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Monday, October 17, 2016



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Massive granite boulders flank Renegade Trail
In many ways, hiking is a renegade sport. Rebellious souls who answer the call of the wild grow impervious to heavy packs, sore feet, gross food, weather and self doubt. They pee in the forest and sleep on the ground while working around physical obstacles and an array of toxic plants and poisonous critters. To the hiker-at-heart, this is fun. So it's fitting that a new trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve pays homage to those who approach the trails unwashed, unshaven and living the dream. Renegade Trail is just one example of the preserve's route monikers that embrace our Western heritage with seasonings of humor and irony. Examples include, Wrangler, Rustler, Buckshot, Cow Poke and the crown jewel--Whiskey Bottle. Kudos to the preserve's naming committee whom I imagine conjure these names over beers at a honky tonk.
A blind corner on Desperado Trail
Tucked into the preserve's northeast corner, Renegade Trail rumbles through a mix of wide open spaces and boulder-choked passages miles from established trailheads. The primary reward of hiking the extra miles to reach this route is escape from the crowds that tend to wander the curiosity-rich trails to the south. Quieter surroundings make for better opportunities to spot the Red-tailed hawks, ravens, coyotes and reptiles that disappear among the area's rocky crevasses when human traffic is high. Like all trails in the preserve, there's more than one way to incorporate the Renegade Trail into a day hike.
The "Michelin Man" 
Here's one circuit that takes you through a gnarly bike path and a scenic box canyon with swings around a "Michelin Man" cactus and a magnificent crested saguaro.
Big desert views on Renegade Trail
From the trailhead, follow the 136th Street Trail 2.2 miles north to the Renegade Trail junction. Follow Renegade 2.1 miles to where it ends at High Desert Trail. Backtrack 0.7 mile, veer right onto Desperado Trail and follow it 0.5 mile to Coyote Canyon Trail. Turn left, hike 0.5 mile and head right on Dove Valley Trail. Follow DVT 1 mile to 136th Street Trail, go right and hike 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 8.3 miles round trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,614' - 2,849'
Granite Mountain Trailhead
31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit #36 and go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd./Rio Verde Dr. Turn right and continue 5.9 miles to 136th St., turn left and go 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left. Trailhead is open sunrise to sunset. No facilities.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


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Monday, October 10, 2016


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

Monday, September 26, 2016


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

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

Friday, September 23, 2016


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

Monday, September 19, 2016


Autumn is just weeks away and the first tiny blotches of fall foliage color have already begun to tease of what's to come on Flagstaff's San Francisco Mountain. Many hiking trails on the slopes of Arizona's highest peaks make for ideal fall foliage viewing. The quaking aspen color spectacle begins in the high elevations in late September then trickles down into the foothills lasting through October. Here are six top leaf peeping picks.
Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop, Sept. 28, 2013
This rigorous 7.2-mile loop on the north face of the San Francisco Peaks takes you up to a scenic saddle through moss-draped, spruce-fir woodlands of Abineau Canyon and back down the aspen-cluttered gorge of Bear Jaw Canyon via a 2-mile connecting walk along Waterline Road. Elevation range is 8,530 to 10,320 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd.) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access). Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to Forest Road 418. Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to Forest Road 9123J (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. Dirt/cinder roads are rutted but passable by carefully driven sedans.
Inner Basin Trail, Sept. 28, 2012
Plan ahead and be prepared for crowds if you want to stroll among tight knit aspen groves high on the mountain's eastern face. Getting to this immensely popular trail involves a white knuckle drive on a curvy dirt road, but for those who dare to brave the congestion and hairpin turns, the hike is one to savor. The moderately difficult trail begins at 8,630 feet in Lockett Meadow with a mild but constant uphill walk through an enchanting white trunk forest capped in gold. Mid way through, the route enters a gaping basin, fringed in color and populated with tiny pump houses that manage the watershed that supplies the City of Flagstaff. The hike culminates with a final, steep slog up to 9,410 feet where it connects with Weatherford Trail. 
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Interstate 40 junction in Flagstaff. Head east on I40 and connect with US89 north. Continue 17 miles north on US89 to Forest Road 420 at milepost 431.2 (across from the turnoff for Sunset Crater). Turn left here and veer left onto FR 552, following the signs 4.5 miles to Lockett Meadow. The good gravel roads are narrow and winding with steep drop offs and no guardrails. Sedans okay, drive slowly and watch those curves. Trailhead parking is just past the campground. Trailhead has restrooms and fee-based camping. The access road is subject to traffic management to control the mobs during peak color weeks. Expect delays.
Kachina Trail, Oct. 8, 2011
One of the best places in Arizona to see aspens, this 5.2-mile (10.4 roundtrip) moderate trek wanders on the mountain's moist, southern edge between 8,790 and 9,290 feet in elevation. Abundant, year round precipitation feeds an understory of neck-high ferns that grow among volcanic boulders and some of the densest populations of aspens anywhere in the state.
Complementing the color frenzy are shallow lava caves, alpine meadows and scenic landings overlooking Flagstaff.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.3 miles north on US 180 to Snow Bowl Road (Forest Road 516). Drive 6.6 miles up FR 516 to the signed turnoff for the large parking lot and trailhead on the right.
Arizona Trail, Oct. 7, 2013
If you've ever pulled over at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road to gawk at golden leaf canopies, you might want to stay a little longer and take an easy walk on the Arizona Trail. From the parking area, follow the trail four miles (one way) to Bismarck Lake for a wind-addled trek dominated by mountain breezes that rustle up golden, aspen leaf blizzards. Elevation range is 8,780 to 9,000 feet.
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff. Connect with US180 and drive 7 miles north to Snowbowl Road and head 5.2 miles uphill to Aspen Corner. There's a parking apron on the left near a split rail fence.
Aspen Nature Loop, Oct. 15, 2010
An easy walk with breathtaking views, Aspen Nature Trail makes a 2-mile trip through breezy forests at the base of Humphreys Peak. Situated between 9,270 and 8,990 feet, the trail has all the benefits of hiking in high elevation autumn alpine paradise without strenuous climbing.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and continue 6.2 miles to the Humphreys trailhead on the left. Hike begins on the northwest side of the parking lot. Roads are paved up to the parking lot.
Lamar Haines, Oct. 11, 2013

