Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ridge-Sketch Loop

Framed view of the Pyramid rock formation on Sketch Trail
Sketch Trail traces the edge of Carroll Canyon
The trails pass among junipers, yucca and pinion pines
A merry-go-round style of scenic vistas, varied terrain and a little bit of mild exposure combine for a pleasant high-desert hike in southeast Sedona. Tucked in a hilly pocket of territory in the Carroll Canyon area of trails north of the Crescent Moon Picnic Area on Oak Creek, the Ridge-Sketch circuit offers a quick, 4-mile tour of a slice of Coconino National Forest that’s close enough to town to be convenient yet provide a quiet out-there feel. 
An edgy bend in the Sketch Trail
From the obscure trailhead on Chavez Ranch Road, begin by hiking 0.3-mile west on the Ramshead Trail, hang a left at the Ridge Trail junction and follow the signs and basket cairns 0.7-mile to the beginning of the loop section at the Ridge-Sketch junction.  The 2.1-mile loop portion may be tackled from either direction, but to get the climbing over first, go right and continue on the Ridge trail.  
Sacred datura plants bloom along the route
The east leg traces the scrubby foothills below 4,680-foot Table Top--a jetty-like extension of Table Top Mountain which is home to the Sedona airport.  After a few high-step maneuvers, the trail arrives on a sunny crest with ocotillo-framed views of Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock, two of the area’s most famous sandstone formations.
View of Sedona from the Ridge Trail
Farther up the trail, profiles of the distant Bradshaw Mountains and the distinctive triangular shape of the 4,498-foot Pyramid rock formation stand out over the leafy floodplains of Oak Creek.
  Where the circuit meets the Sketch Trail, make a hard left and get ready for a whole other experience.  As the route heads downhill, the rounded, buff-colored mound of Capitol Butte dominated the horizon before the knotted path dips and bends on the lip of Carroll Canyon.  The trail passes among twisted junipers and breezy grasslands to a vista point at a precipitous drop off above the canyon’s sheer limestone walls. 
Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock seen from Ridge Trail
Beyond this keynote photo opp spot, the trail swerves south clinging to a slender ledge pinched between contorted boulder-riddled escarpments and beveled drops offs. 
Sketch Trail has Bradshaw Mountains vistas
Although it’s close-to-the-edge and quite rocky, the last mile of the loop portion isn’t too difficult as long as you aren’t afraid of heights and also keep an eye out for mountain bikers approaching from behind blind curves. 
Capitol Butte dominates the horizon on Sketch Trail
As you inch your way back to the loop junction-- using honeycomb patterns in the limestone as handholds—take a moment to scope out the many miles of trails that wind through the surrounding hills that may be used to build upon this sampler loop. 
LENGTH: 4-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 3996 - 4422 feet
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 4.2 miles west (toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Red Rock Loop. Turn left and continue 1.8 miles to Chavez Ranch Road (Forest Road 788) turn left and go 0.6-mile to the trailhead on the right.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Fall Color Over Jerome

Fall Color Over Jerome
Find colorful oaks on these mountain trails
Looking for an under-the-radar alternative to Sedona’s West Fork of Oak Creek and Flagstaff’s Inner Basin for fall color hiking?  Try a few of the trails that explore the lofty summits of Mingus and Woodchute Mountain. The mountain top recreation destinations that hover over the arty community of Jerome are popular year-round for hiking, camping and day-trip picnicking. Located between Prescott and Jerome the airy trails wander through woodlands and meadows with fantastic viewpoints at precipitous edges. In autumn, forests of Gamble oaks and Big-tooth maples that drench the slopes in warm shades of crimson and gold adding spectacular color to an already amazing set of trails. Here are three to try.

Woodchute Wilderness Area
Golden oaks on Woodchute Mountain
Cooler temperatures and shorter days of autumn work together to paint the oak trees on Woodchute Mountain in a palette orange and gold. The mountain is really more of a long ridgeline with Prescott Valley on one side and grand views of the red cliffs of Sedona and the peaks of Flagstaff on the other. Easy-to-follow, trail No. 102 meanders 3.7 miles up the mountain on a  moderate slope that swings from east to west showcasing vistas of much of northern Arizona.
View of Prescott Valley from Woodchute Mountain
Beginning at 7,000 feet, the hike culminates with an easy stroll across a breezy high prairie that dead-ends at the 7,600-foot east face of the mountain. Here, blood-red maples and honey-colored scrub oaks frame views of Jerome and the Verde Valley.
Epic vistas on Woodchute Mountain
GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on State Route 89A to the turn off for Potato Patch Campground. Turn right and continue .3 mile to the signed road for the Woodchute trailhead on the left and follow it to a parking loop with restrooms. Those without a high clearance vehicle should park here. To find the trailhead, head right (east) and hike or drive (high clearance needed) up Forest Road 106 (also signed as FR 102/106) for a half-mile to the wilderness sign and trail register. If you opt to hike the road, add 1 mile to the trip length above.

