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Monday, January 9, 2017

HOTSHOTS and JOURNEY TRAILS

HOTSHOTS and JOURNEY TRAILS

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, Yarnell
Journey Trail
I’m not a fan of writing trail descriptions in the first person. Hiking trails are not about me. The staring characters of Arizona trails are the terrain, waterways, scenery, wildlife and plants. That I happened to hike a particular trail is incidental and not part of its theme or the influence it will have on other trekkers. When approaching a trail, I plan for the worst and hope for the best while in anticipation of foul ups, the mantra “suck it up, buttercup” bounces around in my skull. Normally, I subdue my voice so my personal biases won’t dilute a trail’s character or unwittingly seed expectations.  Why rob hikers of the joy of discovery? But occasionally, there’s a trail that’s so steeped in emotion that all I can muster is a stammering, first person account. The Hotshots and Journey Trails at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park near Yarnell embody that spirit.
Hotshots Trail
My first impression of this oddly remote and decidedly vertical destination was one of awe and confusion. As State Route 89 approaches the site, the imposing Weaver Mountains rise over the desert in sheer, granite heaps. I wondered how the heck does a trail get up those hills? The answer came at the trailhead which is just a tiny pull out along the highway, its fresh-paint and bright new information kiosk bolstered by neon orange road barriers. Here, a metal staircase hoists hiker up an insurmountable cliff face to connect with the trail. From this point, the hike is a whole lot of up with a few short stretches of flat in between. Epic views of the Date Creek Mountains and dry-wash-riddled valleys appear immediately. These wildlands give us so much. Fresh air, peace and quiet, natural resources and recreational opportunities. Peering out over landscape, the random remains of torched trees remind that the wildlands also take. In June 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire blazed through this rugged territory taking the lives of 19 fire fighters. These brave men are memorialized with plaques placed roughly every 600 feet along the Hotshots Trail. Additional signage placed near benches at scenic lookouts, gives information about firefighting and the timeline of the Yarnell Hill Fire. The first memorial plaque shows up after a few hundred feet of hiking. It’s mounted on a gigantic, pyramid-shaped granite boulder and sets the stage for an emotional 2.85-mile journey of remembrance. This hit me harder than I thought it would. I didn’t know any of these men or their families, so why was a pain in my gut working its way up to my throat?
Date Creek Mountains
“I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry. Suck it up.”
As I approached each plaque, I stopped to read the short paragraphs about each man’s life. They were so young and dedicated to their work and families. It occurred to me that the nature of their work also made them elite hikers---kindred spirits for those of us who aspire to trek for miles in horrible conditions packing 50 pounds of gear and still have enough energy and courage to risk life and limb to protect others.
“Heart be still. Ain’t gonna happen. Suck it up.”
Saddle overlooking the town of Yarnell
Just beyond the final plaque, the trail makes a long traverse on a ridge overlooking the fatality site. Four hundred feet below, a Stonehenge-like circle of 19 gabions surrounds the place where the men perished.  At the trail’s high point, an observation deck marks the beginning of the Journey Trail that traces the hotshots final trek. Here, I met a group of people wearing t-shirts and hats emblazoned with various fire department logos. They came from Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff, California and Canada in sort of a pilgrimage of brotherhood. There’s a sign at the deck with color photos of the 19 and a summary of the fire’s progression. When viewed from just the right angle, the portraits align with the fatality site below.
Fatality Site
“I’m not gonna cry.”
Decision time. Should I go down the 0.75-mile Journey Trail to visit the final memorials? To further mess me up, right at this juncture, a flock of ravens appeared on the air currents above, their vocalizations morphing from “Caw, Caw” into “Go, Go”. A psychic in Sedona once told me that the raven is my animal totem, so I went.  The sensation was a maniacal elixir of exhilaration and numbness. I didn’t know quite what to feel. Was this a taking sort of voyeurism or a genuine giving of respect? It’s hard to discern when distracted by conflicting moods egged on by astonishing beauty and utter disaster.
The fatality site sits at the mouth of a yawning canyon a heartbreaking half-mile from a ranch. The ugliness of the fire has mostly disintegrated and fresh sprouts are emerging from the bases of resilient shrubs that were here, then gone and here again.
Fatality Site

