Monday, February 8, 2016


Antelope Creek Segment
Corral at Hidden Treasure Mine trailhead

Nothing much has been going on in the town of Cordes since about the 1950s. Founded in 1883, the hamlet was once a busy stage stop serving sheep herders, ranchers, mail wagons and weary voyagers traveling between Prescott and Phoenix. Completion of Interstate 17 in the 1970s put the nail in the coffin as the new freeway pulled traffic off the bumpy dirt roads and onto smooth pavement. Business shifted west leaving behind a few hardy families to carry on the Old Arizona lifestyle.
Today, the area is seen mostly by travelers braving the road trip to Crown King and hikers setting out to explore the historic trail that runs through it. The Black Canyon Trail Coalition beckons hikers to "Experience the Arizona Outback" by stepping out on all or part of the 78-mile Black Canyon Trail that stretches from north Phoenix to the town of Mayer.
Water hole at Hidden Treasure Mine trailhead
The northern reaches of the trail especially live up to the "outback" label and the Antelope Creek segment is a prime introduction to the canyon-riddled rangeland lodged between Agua Fria National Monument and Prescott National Forest. Winding around the ranches and ruins of Cordes, the segment's signature features are its endless ups-and-downs, cliff-hugging turns, corrals and stock tanks supplemented with occasional cattle encounters. To get your full dose of boots in the boondocks, try a 10-mile car shuttle hike. Begin at the Hidden Treasure Mine trailhead and hike north on the Antelope Creek segment. Most of the trail is well-signed, but there are a few head-scratcher junctions. At 3.4 miles, pass a gate (leave it as you found it), continue to the 3.8-mile point and turn left onto a Jeep road. An unsigned junction comes up at mile 4.1 where you'll veer right, hike 0.1-mile and pick up the signed single track on the right. At the 5-mile point, the trail crosses Crown King Road (1.2 miles south of Cordes) then connects with a Jeep route that overlooks Black Canyon with majestic views of the Bradshaw Mountains towering above the gaping chasm. As the route transitions into the Drinking Snake segment (segments are not signed) you'll see Dripping Spring Canyon off to the left and a functioning windmill just around a bend in the road. Beyond the windmill, the trail turns left past the corral and becomes a single track once again all the way to 9.4-miles where you'll turn left onto a road, hike 0.2-mile, turn right at a junction and hike the last fraction of a mile to the Spring Valley trailhead.
Twists, turns and see-forever views
LENGTH: 10 miles one-way for car shuttle described here.
Antelope Creek Segment: 5.0 miles one-way
Drinking Snake Segment: 4.8 miles one-way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,656' - 4,192'
Rustic corrals make for interesting stops along the route
Hidden Treasure Mine Trailhead (south):
From Interstate 17, take the Bloody Basin Road exit 259. Head left (west toward Crown King) on Bloody Basin (Crown King Road, Forest Road 259) and go 3.3 miles to the stop sign in the town of Cordes. Turn left onto Antelope Creek Road (County Road 179), go 2.7 miles and veer left at the Bumble Bee/Crown King fork. Continue 1.3 miles to a stop sign, turn left and make an immediate left into the parking area marked by a rusty water tank and corral. Trail begins by the corral. The dirt road is washboard rough in spots with hairpin turns and drop offs but is passable by sedan.
View of Black Canyon and the Bradshaw Mountains
Spring Valley Trailhead (north):
From Interstate 17, take the Bloody Basin Road exit 259, go 3.3 miles west (Crown King Road, Forest Road 259) to the ghost town of Cordes, turn right (north) onto Antelope Creek Road (County Road 74) and continue 3 miles to the trailhead on the left at Forest Road 9218A. Roads are sedan friendly dirt/gravel.
INFO: Black Canyon Trail Coalition

Monday, February 1, 2016


Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Cave Creek
Elephant Mountain stands out over fresh-cut Fairy Duster Loop

