Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Monday, January 15, 2018

MARICOPA TRAIL: Bartlett Dam Road to McDowell Sonoran Preserve

MARICOPA TRAIL: Bartlett Dam Road to McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Maricopa Trail pass through Tonto National Forest
The 300+-mile course of the Maricopa Trail takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s a single track, canal bank, road or suburban pathway. All the segments are beautiful and useful in their own ways and yet, some of the most memorable are within the Tonto National Forest. 
Desert greenery flanks suburbia.
The 20.5-mile Bronco to Granite Mountain segment northeast of Scottsdale stays within the forest boundary passing by Camp Creek, Blue Wash, Rackensack Canyon and hilly desert back country. The north-south running route is bisected by Bartlett Dam Road making it easy to tackle as a car shuttle hike.
Four Peaks on the eastern horizon.
North of the road, the route is a rugged trek through mountainous terrain, washes and rough drainages while to the south, the hike is a milder adventure with lots of variety.  Both halves share space with a power line that is visible to the west intermittently throughout the hike. Beginning at Bartlett Dam Road, heading south, the trail rolls out in “chapter” format. Each mile of the 3.4-mile trek has its own character beginning with “ATV Heaven”. Much of Tonto National is open for shared-use activities including motorized travel and hunting. Although the Maricopa Trail corridor is designated as non-motorized, surrounding roads are open to all and you will likely encounter dirt bikes, 4x4s and trucks where the trail crosses several dirt tracks. Once past the boulder knoll of Wildcat Hill, the motorized traffic is much less profound.
Sonoran Desert plant life and Cave Creek Mountains.
The rollicking road ruckus is replaced by a quieter chapter of “Wilderness Vistas”.  To the east, a panorama of mountain peaks dominates the horizon.  Look for Weavers Needle and Flatiron in the Superstition Wilderness, Four Peaks and the Sierra Ancha Mountains and the Cave Creek Mountains. Nearer to the trail are outcroppings of quartz, pink granite and some of the biggest barrel cacti anywhere. Clear days yield amazing depth of vision and ahhh-inspiring photo opportunities.  Soon, the trail begins heading downhill toward the northern boundary of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  This “Edge of Suburbia” chapter shirts tony neighborhoods where lush forests of Palo Verde, mesquite, ironwood cholla and yucca muffle the sounds of civilization.
Northern boundary of McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
For added entertainment, watch for vociferous phainopeplas—black, crested birds that resemble cardinals—feasting on mistletoe.
The final chapter is “Forest-Preserve Interface” where the trail passes a cattle gate then continues to the north boundary of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  Here, the trail ascends to metal gates and barbed wire fences for sweeping views of the familiar profiles of Granite, Browns, Cholla and Cone Mountains within the preserve. 
Superstition Wilderness peaks in distance.
To the south, Pinnacle Peak stands out over still fainter silhouettes of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and Downtown Phoenix.  This segment of the Maricopa Trail continues 6.4 miles south to the Granite Mountain trailhead, but if you're satisfied with the story thus far, this is your turnaround point.
A Palo Verde tree frames view of Black Mountain.
LENGTH: 6.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2845 – 3220 feet
A female phainopepla 
Bartlett Dam Road Trailhead.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Drive exit 36 and go 13 miles north on Pima and turn right on Cave Creek Road.  Continue 4.1 miles to Bartlett Dam Road, turn right and go 0.4 mile to where a dirt road crosses at a “no target shooting” sign  0.1 mile past the Tonto National Forest ranger station.  Turn right and park along the dirt turn outs. This area is heavily used by ATVs, so don’t block roads.  This segment may also be accessed via a 0.2-mile connector path from a trailhead at the ranger station-- when it’s open. 
Engelmann hedgehog cacti bloom March-April