At the east end of the memorial circle, somebody left a scorched Granite Mountain Hotshots t-shirt. That’s where I lost it.  Heaving sobs for people I don’t know in a place I had never been, I guess this trail was a little bit about me after all. And it's about you, too. We live, we love, we hike, we win, we lose and it all ends up in a big friggin’ circle--kind of like the one that rolled out before me at the base of Yarnell Hill.
The T-Shirt
LENGTH: 7.2 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,318’ – 5,061’
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Head 30 miles west toward Wickenburg and turn right (north) on US 60. Continue on US 60 to the traffic circle at the Hassayampa River bridge, veer left and go north on State Route 93 to State Route 89 (White Spar Highway). Follow SR 89 toward Yarnell, go left at the split, head up the winding mountain road and turn left at the sign for the park.  Roads are 100% paved. There are 13 parking spaces and temporary restrooms at the trailhead.
INFO & MAP:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

WINDGATE-BELL PASS LOOP

WINDGATE-BELL PASS LOOP

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Windgate Pass
In the highly competitive, (oft embellished) sphere of hiking lore, there are precisely two loop circuits in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve that have earned the title of “epic”.  They are the Tom’s Thumb-East End-Bell Pass Loop and the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop. Both are beautiful. Both will kick your butt. Before tackling the 13-mile, 2,205-foot Tom’s Thumb slog, you might want to do a warm up trek on the later. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the “measly” 1,484 feet from the circuit’s base to its highest point bellies the fact that the mountain’s dips and dives reclaim much of what you gain, multiple times. There’s a 600-foot loss between the two passes alone.  These two ambitious circuits are staples on the training programs of hikers preparing for Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trips or long distance hauls on the Arizona Trail.  
Bell Pass
Whether you have eyes on bigger prizes or are just looking for a challenging day hike, the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop satisfies both the urge for a good workout and the desire to wander among the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The hike begins at the famously busy Gateway Trailhead. A brief walk over a metal bridge leads to the first leg of the circuit which follows one of the preserve’s most popular routes: Gateway Loop. Beyond this 1.6-mile segment, the crowds begin to thin out where Bell Pass Trail veers off and heads uphill. From this point, a relentless series of ups-and-downs through cholla and ocotillo tops out at Bell Pass.
Sonoran Desert beauty
In the shadow of 3,969-foot Thompson Peak, the breezy pass showcases views of Four Peaks, the Verde River, the town of Fountain Hills and an overview of the route snaking through a valley below. This mile-long descent ends at the Windgate Pass Trail where you’ll turn left and earn back all the lost elevation to reach another wide saddle with equally gorgeous vistas.  With the major climbing complete, head down the opposite side of the pass knowing that it’s mostly a downhill trudge.

HIKE DIRECTIONS:
From the trailhead, follow the main access path and Saguaro Trail 0.4 mile to the Gateway Loop junction. Head right and follow Gateway Loop 1.2 miles, connect with Bell Pass Trail and hike 2 miles to the scenic mountain pass. From here, continue 1.3 miles and veer left onto Windgate Pass Trail and climb 0.9 mile up to the pass. Next, descend 2.5 miles to the Gateway Loop junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9.6-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  1,720’ – 3,204’
GETTING THERE:
Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Rd. Scottsdale, 85255.
INFO & MAPS:
City of Scottsdale:
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

SCHUERMAN MOUNTAIN TRAIL


SCHUERMAN MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Sedona
Summit of Schuerman Mountain
An old dandy standing tall above a hub of new trails in west Sedona, Schuerman Mountain Trail is the gold standard of the bunch. With the opening last year of the Scorpion-Skywalker- Pyramid loops, this moderate trek up an extinct volcanic mound pads it resume with birds-eye views of its newborn siblings and a chance to glimpse Sedona and Verde Valley landmarks from an easy-to-conquer mountain summit. The first section the trail follows an array of solar panels on the edge of Sedona Red Rock High School then passes a junction for the Scorpion trail before turning upward along a thin, cypress shaded path pecked from the mountain’s east slope.
A dusting of snow in December
On the way up, look for the dominate sandstone dome of Capitol Butte and the flat, pine-coated crown of Wilson Mountain.  At the 0.3-mile point, veer left at a signed junction for the vista spur and make the 0.3-mile hike up a boulder cluttered ridge that culminates at a promontory hovering above the distant profiles of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. On the near horizon, the isolated plateau of Airport Mesa hosts a continual stream of planes coming and going overhead. To the west, Mingus and Woodchute Mountains rise to over 7,000 feet at the edge of the Verde Valley. Once done gawking at the landscape, descend to the junction and jog left to continue 1.7 miles through high desert grasslands and pockets of juniper to where the route intersects the Lime Kiln Trail that connects Dead Horse Ranch and Red Rock State Parks. From this point, there’s no real option to make a day hike loop unless you’re happy to walk on roads or have parked a car at one of the parks. That’s why many hikers approach this trail as an out-an-back trek.
Capitol Butte on the horizon
LENGTH: 2.6 miles one-way (with summit spur)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4450’ – 4900’
GETTING THERE:
Mingus and Woodchute Mountains
From the State Routes 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west (left) on 89A and turn left onto Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Continue 0.2-mile to the high school parking lot on the right. Park at the designated trailhead lot only.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Sunday, December 25, 2016