If you image the trails of Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area as an ice cream sundae, Fairy Duster Loop and Mariposa Hill Trail are the whipped cream and cherry on the top. Neither trail requires much effort to hike, but they perfectly complement the area's more rough-hewn, difficult routes with soft footing and sweet views. Opened in January 2016, they offer short, pretty detours that connect with backbone route Spur Cross Trail (Maricopa Trail) to explore new territory on the site's east side.
Fairy Duster Loop traces the foothills above mesquite-cluttered Cottonwood Wash where profuse plant life makes the trek sort of like hiking through a mini botanical garden. In addition to the shrub for which it's named, plants you'll find along the flowing path include joboba, buckwheat, filaree, ratany, cholla cactus, brittle bush and dozens of wildflowers, making it a good choice for a springtime bloom snooping hike.
Mariposa Hill Trail is named for a delicate lily that decorates its flanks. This trail follows what used to be Old Cottonwood Canyon Road to a lookout point with big views of Cave Creek and the saguaro-studded mountains of Tonto National Forest.
Cholla & ocotillo on Mariposa Hill Trail

These fresh-cut routes can be hiked alone or tagged on to old favorites like the Metate Trail, for a longer loop. Here's one trail mix option.
View of Cave Creek from Mariposa Hill Trail

From the trailhead, hike 0.1-mile north on Spur Cross Trail (SX) , turn right onto Fairy Duster Loop. Hike the 0.6-mile loop, then head 0.7-mile north (right) on SX to Mariposa Hill Trail. Hike 0.2-mile to the top and then back down. Continue 0.2 mile on SX to Metate Trail, follow it 0.8 mile back to SX, turn left and go 0.3 -mile back to the trailhead.
Fairy Duster bush
LENGTH: 2.9 miles (loop described here)
ELEVATION: 2,200'-2,468' (loop described here)
Fairy Duster Loop: 0.6-mile loop (2,330' - 2,385')
Mariposa Hill: 0.2 one way (2,400' - 2,468')
RATING: easy-moderate
FEE: $3 daily per person. Bring exact change for the self-serve permit kiosk.
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive 15 miles north to Spur Cross Ranch Road. This is an easy-to-miss junction located just before entering the busy main drag of Cave Creek. It is signed and the turn off is on the left. From here, the road jogs north and then makes a tight turn to the right at Grapevine. Continue 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left. The last mile of the road is good dirt.
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:

Monday, January 25, 2016


Tonto National Forest, near Payson
Y Bar Trail on the edge above Shake Tree Canyon
Woe be to my judgment when I equate a trail's greatness with how much I want to puke while hiking it. I mean that in a good way. Trails that have lots of strenuous elevation gain and dizzying exposure are personal favorites. Heights, cliffs and edge-hugging bends all provide an adrenaline-fueled euphoria that can sometimes muddle decision making skills. While learning to conquer fear and build confidence are perks of the sport, it's important to crank up the brain cells when approaching the thin veil that separates exciting from stupid. Agonizing but ultimately wise hiking choices I have made include missing a summit because of an ear-infection-induced case of vertigo and abbreviating a recent trek on Y Bar Trail #44 when my group encountered more ice and snow than we were prepared to tackle safely. Next time. Although tame in comparison to some other notoriously arduous Arizona hiking trails, Y Bar still has several opportunities to pause for thought. The trail is steep, rocky and requires traversing of talus slopes and narrow, cliff-clinging turns with deep drop offs. On days when it's clear of obstacles, this challenging trail within the Mazatzal Wilderness is achievable by most well-conditioned, adequately equipped hikers. Do not underestimate the slowing power of constant elevation gain and unstable footing. Bring along extra water and food as this hike will likely take longer than you estimate. Even the most athletic hikers will want to allow extra time to soak in the scenery.
Mogollon Rim views 
The hike begins with a moderate climb through juniper, oak and agaves with big views of the Mogollon Rim and Highway 87 a thousand feet below. After a series of switchbacks, the trail swings west, heading deeper into the wilderness where it dips into Shake Tree Canyon then moves up along the jostled terrain of Cactus Ridge to emerge on a magnificent, windy saddle. Here, 7,903-foot Mazatzal Peak towers above a craggy back country of rock pinnacles, scorched trees and fathomless scoured basins. The trail ends at the Windsor Saddle where it meets up with Mazatzal Divide Trail that's also part of Arizona Trail Passage #23. Unless you've researched and geared up for one of the marathon loop treks returning on either the Barnhardt or Rock Creek Trail, make this your turn around point.
Cliffs below Mazatzal Peak

LENGTH: 4.6 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 4,200' - 7,100'

Y Bar Trail

Barnhardt Trailhead:
From Shea Blvd. and State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy.) in Fountain Hills, travel 51 miles north on SR87 to Forest Road 419. This road is located just beyond the sign for Barnhardt Trailhead roughly 0.25-mile south of the town of Gisela. Turn left and go 4.8 miles on FR 419 to the trailhead. FR 419 is a rutted one-lane track. Although sedans are frequently sighted at the trailhead, a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Trail heads left at a sign a few yards up the Barnhardt Trail.
INFO: Tonto National Forest