Friday, January 12, 2018


Trellis bridge over the Gila River below the golden spike site.
The “golden spike” moment for the Arizona Trail is marked only by a simple brass survey post set in a concrete base banked with native rocks.  Dedicated on December 16, 2011,
the low-key monument that sits above the banks of the Gila River near the town of Kelvin denotes the completion of a decades-long effort to build a non-motorized recreation trail from Mexico to Utah.  The monument bears the initials of Dale Shewalter, the “Father of the Arizona National Scenic Trail.  Sadly, Shewalter did not live to see the completion of the trans-Arizona trail he worked for beginning in the mid-1980s. 
"Golden spike."
The understated tribute on a ridge overlooking a river and trellis bridge at the gateway to one of the trail’s most spectacular segments is an apt tribute to the tenacious teacher, activist and adventurer.
ASARCO Ray Mine in distance
It’s also the keystone of one of the most technically-challenging and profoundly beautiful segments of the 800+-mile route.  David Hicks, former Arizona Trail director who recently backpacked the 26-mile Gila River Canyons Passage 16 enthusiastically recommends it for skilled hikers looking for an epic experience. 
I feel it is only second to the Grand Canyon in scenic beauty--and, there are many sections of the Arizona Trail that fit that description,” Hicks gushed.  “In the Gila River Canyons there are some sections so remote that you will likely not see another person during the time that you might spend in this passage.”  According to Francisco Mendoza, a Bureau of Land Management Tucson Field office outdoor recreation planner, there are many reasons why this section of the trail was the last to be completed.  “There were the problems of access, rugged terrain, protecting sensitive ecosystems and archeological sites and the need to work with land owners, mine claims, ranching operations and government agencies,” Mendoza said. 
Gila River near Kelvin.
As the man who navigated the topographic challenges and a maze of permits and permissions, he knows first-hand. “Mendoza can be called the Father of the Gila River Canyons Passage,” says Hicks.  “It was he who did the initial scoping of the route and
was the architect for the laying out of this scenic segment.” His work forged many positive relationships among the myriad entities that worked together to create a world-class stretch of trail. The planning and assessment efforts began in 2002 with field reconnaissance, negotiations and tons of paperwork before ground work commenced.
Arizona Trail, Gila River Canyons Passage 16
“First assault happened in 2007,” says Mendoza. A mixed bag of labor including youth crews,
volunteers and contractors was used in the trail construction. Although it’s technically done, the work goes on.  The term ‘complete’ is relative,” Hicks says. “Sure, it’s done, but ongoing regular maintenance is needed due to fires, erosion and opportunities for improvements. The trail is not a stagnant path but a living Arizona treasure that requires attention and funding to preserve it for generations to come.” 
Dave Hicks, Francisco Mendoza and John Matteson at the spike.
(A recent hike on the passage with Hicks, Mendoza, June Lowrey, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management and John Matteson, Arizona Trail regional trail steward, was punctuated with removing stones, trimming catclaw and making plans to repair a drainage.) The placid riverside start to the passage belies a wild and diverse trip through pristine backcountry with many surprises along the way. For instance, the
15 miles of trail near the communities of Kelvin and Riverside is one of only two sections of the AZT that runs along a perennial flowing stream.
Beyond the water, the trail swings north, climbs steadily for several miles and then opens to what Hicks describes as "jaw dropping awesome scenery”.  Gaping canyons, amazing rock formations and miles of untainted natural beauty are the payoff for making the grueling trek.  Passage 16 ends in the middle of nowhere with no reliable water sources or easy exits, so it’s imperative that those attempting it understand the route and have a plan.  “Eleven miles north of the river, the passage ends.” Hicks says. “But trail users aren't done when they get to that spot.  There's another 12 miles of Arizona Trail in the Alamo Canyon Passage 17 to the Picket Post Trailhead near Highway 60. It’s great backpacking.”
Rugged beauty of Alamo Canyon.
LENGTH: 26 miles one-way
ELEVATION: 1646- 3714’
From US 60 in Superior, go 15.2 miles south on State Route 177 to the Florence-Kelvin Highway. Continue 1.2 miles south, cross the Kelvin Bridge and park where the passage begins south of the bridge along Centurion  Road.
For more access points and detailed route information:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Art Show to Benefit West Valley Parks & Trails


White Tank Mountain Park Arts Festival to Benefit Conservation and Enhance Enjoyment of White Tank Mountains
WHAT:     Friends of White Tank Park and the White Tank Mountains Conservancy have joined forces to present the 8th annual White Tank Mountain Park Arts Festival featuring art, crafts, music, and food.  The Festival features displays by more than 50 juried artists set in the natural gallery of the beautiful White Tank Mountains Regional Park.
Music will be by Scott Schaefer, known in Arizona for his distinctive musical interpretations using Native American-style flutes and Didgeridoo.  Food vendors will provide services both days.

There is FREE park entry to those attending the festival.

