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Friday, November 10, 2017


Marcus Landslide Trail
Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve is home to dozens of impressive geological features. While many, like Tom's Thumb, and Brown's Mountain, are impossible to miss, the one that eclipses them all takes a trained eye to locate and appreciate. 
Granite boulders along the trail
If you didn't know it was there, you'd probably never even notice the massive rockfall area called Marcus Landslide. Discovered in 2002 by a pair of local geologists, the nearly mile-long wreckage is comprised of an estimated 25.8 billion pounds of rubble.
Mushroom rock
The slide occurred during the Pleistocene Ice Age about a half-million years ago when a colder, wetter climate may have instigated the slide which shaved 1,200 feet off the ridge line releasing energy equivalent to an atomic bomb blast. The trail, which is named for former Arizona State University geography professor Melvin Marcus, loops among the slide's components giving a comprehensive overview of the magnitude and scope of the event.  Although interpretive signs placed along the eponymous trail that leads to the site give enough information for the casual visitor,  scheduled steward-led hikes get deeper into the science.
Marcus Landslide site
This highly-trained corps of McDowell Sonoran Conservancy volunteers in bright blue shirts will help you gain an appreciation for the complex beauty of the McDowell Mountains.
Besides the ubiquitous landslide, the easy trail makes a loopy tour through crops of weathered granite “mushroom” rocks and stony hackberry-lined corridors with breathtaking views of the Fountain Hills area, Verde River valley and Superstition Wilderness. The more you learn about this fascinating, 30,580-acre slice of pristine Sonoran Desert, the more you'll want to return again and again to hike its more than 180 miles of trails.
Mushroom nursery
LENGTH: 3.7-mile loop (4.2 miles with optional side trips)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,800’ – 2,500’
HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily
FACILITIES: restrooms, NO water
BEST SEASON: October -April
View of Four Peaks 
GETTING THERE: Tom's Thumb Trailhead:
From the Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and continue 5 miles north on Pima to Happy Valley Road. Turn right (east) and go 4.1 miles on Happy Valley to Ranch Gate. Turn right on Ranch Gate, follow it 1.2 miles then turn right onto 128th St. and continue 1 mile on 128th to the signed trailhead. Roads are paved all the way.
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy:
Scheduled Hikes:
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Arizona Geological Survey

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Preparedness Tales from the Trails