HACKBERRY SPRING

HACKBERRY SPRING
Tonto National Forest/Superstition Wilderness
Hackberry Spring Dec. 25, 2016
Intrepid hikers with a good pair of boots and reasonable balance will have no trouble navigating the maze of horse trails that lead to Hackberry Spring in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The hike begins on an old dirt road that leads to a collection of decaying corrals and dilapidated buildings that surround the spidery legs of a windmill. Over the years, the windmill’s blades gradually rusted, fell to the ground and eventually disappeared. Please take only pictures and leave only footprints. From this abandoned ranch site, look for a slim dirt path to the left of the windmill and follow it to the slickrock corridor of First Water Creek.
Slickrock section through First Water Creek
Veer left and enter a stony corridor that flanks the wilderness boundary. Although the route is heavily travelled, directional fortitude and minor scrambling is necessary. Depending on rainfall, the creek can be churning, trickling or reduced to residual pothole pools. Regardless of its condition, expect to hop the creek about a dozen times and wet feet are a real possibility. It’s advisable to avoid the area during and immediately following heavy storms for safety and to avoid eroding the trails.

The route soon enters a water-scoured gorge weaving among boulders, tiny stands of trees, and reeds full of vociferous, cardinals and canyon wrens. Evidence of the area’s volcanic origins as well as the landscape-shaping effects of running water is showcased in soaring canyon walls, shallow caves chiseled out of lava rock and hundreds of mini pools scoured from solid rock. The spring itself features a rusty pipe poking out of a cliff face that funnels water into a quiet pool surrounded by Fremont cottonwoods, Goodding willows and, of course, hackberry shrubs. Return the way you came or consult forest service maps for alternate routes.

LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate, some route-finding skills are required.
ELEVATION: 1,900 – 2,450 feet
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take US 60 east to the Idaho Road/State Route 88 exit 196. At the bottom of the off ramp, go left, follow Idaho Road to SR 88, turn right and continue to just past the Lost Dutchman State Park entrance (between mileposts 201 and 202) and turn right onto First Water Road (Forest Road 78). Follow FR78 for just over 2 miles to the horse parking lot (NOT the First Water trailhead) on the left and park there.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

CAROL BARTOL PRESERVE at SAGUARO HILL

ARTISTIC MUSINGS on SAGUARO HILL

Cave Creek
Art imitating life.
In his essay The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde stated: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” This concept has been fodder for arguments among philosophers and pundits since ancient times. Throughout history, notable minds have contributed to the fray.
 “Art is imitation and that’s bad.”  Plato
 “Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature's unrealized ends.” Aristotle
“Art is what you can get away with.” Andy Warhol