WHEN:          February 17 & 18, 2018
                        Festival 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
                        FREE park entry to those attending the festival

WHERE:        White Tank Mountain Regional Park
                        20304 W White Tank Mountain Rd, Waddell, AZ 85355

The Friends organization and the White Tank Mountains Conservancy are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations which have partnered for the first time to expand and promote the event.  The organizations share the goals of enhancing the visitor experience in the parks through volunteerism and financial support.  Revenue and sponsorships will benefit the parks in the Conservancy—White Tank Mountains Regional Park and Skyline Regional Park.   

Friday, January 5, 2018

P.A. Seitts Preserve at Go John Canyon

P.A. Seitts Preserve at Go John Canyon
Golden cottonwoods along Cave Creek in P.A. Seitts Preserve
Tucked between Cave Creek Regional Park and horsey suburban neighborhoods, the P.A. Seitts Preserve at Go John Canyon is a tiny buffer zone of beauty. The site is owned and managed by the Desert Foothills Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve Sonoran Desert open spaces, sensitive plants and native animal species in the north Valley.  While some of the organization’s 23 properties that protect 680 acres are off limits or viewable only by guided tours, P.A. Seitts is open to the public.
The Overlook Trail
The 271-acre site preserves an important wildlife corridor, riparian habitat and historical elements along Cave Creek. Several hiking trails and nature paths explore the property’s various points of interest. To get to the trails, hike 0.2 mile on the access path to a gate and the main trail junction. 
Craggy outcroppings on Overlook Trail
A good way to begin is to take the right fork and knock off the moderate Overlook Trail first. 
Black Mountain in distance
This 0.6-mile one-way path climbs along a slim, craggy path to the preserve’s highpoint, making a loop around the summit for an exceptional overview of the area.  The dark silhouette of Black Mountain looms in the east while the colorful gorge of Cave Creek, hazy urban contours and the hills of Tonto National Forest complete the panorama. Once done exploring, descend back to the gate and continue north on the wide Jeep Trail (a.k.a Military Road). Just over a half-mile from the gate, veer right at a two-way junction. Although it’s not signed, this short road is the Cemetery Trail. Hike 0.3 mile to a “T” junction, and head left to an historic graveyard where several early Cave Creek settlers are buried.  The burial ground has a reverent, yet wild west feel to it.  A random collection of dusty stone circles and wooden planks mark a few resting places, but mostly the dead lie in blissful secrecy.  To continue, retrace your steps back to the Jeep Trail and continue north. You’ll notice signs stating that permits are required to enter the State Trust land that’s part of a patchwork of preserve, park and private properties in the area. No worries, though. If you stay on the designated trails, you do not need a permit.
View from the top of the Overlook Trail
The Jeep Trail continues for 1.1 mile, paralleling the creek and its avenue of cottonwoods, mesquite and willows. In late fall and winter, the trees display canopies of golden leaves. Enormous saguaros, contorted ironwood trees and a smattering of dilapidated barbed wire fences populate the foothills complementing an already visually-rich trek. 
Jeep Trail
Along this stretch, you’ll encounter two rusty metal posts that mark spur paths that go into Cave Creek Regional Park. The second post denotes the preserve boundary and the turnaround point for the hike.
Jeep (aka Military) Trail
LENGTH: 2.3 miles total
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 1960’ – 2120’
P.A. Seitts trailhead:
From the intersection of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road in Cave Creek, go 0.6 mile north to East New River Road. Turn left, go 0.3 mile to 54th Street, turn right and continue 0.4 mile to the parking area on the right near the intersection of E. Cloud Road and 52nd Street. No fees. Preserve hours are the same as the park’s.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Old gate with Sunset Point on canyon edge--far right.
Look down from the viewing deck at Sunset Point rest area on Interstate 17 south of Cordes Junction and the rugged terrain of what the Black Canyon Trail Coalition calls “Arizona’s Outback” rolls out 600 feet below.  The land down under the lookout is appropriately named Sheep Gulch. Whether this is happenstance or a nod to the Australian sheep stations (Aussie speak for ranches) that this gorge resembles, it’s an awe-inspiring sight to behold. Although it’s tough to see from the rest area, the middle section of the 80-mile Black Canyon Trail cuts through this beautiful abyss that’s cradled in a geological upheaval of pre-Cambrian granites, and scaly schists with sprinklings of orange-tinged quartz tossed about like confetti.
Saguaros frame Bradshaw Mountains vistas.
 The non-motorized-use route that stretches from the Carefree Highway in Phoenix to near the town of Mayer off State Route 69, has been designated a National Recreational Trail for its historic significance.
Hikers traverse a section burned by 2017 wildfires.
The trail has been in use since pre-historic times serving as a Native American pathway, a track for herding sheep and other livestock and a travel corridor for traders.  Surrounded by the rough-cut, mineral-rich peaks of the Bradshaw Mountains and the stream-chiseled gullies of Black Canyon, this moderately difficult, easy-to-follow section of trail clings to the canyon walls as it moves northward in smooth swoops and hairpin turns. 
Mountain views are the highlight of the hike.
Beginning at the Gloriana Mine trailhead, the hike heads 4.6 miles north to where it meets the American Gulch Segment near the town of Bumble Bee—a former Phoenix-to-Prescott stage stop established in the mid nineteenth century.
Ocotillo near the Gloriana Mine trailhead. 
 Although this area was impacted by the July 2017 lightning-caused Brooklyn, Bull, and Cedar fires, the scenic value of the hike was only marginally diminished. The trail is clear and the epic mountain vistas for which this segment is famous are still as crisp and inspiring as ever.  The trail mostly follows the 2800-foot elevation contour before it dips into the gulch below Sunset Point. Here, the faint rumble and whir of the freeway above caps a contrasting pastoral scene of ranches, cacti-studded grasslands, creekside willows and the comings and goings of ATVs, hikers and the seasonal parades of sheep that still graze around the sleepy ghost town and its defunct gold mine prospects.
The land down under Sunset Point.
LENGTH: 4.6 miles one-way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2520' - 2840'
A hairpin turn through a gully.
Gloriana Mine Trailhead: From Interstate 17, take the Bumble Bee/Crown King exit 248 and go 1.2-miles west on Bumble Bee Road (FR 59) to the trailhead on the left. Segment begins across the road from the parking area.  Roads are 100% paved.
 INFO & MAPS: Black Canyon Trail Coalition