Prescott National Forest
An oak archway on the View Point Trail
A traipse through an archway of toasty golden oaks sets the stage for the hallmark mountain vistas and brilliant foliage of the View Point Trail No. 106. Beyond this “grand entrance” the slender path begins its gradual, 2-mile descent along the east face of Mingus Mountain weaving through a mixed bag of terrain including exposed juniper-agave high desert and pine-oak forests fringed with Big-tooth maples.
See-forever views on the View Point Trail
From the trail’s high vantage point, the towns of Jerome and Cottonwood appear like scribbles on a map far below while the course of the Verde River paints a lazy swath of green on a brown landscape. Just past the 1.3-mile mark, at the junction for trail 105A, the route makes a severe dip into the canyon. It’s here where the hike rating goes from moderate-to-difficult as the path clamors roughly 700 feet downhill on loose rocks to the turnaround point at Allen Springs Road. Casual hikes can opt to stay on the high road and make the junction their turnaround point instead. Elevation range is 7,800 - 6,000 feet.
Gambel oaks frame color views on the View Point Trail
GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on State Route 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Take an immediate left and park in the circular turnout near the “106” trail sign.

Prescott National Forest
Pine-oak woodlands dominate the scene on N. Mingus Trail
An eclectic mix of scenery and forests are the highlights of the North Mingus Trail No.105. Although there are two trailheads for this route, most hikers choose to start at the top of Mingus Mountain and hike downhill. That’s because the route is easier to follow when hiked in this direction. Right from the start, this popular trail will “wow” you with magnificent views from 7,800 feet atop a pine-shaded hang glider launch pad.
Summit of Mingus Mountain--N. Mingus Trail
Here, the rugged Verde Valley rolls out 1,600 feet below. The 8.5-mile roundtrip hike begins with a pleasant stroll across the mountain summit under a canopy of warm gold Gambel oaks huddling beneath enormous conifers. After this short “warm up” section, the trail dips downhill along the north face through colorful corridors of Big-tooth maples, boxelders and velvet ash.
A stony passage on N. Mingus Trail
Soon, the path enters an enchanting passage where a mass of volcanic boulders cascade down a slender slot canyon where vertical stony walls and a stand of aspens thrive in the cooler microclimate. Past the aspen grove, the trail enters a more arid clime with intermittent sections of grasslands, fields of agave and ridgelines studded with wispy mountain mahogany. An abandoned mine marks the point where the trail merges with an old Jeep road that leads downhill to Mescal Spring at 6,000 feet, the turnaround point for the hike. This trail also can be hiked one-way using a car shuttle at each trailhead.
GETTING THERE: Mingus Mountain trailhead: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on Highway 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Turn left here and go uphill to the trailhead near the hang glider launch pad. Mescal Spring trailhead: From Jerome, go 4 miles southwest on Highway 89A. Just before sign for Prescott National Forest, between mileposts 339 and 338, turn left onto an unmarked dirt road (Forest Road 338). FR 338 is a very rough 4x4 road so those without appropriate vehicles should park in the turnouts along the highway. Continue down FR 338 for a half-mile to the cement tank that marks Mescal Spring. From here, veer right (southwest) and go uphill. Bear left at all unmarked junctions until you reach the signed turn off for trail No. 105 on the right. This route adds one mile to the hike description above.