Preparedness Tales from the Trails
Proper gear and a plan reduce the chance of tragic outcomes.
I am a massive pain in the posterior to hike with.
Anybody who's familiar with the way I operate knows that I'm extremely detail oriented. When
planning a hike, I like to know where I'm going, how to get there, the trail stats and what I'll need for gear and supplies. I assemble maps, GPS track, driving directions and Plan B alternatives in case of weather, road or trail closures. I have very limited free time, so it's annoying to me when unnecessary delays and foibles rob from trail time. My pace is moderate because I'm constantly stopping for photos, taking notes and I often pause on the trail to watch wildlife. Squirrels, birds, sunrises, running water, random shiny stuff---I stop for all these things.
In addition to my over-planning proclivities, I'm a hardcore advocate of safe hiking practices and believe that we should approach nature with humility and respect, not arrogance.
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of hiking is introducing beginners to Arizona trails. Smart novice hikers embrace the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know and are open to learning new skills and responsible trail habits.  Of course, nobody is immune from accidents or the occasional judgment flub, including expert, well-prepared hikers. Accounts of hiker tragedies are replete the phrase; “and the victims were experienced hikers.”  But, basic safeguards can reduce the chance of unfortunate outcomes. So, as we enter full-blown hiking season in the Valley of the Sun, I thought I’d share a selection of comical preparedness blunders and near miss tragedies on hikes I have lead over the years so that we may laugh and learn together.
But, You Said; “Be Prepared”.
One guy showed up at a hike meet place and asked to hitch a ride with me. He then proceeded to load a giant duffle bag, 12-quart cooler, 2 pairs of boots, sandals, a fanny pack and backpack worthy of an Everest expedition. We were just going on a 6-mile hike a few miles north of Phoenix, but I felt confident we could have bivouacked for days if needed. Totally my kind of guy!
Snakes? What Snakes?
Buzz worm
While hiking a trail in early May, my group encountered seven rattlesnakes before reaching our turn around point. Now, if you've hiked in Arizona for more than five minutes, the first rule you learn about snakes is to never put your hands or feet in places you cannot see. At the turnaround point, we took a lunch break in a lovely cove surrounded by vertical sandstone ledges. Wouldn't you know it, some Bozo saw this as the perfect opportunity to do some blind, hand-over-foot bouldering. Many of us advised him not to do it, given our earlier reptile encounters and--ya know--death by falling. Three tiers up the cliff, the first rattler coiled and hissed just as the climbing hiker was about to hoist himself onto the ledge where it was sunning itself. Another slithered out from a crack near his leg. For a minute there, I was thinking, "Where is that duffle bag guy when you need him?" as I was sure a few people would need a change of underwear after witnessing Bozo barely escape a venous bite seven miles from a trailhead. Arizona Game & Fish Department has a great brochure with information about living with venemous reptiles:
Watch your step!
Ersatz Expert.
A woman with a bad case of over confidence once hitched a ride with me and others to a hike. She had never been on the destination trail yet during the ride, she spewed all kinds of advise about gear, what the trail was going to be like, the weather forecast, places to eat afterwards and contradicted the maps I had provided showing the trail and its stats. She billed herself as an expert hiker, citing "the internet" as her source for all sorts of misinformation she unleashed upon a rapt audience of novice hikers. Had a visitor from outer space been observing this dialogue, the creature surely would have concluded that this "hiking thing" was something done online in a virtual space called "Instagram". The nonstop chatter made this trip one of the most painful in my memory and then, halfway to Flagstaff, the expert announced that she needed to be back in Phoenix by 2 p.m.. I reminded her that the hike description said "all day event with a stop for dinner after" and that we would be on the trail until at least 2 or 3 p.m. "What-ever. The hike won't take that long." she snarled back. At the trailhead she ignored my instructions to stick together and recruited a couple other hikers to join her in speed hiking the route so she could get back to town per her agenda. (Hello. I have the car keys.) Predictably, she led her flock into the wilderness and it was 6 p.m. ( 3 minutes before we planned to call search and rescue) before she and her lost minions stumbled back into the parking lot, bloodied, tired and hungry. We did not go to dinner. This was all my fault. Hiking safety tips from the U.S. Forest Service:
Lollipop Canyon.
When planning a group hike, it's important for the event description to include the trail's length, difficulty level, location and terrain. Leaders agonize over how to be complete yet brief so that hikers can decide if the trek would be a good fit for them. We spell check, double check stats and have friends review for clarity. And guess what; few people read them beyond the trail name headline. I've had participants show up with no idea about the destination or critical details. One person demanded that I change the destination to the place she thought we were going. And my personal favorite: a woman arrived for a hike all excited about going to Lollipop Canyon because she had never heard of it and could not wait to explore a new trail. Actually, the hike write up was for a "lollipop loop" (a short linear access trail toggled to a loop trail) circuit on old familiar routes.