Monday, January 18, 2016


Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Tucson
Finger Rock Canyon Trail

Commanding the skyline above Finger Rock Canyon is an eponymous stone pinnacle that resembles a clenched fist with its index finger pointing toward the heavens. This is your first clue to the nature of the trail that makes an aggressive, unrelenting ascent of its rugged domain. Finger Rock Trail #42 begins with a moderate walk among massive rock slabs, sheer cliff faces, saguaros and seasonal creeks replete with mini waterfalls and lush greenery. But don't get too comfortable because the party's over at the 1-mile point, where just beyond Finger Rock Spring, the trail begins its assault on your physical and mental fortitude. The route wastes no time gaining elevation. Like a giant staircase, the trail moves uphill via tight switchbacks and high-step maneuvers with few breaks in between. Much of the path clings to the edge of the canyon walls offering both terrific views and plenty of queasy exposure. In some spots, you're hiking just inches from sheer drop offs. The canyon's sharp-edged geology, hardy Upper Sonoran Zone vegetation and unspoiled ambiance are a tribute to its protected status within Pusch Ridge Wilderness.
Finger Rock (top right) points to the heavens
Although the suburbs and industrial parks of Tucson are visible from the trail, the canyon oozes a strong, untamed character. Embrace the wild by inhaling the brisk mountain breezes, listening for tumbling water and the cries of raptors while keeping an eye out for desert big horn sheep creeping along clefts and ridge lines. (To protect the sheep, dogs are not allowed on the trails within the wildlife management area).
Conquering this delightfully agonizing trail is a feather-in-the-cap for experts, but trekkers of all skill levels can also enjoy the hike by adapting the length to suit. The super-high-octane version of this trek includes a side trip up to 7,258-foot Mount Kimball. To reach the summit, veer left at the junction with Pima Canyon Trail #62 at 3.9 miles and hike a half-mile on #62 to the summit spur. Other landmark-specific turnaround points are listed below.
View of Tucson

Turnaround options:
Finger Rock Spring: 1 mile, 3,520' (400' elevation gain)
Wind Cave: 2 miles, 4,500' (1,380' elevation gain)
Linda Vista Saddle: 3.5 miles, 5,700' (2,580' elevation gain)
Mt. Kimball: 4.2 miles, 7,258' (4,138' elevation gain)
Trail #42 is rocky and steep
LENGTH: 6.3 miles one-way (Trail #42 only)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 3,120' - 6,880'(trail #42 proper)
RULES: dogs are not allowed
Finger Rock Spring marks the start of the hard climbing
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Ina Road exit 248. Follow Ina Road to where it curves into Skyline Drive, continue to the 9.6-mile point, turn left on Alvernon Road and go 0.9 mile to the trailhead parking lot on the left. The trail begins a few yards up the road on Alvernon.
INFO & MAP: Santa Catalina Ranger District, Coronado National Forest
Desert Big Horn Sheep:

