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Tuesday, January 28, 2020



Hells Canyon Wilderness Area
A stock tank on Spring Valley Trail
When the itch to “Get the hell out of Dodge” hits Arizona city-dwelling hikers, sometimes all it takes to scratch it is a free afternoon and a short drive. 

A rustic gate frames views of distant Tonto NF peaks
Spanning 9,951 acres of backcountry a few mile northwest of Lake Pleasant approximately 25 miles north of Phoenix, Hells Canyon Wilderness Area offers a quick way to escape into an untamed swath of desert that’s more paradise than purgatory.
Small in comparison to other Arizona wilderness areas like Mazatzal (252,500 acres) and Superstition (160,200 acres)  Hells Canyon, which straddles Maricopa and Yavapai counties, was established in 1990 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
A hiker takes in the views from a ledge above Garfias Wash
Of the several sketchy routes that wander through the area, the most popular and easiest to follow is the Spring Valley Trail. Except for a few BLM posts at the trailhead, the route is refreshingly devoid of signage which complements the hike’s remote atmosphere.  Navigating the trail involves only two crux moves: finding the trailhead and climbing down into Garfias Wash. For the later, the problem is easily solved by paying attention at the parking area.
From the dirt turnouts near a cattle guard on the access road, locate the small trail sign on the west berm. Then, look across the creek bed and spot the white trail register and a huge rock cairn that mark the official trailhead. Next, hike a few yards down the road, turn onto a wide dirt two-track and follow it a short way to a worn sign where you’ll turn right and use a series of cairns to work your way across the usually dry corridor of Castle Creek. From the register, head right and uphill along a well-defined path. At the top of the rise, go left where two big cairns mark the unsigned junction of the Spring Valley and Hermit trails. Beyond this point it’s clear sailing.
Spring Valley Trail is in Hells Canyon Wilderness Area
The trail dips and climbs through rocky terrain in the foothills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains passing by brilliant ocher mounds of volcanic tuff (compacted ash) embedded with rock fragments and other pyroclastic particles welded in a haphazard concrete-like structures. The trail’s west side is dominated by a sheer ridge line that rises to 2,904 feet. Below its crumbling slopes, acres of giant saguaros tower above sunny fields that are productive environs for spring wildflowers. 
Finding the trailhead isn't too difficult is you pay attention
Just past the one-mile point, the trail crosses and earthen dam that contains a stock tank frequented by native wildlife and the feral burros that live in the area.   
A rock cairn marks the way across Castle Creek
Although you may or may not catch a glimpse of the burros, their footprints and droppings around the tank and throughout the hike belie their presence. If you encounter them, it’s smart to keep your distance because they’ve been known to kick. Also, as with all wild animals, never approach, harass or feed them.  As the trail moves toward its highest point, be sure to pause and take in the ever-widening views of Castle Creek Wilderness and the Bradshaw Mountains in Prescott National Forest to the north and the New River Mountains in Tonto National Forest to the east and the glinting waters of Lake Pleasant.
The trail seems to end at the nose of the ridge overlooking Garfias Wash, but there are several options to extend the trek. You can opt to follow a faint trail heading right and an even more sketchy path that spins off the obvious trail and switchbacks steeply down to the wash or continue on a narrow cairned path that swerves north tracing the ridge line. Either way, the area’s rough nooks, washes and interesting geology hold many scenic surprises to explore.
The area's sunny slopes burst with wildflowers in spring
Lake Pleasant stands out on the southeast horizon
When done poking around, head back the way you came making note of distant dust plumes being kicked up by vehicles driving north toward Castle Hot Springs resort. The recently resurrected private spa secluded at the base of 3,260-foot Governors Peak is a luxury oasis built around natural hot springs that have attracted tourists since 1896.
The trail traces the slopes below Peak 2904
Huge saguaros thrive in the rugged backcountry
The trail has a remote, feral atmosphere.
A tiny sign on Castle Hot Springs Road directs hikers
Volcanic tuff features line the route
Hiker walks a ridge above Garfias Wash
Castle Hot Springs resort is hidden in the hills to the north
It’s not visible from the trail, but the posh, palm-shaded refuge that’s located just north of the wilderness boundary offers an alternative way to escape from Dodge for those who prefer clean sheets Green Garden Gazpacho and craft cocktails over wilderness staples of tents, trail mix and electrolyte drinks.
LENGTH: 5 miles out-and-back
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 1,800 – 1,920 feet
Castle Creek Trailhead
From Interstate 17 in Phoenix, take the State Route 74 exit 223 (Carefree Highway) and go 11.4 miles west (toward Wickenburg) to Castle Hot Springs Road which is signed for Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Follow Castle Hot Springs Road 5.4 miles to the stop sign at the park’s north entrance. Turn left and drive 5.4 miles to a cattle guard past milepost 25 and park in any of the dirt turnouts along the road. Castle Hot Springs Road is graded dirt suitable for carefully-driven sedans. Part of the road crosses Castle Creek which may be impassable after storms.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Lizard Head (center) is a familiar sight along Dry Creek Rd.