Understand your route before heading out.
Formula for Disaster.
With apologies to Einstein and Hawking, here's my contribution to cosmic theory:
Lost =The Weight of Technical Toys Hanging from Back Pack x Number of Toys / Hiker Wrong Turns.
For example: 3 lbs. of toys (such as GPS, radios, locator beacons, lightning sensors, bear spray, phone apps, etc.) x 2 individual toys / 2 wrong turns on the trail = 3
Score Card:
0 = experienced hiker
1-2= novice
3-5= future statistic
Want to test this theory? Take a group into the wilderness beyond cell phone range and ask everybody to find North.
Tour de Couture.
If you've ever conducted a hike where group policies require the leader to check for hiker
preparedness, the wrong way to go about it is to announce, "Does everybody have the minimum gear and supplies as outlined in the hike description?" Trust me, you will observe a sea of wide-eyed, nodding heads. That's why it's best to do a visual scan and diplomatically address questionable readiness issues directly and discreetly. Some hikers genuinely do not realize they are under prepared while others may be too intimidated to ask for assistance. When it comes to hike preparedness, I give people a lot of slack. As long as minimum requirements for water, gear and safety are met, I'm willing to ignore fashion faux pas and marginal readiness. After all, I pack extra supplies, just in case. Although most hikers usually arrive properly outfitted, there have been several stand out instances of craziness. Like this one. Nothing says amateur quite like showing up for a difficult 8-mile hike in strappy dress shoes, cotton short shorts, bikini top, beautiful chandelier earrings and a purse containing one 12-ounce bottle of water, a bag of carrot sticks, phone and the usual stash of handbag cosmetics. It's not a bad ensemble for a walk around the block, but on a backcountry trail it could cause a twisted ankle and scratched appendages.  I will spare you the details, but know that I ended up on somebody's "you-know-what list".  Great advise from the City of Phoenix Take A Hike. Do It Right campaign:
Wrong Way Willy.
Plan your route and use a map.
Sometimes things like maps, compasses, sign posts and previous experience on a trail are not enough to prevent a directionally-challenged yet verbally expressive hiker from inciting a "which way riot" at every junction. Assuming " Wrong Way Willy" actually finds a junction---never a guarantee---you can be sure whatever way you want to go will not be correct. One memorable incident happened on a high country trail where "Willy" stubbornly stood his ground at a junction sign near hike's end. With both GPS and phone app in hand, he vehemently argued for a left turn when our vehicles were clearly visible 50 yards down the trail to the right. Moral of the story: read user manuals. Some good 'ol fashion navigation advise:
When Leave No Trace Backfires.
Pack it out. Even "biodegradable" stuff like this.
On all my hikes, I reminded participants of the Leave No Trace principles. One of the most misunderstood (and controversial) principles is that it’s never okay to discard food scraps like orange peels and apple cores along trails. Some people are genuinely unaware of this, so I always remind them and carry extra trash bags in my pack. Once, after a Saturday LNT hike in which I was a designated driver, I had to go out of town on business the next day. When I returned after three days and entered my vehicle I nearly choked on a foul smell. Certain that some critter had crawled into the engine block and died, I stopped off at the repair shop for a quick inspection. The "dead critter" turned out to be a bag of half eaten food that had apparently been stuffed under a seat by a passenger. The plastic bag---which in no way could have gotten there by accident---was oozing a blackish slime generated by a rotting banana, sushi (yes, sushi), a congealed container of yogurt and a desiccated slab of what looked vaguely like a processed meat product.  At least it wasn’t tossed on the trail. Learn about responsible outdoor ethics here:
Mountain Dew, Mountain Don't.
Water. Bring some on your hikes.
Is it too much to ask that hikers show up for a hike with some water? It's astonishing to me how many do not. When a guy showed up for a hike with only a half empty bottle of Mountain Dew in hand for a 10-mile mountain hike, I asked nicely if he'd like to help himself to some of the extra bottled water from my trunk.
"I don't drink water." Trying to give this guy a way to save face, I said that the hike description calls for minimum 2 liters per person, so, just for the heck of it, would you mind carrying two bottles... "I'm FINE with THIS." After making a quick mental note that most of his "gear" looked like it came off the sale racks at Forever 21, I told him, no water, no hike. He stormed off, tossing the pop bottle into a jojoba bush. Good information about how to stay hydrated on the trail:
Just One More Stop, Please.
I'm still scratching my head over this incident. Once during a   hike carpool meetup, a late arrival tossed a sack of something in the back of my Jeep and jumped in the front seat. Breathless from having dashed from her car, she thanked me for waiting and then asked if we could make a quick stop at a convenience store along the way so she could get some breakfast. This request was the tip of the iceberg. She had gotten up late and ran out of her house accidentally leaving her gear behind. She then demanded that we stop at Target so she could purchase a backpack, boots, hat and food. Luckily, this revelation occurred within a few miles of the meet place, so I turned around and deposited her back at the parking lot. True to the day's theme, she forgot to retreive the mystery sack in my Jeep. It contained socks and a t-shirt.