Monday, January 11, 2016


Skyline Regional Park, Buckeye
Turnbuckle Trail links to Valley Vista Trail for a summit climb
Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck was spot-on when he quoted Andy Warhol during the grand opening ceremony of Skyline Regional Park. The 20th-century artist famous for his paintings of soup cans and celebrities said, "I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want." Perhaps Warhol's spirit was riding shotgun on the mini track hoe that blazed the trails in this 8,600-acre West Valley outdoor recreation hub that was official rolled out on January 9, 2016. That's one possible explanation as to why the trail layout features so many beautifully framed vistas and organic vignettes. Much like a perfectly executed brushstroke or acrobatic back flip, the system is fluid and comfortable in its skin. The "skin" consists of the pristine washes and foothills of the southern White Tank Mountains. The dirt paths wrap around the terrain like whispers revealing secrets contained within area's natural elements without ever getting in the way. 
Although it's located just 2 miles north of Interstate 10, the blissfully quiet site has a wild yet accessible feel to it.
Valley Vista Trail goes to the top of that peak.
Turnbuckle Trail
The 3-mile, moderate-rated Turnbuckle Trail is the longest of the seven Phase I routes. Like most hikes in the park, it begins with a stroll across a graceful, oxidized bridge spanning Mountain Wash. It loops around a prominent mountain peak and connects with Valley Vista Trail for an optional 0.33-mile, difficult climb to the summit. This short hiker-only trek involves some steep, narrow sections with drop offs.
So far, 6 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding are complete. Eleven more miles are on deck to open by September of this year. Mayor Meck concluded the opening ceremonies by describing future plans for even more trekking routes and enhanced facilities promising the crowds, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
Junctions are marked by map posts like this one.
LENGTH: 4 miles
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,500' - 2,300'
FACILITIES: Restrooms, picnic tables, campsites
FEES: None for day use. Camping is by reservation only.
2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit and go 2 miles north to the park. Roads are paved and
sedan-friendly dirt.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Ice in Dry Creek: Dec. 31, 2015
For hikers of a certain age, the name Chuck Wagon might conjure images of a TV dog food commercial from the 1970s. Remember the miniature horse-drawn wagon racing through a home with the family dog eagerly in chase? That freaky little wagon eventually disappears into a kitchen cabinet where the goodies are kept neatly out of sight. Unlike in the ad, the goodies on Sedona's Chuck Wagon Trail are by no means hidden. The amusingly twisted route on the west end of town rolls through russet cliffs above and through Dry Creek. On the high points, views of Capitol Butte, Mescal, Doe and Bear Mountains, Cockscomb and the Grassy Knolls stand out over gullies painted in a million shades of green by cypress, juniper and yucca. The trail was originally blazed by mountain bikers and was recently adopted into the Red Rock Ranger District system. With the exposure of this swooping beauty-of-a-trail to foot travel, a typical hiking experience includes sharing the path with lots of swift-moving bikers followed by trekkers (some with dogs) in hot pursuit of the goodies.
Another feature of note on this trail is the crowds. But don't despair, most of them are going to Devil's Bridge. In addition to its standalone awesomeness, Chuck Wagon Trail also provides a way for hikers to avoid the kidney-jarring drive on Dry Creek Road to access the immensely popular, 0.8-mile Devil's Bridge Trail. A map at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead shows how to use spur paths for either a road walk or trail hike to the site.
Puddles over Dry Creek Canyon

In addition to the requisite Devil's Bridge pilgrimage, there are dozens of ways to link Chuck Wagon Trail into a day of hiking. Here's one option:
From the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead, follow Chuck Wagon trail 4.8 miles to where it ends at Long Canyon Road. Cross the road and pick up Long Canyon Trail heading left. At the 0.3 mile point, turn left on Mescal Trail, hike 0.2 mile, cross the road and follow the signs to the Chuck Wagon junction. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 6.6 mile loop (as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,480' - 4,680'
Cockscomb and Doe Mountain in distance
Dry Creek Vista Trailhead:
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west (left toward Cottonwood) on 89A to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C). Turn right, go 1.9 miles to Forest Road 152, turn right and continue 0.2 mile to the trailhead on the left. Roads are paved and sedan-friendly dirt. No fees.
Alternate access points:
Mescal Trailhead:
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west on SR 89A (left, toward Cottonwood) to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), turn right and continue 2.9 miles to Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 152D), turn right and go 0.2 mile to the trailhead on the right. No fees.
Long Canyon Trailhead:
From the Mescal Trailhead, continue another 0.3 mile up FR152D to the on the left. Trail begins across the road. No fees.
Chuck Wagon Trail links with Devil's Bridge Trail

Thursday, December 31, 2015


WAG & WALK DOG ADOPTION HIKE: This Saturday Jan. 2
Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
UPCOMING 2016 HIKES: Sat. Feb. 6, Sat. March 5, Sat. April 2.
Ruh Ro, here they come again! The dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care & Control's Mesa shelter
will be hitting the trail once again in hopes of finding their forever homes.
Start the New Year by joining the parade of wagging tails on an easy, 1-mile hike on the Merkle Trail this Saturday, January 2, 2016. Participating dogs are already spayed or neutered, up-to-date on their shots and ready to go home with you on the spot. Volunteer handlers can assist you with "test drives" to see how each dog walks on leash and can answer your questions about the dog's breed, activity level and personality. It's a great way to meet your potential new best friend outside the commotion of the shelter environment where the dogs are more relaxed and able to display their true (usually goofy) characters. Even if you're not ready to adopt, we encourage you to come out to the park, walk with the dogs and learn about MCACC adoption facilities, volunteer opportunities and other ways you can help the animals.
WHEN: Saturday, January 2, 2016
TIME: 9 a.m.
WHERE: Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


This Red-tail hawk was released into the park in June
Hikers, the big day has arrived. Grand Opening ceremonies for Skyline Regional Park in Buckeye will be held on Saturday, January 9, 2016. This West Valley park adds miles of new trails in the area south of the White Tank Mountains. The festivities will include wildlife exhibits, tours, hikes and giveaways. So, come on out and give this amazing project a proper debut.

