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Friday, November 16, 2018


LaBarge Narrows in the Supes.
Hike begins near Canyon Lake.
LaBarge Creek route.
Not for the novice hiker, this combination hike and cross-county exploration leads to a breathtaking, secluded box canyon with that harbors a cloistered riparian ecosystem in the Superstition Wilderness near Canyon Lake.
Hiker at the base of Narrows walls.
The adventure follows Boulder Canyon Trail #103 along a desert ridge above Canyon Lake Marina before making a steep descent to where LaBarge Creek flows across the trail at the 2.9-mile point.
LaBarge Creek terrain.
Boulder Trail crosses the stream and veers right, but to get to the box canyon, leave the trail, veer left and follow the creek bed heading southeast. (Note: this route may be impassible after heavy rains.) From this point on, the hike is a cross-country boulder scramble.
Heading down Boulder Trail.
Do not attempt this hike if you are not in shape or lack basic route-finding skills.  
Battleship Mtn. flanks the rough route.
Save some energy for the hike out.
Inside the Narrows
The destination appears as a prominent pyramid-shaped outcropping upstream--use that as your guide. As the route traverses the rugged sycamore-and-bear-grass-lined washes in the shadow of blocky Battleship Mountain, which flanks the western edge of the watercourse, the passage gets progressively tougher until, at the entrance to the “narrows”, the canyon is choked with massive quartz-encrusted monoliths.
Boulders at the Narrows entrance.
Strong hikers will have no trouble picking through the rocks to reach the goal. Within the towering walls of the narrows, golden Velvet ash trees dot the shores of tiny pools like windswept beacons of light. Autumn foliage color usually lasts through mid-December here unless frost turns the leaves prematurely brown.
Rough route is not for novice hikers.
Darting flocks of canyon wrens, chattering cardinals and roosting hawks find food and shelter among the cattails, reeds and willows that feast on the precious waters of LaBarge Creek.
Quartz crystals embedded in boulders.
Depending on water levels, you can hike through the twisting, rocky corridor as far as you like but consider your time wisely as the return trip back up the canyon will feel worse and take longer than you’d expect. The second bend within the narrows at roughly the 4.7-mile point makes for a good turnaround point leaving plenty of time to slog your way out with daylight to spare.
LENGTH: 9.4 miles out-and-back
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,600 – 2,400 feet
GETTING THERE: From U.S. 60 in Apache Junction take the State Route 88 (Idaho Road) exit. Turn left at the off-ramp light and continue on SR 88 for 15 miles to the Canyon Lake Marina between mileposts 210 and 211. A Tonto Pass is not required if you park in the designated hiker parking area. The trail begins at the sign for Boulder Canyon Trail #103 across the road.
Battleship Mtn (L) and Weavers Needle (C) from Boulder Trl
Canyon Lake seen from Boulder Trail.
Tonto National Forest, Superstition Wilderness

Monday, November 12, 2018


The Pyrite trail traverses several ridges & high passes.
One of the most striking features of Skyline Regional Park’s Pyrite Trail is its quiet atmosphere.  The fresh-cut route is one of the newest trails in the 8700-acre park located 2 miles north of Interstate 10 in Buckeye. 
Sierra Estrella Mountains on the far horizon.
The moderate-rated path begins 1.4 miles from the trailhead and can be harnessed into several loop hike options.  Exploring the park’s western edge, the trail spins off the heavily-travelled Granite Falls-Chuckwalla-Turnbuckle circuit and heads into a cloistered wilderness of sound-stifling mountain peaks and scoured washes.
Creosote bloom along the park trails.
View from a high pass on Pyrite Trail.
The muffled sounds of wind, wings and scampering critters dovetail nicely with the desert solitude.
Washes and mountains muffle noise.
Like a great actor in an even better play, the silence here is the character that anchors the storyline without disrupting the plot.  The “plot” of this adventure is how the trail mitigates a 700-foot climb to a climatic summit by way of deceptively intimidating switchbacks.
Milky quartz spills from fractured cliffs.
Just under a mile into the trail, a set of climb-calming zig-zags take on a ragged ridgeline of mineral-stained volcanic and metamorphic rocks.  Although the switchbacks look imposing from a distance, the climbing is only a moderate slog. 
The final set of switchbacks visible below a peak.
On the way up the ridge, chunks of milky quartz that somestimes occurs with pyrite-- an iron sulfide mineral commonly known as "fools gold"--cascade down the escarpments settling in shiny heaps at the bases of barrel cacti and cholla. As the trail gains elevation, views to the south feature the peaks of the Sierra Estrella Mountains and the sprawling Gila River drainage basin. After roughly a quarter-mile, the trail comes to a pass where the foothills and valleys of the southern White Tank Mountains roll out to the north. Ahead, another set of switchbacks creep up a steeper ridge with several sheer drop offs and scenic vista points. 
Chuckwalla Trail return route visible in the valley below.
Pyrite Trail ascends the ridgeline in the center of photo.
The slightly more vertical and precipitous segment culminates at an airy gap overlooking the park’s trail-rich midsection (those squiggly lines below are the return routes), green farmlands to the southwest and a glimpse of the remainder of the trail as is snakes up a bluff on a scary-looking edge to the trail’s highpoint.  Again, it’s not as bad as it looks.
Switchbacks appear more difficult than they are.
Desert lavender grows in washes along the trail.
At the top, the optional 0.6-mile roundtrip Pyrite Summit spur trail wanders out onto a queasy lookout point for rewarding 360-degree vistas.  From the highpoint, the trail then makes a 0.4-mile descent to connect with the Chuckwalla Trail where heavier foot traffic and swooping bikes mark the end of the nature-insulated hush. For a 6.7-mile roundtrip hike, go right at the junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead or use the park maps to build a longer trek.
Trailhead in distance seen from Pyrite Trail.
LENGTH: 6.7-mile loop (as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1500 – 2200 feet
Skyline Regional Park, 2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye.
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit 117 and go 2 miles north to the park. Roads are paved.
Pyrite Trail spins off busier park trails.
There are restrooms, campsites and picnic areas at the trailhead. No day use fees. Camping is by reservation only.
HOURS: Trails open daily from sunrise to sunset. Gates close at 10 p.m.