Monday, October 23, 2017


Three Ways to Explore Payson's American Gulch
End of American Gulch South Trail
American Gulch is a tributary gorge of the East Verde River that encompasses an area of juniper-studded hills and riparian corridors on the west side of Payson. Replete with natural springs, stock tanks and a maze of dirt roads, the rugged terrain offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Juniper-shaded South Trail
Three disjointed but thematically cohesive trails---all named American Gulch--- explore this strip of high desert and chaparral. The American Gulch North, South and Loop Trails anchor the western edge of the 20-plus-mile Payson Area Trails System (PATS) network of interconnected city and forest service paths.  Together, the name-sharing threesome are like a flyover of the area's natural history and the town's efforts to restore and protect its sensitive fringe habitats. 
North Trail follows Forest Road 508
All three can be easily hiked in an afternoon and a good way to tackle the circuit is to start on the most remote and work your way in. The South trail is characterized by a series of moderate dips and climbs on a shared-use dirt road. It begins on the outskirts of town near a willow-clogged intermittent stream and follows a deeply-rutted ATV track to a high point overlooking the manicured greens of the Payson County Club and hazy peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness.  
Bobcat print near a stock tank
The varied terrain and an array of water sources make this a productive place for wildlife viewing and birding.  At this writing, the  South trail dead-ends at a barbed wire gate 1.1 miles from the trailhead but future PATS plans include connecting the South and North trails, so for now, you’ll need to backtrack and drive to the later. The North trail is a pleasant, easy trek at the edge of suburbia. Following Forest Road 508, the half-mile walk through open-air pinion-juniper woodlands ends at a gravel pit popular with dirt bikers and 4-wheelers. Although it's not part of the PATS, adjacent Forest Road 67 makes for a way to add some miles with a few quad-burning climbs, curious limestone formations and awesome vista points with views of the Mogollon Rim. The road meanders through the Tonto National Forest for miles, but a good turnaround spot is a ledgy lookout roughly 1.5 miles from the Graff trailhead.
American Gulch Loop Trail
South trailhead
The final destination is an urban-centric stroll on a paved-and-gravel walking path just off Main Street. The half-mile Loop trail and open space park is the result of Town of Payson and Gila County rehabilitation efforts made possible through a grant from Arizona Game & Fish Department. Recent plantings of fruit trees and flowers plus the addition of benches and wildlife-viewing areas contribute to the goal of making this formerly blighted area between the Sawmill Crossing shopping center and Westerly Road a point of pride and social hub of the downtown district.
Hazy view of the Mogollon Rim from Forest Road 67
Yuccas along the South Trail
LENGTH: 3.7 miles total
RATING: easy-moderate
North: 5000' - 5160'
South: 4760' - 4960'
Loop: 4800'
Juniper berries
American Gulch South:
From State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy) in Payson, go 2.6 miles west on Main Street, which will turn into Country Club Drive and then Doll Baby Ranch Road. The signed trailhead is on the right with parking across the road. The last half-mile is on sedan-friendly dirt. Avoid this road after rain because there's a creek crossing that floods making the it impassable.
Graff Trailhead (North):
From State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy) in Payson, go 1.7 miles west on Main Street, which will turn into Country Club Drive and turn right on Vista Road. Continue 1.3 miles north to Bulla Drive, veer left and go 0.2 mile to Whitehouse Drive.  Follow Whitehouse 0.25 mile to Graff Drive, turn left and drive 0.3 mile to the trailhead.  
Loop Trailhead:
From State Route 87, go 0.3 mile east on Main Street, turn left on Westerly Road and continue a few yards to the trailhead on the right.

Monday, October 16, 2017


South Mountain Park, Phoenix
View of the Sierra Estrella Mountains
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.
Elephant Tree
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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Oak and maples dominate in Sedona
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
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.
Oak Creek, Templeton Trail
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.
Templeton Trail along Oak Creek
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
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 sycamores
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.
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.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