WHEN: Saturday, January 9, 2016
TIME: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
WHERE: 2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye. From Interstate 10, take the Watson Road exit and go 2 miles north to the park.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Superstition Wilderness Area
View of Weaver's Needle from Black Mesa Trail
It may be just a stone’s throw from town, but hiking out from the First Water Trailhead at the western edge of the Superstition Wilderness is a surprisingly alien experience. Because the first mile or so of hiking in this area is considered to be easy, the site is a big draw for parents herding a mixed lot of dogs and kids outfitted with Sponge Bob backpacks and spiffy shoes that light up in sync with their stride. A very popular circuit here is the Black Mesa Loop that uses the Dutchmans, Black Mesa and Second Water trails for a continually-changing tour of  this wild pocket in Tonto National Forest.
Easy at first, the route transitions into a twisted collection of dips, climbs and tricky crossings of boulder-clogged washes and creeks. After the first 2 miles, the crowds become noticeably thinner. A sturdy pair of boots and hiking poles for balance will help get you through the rough parts to reap the rewarding views of a volcanic landscape scoured by millions of years of exposure to the earth’s turbulent elements. You'll be swallowed up in a wonderland of oddly-shaped pinnacles, gaping canyons and rugged arroyos. Add to that, the effects of changing light over the course of an afternoon, and it’s easy to feel as if you have been transported to another planet. For an extra treat, hang around until dusk and watch the stars come out for a show that's more brilliant than light-up shoes.
Rugged beauty on Dutchmans Trail
Black Mesa Trail
From the trailhead, follow the access path 0.3 mile to the Dutchman's Trail #104 junction. Veer right (south) and follow #104 3.9 miles to the Black Mesa Trail #241 junction. Turn left (northwest) here and continue 3.0 miles on #241 to the Second Water Trail #236 junction, turn left (south) and follow #236 1.5 miles back to the Dutchman's junction, turn right and hike 0.3 mike back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9-mile loop
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 2,200' - 2,750'
Second Water Trail
From Phoenix, go east on US 60 to the Idaho Road (State Route 88) exit. Turn left and follow Idaho to SR88, turn right and continue to First Water Road (Forest Road 78), which is located about a half mile past the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park (between mileposts 201 and 202) and is signed for First Water Trailhead. Turn right and go 2.6 miles to the trailhead. Forest Road 78 is on maintained dirt with some potholes and washboard sections passable by carefully-driven sedan.
INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ethical Hiking for 2016

Stay on designated trails

During my 2015 hiking adventures, I noticed a disturbing trend. It seems the popularity of off-trail and bush whack hiking has been growing. I've witnessed this firsthand, read endless news reports about off-trail hikers needing rescue and saw hiking clubs promoting these types of outings on their websites. Although cross country travel on some public land is not necessarily illegal; I question the ethics of such use. Land management agencies across the board are embracing sustainable practices for recreational management. These include paying special attention to trail construction, ATV access, group size limitations and educating the public about the damage caused by irresponsible use.
For hikers, the message is simple----stick to established trails. This rally cry encompasses more than the cartoonish cliche of the "militant tree-hugger". It is supported by science (see one good source below) and rooted in maintaining access while preserving irreplaceable resources for future generations.
Don't trample pristine land---use the trail
Here a just a few reasons why hikers should stay on trails:
• Studies have shown that initial, low levels of trampling on pristine land causes the most severe damage.
• Unofficial social trails can cause confusion and lead to hikers getting lost.
• Social trails are built without the benefit of environment impact studies and are largely of poor design making them dangerous for users and harmful to sensitive vegetation.
• Delicate soil crusts that contain organisms essential for forest health take hundreds of years to form are destroyed by one boot print.
• Off-trail exploring can harm fragile archeological sites.
• There are hundreds of abandoned mines in Arizona that are not obvious until somebody gets injured.
• Trail cutting and widening along with carin building cause erosion and encourage others to follow suit.
• Off-trail hikers can trigger higher defense response in wildlife.
• Contrary to popular belief, hiker-blazed routes are NOT automatically adopted into the land agent's scope of official trails. If you have an idea for a new trail---contact the agency.
• Even a short off-trail traipse to find a good lunch spot causes damage. Take breaks on durable surfaces like established camp sites or trail-side logs.
• The seeds of invasive species have been documented to stay lodged in shoes for hundreds of miles. When you cut into soft, untraveled land, these seeds may take root causing devastating disruption of the ecosystem.
• Hiking off trail puts the search and rescue workers who will come to save your butt at unnecessary risk.