This short and easy kiddie favorite is jam packed with enough points of interest to keep even the most antsy young ones entertained. Stashed along the margins of this woodsy, 1.6-mile loop trail are springs, petroglyphs and ruins of a homestead tucked into foothills that roll between 8,600 and 8,450 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and drive 4.2 miles to the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area trailhead on the right.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Wag & Walk Dog AdoptionHikes Return Oct. 1, 2016

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Ruh Roh, make way for the pups! Cuddly canines from the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control east shelter will be hitting the trail again on Saturday October 1st for the 2016-17 premier of Wag & Walk dog adoption hikes. Come on out to beautiful Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa and join the dogs on the easy, 1-mile Merkle Trail. Each dog will be accompanied by a volunteer handler who can tell you all about the animal's breed, personality, activity level and history at the shelter. You may also "test drive" the dogs to see how they handle on leash. This is a great opportunity to meet adoptable pets in a relaxed environment where they're more likely to display their loveable vibes. All dogs are already spayed or neutered, are up-to-date on their shots and ready to go directly into their new forever homes. You don't have to be in the market for a new fur baby to join the fun, though.
There will be lot's of information on hiking with dogs, shelter services and how you can sign up to become a volunteer. What could be better than celebrating the beginning of prime hiking season with a bunch of butt wagging dogs?
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 and every 1st Saturday of the month Oct. - April.
TIME: 9 a.m.
WHERE: Usery Mountain Regional Park. 3939 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa. Merkle Trailhead Area 6.