View of San Francisco Peaks from Wilson Meadow
On the western face of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, vast grasslands of wild roses, ferns and berries lap up against pine-studded slopes beneath an airborne tide of golden aspen leaves.
Wilson Meadow
This patchwork of wet meadows--collectively known as Hart Prairie--is home to some of the most beautiful, but often overlooked aspen glens in the state. In October, the white-barked forests
blaze in a honey-lemon canopy.  Although hikers in search of autumn foliage trails around Flagstaff usually flock to big-name places like Inner Basin or the Kachina Trail where the crowds are as thick as the woodlands, Wilson Meadow offers a smaller, quieter option.  It's signature open space is populated with clumpy shrubs and thickets of rare Bebb willows surrounded by loosely woven stands of pines, firs and aspens.  The short, simple walk offers an alternative, contemplative experience.
Bebb Willows
LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 8,500’ – 9,000’
DOGS: This is a very sensitive area. Dogs must be on leash and owners must pack out all waste.
From Flagstaff, go 10 miles north on US180 to milepost 225, turn right onto Hart Prairie Road (south access of Forest Road 151) and continue 4.2 miles to Forest Road 9007T on the right. Hint: if you reach the Nature Conservancy entrance, you’ve gone too far. Go 0.2 mile on FR9007T to the trailhead. FR 151 is maintained dirt passable by sedan. FR 9007T requires a high clearance vehicle.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Deep within the Canyon of Fools
Canyon of Fools might be the weirdest hike in Sedona.  Located in the Mescal Mountain cluster of trails northwest of town, the keynote feature of the route is a gnarly, half-mile walk through a red-earth labyrinth. Unlike other Red Rock Country hikes, this one ditches open air, ooo-ahhh vistas in favor a cloistered trudge through a dirt tunnel.  The adventure begins within a few yards of the trailhead off Boynton Pass Road where the trail ducks into a serpentine gulch that morphs from a roomy corridor into a claustrophobic, high-walled canyon with tree roots protruding in arthritic tangles.
Roots protrude from the canyon walls

Mescal Mountain
The rough-cut passage twists among flaking shelves of sandstone and side canyons sculpted into bizarre forms by running water and erosion.
Yucca fruit
You’d earn the title of fool by trying to hike here during a rainstorm for you’d surely be swept away in a torrent of mud and debris. The creepily distorted gulch is softened with a cap of wildflowers, grasses and familiar cypress-juniper woodlands. At several spots, mounds of decomposed sediments spill out like syrupy rivers of russet oatmeal, dividing the trail into easy and more difficult paths that loop around the debris and reconnect on the backside.  Once through the half-mile canyon section, the trail gradually opens into more conventional high desert terrain where it meets the Yucca Trail junction. The massive landform directly ahead is Mescal Mountain.  This is your first opportunity to consult a map to plan your return route as several trails that wend around the mountain’s base can be used to make loop hikes. With the canyon portion of the trek behind you, head left and continue hiking over slick rock and edgy paths to where the route ends at Deadman’s Pass Trail. For an out-and-back trek, this is your turnaround point. Otherwise, keep trekking north into Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness and Boynton Canyon or swing right for a scenic walk over an exposed mesa before picking up a connecting path to to loop back to the trailhead.
Cockscomb formation seen from Canyon of Fools Trail
Club-flower (Purple Birdbeak) blooms Aug-Oct
LENGTH: 2.25 miles one way
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 4440' - 4640'
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 3.2 miles west (left)  on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road. Go 2.8 miles on Dry Creek Road, veer left at the Long Canyon Road junction and continue 0.5-mile on Boynton Pass Road to the parking turnout on the right. A Red Rock Pass is not required at this trailhead.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes 2017-2018 Season

Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes 2017-2018 Season
A Wag & Walk participant takes a snuggle break
A handsome boy and his volunteer handler.
October brings cooler temperatures, sunny days and the beginning of hiking season in the Valley. Few creatures are happier about this than the adoptable dogs at the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control shelter in Mesa. That’s because on the first Saturday of every month from October through April, they get to strut their stuff along the Merkel Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Shelter volunteers are on hand to assist you
 The public is invited to join the four-legged sweeties on these easy, 1-mile Wag & Walk Dog Adoption Hikes and also stick around for a meet-and-greet play session back at the trailhead. Shelter volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions about each dog’s personality, activity level, trick repertoire and history.
You can even “test drive” the dogs to see how well they behave on leash. For those looking for a potential canine hiking partner, this is a great opportunity to interact with dogs outside of the kennel environment where they are more relaxed and better able to display their true characters. All participating dogs will be spayed or neutered, up-to-date on their shots and ready to go home with you on the spot!  But, you don’t have to be considering adoption to join the fun. 
An adoptable dog demonstrates his hiking skills.
Perhaps you’re thinking about becoming a volunteer or looking for a way to add miles to your 100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge—a Maricopa County Park program that encourages hikers, bikers and horseback riders to log 100 trail miles between November 1, 2017 and February 8, 2018. We can help you with that. So why not double down on the fun?
Looking for her forever home....