As the popularity of hiking for leisure, fitness, healing and personal growth continues to rise, paying attention to sustainability will become more and more important.
My New Year's wish for 2016 is that individual hikers and groups alike adopt and share sustainable trail ethics with a vengeance.
Arizona has a deep bench of hiking clubs that organize events, teach skills, donate countless hours of volunteer work and foster lasting friendships and a love of the outdoors. These same wonderful clubs have a great opportunity to promote stewardship by example.
See you on the trail in 2016!

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Monday, December 21, 2015


McDowell Mountain Regional Park
View of Four Peaks from the Escondido Trail

There's a cool virtual tour of the Escondido Trail on the McDowell Mountain Regional Park website. It's a beautiful slide show describing the route's scenic features, elevation profiles and loop options. This is the park's first online tour and it's great for both vicarious thrills and inspiration to hike the trail in real life.
Constructed in late 2013, the trail can be accessed at established trailheads or from its many connecting routes. One option is to begin at the Lousley Hill Trailhead and hike 5.1 miles south to the Four Peaks Staging Area as either an out-and-back or car shuttle trek. Because of its flowing style, hairpin turns, graceful bends and few obstacles, the trail feels fast underfoot. Located in the park's far east end, the mostly unshaded trail showcases expansive mountain views, a smattering of gigantic saguaros and a twisting walk through the quarry-like mounds and washes around the Lousley Hills.
The trail's fast track nature makes it a favorite among mountain bikers and runners. For hikers, the smooth pathway is perfect for a joint-friendly, swift paced jaunt.
The Flatiron in Superstition Mountains on horizon

LENGTH: 6.2 miles one-way (10.2 out-and-back as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,620' - 1,930'
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic areas, horse staging, visitor center
Loopy section near the Lousley Hills
Lousley Hill Trailhead:
From Loop 202 in Phoenix, take the State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) exit 13. Go 11.5 miles north to Shea Blvd. Follow Shea 0.5 mile to Saguaro Blvd., turn right and continue 3.7 miles to Fountain Hills Blvd. Turn right and go 4 miles to the park entrance.
Follow McDowell Mountain Park Drive 4.8 miles to Lousley Drive South, turn right continue 0.3 mile to the parking area

Monday, December 14, 2015


Payson Area Trails System
Snow hiking Monument Peak Loop: Dec. 13, 2015

Snow days in Payson are rarer than those in Flagstaff or the White Mountains, but when they do occur, getting to good snow hiking trails is a lot easier than at the higher elevations where deeper accumulations and unplowed forest roads can thwart access and frustrate even the most experienced trekkers. The Payson Area Trails System (PATS) network of routes winds around a through town with easy-to-find trailheads along residential streets so there's usually no need to chain up or kick in the four wheel drive to enjoy a wintery walk.
A good bet for a snow hike is the Monument Peak Loop. Because it runs through a mix of shady pine forests, manzanita scrub and sunny meadows with intermittent streams, you'll get a smorgasbord of deep drifts, gentle dustings, frost-kissed cypress trees and ice capped pools. The trail is well-signed and heavily traveled by locals so chances are the path will have already been packed down by time you arrive. However, it's smart to head out with equipment to keep yourself safe. Hiking poles, layers of technical fabric clothing (ditch the cotton jeans) and boots with good traction are essential. Some hikers insist that a pair of slip on crampons make all the difference. Additionally, keep in mind that snow and ice is most treacherous when it starts to melt. An early start means you'll face colder temperatures, but you'll also have a better chance of avoiding slips and muddy boots. The photos here are from a hike on December 13, 2015 following a storm on the previous day. It was 27 degrees when we started around 9 a.m. and 34 degrees at 10:30 a.m.
An intermittent stream along Monument Peak Loop
LENGTH: 3.3-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 4,630' - 4,795'
Snow-frosted logs make for great photo opps
From the intersection of State Route 87/260 in Payson, go less than a mile east on SR260 to Granite Dells Road (located just past the Safeway center). Turn right and go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into Forest Road 435 after 1.3 miles) to the Monument Peak trailhead on the left.
Stock tank with Mogollon Rim view
INFO & MAPS: Payson Area Trails System