Sunday, September 4, 2016


Skyline Crest Trail

Attention hikers, be on the lookout for new trails in the coming weeks! The West Valley's newest hiking destination is getting ready to roll out fresh dirt just in time for fall hiking season. By the end of September 2016, Skyline Regional Park in Buckeye will have added 5 new trails for a total of 17 miles of non-motorized routes. Since opening in January, the 8,700 acre mountain preserve located just north on Interstate 10 has become a busy hub for hiking, riding, camping and picnics. The park also hosts regular stargazing events and educational programs that focus on native vegetation and animals. The interconnected system of trails offers something for everybody. From flat, easy strolls to quad-busting climbs to dizzying high points. Already on the map are the Quartz Mine, Skyline Crest and Lost Creek trails. Tie these three route together and you've got one magnificent loop hike with a short climb up Crest Summit for sweet views of the surrounding desert. The Skyline Crest Trail is a new personal favorite because it traces a knife edge ridgeline that offers some mild exposure, a good climb and a perpetual feast of changing scenery. With cooler weather just around the corner, these new routes will be welcome additions to the growing repertoire of West Valley hiking attractions.
Quartz Mine Trail
Begin on Quartz Mine located at the picnic ramada on the south side of the trailhead parking lot. Follow the QM signs 2.6 miles to Lost Creek (LC) Trail. Turn left and hike 0.4 mile to Skyline Crest, turn left go 1 mile to the optional 0.17-mile slog up to the summit. Do it or skip it then hike 0.3 mile back to QM and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Check the park website for news of new trail unveilings.
Trail junctions are marked with location maps
LENGTH: 6.14 miles
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1400' - 2100'
HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily
Free admission. Restrooms\
2600 N. Watson Rd. Buckeye.
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit 117 and go 2 miles north to the gatehouse. Turn left at the stopping and follow the signs to the trailhead. Roads are paved and sedan-friendly dirt.
Quartz Mine Trail
Fall Programs:

Thursday, September 1, 2016


V Bar V Heritage Site
Petroglyphs at V Bar V 
After surviving centuries of exposure to Arizona's extreme climate, the petroglyphs at V Bar V Heritage Site almost succumbed to cow butts. There's an air of mysticism about the tiny alcove that bears the etchings of the Southern Sinagua people who lived in the area from A.D. 1150 to around 1400. Shaded by sandstone bluffs near the banks of Wet Beaver Creek east of Sedona, site is wrapped in a strip of viney, deciduous forest that insulates it from the surrounding high desert heat. It's no wonder the cows found it too.
Ranch relics along the trail
Beautiful mysteries in the rock
Seeking water and a shady spot to wallow away the days, grazing cattle from ranch operations that occupied the property during the 20th century would congregate at the cliffs, rubbing their hides against the ancient embellishments. Luckily, a rancher who understood the historical value of the rock art fenced off the site before the cows could scour away the etchings. Today, a swath of bovine-butt-burnished sandstone is still visible on the panels. Since this initial save, the preservation baton has been passed on to Coconino National Forest, Verde Valley Archeological Society, Friends of the Forest and the Arizona Natural History Society.
With more than 1000 documented petroglyphs, the site is the most concentrated and best preserved in the Verde Valley. Volunteers conduct on-site talks describing archeological findings and theories about the meaning and purposes of the symbols. Without this guidance, you might not notice that much of the art swirls around a sophisticated solar calendar. Guides point out what are believed to be solstice markers, planting calendar, records of celestial events and a map of the Verde River tapped into russet stone walls.
Creekside trail to the archeological site

Although we'll never know for sure what the incised images of animals, humans and geometric forms represent, it's fun to toss around your own creative hypotheses. Perhaps the beautifully symmetrical designs record dance steps, songs, shamanistic messages, family names or the doodling of hunters waiting for a deer to wander into range. Regardless of our guesswork, this was, and is an important place worthy our continual protection.
Volunteer guides enlighten visitors
LENGTH: 1 mile round trip
RATING: easy
From Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde, take the Sedona-Oak Creek exit 298. Turn right at the bottom of the offramp and continue 2.8 miles to the entrance on the right. The site is open Friday through Monday 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a gift shop at the visitor center. A Red Rock Pass is required and may be purchased on site.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Monday, August 29, 2016