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Rick Kesselman of the Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation
Maintaining and advocating for the Maricopa Trail is a labor of love for Rick Kesselman, Trail Director and segment steward of the Maricopa Trail+ Park Foundation (MTPF).
The 300+-mile trail that circles the Valley is a work-in-progress and amazingly, many Arizonans are unaware of this remarkable route and the efforts behind its creation and its exciting future.
New sign installed along the race route on 12-23-17.
I caught up with Rick and a troop of volunteers on a crisp December morning as they were preparing a section of the trail that runs between Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and Lake Pleasant Regional Park for the 2018 Prickly Pedal mountain bike race. This roughly 40-mile mountainous section of the trail is one of the most technically challenging and visually appealing for hikers, bikers and equestrians alike making is the perfect stretch to host the fund-raising event that supports the trail. Kesselman had plenty to say when I asked why trail users should care about this epic route.
MT between Spur Cross and Lake Pleasant is visually stunning
Its landscapes, environs, flora and fauna lead trail users to unbounded outdoor adventures, from myriad unique Sonoran Desert parks and educational Nature Centers, to healthy trail, mountain, and lake activities with direct links to scores of welcoming community parks and trails,” Kesselman said. “These community linkages comprise the essence of our Foundation's Maricopa Trail Communities Program.  This Program will help focus growth in the Valley's Active Planning efforts to provide completely linked community trail systems with each other and the amazingly large Maricopa Trail and County Regional Parks system. The MT adds a unique treasure for its residents, visitors and tourists.” Kesselman went on to laude the multi-level cooperative efforts involved in the trail's overall mission. “Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department (MCPRD) and the Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation feel that it gives communities, its residents an opportunity to use our facilities. It connects the ten (soon to be eleven) County parks as well as the individual city and town trail systems throughout the Valley.

There are fewer prickly snags thanks to MTPF volunteers
MCPRD consider it a linear park. As with any trail system, if you don’t maintain it then it will fall apart, become a safety concern and not allow the user a good experience.”
Hiking the MT toward Lake Pleasant

Rick Kesselman

The “main loop” of the Maricopa Trail is currently 310 miles long, but future plans will add length and more connectivity to the route.
Much of the remaining work on the trail will be finished in 2018. “The main circular loop will be completed in June upon acquisition of three State Land portions that we have been waiting three years to acquire. It is currently 99.9% complete,” Kesselman said. Connectors to Buckeye Hills Regional Park and the future Vulture Mountain Regional Park are still in the planning stages. Once those spurs are completed, plans will be drawn up to connect city trail systems as well.
MTPF volunteers maintain the route.
The latest part of the trail to be completed is the 15.9-mile Segment 22 that runs between McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Bronco Trailhead in Tonto National Forest.
Mountainous terrain defines the Prickly Pedal race course

On Jan 20, 2018, up to 350 riders will participate in the third annual Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race, an event that helps support the building and maintenance of the MT.  The event is organized by MTPF, a non-profit organization that works to protect, promote, develop, and maintain Maricopa County Regional Park trails through sustainable financial support and volunteer programs. For safety reasons, the race course section of the MT will be closed to all but participants on the day of the event.