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Drinking Snake Segment
Windmill near Dripping Spring

I love snakes. Snakes are great. If it weren't for snakes, rodents would probably be the dominant species on Earth and we'd all be speaking ratish. So, naturally, a trail named Drinking Snake would jump off the map and onto my must do list. But, like many hikers, running into a snake on the trail sends a chill up my spine. One of the biggest concerns I hear from hikers is the fear of snake encounters. Various theories culled from both credible science and the crusty archives of pseudo-psychiatry offer divination into the angst of ophidiophobia. First, there's a global assumption that all humans fear snakes. This has been exploited by therapists and Hollywood alike. For instance, if you say you're not afraid of snakes on the analyst's couch or in a job interview or, you may be pegged as a liar. Then there's the movie, Snakes on a Plane with its preposterous restroom viper attack scene. In a more credible arena, scholarly writings suggest that natural selection may have favored those who learned to avoid snakes. Basically, people who ran lived to reproduce and go hiking. This idea is supported by reports of lunkheads who pick up rattlesnakes for ill-fated photo ops.

Bradshaw Mountains dominate the trail's western flank

After the initial snake encounter adrenaline rush runs its course, it's then possible to appreciate the beauty of serpents and their role in the environment. And yes, the Drinking Snake Segment of the Black Canyon Trail is as good a place as any for herpetological hoopla. This 4.8-mile stretch of the 78-mile route that runs from Phoenix to Mayer cuts through foothills and grasslands fed by Big Bug and Antelope Creeks. In addition to transient water, the creeks provide a rich habitat for the tasty critters snakes love. Mice, squirrels, lizards, rabbits, birds and other snakes are all on the menu. But, from a snake's perspective, anything that's not food (hikers, dogs, livestock) is a waste of venom. Trekkers who are aware of their surroundings and give serpents their space are in little danger. Although there are rattlers along this trail, you're more likely to run into innocuous species like garter, king and gopher snakes. Additionally, the vipers are less active in cold weather which is also the best time to hike this exposed route. The hike begins with a walk on Forest Road 9218A where you'll pass a gate then turn left where the road splits at the 0.3-mile point. After another 0.3-mile, the trail becomes a singletrack and continues 2.4 miles to a scenic windmill and water tank above Dripping Spring Canyon. From here, you're back on a Jeep road for the final 1.8-mile haul to the Antelope Creek Segment.
Sunny grasslands
LENGTH: 4.8 miles one-way
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3,932' – 4,220'
Spring Valley Trailhead:
From Interstate 17, take the Bloody Basin Road exit 259, go 3.3 miles west (Crown King Road, Forest Road 259) to the ghost town of Cordes, turn right (north) Antelope Creek Road (County Road 74) and continue 3 miles to the trailhead on the left at Forest Road 9218A. Roads are sedan-friendly dirt/gravel.
Storm clouds over Big Bug Mesa
Black Canyon Trail Coalition
Living with Venomous Reptiles:
Snake Bite First aid:
Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Big Bug Segment
Bradshaw Mountain views on the Big Bug Segment of BCT