Monday, October 29, 2018


View from near the top of Col. Devin Trail.
For casual travelers, the East Verde River is synonymous with water play destinations along Houston Mesa Road north of Payson. The Water Wheel, First, Second and Third Crossing recreation sites offer walk-up access to the canyon-bound water course.
The trail ascends through the E. Verde River watershed.
A tributary of the mighty Verde River, the slim waterway begins as trickling springs that emanate from rugged escarpments below the Mogollon Rim.
Boxelder trees thrive along the E. Verde River.
Bigtooth maple leafs float in the E. Verde River
The river’s enchanting watershed area can be explored by way of the Colonel Devin Trail #290 that follows its course from Washington Park to the springs that feed it.
Named for Colonel Thomas C. Devin who used the route for military endeavors in the 1880s, the dirt trail that alternates between a rutted two track and slender path also makes up the last two miles of Highline Passage of the Arizona Trail.
A typical scene on the lower part of Col. Devin Trail.
Col. Devin Trail is part of the Arizona Trail.
The route’s proximity to the river and its drainages makes for a shady trek best done in fall or spring when water levels peak and foliage is at its most beautiful.
Although the forest service rates this hike as difficult, just about anybody can manage the first mile. Adding to the hike’s many natural attractions, the trail is bookended with tributes the area’s human history.  At the Washington Park trailhead, the hike begins at an informational kiosk with plaques that describe  past military operations, pioneers and economic development.
Trail sign near Rim Road.
White watercress grow in a drainage that feeds the E. Verde.
Take a moment to read the posters to gain an appreciation for the storied past of the territory you’re about to walk through. Beyond the kiosk, the path crosses the first of 4 bridges---two metal spanners constructed by the Arizona Trail Association and two split-log catwalks—that take the jump out of creek crossings.
The trail climbs more than 1000 feet to the top of the Rim.
Railroad Tunnel is an optional & difficult side trip. 
Boxelder trees turn lemony-yellow in autumn.
Tracing the waterway through forests of mixed conifers, maples, boxelders, Gambel oaks and an understory of canyon grape vines and blooming shrubs, the first segment of the hike is a not-too-difficult, visual delight. The sound of waterfalls and cascading rivulets adds a pleasant soundtrack to this leafy stroll. One mile from the trailhead, the route merges with the decommissioned military road and begins its 1000-foot climb to the top of the Mogollon Rim.  The next half-mile is defined by a moderate ascent on the banks above the river where dribbling feeder streams and spring water tumble down to join the main channel. Where water glides across the trail, a smattering of aspens and Arizona sycamores sprout from moist soils and sandy washes.
Deep woods define the first mile.
A bridge built by the AZT Assoc. spans the E. Verde River.
The demanding work begins where the trail makes a sharp right at the Tunnel Trail #390 junction. Enter the elephant in the room: Railroad Tunnel. An optional quarter-mile difficult side trip to a much-hyped, graffiti-spoiled excavation site can be an interesting diversion for history buffs and hikers who enjoy an off-the-wall diversion. Unlike the ore it was to have hauled from the copper-rich mines around the town of Globe, plans by the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad to bore through the Mogollon Rim for quick transport of the goods to Flagstaff didn’t pan out. The futile 1880s tunnel project went bust and was abandoned, leaving behind mounds of rubble and a dank, 70-foot-deep stone cave that’s been defaced by modern-day vandals. 
The upper trail is steep and rocky.
Unless you’re into visiting quirky bits of Arizona history; skip the gritty climb and continue uphill instead. The final ascent up to Rim Road (Forest Road 300) creeps up a steep, rocky bench passing by some of the springs and seeps that are the source of the East Verde River. These inconspicuous trickles eventually funnel into the Verde and Salt Rivers that converge more than 100 miles south just a few miles east of Phoenix.
The sound of rushing water augments the hike.
AZ sycamore trees thrive in moist areas along the trail.
Major climbing ends at a pair of trail signs just below the road. Although the great views here might make for a satisfying turnaround point, the hike ends a few steps farther up to the road at the Battle of Big Dry Wash historical monument that marks an 1882 clash between the U.S. Army and the Apache Tribe. 
The E. Verde River originates below the Mogollon Rim.
Use this bookend to a scenic and historically-significant trek to either double back or continue north on the Blue Ridge Passage of the Arizona Trail.
Bigtooth maple leaves glow in the sun.
LENGTH: 2 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 6097 – 7280 feet
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. From the big Arizona Trail sign, cross the bridge, head left and go right at the trail #290 sign. Roads are maintained dirt suitable for all vehicles. No fees or facilities at the trailhead.