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Area 6.
3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
DATE: Saturday, October 7, 2017 and every first Saturday through April.
TIME: 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Wag & Walk
100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge

Monday, September 18, 2017


Summit of Quartz Mountain
Over its 54-mile course, the Prescott Circle Trail tours some of the most spectacular country in Arizona’s central highland region. The city-circumnavigating route is organized into 10 segments that range from 2.7 to 9.1 miles in length with unique features that transport hikers through shady pine forests, lakeside coves, granite dells, grasslands and juniper scrub.
Summit of Quartz Mountain
But if highpoint vistas are your thing, Segment 4 delivers two juicy side trips: One tops out on an exposed crest with terrific sights while the other explores a solitary quartz-studded knoll. The segment is tethered by two trailheads. The White Spar Road trailhead is near a campground while the Aspen Creek trailhead is hike-in only.  The quickest access to the peaks is via the latter. Begin on Aspen Creek Trail #48 across from the parking area on Copper Basin Road. First up is Wolverton Mountain.
Wolverton Mountain Trail
To get there hike 1.7 miles on Trail #48, pass a gate and make an immediate left at a fork. This unsigned dirt track climbs 0.2-mile and 130 feet to a scenic lookout. The “peak” is just a weathered nub on the edge of a ridgeline, unremarkable except for its views of the Prescott lakes area and the Bradshaw Mountains.
Aspen Creek Trail

Cacti on quartz
To the east, a pyramid-shaped, white-speckled outcropping stands out among swaths of junipers. This is the next destination: Quartz Mountain (a.k.a White Spar).  To get there, descend to the gate, go right onto Wolverton Mountain Trail #9415 and hike 0.8-mile to the Quartz Mountain Trail #9415A turnoff. The 0.2-mile trail leads to a dirt roundabout at the base of the hill. A raceway of rough ATV roads circle and spiral up a jewel-box bluff of clefts and pinnacles.
View from Wolverton Mountain
The maze of deeply-rutted roads is iced with a layer of creamy quartz nuggets laced with bands of pink and black minerals. Agaves, cacti and swaying grasses grow from cracks in massive white embankments that crumble into glinting landslides of beautiful, but worthless gems. The roads reach to roughly 50 feet from the summit and offer great valley and mountain vistas that stretch all the way to Flagstaff, but if you want to get to the top, you’ll need to do some tricky, hand-over-foot scrambling on one of the several paths-of-use that lead to crown of quartz spires. The most direct base-to-summit route is a difficult, 0.2-mile hike with 112 feet of elevation gain. Loose rock and thorny plants can be dangerous, so opt for the paths most travelled. Once done exploring, descend and hike back to Trail #9145 which continues 3.4 miles to its terminus at White Spar Road.
Roads on Quartz Mountain are paved with "gems"
LENGTH: 5.9 miles one-way, 7 miles with summit spurs.
RATING: moderate (difficult with Quartz Mountain summit)
ELEVATION: 5,600’ – 6,704’
WEST: Aspen Creek trailhead:
From Courthouse Square in Prescott, go 1 mile south on Montezuma Street (turns into State Route 89/White Spar Road) and to the light at Copper Basin Road.  Turn right and continue 4.6 miles on Copper Basin Road (turns to good dirt after 1.6 miles) to the Aspen Creek trailhead on the right. The hike begins across the road on Trail 48.
EAST: White Spar Campground trailhead:
From Courthouse Square in Prescott, go 3 miles south on Montezuma Street (turns into State Route 89/White Spar Road) to the parking lot on the left.  Trail access is south of the campground on the west side of SR89.