You'd be hard pressed to find another Arizona route imbued with as much history as the Black Canyon Trail. Records of its many centuries of use are preserved in rock art, public documents and the dens of wily desert critters. Since its origins as a Native American footpath, it has morphed into a cattle driveway and wagon road before settling into its current role as a recreational trail for hikers, bikers, equestrians and (in a few places) ATVs. Running for roughly 78 miles in a twisting, north-south thread between the Carefree Highway north of Phoenix to the town of Mayer outside of Prescott, the route traces the foothills and valleys of the Bradshaw Mountains. The trail is organized into convenient segments---each with its own set of defining characteristics. Depending on where you are on the trail, you'll see smatterings of the ruins, petroglyphs, ranches, mining operations and windmills that document the trail's diverse heritage. Augmenting the artifacts is a continually changing mix of ecosystems ranging from canyon-bound, moist riparian strips to dry scrubby savannah.
An artfully constructed carin on the trail
The northernmost Big Bug Segment falls squarely on the "scrubby" end of the scale. It's a wind-in-your-face kind of hike though exposed rangelands with mountain views all around. The first mile runs through a bucolic territory of homesteads and horses along Highway 69. After rounding a bend, the route ducks into a quiet habitat where every thump of a hiking boot has the potential to rouse rabbits and scrub jays from their juniper tree sanctuaries. Just beyond the 2.5-mile point, the trail crosses Antelope Creek Road then follows a Jeep track 0.6-mile to connect with the Drinking Snake segment. Along the way, keep an eye out for packrat middens. They look like scrap piles but further inspection reveals tiny entrances covered with everything from roots and twigs to cow dung and bones that are occasionally topped off with stray parts (belt buckles, lens caps, socks) left behind by (or pilfered from) travelers. These rodent abodes are built upon over many generations and some are tens of thousands of years old. The tiny time capsules can contain treasure troves of mummified and fossil plant, animal and human relics. What is garbage to the untrained eye is gold to the scientists who study the middens to understand biotic and climate change over time. So, through their unsavory housekeeping habits, the rat's have become "accidental archivists" and important contributors to the history of a classic Western trail.

LENGTH: 6.2 miles out-an-back (as described here)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3,950' - 4,140'
FACILITIES: vault toilet
Packrat middens (lower right)
Big Bug Trailhead:
From Interstate 17 in Cordes Junction take exit 262 for State Route 69 heading north toward Prescott.
Set your odometer and drive 4.2 miles to a point 0.7-mile past mile marker 266, (N 34 21.823 W 112 10.556) turn left onto an unmarked drive and continue 0.1 mile to the trailhead. To find the trail, pass the gate near the restroom and stay to the right of the fences and corral. (There was a large carin here on our visit). Follow the trail though a drainage, and veer right at the top of a rise where the trail splits. Follow the trail to the right of a fence line and you'll soon see a BCT sign. From here, the trail is easy to follow.
Black Canyon Trail Coalition

Monday, November 16, 2015


Casa Grande
The Ridge Trail 

Casa Grande Mountain Park resides in the desert space between a world of truck stops and freeways and valleys of checkerboard farmlands. Here, mornings break to the hum of traffic, blaring train horns and veils of mist drifting off crops. Despite its proximity to the busy Interstate 10/8 interchange, the park has quality hiking, especially at its southern end where the din of industry is absorbed in cholla-fleeced foothills and stoney clefts.
The 1,025-acre park has more than 12 miles of non-motorized use trails. The system is made up of stacked loops with varying levels of difficulty anchored by the 4.86-mile Ridge Trail that traces the mountain's eastern flank. Although the Ridge Trail is well-signed, some of the others are not, but finding your way around isn't too tough. Also, because wildcat social trails muddle the terrain, it's smart to download the park map before heading out. Official trails are marked by metal posts with arrows that use standard alpine color codes (black for difficult, blue for moderate, green for easy). Follow the posts to stay on track. Two trailheads offer distinctly different experiences. At the north end, the Peart Trailhead appeals to those looking for easy, close-to-town hiking, while the Arica Trailhead provides access to the park's midsection and more difficult options.
While on the trail, scan the horizon for the profile of Picacho Peak and the jagged silhouette of the Sawtooth Mountains. Underfoot, look for the Arizona Fishhook Pincushion cactus that appears to grows out of solid rock in calf-high clusters blooming pink in spring before producing cherry-red fruits that linger through winter.
Farmlands and the Sawtooth Mountains

LENGTH: 12.3 miles
RATING: easy to difficult
ELEVATION: 1,500' - 2,350'
FACILITIES: porta potty, interpretive sign, benches, trash can
The Ridge Trail with the Picacho Mountains on the horizon

Peart Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Casa Grande, take the Jimmie Kerr Blvd. exit 198 (State Route 84) and travel 2.6 miles west to Peart Road. Turn left (south) and continue 1.7 miles to where a "hiker" sign points to a dirt road on the left. Follow this sedan-friendly road 0.4 mile to the trailhead.
Arica Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Casa Grande, take the Sunland Gin Road exit 200 and head 0.1 mile south to Arica Road (just past the Loves truck stop). Turn right and continue 1.5 mile to the trailhead. The last half-mile is on rough dirt but is passable by sedan.
Arizona Fishhook Pincushion Cactus

City of Casa Grande