Monday, October 22, 2018


Lime Kiln Trail: Deer Pass to Red Rock State Park
Lime Kiln Trail crosses Dry Creek
For most of its 15-mile course, the Lime Kiln Trail winds through a dusty corridor of crumbling sediments and sparse vegetation.  Mountain bikers love the long, flowy route for its epic vistas and clear lines-of-sight that enable speedy traverses of the stark terrain. 
A highpoint vista on Lime Kiln Trail
The trail unwinds as a linear adventure anchored by two water-centric parks with miles of white-rock moonscape in between.  
Hikers who are interested in more than big, airy views and chalky flats underfoot should understand that this is a trail that keeps the juicy stuff close to its opposing terminals.
Sedona red rocks seen from the Lime Kiln Trail.
Named for a kiln built by the “Willard Boys” back in the 1880s to create lime for mortar used in building projects near Cottonwood, the trail runs between Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood and Red Rock State Park in Sedona.  From the Cottonwood (west) end, the trail’s first mile hangs on ledges above the Verde River and the park’s lagoon, passing through a lush riparian area and the historic kiln site before it climbs out onto the desert.  On the Sedona (east) side, the trail’s last 4.8 miles make for a truly magnificent, under-appreciated trek.
Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.
From the Deer Pass trailhead located off State Route 89A, the route begins its descent to Oak Creek by way of dirt roads and a mixed bag of topography and vegetation zones.  Right out of the gate, the route flanks a track of land across the highway from the Sedona Wetlands Preserve that’s irrigated with reclaimed wastewater. A healthy thicket of cottonwood trees hints that the supplemental moisture is benefiting the high desert flora.
Pools of water linger in Dry Creek
Contrary to what you might think; there’s no smell. The next half-mile is an easy stroll over a grassy plateau of scant mesquite, yucca and cacti. To the south, the mesa tumbles off into the Oak Creek gorge while views of the Bradshaw Mountains and Verde Valley in the west and Sedona red-rock massifs bolster the horizons.  Soon, watershed features such as scoured drainages and a series of native stone check dams herald the descent to Dry Creek.  This is also where the route intersects the defunct Kachina Trails system—a maze of dirt horse paths that are no longer maintained.
Lizards hang out at Deer Pass Trailhead.
To stay on track, follow the basket cairns (rock piles wired into posts) that are placed at all junctions and intermittently throughout the trail.  
Junipers are common along the trail.
As the path dips off the grasslands and into the Dry Creek chasm, junipers, pinyon pines and flowering shrubs form a fragrant green fringe. 
Mesquite trees provide a little shade.
At the 1.8-mile point, pass a gate and head right on Forest Road 9845. 
Lime Kiln Trail is popular with equestrians and bikers.
This shared-use road (watch out for ATVs) traces the cliffs above Dry Creek.  
Cottonwoods thrive in an irrigated flat along the route.
Although the intermittent stream mostly lives up to its name, residual pools and lacy rivulets remain for days after rain storms.
Rain water puddles in normally parched Dry Creek. 
A masonry bridge at the 2.5-mile point marks the major creek crossing.
Fall foliage along Dry Creek
Here, stands of Goodding’s willows that blush gold in autumn sprout from the sandy wash.  The fall foliage show usually lasts through mid-November in Sedona’s Dry Creek canyons providing the last vestige of color long after the maple leaf canopies of West Fork of Oak Creek (one of the most popular trails in Sedona for fall foliage viewing) have gone down for the season.

Most of the route follows dirt roads.
This vivid spot can be a good turnaround point for a moderate 5-mile trip. Otherwise, follow the trail as it heads back uphill and crosses Red Rock Loop Road twice before descending to its terminus near the entrance to Red Rock State Park. 
Follow basket carins to stay on track.
LENGTH: 2.5 miles one way to the creek or 4.8 miles one-way to the park.
ELEVATION: 3880 - 3320 feet
GETTING THERE: Deer Pass Trailhead:
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona go 9.7 west (left toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Forest Road 89B (past mile post 365). Turn left and continue 0.1-mile to the trailhead on the right. There are restrooms but no water at the trailhead. Trail begins at the sign in the parking area behind the restrooms. No fees unless you enter the park.