Madonna and Two Nuns as seen from Llama Trail
Some of Arizona's most beautiful hiking trails reside miles beyond the vestiges of civilization along impossibly convoluted, tire-eating backroads. For those with a vehicle robust enough for the journey, the payoff is a kind of solitude unique to Arizona's remote regions. If you're driving a compact sedan, your destination options are more limited, but there are places where its possible to park at a groomed trailhead off a paved byway and still unplug from the masses. Once such destination departs from the heavily used Little Horse trailhead in Sedona.
Cathedral Rock on horizon
A quick assessment of the crowded parking lot might lead you to doubt the claim that peace and quite lie beyond the throngs of camera totting tourists and scampering kids. However, in less than a mile, the Llama Trail veers away from the mobs of hikers who mostly stick to the main routes leading to Chicken Point and Bell Rock. Originally blazed by mountain bikers, this alternative route covers much of the same territory as the big name trails but without the elbow-to-elbow traffic. It's still a major thruway for bikers, who relish the fast slick rock and wavy earth, so stay alert especially near blind turns. Although not entirely insulated from the hum of vehicles on Highway 179, Llama Trail rubs the boundary of Munds Mountain Wilderness and the plumb walls of Lee Mountain. It's just rough around the edges enough for a feral yet familiar ambiance. You'll never feel lost here because world famous rock formations visible throughout the hike help with orientation. Madonna and the Nuns plus Capitol Butte guard the north, while Courthouse and Bell Rocks anchor the southern horizon. To the west, the unmistakable spires of Cathedral Rock blush pink at sunset. There are several ways to tie the trail into a day hike. Here's one to try.
From the trailhead, follow Bell Rock Pathway 0.3 mile south and turn left onto Little Horse Trail. Hike 0.6 mile to the Llama Trail junction on the right. Hike 2.6 miles to Baby Bell Trail, turn right and go 0.2 mile back to Bell Rock Pathway and follow it 1.7 miles back to the trailhead.
Take this turn to bypass the crowds
LENGTH: 5.4 mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4240' - 4400'
FEE: A Red Rock Pass is required to park.
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Sedona-Oak Creek/State Route 179 exit 298. Head west (left) on SR179 and continue to the Little Horse trailhead on the right at milepost 308.9.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

Monday, August 22, 2016


Pasture at the base of Mount Baldy
If you drive down State Route 373/Main Street, through the town of Greer to near road's end, you'll find yourself at the banks of the West Fork of the Little Colorado River and the trailhead for the East Fork Trail #95.
Yup, the East Fork Trail begins at the West Fork and this woodsy stream side spot is the most popular place to begin the hike that rambles through alpine meadows sprawled out between two creeks that originate on the slopes of Mount Baldy. Although the drive through town is scenic, it's often crowded and parking can sometimes be a challenge. Couple that with the fact that accessing trail #95 here requires an immediate creek crossing that might cause unprepared hikers to turn back before even starting.
Mooooont Baldy cows. 
There's a work around, though. If you start the hike from the Gabaldon Horse Campground at the edge of Mount Baldy Wilderness, you'll avoid the traffic and parking headaches.
East Fork Trailhead in Greer on the West Fork of the LCR

The southern terminus of Trail #95 shares space with Railroad Grade Trail, a 21-mile route that follows the repurposed track of the defunct Apache Railroad. This first section follows a raised cinder bed through a canopy of spruce and aspens that gradually spills into an open alpine meadow with see-forever views. From June through September, abundant moisture and dappled sunshine provide perfect conditions for wildflowers.
East Fork of the Little Colorado River near Colter Reservoir
Take time to appreciate the delicate lavender harebells and dainty clustered blooms of Autumn Dwarf Gentian that pop up among swaying forbs and shrubby cinquefoil. At the 1.5-mile point, the trail encounters Colter Reservoir. More like a giant stock pond than lake, the trapped water is a favorite bovine gathering place. Sometimes, the cows congregate on the trail, but when given their space, they'll usually move aside. Pass a cattle gate (leave it open or closed as found) and make an immediate right turn onto a cow-trampled single track marked by posts and carins. From here, the trail follows the twisted trickle of the East Fork of the Little Colorado River for awhile before ascending into the hills. Over the next miles, the route passes among dewy cienegas and patches of fir-spruce forest. In places, evidence of the 2011 Wallow Fire manifests in charred tree trunks that stand like fragile matchsticks doomed to succumb to the next winter storm. But the forest is renewing itself as fresh growth is springing up from the ashes. As the trail approaches Greer, take a last look at White Mountain vistas from Amberon Point before scrambling 600 feet downhill to get your feet wet crossing the West Fork.

LENGTH: 7.5 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8200' - 9350'
East Fork Trail #95

Gabaldon Trailhead (as described here):
From State Route 260 17 miles west of Eagar, turn onto State Route 273 that's located just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area. Go 11.9 miles south to the trailhead on the right (0.4 mile past the East Baldy trailhead. Park in the turnouts before entering the campground. To get to the trailhead, hike 0.2 mile up SR 273 to Forest Road 409, turn left and make a left onto the unsigned red cinder trail just past the cattle guard. SR 273 beyond the ski area is not plowed in winter and may be closed due to snow between October and May.
Greer Trailhead:
From State Route 260 9.6 miles west of Eagar, turn onto State Route 373 (Greer) and continue 5.5 miles south to the trailhead on the left. Parking is limited to 5 cars and there's a restroom. There's an immediate crossing of the river that's easy in low water, but may require wading.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest