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Monday, December 11, 2017


Hog Wash Trail
Hikers of a certain age will remember the 1960s TV submarine series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Each week kids across the nation could vicariously board the Seaview with Admiral Nelson for a new nail-biting peril, a new monster and an old predictable plot as seen through the sub’s massive control room windows.
Broken Arrow Trail
For me, the wonder of it all lasted up until a class trip to a naval base in Groton, CT where I got to walk through the tin-can corridor of a real-life docked sub. We kids lurched single file past walls of gauges, dials and buttons in sync with a baseline of parental “don’t touch, stay back, keep quiet”. But, unlike on the Seaview, there were no windows-- which dashed my hopes of a beastly freak festival. For those of us who had toed the line, the tour culminated with a consolation prize: a trip to a local ice cream parlor. It wasn’t exactly the one-eyed squid from outer space finale I had hoped for, but the tour fueled my life-long fascination with underwater suspense books and films.  (Yes, I have really watched U-571 three dozen times). 
Submarine Rock (center) floats in a sea of green
While there may not be any deep-sea-creature-themed sub tours here in land-locked Arizona, we do have the next best thing to a mutant flying beluga whale encounter: Sedona.
Given my childhood experience, I was naturally intrigued when I came across the Submarine Rock Trail while hiking Sedona’s Broken Arrow Trail a few seasons ago. That path wasn’t on the day’s agenda, so it took a slot on my hike to-do list.  The trail is situated just outside of the Munds Mountain Wilderness on the east edge of the Twin Buttes cluster of trails near the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Several trails and trailheads offer dozens of ways to build your own route to get to it. On my bucket list return visit, 
A juniper frames Wilson Mountain
I started at the lesser-known Mystic Trailhead and used the Hog Wash and Broken Arrow Trails. The trek wraps around vertical sandstone pillars for constantly changing views of Red Rock Country landforms including Capitol Butte, Wilson Mountain and the massive profiles of Lee and Munds Mountain.
The route also has an optional short side trip to Devil’s Dining Room, a bat-inhabited sinkhole off the Broken Arrow Trail.  Once through a corridor of cypress, yucca and slick rock, views open for a first look at Submarine Rock. The torpedo-shaped red rock outcropping looks remarkably like a submersible ship cruising the surface of an other-worldly ocean. 
Capitol Butte (left) seen from the Mystic Trail

The terrestrial vessel rests at the edge of the wilderness overlooking a wide valley painted in shades of emerald and moss bolstered by stony walls that soar to over 6000 feet.
Submarine Rock (right) 
At various times in geological history, this landscape was at the bottom of the sea. The surrounding escarpments and gullies are relics of ancient oceans, inland lakes and wind swept sand. Although it’s moored on terra firma, this fantastical ship provides a launch point for a journey of spirituality, imagination and science that rivals those featured in sci-fi films. Plus, this ship has one heck of a window. If after taking this incredible voyage, you still have a have a hankering for a bigger serotonin rush; then squeeze yourself into How Sweet It Is, a sub-cabin-sized candy shop in Sedona’s Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village for a well deserved ice cream treat.
Devils Dining Room
Red rocks of Munds Mountain Wilderness
From the Mystic trailhead, hike 0.4 mile north to the Hog Wash Trail junction. Go right and follow Hog Wash 1.6 miles and veer right onto Broken Arrow Trail. Continue 0.5 mile to the Submarine Rock junction and follow the trail 0.6 mile to the rock. Return the way you can or use the map posts to plan a loop.
LENGTH: 6.2-miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4360 - 4600 feet
Mystic Trailhead:
From the Sedona exit 298 on Interstate 17, turn left onto State Route 179 and go 11.5 miles to Chapel Road located past milepost 310. Turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the trailhead. A Red Rock Pass in not needed at this trailhead.
Coconino National Forest:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

About that tree…

About that tree…
It’s that time of year again when holidays collide, traffic turns toxic and tempers grow short.  With all the pressures, all we hikers want to do is escape to the trails to shake it all off.  Ironically, one of the most popular trails in the Phoenix area---one that’s supposed to help us unwind---often ends up adding to our seasonal distress.  I’m referring to the annual drama surrounding the Camelback Mountain Christmas Tree.  Regardless of whether the City of Phoenix decides to allow or prohibit the tinsel stick on the mountaintop---somebody will drag one up there anyway.  For the record, I am personally against this practice. Call me Scrooge, but the tree just doesn’t belong there. It’s a buzz kill on a desert mountain peak that creates litter and safety hazards. Still, every year we can expect the controversy to make headline news and cause more heartburn than it’s worth.  Within the Arizona Hiking Group Facebook page (20,000+ members) that I founded, those who have in the past posted photos of themselves grinning with the summit Santa in front of the tree have been both viciously attacked and adamantly encouraged.  From roughly Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, group admins and moderators have had to act as referees when disagreements go malignant. One weekend last season, I spent the better part of an entire day responding to angry messages and a phone call from a member in tears because she posted a photo of herself in front of the tree and had been belittled and bullied within the group.  Seriously----the last time I had to do this was when I was a “room patrol” in 5th grade.  I do understand that not everybody agrees with my position on the tree. My opinion is not that of the group as a whole. Hell, I even think environmentalist and writer Edward Abbey would have shrugged off the tree because the mountain is “already ruined”.  But, what I do ask is that instead of terrorizing others on social media, you instead direct your comments to the City of Phoenix where they might make a difference. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wild Horse-Maricopa Trail Usery Mountains Segment

Wild Horse-Maricopa Trail Usery Mountains Segment
Cholla cacti are abundant along the Wild Horse Trail
The Salt River Recreation Area north of Mesa is a well-known destination for kayaking, tubing, fishing and picnicking. Although there are also some hiking trails near the water, riverside commotion, noisy crowds, entry fees and mounds of trash left behind by careless day trippers are buzz kills for trekkers in search of beauty and solitude. However, a nearby system of trails that overlooks the area offers peaceful wandering. 
Four Peaks as seen from the trail.
The Sonoran Desert (Hawes) Trail System in Tonto National Forest has more than 20 miles of interconnected paths located between Usery Pass Road and Bush Highway just south of the popular recreation area.  The northern-most route in the system is the Wild Horse Trail which is also part of the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail. As its name suggests, the trail passes through the domain of wild horses. 
Saguaro skeletons add interest to the hike
The elegant and sometimes controversial beasts can be spotted wading in the river, poking around in the riparian corridors and grazing in the surrounding desert foothills.  Regardless of where you might see them, it’s smart to keep your distance and enjoy the herds from afar.  The Wild Horse/Maricopa Trail escapes the din of the crowds and  is also high enough in the hills to afford inspiring vistas of the Salt River Valley, Four Peaks, Red Mountain and the Usery Mountains. Staring from the trailhead on Usery Pass Road, the trail heads out through wide washes and scoured gullies. You’ll cross an old “NRA pit” where rusting bullet casings, broken glass and other relics of target shooting activities remain in the sandy, buffered depression.
Overlooking the Salt River Valley
Shooting is no longer allowed there, but the sounds of gunfire can be heard from the Usery Mountain Shooting Range to the south.  Once through the pit area, the pop-pop of rifles and revolvers is muffled by a corrugated terrain of arroyos, ravines and gently rolling hills. Beyond the half-mile point, the hike takes on a surprisingly remote feel. The green band of the Salt River snakes through a chiseled landscape to the north, then arches south where it wends around Red Mountain in the Granite Reed Dam area.  The trail bears the hallmarks of its mountain biker origins. 
View of the Salt River near Bush Highway
Hairpin turns, swooping stretches and lots of swift-and-smooth roller coaster segments make for an ever-changing hike with surprises around every bend.  What little shade the trail has is provided by pockets of ironwood and Palo Verde trees that thrive in water-whittled ravines.  Another noteworthy botanical attraction here is a smattering of saguaro cacti skeletons in various stages of decomposition.  
A brief section with shade

Their woody cores with sponge-like patterns and haunting postures lie bare the internal structure of Arizona’s iconic plant.  The Wild Horse Trail ends at the 3.3-mile point but you can continue hiking on the Maricopa Trail for another 4.2 miles to Bush Highway for watery views and the best chance to see mustangs in the mist.
 Maricopa Trail and Wild Horse Trail follow the same route
LENGTH: 3.3 miles one way for Wild Horse Trail or 7.5 miles one way for Maricopa Trail section to Bush Hwy.
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  1320' - 1880'
From US 60 in Mesa, take the Ellsworth Road exit 192 and go 9 miles north (Ellsworth turns into Usery Pass Road) to the Wild Horse trailhead on the left. The trailhead is marked by a Maricopa Trail sign and a no-shooting post. There’s space for about 6 vehicles in the dirt turnout parking area.
Red Mountain 
Maricopa Trail:
Maricopa Trail & Park Foundation
Global Bikes Sonoran Desert (Hawes) Trail System Maps

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tour de Rock

Tour de Rock
Cathedral Rock
Tucked between the golf greens and suburban communities of North Scottsdale and the rugged wilds of Tonto National Forest, McDowell Sonoran Preserve is an approachable, precious space of pristine desert.  Laced with over 180 miles of hiking, biking and equestrain trails, the preserve protects 30,000 acres of indigenous plants, sensitive habitats, historic artifacts and spectacular geology.
Yuccas are common along the trails
Up-close details are backed with epic views of surrounding mountain ranges and rich valleys carved by the Verde and Salt Rivers.  Eons of exposure to the erosive forces of wind and water has created a plethora of geological curiosities throughout the preserve.  The site's igneous core is anchored by the lumpy mounds of Granite Mountain and Cholla Mountain, but hidden along the perimeter of the latter are three impressive natural rock formations that can be visited in one day-hike length sweep. There are myriad ways to get to the stony attractions. Trails within the preserve are well-signed and maps available online and at the trailhead are excellent tools. However, if your goal is to hit them all in an afternoon, here’s the “Tour de Rock” plan.
Cathedral Rock
The Amphitheater
From the trailhead, follow Brown’s Ranch Road 1 mile north to the Maverick Trail junction.  Hike 0.8 mile on Maverick and go right at the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail. Follow the signs 0.3 mile to The Amphitheater.
Cathedral Rock
This slick rock arena includes natural seating and a giant mass of granite sculpted into a sea serpent form. From here, continue one mile to Balanced Rock. Towering above a flat expanse of cactus and creosote, the cone-shaped behemoth teeters on a granite slab surrounded by rare desert conifers.
Balanced Rock
After posing for the requisite I-was-here photos, retrace your steps to the Cholla Mountain Loop, head north and continue 2.2 miles to Cathedral Rock.  
Views of the Superstition Mtns: Weavers Needle on horizon 
Although the collection of tilted monoliths and jumbled grottos doesn’t look like much from a distance, up close, the site reveals chapel-like windows, crags and a set of metates (grinding holes) used by ancient inhabitants of the area.  Once done ogling and exploring, hike another 0.4 miles back to the Maverick Trail and backtrack to the trailhead.
Amphitheater Sea Serpent
LENGTH: 8.5-mile circuit
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2710’ – 2972’
Browns Ranch Trailhead.
30301 N. Alma School Pkwy., Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, travel 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Road.  Turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School, turn left and drive 1 mile to the trailhead. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset daily.
INFO: McDowell Sonoran Preserve
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

