail system at Red Rock State Park is neatly groomed, well signed and outfitted with wooden bridges where they cross Oak Creek. The lovely creekside foliage is augmented with family-friendly features such as a visitor center, picnic areas, restrooms and educational programs. Elevation is 3,880 to 4,080 feet.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) on Highway 89A for 5.5 miles to Lower Red Rock Loop Road and follow the signs 3.3 miles to Red Rock State Park. The park is open 7 days 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Entry fee is $7 for adults, $4 for youth 7-13 and free for kids 0-6. Pets are not allowed.