Genuine and imposter saguaros mingle on the hill.
The serene memorial gardens and trail at the Carol Bartol Preserve at Saguaro Hill is an excellent place to ruminate on the muddling of life with art and there’s a perfect subject waiting at the gateway--fake saguaros. At the top of the preserve’s entry staircase, visitors are greeted by an array of enormous sculptures imitating Carnegiea gigantean. At first glance, their too perfect, unblemished fa├žade and pure symmetry might make you think these are superb genuine specimens, but the not-quite-right-green coloring and suspicious seams reveal the ruse. Look a little closer and high voltage signs tacked around the back eliminate any lingering doubt.
The cleaver shells disguise cellphone towers. While the structures’ purpose and placement are cause for pause, consider of the big picture before condemning. Case in point, on a recent visit, I observed a couple making comments about how awful the towers look while snapping photos of them with their cell phones.  So, essentially we have an ersatz life form concealing the means to make visual facsimiles that will undoubtedly end up on a social media forum that apes actual living.  Ironic, methinks.
Moving on, there’s more to the preserve than the gallery of paradox. If the 6-acre parcel in Cave Creek isn’t the tiniest hiking destination in Arizona, then it’s certainly a contender. Situated on a mini ridge behind the town library, the site was the first property purchased by the Desert Foothills Land Trust, a nonprofit, all-volunteer conservation organization which protects over 680 acres on 23 preserves in the Sonoran Desert Foothills.  The teeny hillside features gardens with placards identifying plants, seating areas and a short hiking trail with interpretive displays about the life cycle and survival strategies of saguaros. Want to know how to tell the difference between a barrel cactus and a saguaro? There’s a sign for that. In addition to its educational features and adjacent media center, the trail showcases views of Black Mountain and the wild ranges of Tonto National Forest. After exploring, let the aroma of mesquite drifting from local eateries lure you to a cozy table to discuss the intersection of art and nature over drinks, grub and a smart phone.
Black Mountain seen from Saguaro Hill Preserve
LENGTH: 0.5 mile
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2240’ – 2280’
HOURS: open every day from dawn to dusk
GETTING THERE:
From Cave Creek Road, turn north on School House Road and continue 0.1 mile to the Desert Foothills library parking lot.
INFO: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Monday, December 19, 2016

DAVID YETMAN TRAIL

DAVID YETMAN TRAIL

Tucson Mountain Park
View of the Tucson Mountain on David Yetman Trail
How exactly do people get a trail named for them? Well, there’s probably no one formula, but it certainly helps if you’ve made considerable contributions in the fields of conservation, outdoor recreational planning or the sweat and grind of construction and fund raising for Arizona trails. Or, maybe you become a celebrity scientist who stokes curiosity in desert biomes. David Yetman Ph.D., is that kind of guy. As a scientist, author, photographer and host of The Desert Speaks series on PBS, he’s been educating the masses for decades.  
The "stone house" is made from local rocks.
The eponymous trail is a roundup of all things desert-y offering a rich trip among Sonoran desert plants, animals and homesteading history wrapped up in the ragged peaks and jumbled washes of the Tucson Mountains.  One of the most popular attractions along the trail is the Bowen Homestead which is also known as the “stone house”. The still-standing walls and foundations of the 1930s-era ranch house can be found 1.1 miles from the Camino de Oeste trailhead. Built of native stone that mingles quietly with its surroundings, the structure appears more grown than built.
The trail is rich in desert plants and animals.
Large picture windows that lost their glass years ago, frame sharp-edged escarpments and softly rounded, saguaro-dusted slopes while the footprints of living areas hint at a life far removed from 21st-century excess. An interpretive sign at the site describes the homestead floorplan and gives some background about the Bowen family and their impact on the surrounding territory.
Bowen Homestead
The 5.9-mile one way hike is the longest route within Tucson Mountain Park’s 62-mile trail system. Because it’s anchored by two trailheads and linked to several other trails, it’s easy to customize a long out-and-back or shorter loop trips.
Mesquite trees flourish near washes that flank the trail.
LENGTH: 5.9 miles one-way
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2600’ – 3000’
GETTING THERE:
Camino de Oeste Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway Blvd. exit 257. Go 4.5 miles west on Speedway, veer left at the Speedway/ Gates Pass Road fork then make an immediate left onto Camino de Oeste. Continue 0.6-mile along a narrow, dirt road that’s passable by sedan to the trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.
David Yetman West Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway Blvd. exit 257. Follow Speedway/Gates Pass Road roughly 9 miles (mind the narrow, mountain curves) to the trailhead/scenic lookout on the left.
INFO:
Tucson Mountain Park
About David Yetman:
Arizona Public Media (PBS)

Monday, December 12, 2016

BLACK CANYON TRAIL: Gloriana Segment

BLACK CANYON TRAIL: Gloriana Segment
Near Bumble Bee
View of Bradshaw Mountains from BCT
Sandwiched between the spot where Interstate 17 splits to begin its climb up to the mesas and gorges of Agua Fria National Monument and a gaping valley below the Bradshaw Mountains, the Gloriana Segment of the Black Canyon Trail is the middle road between a freeway and  dusty dirt double tracks. The 80-mile route flows from Carefree Highway in Phoenix to just outside of Prescott following centuries-old Native American trails, defunct livestock paths, dirt roads and sections of new construction.
A battered saguaro stands above Maggie Mine Road
The trail is divided into segments with trailheads located along its entire length. The 3.4-mile-long Gloriana Segment is smack dab in the middle and wanders along slopes above the scoured courses of Sycamore, Poison, Arrastre and Rock Creeks.  Geology buffs will find a plenty to explore. Within a few hundred feet of the trailhead, the path bumps into an outcropping of metamorphic rock tilted vertical and resembling fossilized Stegosaurus fins weathering from the earth. A couple of hairpin turns through a gully of giant saguaros and a short walk through a Palo Verde forest deposits hikers on a breezy edge splattered with chunks of milky white quartz overlooking Maggie Mine Road.
"Stegosaurus" rock slabs
Take a moment to spy the various mine prospects that dot the hillsides. Continuing south, the trail wanders through sunny rangeland
accompanied by morphing mountain vistas in what the Black Canyon Trail Coalition calls “Arizona’s Outback”.  The segment can be tackled as an out-and-back day hike, multi-day backpack or a one-way car shuttle using maps available on the coalition’s website.
Juvenile saguaros on the Gloriana Segment of BCT
LENGTH: 6.8 miles out-and-back
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2520’ – 2720’
GETTING THERE: Gloriana Trailhead.
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to the Bumble Bee/ Crown King exit 248. Follow Bumble Bee Road 1.1 miles to the trailhead on the left. There are no facilities. The hike begins at the south side of the lot near the big sign. Roads are 100% paved. (The sign across the road marks the start of the Bumble Bee Segment.)




Monday, December 5, 2016

DOUGLAS SPRING to BRIDAL WREATH FALLS

DOUGLAS SPRING to BRIDAL WREATH FALLS
Saguaro National Park, Rincon Mountain District
Bridal Wreath Falls
Sometimes, timing is everything.  This is particularly true in the desert where spectacular waterfalls appear like raging liquid phantoms after periods of rain, only to dissolve into trickles and knat-loving muddy drop pools within days.  One of the most accessible transient water shows happens in Saguaro National Park East.  Almost anybody with a pair of decent hiking shoes, a few liters of drinking water and a spare afternoon can marvel at the wonder of an ephemeral desert water chute by way of the Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls.  Because it's so easy to access, the trailhead is a busy place, especially on weekends.  A shaded kiosk marks the trail gateway into a sunny land of cactus and scrub backed with views of Tucson’s Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountains, which tower to over 8,000 feet. 
Rincon Mountain views on Douglas Spring Trail
The route is tantamount to a 2.5-mile staircase. It’s a constant and sometime steep climb through a landscape that morphs from classic desert into a massive grassland with the feel of an African savannah.  Although there are no wildebeasts or giraffes roaming these plains, it’s prime habitat for mountain lions and area trails are sometimes closed when their activity is high.  In addition to the big cats, javalina, rabbits, and deer share the wilds with gila monsters, raptors and desert tortoises.  The turn off for the short hike to the falls shows up at the 2.3-mile point. Here, surrounded by miles of shadeless, mesquite-dotted prairie, the only clue that a waterfall is nearby is the park service sign pointing the way.  A mild descent leads to a grotto of polished stone where a moderate boulder scramble is required to get to the 50-foot cascade plunging over bare rock like a wind blown ribbon. Rainfall and snow melt dictate whether the falls will be  barely a trickle or a raging white water deluge on any particular day.
Bridal Wreath Falls grotto

View of Tucson from Douglas Spring Trail
LENGTH:  5.2 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2745' - 3827'
DOGS: canine hikers are not allowed on Saguaro NP trails.
FACILITIES: none
FEE: no fee at this trailhead
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix, travel south on Interstate 10 to Tucson.  Take exit 257 at Speedway Blvd and head east (go left).  Follow Speedway Blvd. 17.5 miles to where it dead-ends at the Douglas Spring Trailhead.  Roads are paved all the way.
INFO & MAP: Saguaro National Park

Monday, November 28, 2016

RIDGEBACK OVERLOOK-APACHE VISTA CIRCUIT

RIDGEBACK OVERLOOK-APACHE VISTA CIRCUIT
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'
GETTING THERE:
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.
INFO & MAP:

Monday, November 21, 2016

HUMBOLDT MOUNTAIN

HUMBOLDT  MOUNTAIN
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
GETTING THERE:
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

WHO DAT?

WHAT'S THAT PATCH MEAN?

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:

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SWEETWATER WETLANDS

SWEETWATER WETLANDS, TUCSON
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.
GETTING THERE:
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).
INFO & MAP:
City of Tucson
Tucson Audubon Society Bird Walks:
Arizona Project WET