Monday, November 20, 2017

Highline Trail Hike Highlights VOAz Restoration Efforts

Highline Trail Hike Highlights VOAz Restoration Efforts
Dude Creek flows over the Highline Trail
Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona project manager Paul Paonessa has a name for the pre-rehabilitated condition of the Highline Trail #31: SOLPOST. The sobriquet, which was originally concocted by Woody Keen, former director of the Professional Trail Builders Association, is an acronym for “Scar On The Land Piece of S*#t Trail.” Those who have trekked certain sections of the path that runs below the Mogollon Rim north of Payson prior to 2017 will agree---that pretty much sums it up.
A section of new alignment of the Highline Trail
The historic route was cut back in the late 1800s as a travel corridor to connect homesteads and communities around the towns of Payson and Pine. The 51-mile course began to lose value when the Civilian Conservation Corps built Forest Road 64 (Control Road) in the 1930s. This posh-by-comparison road provided an alternative to the randomly built, precariously situated dirt trail. No longer needed to run cattle and wagons, the trail was re-purposed into a sporting destination and was designated as the Highline National Recreation Trail in 1979.  
VOAz's Paul Paonessa on the new AZT bridge 
Since then, a combination of neglect, misuse, wildfires and erosion have taken a devastating toll on the trail’s condition---especially the roughly 3-mile segment that runs between the Washington Park Trailhead and Dude Creek.  Impacted by the deadly 1990 Dude Fire and 2017 Highline Fire, the section’s original layout exacerbated its demise.  Back in the day, trails were blazed as point-to-point routes with no regard for sustainability.  Crudely  hacked uphill ascents, and passages through arroyos and ravines lead to drainage problems, wash outs and overgrowth conditions.
Scar of the 1990 Dude Fire
In 2012, VOAz in partnership with the Tonto National Forest, began planning for an ambitious restoration project to stabilize and, in some cases, reroute the trail. Fueled by grants and thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the project has rescued the trail from obliteration and created a safer, more scenic trek. Paonessa points to the leadership and vision of Michael Baker, Executive Director of VOAz as the driving force behind the massive endeavor.
"He is the one who  fought for the funding, arranged all the resources,  found the various volunteers, contractors and myself ( #1 crash test dummy ) to devote the time and energy." 

Paonessa, a former City of Phoenix Park Ranger, describes the work as bringing the trail back in sync with the terrain.
Badly eroded section of trail that was re-routed
“We rerouted parts of the trail to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Sections of old trail that went through overgrown depressions or plowed straight up inclines were moved onto more sustainable surfaces with better views that also keep natural watersheds intact.
All the “fall line” sections of trail (deep ruts with loose rock and downed timber) have been redone or replaced by 5% grade climbs. In other words, you can now hike it, not crawl through it. Also, 
this October, the Arizona Trail folks installed a pedestrian bridge over the East Verde River where the AZT departs the Highline and heads north.” 
Sustainable new alignments frame epic Rim County views
Another objective of the restoration project is to enhance user experience. “We look to incorporate interesting control points when working on trails.” Paonessa adds. “Things such as historic artifacts like old culverts, unique botanical specimens and geological features add to a trail’s character.”
One section of notable improvement is where the trail was relocated from a brush-addled thorn tunnel onto an open slick rock ledge that unwinds like taffy beneath limestone escarpments that frame views of the Mazatzal Mountains previously obscured by scrub.
Paonessa on a restored section of the Highline Trail
Just beyond this Sedona-esque passage, the route winds down to meet a breathtaking half-pipe water chute at Dude Creek. Core work on the trail has been progressing at about 2 miles per season (4 miles per year) and is likely to conclude in
the near future.
Once complete, the Highline Trail will have gained extra length and renewed stature as one of Arizona’s premier hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Bigtooth maples and Gamble oaks in shades of autumn
LENGTH: 6-miles roundtrip to Dude Creek and back.
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6250’ – 6100’
Washington Park Trailhead:
From Payson, go 1.7 miles north on State Route 87 to Houston Mesa Road (Forest Road 199), turn right  and continue 10 miles the “T” intersection at Control Road (Forest Road 64) in the Whispering Pines community. Turn left, go 0.6-mile and take a right on Forest Road 32.  Go 3.2 miles to Forest Road 32A (sometimes signed as Belluzzi Blvd), turn right and continue 1 mile to the trailhead. Start at the Highline Trail sign, cross the bridge and head right.
Roads are maintained dirt suitable for carefully-driven passenger cars. 
Sign at the Washington Park trailhead
To learn how you can help with trail rehabilitation across the state:
Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona (VOAz)

Friday, November 10, 2017


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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Preparedness Tales from the Trails

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

Monday, October 23, 2017


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