Kesselman instructs trail volunteers
Those who wish to contribute or volunteer with MTPF don't need any special skills to do so.
Our Comprehensive Stewardship Training program trains our Crew Leaders and Trail Crew volunteers.” Kesselman said. “No previous skills are necessary. We also have volunteer opportunities beyond trail work such as marketing, social media, website administration, fundraising, etc. Prospective volunteers can go to the “Events” tab on our website home page to learn about volunteering opportunities and then to the “Volunteer, then Stewardship” tab to volunteer."
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation
Prickly Pedal Race

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


HOLBERT TRAIL, South Mountain Park, Phoenix
Dobbins Lookout
On clear evenings, the beacons on Mount Suppoa that bleep and flinch above an array of communication equipment are visible from many parts of the Valley.  The spindly forest of red-lighted poles marks the highest point in South Mountain Park.  The 2690-foot summit is off limits to the public but equally swell sights can be had at nearby 2330-foot Dobbins Lookout.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
Dobbins Lookout
You could drive up to this Depression Era observation deck, but for those who prefer to sweat for it, the Holbert Trail provides a moderately difficult slog and rewarding discoveries all the way up.  The hike is as much a trek through history as it is a respectable workout.  The trail winds up the north face of the Guadalupe Mountain Range---one of the three elongated ridges that make us South Mountain. The others are the Gila and Ma Ha Tauk ranges.  The first history lesson comes within a half-mile of the trailhead where the route cuts through a box canyon of pre-Cambrian stone that’s older than primordial ooze.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
The rocks that predate all life on earth have survived eons of change, and their disintegrating, sun baked surfaces have served as canvas for the etchings of ancient inhabitants including the Hohokam people who made many of the intricate symbols visible on boulders and cliff faces throughout the hike. While images that look like water birds, turtles and sheep might be easy to understand, the meaning of artful spirals, crosses and cryptic figures may never be known.  Be sure to scope out the surroundings as petroglyphs seem to pop up in the most unexpected places.  As with all heritage sites, be respectful by not touching, rubbing or (gak) altering with graffiti or adding chalk to make them more visible. Sadly, many of the irreplaceable images have been lost or damaged by careless visitors.
Beyond “petroglyph alley” the trail begins a steady climb over wide switchbacks that move between canyon-bound passages and edge-clinging escarpments.  The trail ends at Telegraph Pass Road, but a more interesting option is to skip the last 0.3-mile and instead take the spur trail that leads to the lookout.  The native-stone-and-concrete structures as well as many of the park’s more than 50 miles of trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1940.  An exhibit at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center gives insight to the program and the historic structures located within park. 
Downtown Phoenix seen from the Holbert Trail
At 16,000 acres, South Mountain is one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.
Dobbins Lookout
The wear and tear of generations of use by outdoor enthusiasts has taken a toll on the park’s condition. Many of the old trails were not built to modern sustainability standards and structures such as picnic ramadas no longer suit contemporary needs. That’s why the park is getting a major facelift that will include new facilities, stabilized trails, some new trails and improved parking. The first phase is nearing completion at the Pima Canyon trailhead.
Ascending the Holbert Trail
Compass at Dobbins Lookout
Valley views from Dobbins Lookout
The Dobbins Lookout provides a platform to contemplate what a treasure South Mountain is to our community. A compass post overlooking the Valley points to local landmarks, mountain ranges, farmlands, cities and suburbs that have grown up around the park.  Just as these surrounding elements have morphed and bloomed over time, so South Mountain Park adapts to accommodate.
Petroglyphs on Holbert Trail
LENGTH: 4.8 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,350'-2,330'  
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables, covered ramadas
GETTING THERE: Holbert Trailhead, 10919 S. Central Ave.
From central Phoenix, follow Central Avenue south all the way to the end where it flows into South Mountain Park. Just past the park entrance gate, turn left into the Activity Complex. Drive past the Interpretive Center and go all the way to the end of the road near the restrooms and park. The signed trailhead is directly across the road. Trailhead gates  are open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Trails remain open until 11 p.m.