L-R: Lizard Head, Capitol Butte, Chimney Rock
She’s impossible to miss.
Agaves frame views from Chimney Pass
The dragon-esque rock formation that looms above Dry Creek Road in Sedona’s northwest sector looms like a sentinel guarding the western edge of Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. Created by eons of plate tectonics, running water and blowing dust, had the prominent nub been sculpted by human hands instead, it might have been titled Reptile in Repose
Chimney Rock seen from the Andante trail
Aptly named Lizard Head, the stony escarpment is one of several impressive geological features visible from a cluster of trails that wander along the southern slopes of Capitol Butte, a 6,355-foot massif that’s also known as Thunder Mountain. Several trailheads provide easy access to the Lizard Head trail which passes just below the pseudo-reptile’s snout. 
Lizard Head stands out over Lower Chimney Rock Trail
One route that gets bonus points for its swing around iconic Chimney Rock and an optional summit climb side trip begins at the tiny Andante trailhead located a mile north of State Route 89A.
Doe Mtn (mesa in center) seen from Upper Chimney Rock
The circuit begins with a short walk on the Andante trail. At the first junction, turn right on the Chimney Rock trail and hike up the series of staircases cut from native red sandstone that lead to Chimney Pass—a narrow, wilderness corridor between the smokestack-like form of Chimney Rock and the crumbling cliffs of Thunder Mountain.  In just over a half-mile, turn right onto the Lizard Head trail.
Red rock boulders on Thunder Mountain Trail
The 1.2-mile path is a slender, ever steeping course that tops out at a scenic overlook at the half-mile point with views of the Cockscomb rock formation, Doe Mountain, Mingus Mountain and sprawling suburbs.
Mingus Mtn and Cockscomb seen from Lizard Head Trail
Beyond the scenic bench, the trail dips down to connect with the Chuckwagon trail near Dry Creek Road. If you parked a shuttle vehicle here, you can call it a day, otherwise, backtrack and hike a half-mile on Lower Chimney Rock trail to an optional up-and-back climb to a spot just below the 4,872-foot summit of Little Sugarloaf. The short but steep path climbs 150 feet in under a quarter mile but the extra effort rewards with more epic vistas and a chance to catch your breath before descending to connect with the Thunder Mountain trail for the final 0.7-mile return leg.
Part of the hike is in Red Rock Secret Mtn Wilderness 
If you’re up for more, consult the forest service maps to explore the many adjacent paths that roam around more famous Sedona rock pinnacles like Coffeepot Rock and the Sugarloaf.
A jumbled wash on Lizard Head Trail
LENGTH: 4.5 miles as described here
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  4,560 - 4,800 feet
Andante Trailhead:
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 2.5 miles west on 89A to Andante Drive. Turn right and follow Andante Dr.  1 mile to the trailhead. Hike begins at the big map kiosk.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Maricopa Trail: Lake Pleasant – Anthem

MARICOPA TRAIL: Lake Pleasant – Anthem
The route dips into a drainage area alive with greenery

This section of the MT passes by the Waddell Canal
Saguaros tower over tangled desert trees on the MT
Finding water in the desert is kind of like striking gold. This is especially true for hikers accustomed to desert trails where there’s seldom any water except for puddles and stock tanks.  Not so on the Lake Pleasant-Anthem segment of the Maricopa Trail. 
Waddell Dam and the lower lake from the Maricopa Trail
The 16-mile stretch of the 317-mile Valley-circling route passes by an important water resource hub.  
Ironwood shade a water-scoured section of the trail
Located south of lake Pleasant Regional Park, the Agua Fria trailhead serves as the launch point for an interesting hike that moves from a sparsely populated watershed area to the busy suburbs of the north Valley. 
Beyond the lake, the trail goes thru mostly flat, open desert
There’s a map kiosk and pay station at the trailhead, but you’ll only need to pay the $7 fee if you intend to take the 2.7-mile spur trail north into the park. This hike heads east (go right at the map sign) along a dirt single track that soon crosses a paved road where several signs point to the where the Maricopa Trail turns south toward the White Tank Mountains. Pay attention here because the route you want follows the road a few yards farther where a small sign post hidden among mesquite trees marks where the trail leaves the road and continues uphill.  The path ascend the banks of the Waddell Canal topping out over its terminus with great views of the Waddell Dam and the lower lake beneath it. 
Part of the route overlooks Lake Pleasant
Standing 300 feet above the Agua Fria riverbed, the 4,700-foot-long dam that contains Lake Pleasant’s 10,000-acre surface is an impressive sight.  Another short uphill section lands hikers on a cholla-cluttered flat with glimpses of the lake peeking out over tall saguaros.  Soon, the trail begins a descent into a water-ravaged corridor with steep walls of stream deposits and soft-sand washes. 
A hiker navigates a bend in the trail
This scenic section winds through thick desert trees and shrubs, crossing the wash several times before it climbs out of the gorge along a cacti-studded ledge. 
Sheer wall of stream debris bolster washes along the way
Once out of the drainage, the trail calms down on a flat open area near the Maricopa Water District facilities and the Pleasant Harbor RV park. Here views of the Peoria peaks of Calderwood Butte, East Wing and West Wing mountains standout on the near horizon while the New River and Cave Creek mountain ranges bolster the north horizon. From this point on, the hike is a relatively flat stroll over open desert.  If you prefer a less level or shorter day hike, a good option is to turn around at New River Road for a 7.2-mile out and back trip. Otherwise, keep on trekking.
Strawberry hedgehog cacti grow from a cliff face on the trail
At the 9.2-mile mark, the route makes a sharp turn north and follows the Black Canyon Trail for 1.1 mile before heading east again passing by a pistol range before ducking through a tunnel under Interstate 17 and into suburbs.
LENGTH:  7.2 miles to New River Road and back or 16 miles one way for entire segment
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 1,406 - 1,743 feet
Agua Fria Trailhead:
From Interstate 17 in Phoenix, take the State Route 74 (Carefree Highway) exit 223 and go 8.8 mile west on SR 74 to the turn off for the Beardsley CSR access road. Turn right and continue a short distance to the parking area. 


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

PHOENIX Magazine The Hike Book

PHOENIX Magazine The Hike Book

If you love hiking, check out my new book.
From the makers of PHOENIX Magazine
this 8” x 10”, 256 page, full-color, gift-able book is a guide to 228 Arizona trails. Winter visitors, newcomers and life-long residents alike will use this book to travel beyond the crowded usual places to discover amazing desert treks, mountain ascents, watery walks and forest rambles. The straightforward, visually-rich volume is organized by state regions with clear descriptions of difficulty levels, lengths, kid appeal and interesting things to look for along the way. 
Curated with hikers of all levels of experience in mind, this beautifully-illustrated collection will be a go to
source for building an Arizona hiking check list.
Proudly produced and printed in ARIZONA. 
Support local.

Available in select stores Mid-February 2020:
Costco | Walgreens | REI
Sprouts | Barnes & Noble | AJ’s | Whole Foods 
Just Roughin’ It |
Phoenix Sky Harbor - PHOENIX magazine Best of the Valley Store 

Begins shipping last week in January 2020.

Sunday Feb. 9, 2020: Willo Home Tour

Saturday Mar. 7, 2020: M7 Street Fair

More events coming...

Monday, January 6, 2020

Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District.
Panther Peak (center distance) looms over Panther Peak Wash
Situated in an airy wilderness in the northwest sector of Saguaro National Park, Panther Peak Wash trail delves into an unusual niche of the park’s varied eco-zones.
Panther Peak (L) and Safford Peak (R) from Cam-Boh trail
The trail sits at the base of a ragged ridgeline dominated by Safford Peak (3,563 feet) and Panther Peak (3,435 feet) and follows the sandy course of a desert drainage that funnels runoff from the surrounding Tucson Mountains. 
Saguaros grow above the sandy course of Panther Peak Wash
A bobcat footprint in Panther Peak Wash
A popular way to approach this hike is to make a loop by tying in the Cam-Boh and Roadrunner trails.
Santa Catalina Mtns seen from Panther Peak Wash trail
From the parking lot at the Cam-Boh picnic area, start at the west end of the lot where a map kiosk shows an overview of the route and key topographic features.  
The first leg of the hike follows the Cam-Boh trail 1.3 miles through open desert with clear views of the peaks and the Santa Catalina Mountains to the east. Massive chain fruit cholla, ocotillo and (of course) saguaros grow profusely on the sunny desert plains. The route hops over Prophecy Wash and crosses Picture Rocks Road before connecting with the Panther Peak Wash trail. After a short traipse through more flat desert on a slender single track, the route enters the wash proper. Here, the trail becomes a broad, sandy corridor that weaves among loose rock bluffs, jagged bends, shallow caves and narrow mesquite-shaded passages.
Junction for the Roadrunner trail is easy to miss
Water-scoured banks of Panther Peak Wash
Distant Picacho Peak seen from Roadrunner trail
Flood waters expose tree roots in Panther Peak Wash
Mesquite trees shade a bend in Panther Peak Wash
Environment-shaping power of water is evident on the route
Scoured escarpments, jostled boulders, and piles of twisted plants torn from the roots and smashed into heaps at the base of resilient ironwoods are evidence of the environment-shaping power of running water. This is not a hike to do during or shortly following rain storms as you could be injured or swept away.
Throughout the wash leg of the route, the soaring russet form of Panther Peak stands out to the north while a wall of smaller but equally striking pinnacles hover over the trail. 
Striking geological features are plentiful along the loop hike
Between ogling the mountains and curious rock deposits, keep an eye out for the easy-to-miss turnoff for the Roadrunner trail on the left. A small metal sign set roughly 10 feet beyond the bank of the wash marks the start of the 1.4-mile return leg. Standout elements of the final mile that parallels a quiet community of ranch homes are glimpses of Picacho Peak to the northwest and views of a dense saguaro forest blanketing a craggy ridgeline.  
Cholla cacti line the Cam-Boh trail
LENGTH: 4.5 mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,278 – 2,530 feet
FEE: $15 - $25 for a 7-day pass. Interagency annual passes also accepted.
There’s a scannable QR code at the trailhead kiosk to pay by mobile devise.
Fee free days for 2020: MLK Day Jan 20, April 18, August 25, Sept. 26, Nov. 11
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Ina Road exit 248 and go 2.7 miles west to Wade Road.
Continue 0.6 mile on Wade Road, turn right onto Picture Rocks Road and go 3.5 miles to the Cam-Boh picnic area on the left.  There’s a restroom at the trailhead.

Thursday, January 2, 2020


The Natural Tunnel is a key attraction in Hidden Valley
Theoretically, hikers should be the last people who’d succumb to not being able to see the forest for the trees. The ubiquitous expression describes a common affliction of missing the “big picture” in a haze of minutia.
Lush desert vegetation on the National Trail
Hikers are not immune from its soul-sapping vortex.
Tethered to fitness apps and ear buds, some hikers detach from their surroundings in pursuit of faster times and harder, longer, more remote trails while buying into the assumption that the “best” trails exist in a faraway ether dripping in unattainability and mystique.  
Although few would argue against the benefits of setting and achieving goals, what constitutes a “best” trail is debatable.
Fat Man's Pass is the gateway to Hidden Valley
When approached from a see-the-forest perspective, even oft-maligned, old standard trails can qualify as top destinations. Take, for instance, the Mormon Trail-Hidden Valley Loop in South Mountain Park.  Because it’s located close to town, the route can get very busy.  Social media is replete with negative comments about noisy groups, irresponsible hikers, food scraps, dog poo and painted rocks meant as inspirational gifts left in trees and clefts.  But it’s a mistake to let these spoilers suck all the air out of the room. 
The classic Phoenix circuit has many of the positive components on hiker check lists. Some moderate climbing. Check. Epic views. Check. Heritage sites, gnarly rock passages and hidden finds. Check, check, check. 
The Mormon Trail climbs 700 feet up Neighborhood Can.
Watch for Hohokam rock art on the trails.
Adding to its appeal, this iconic route gets the climbing out of the way at the beginning while legs are still fresh.  The uphill portion on the Mormon Trail crawls 700 feet up Neighborhood Canyon dodging among massive boulders, slickrock corridors and desert flora adapted to South Mountain’s craggy environs. Weathered rock slabs that hang from cliffs form odd sculptures and that frame views of the Valley and surrounding mountain ranges.
Far-reaching vistas on the National Trail
At the 1.2-mile point, a sign marks the junction of two connected loops. To start with the shorter Hidden Valley Loop, continue straight ahead on Mormon Trail and head right on the National Trail.  In just under a half mile, the trail encounters Fat Man’s Pass. A tight squeeze through a slim but short crack between boulders serves as a gateway to Hidden Valley.
Petroglyph panel at the Natural Tunnel
The enchanting half-mile walk in a secluded corridor ends with a passage through a natural tunnel well-known for its rock overhangs, sandy substrate, a petroglyph panel and lush drainage-fed vegetation. Beyond the tunnel, go right at the National Trail junction and follow the route 1.4 miles to the Mormon Loop Trail. Hang a left and walk the 1.1-mile return leg that traces a ridgeline where a major rock art site as well and a wash with many more petroglyphs etched into the rock veneer by the ancient Hohokam people who were active in the area from roughly A.D. 450 to 1450 embellish the trail.
This double loop hike is well-signed throughout.
To protect these irreplaceable heritage sites as well as sensitive vegetation and wildlife habitats, it’s important to stay on trails and not touch or alter anything.
Snow-covered Mt. Ord seen from Mormon Loop 12-31-19
Photographs are encouraged, though.  
A lone Palo verde tree anchors a curve on the National Trail
The big picture take away here is that the Mormon Trail-Hidden Valley Loop is a wonderful hike just a few miles from Downtown Phoenix.  It would be terrible to let distractions asphyxiate its virtues.
Triangle-leaf bursage adds a minty fragrance to the trails
Once we lose our sense of wonder and the ability to see beyond loud, immediate things on a hiking trail, what’s left are rote progressions chronicled on Instagram. 
LENGTH: 6.2 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,280 – 2,080 feet
From central Phoenix, go south on 7th Avenue to Baseline Road. Turn left (east) and continue to 24th Street. Turn right (south) and to Euclid, turn left and continue a few yards to the trailhead on the right.