Monday, September 30, 2019



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Palo verde trees shade the Latigo trail
Black Mountain seen from Rock Tank Trail
Outdoor recreation opportunities continue to expand in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  The permanently protected swath of Sonoran Desert in north Scottsdale that has over 220+ miles of trails that wind through more than 30,000 acres of pristine territory recently gained a new trailhead. 
WAPA power lines on Powerline Road
Located in the preserve’s northwest corner, the Pima-Dynamite trailhead that opened earlier this year, is part of the City of Scottsdale’s Phase 3 Trail Corridor Plan. The roomy access point is bordered by Pima Road and State Trust Land, Dynamite Boulevard and Stagecoach Pass and has parking for more than 200 passenger vehicles and special spots for horse trailers. While still under development, several trails in the Phase 3 project which involves 3,000 acres of land just west of the Brown’s Ranch trailhead are open for use by hikers, bikers and equestrians. Like all preserve trails, the new cluster of sustainably-designed, multi-use routes offer safe, non-motorized access while protecting native plant and wildlife habitats.
To get a quick look at the Phase 3 sector, make a loop hike on the Latigo, Rock Tank, Hawknest and Powerline Road trails. 
New trails in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A map kiosk at the trailhead shows the system layout as well as its connectivity with old-favorite preserve trails to the east.  The circuit begins with a short walk on Powerline Road to the Latigo Trail junction. The 1.1-mile Latigo leg is dominated by views of the Western Area Power Administration high voltage powerline.  Not exactly anybody’s idea of a perfect hiking visual experience, the looming spider-like metal structures have an odd, other-worldly presence.
A stony passage on the Hawknest Trail
When framed by the gangly arms of ocotillo and the gnarly branches of dead ironwood trees, the towers embody technology imitating nature. The juxtaposition of wires and wilds elicits mixed responses from trail users. Is the high-voltage canopy a necessary co-existence or an omen of doom?  It’s a dialectic best not explored when disparaging the juice conduits while pulling up trail apps on your phone. 
Bizarre granite rock forms are common site along the trails
Creosote shrubs line the Rock Tank Trail
Granite boulders on the Hawknest Trail
Wires and wilds on Latigo Trail.
Desert Senna blooms April - October
Hawknest Trail swerves around a granite rock garden
An old mesquite tree on Hawknest Trail
The hike isn’t all power lines, though.  As the route dips and bends, the wires are swallowed by big desert vistas of surrounding mountains and the distinctive forms of Cone Mountain, Pinnacle Peak and Black Mountain.  Hang a left at the Rock Tank trail junction where acres of saguaros, shrubs and hilly terrain mark the transition into a maze of mountain bike routes to the north. 
Sonoran Desert vegetation of Rock Tank Trail
The twisted paths of Dare A Sarah, Scorpion and Snake Eyes trails form a loopy challenge course in an area that, as of this writing, is signed to advise users to use caution because the area is not yet mapped. The trails are indicated on the trailhead kiosk, though. Continue on to the Hawkneck trail junction, turn left and get ready to hike though some narrow stone corridors with bizarre granite outcroppings. Although this leg of the hike also parallels the power lines, Palo verde, ironwood and mesquite trees do a good job of hiding them from view. 
Technology imitates nature on the Latigo Trail
The final miles back to the trailhead meld swerving singletrack paths with the straight-shot, bulldozed power line road that is both a backbone trail for pristine back country hikes and an access route for maintenance crews that tend the wires that send power to mobile devise charging stations.  The paradox abides.
LENGTH: 3-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,339- 2,453 feet
Pima-Dynamite Trailhead: 28777 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, go 6.5 miles north on Pima Road to Dynamite Blvd., turn right and continue 0.1-mile to the trailhead on the left. No facilities at this time. The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
INFO: McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Monday, September 23, 2019


Prescott National Forest
View of Prescott Valley from Smith Ravine Trail
A climb to the top of Prescott’s Spruce Mountain is a standard bucket lister for Arizona hikers. The usual way up is by using the Groom Creek Trail that begins at the busy western base of the mountain off Senator Highway. Although the signature route is a must-do, there’s an alternate, less crowded way to visit the woodsy mountaintop that’s a favorite summer and fall destination.
Smith Ravine Trail No. 297 approaches the mountain from the northeast along ridges and gullies with fantastic views and varying eco-zones. 
A deep woods section of Smith Ravine Trail
The trail hugs the edge of Smith Ravine
Manzanita "little apples" shrubs line the lower trail
The first half-mile of Smith Ravine Trail is open scrubland
The trail ends at FR52A, but you can go on to Spruce Mtn.
Located a couple miles south of the Lynx Lake Recreation Area in Prescott National Forest, the moderate-rated trek begins its ascent on sunny foothills lined with manzanita, scrub oak and yucca. The exposed first half-mile offers views of Prescott Valley and Glassford Hill to the north and the green peaks of the Bradshaw Mountains to the east.
Tall Ponderosa pines shade the trail
Where the trail begins its edgy traverse of the slopes above the deep gorge of water-chiseled Smith Ravine, scrublands gradually merge into shady corridors of Ponderosa pines, Alligator junipers and Gambel oaks.
Hints of fall color on Sept. 22, 2019.
The massive stands of oaks along this trail put on a gorgeous display of fall color in mid-October. Over its 3-mile length, the trail gains more than 900 feet, but the gentle grade makes short work of the uphill trudge.
An artfully-twisted trunk on Smith Ravine Trail
The snafu here, though, is that the constant dips and climbs through gullies and drainages amount to 1,817 feet of accumulated elevation change. As the trails ascends through deep woods, breaks in the tree cover reveal ever-expanding vistas that stretch all the way to Flagstaff.  About halfway through the hike, the trail enters a rich zone of water-loving plants and trees like boxelders, Arizona walnut, berry brambles, Yellow columbine and tangles of wild geranium flowers. This moist, colorful riparian zone is nurtured by Smith Ravine Spring that flows intermittently attracting wildlife, birds and swarms of pollinators. You might encounter the piercing cries of Stellar’s jays and crackling of ravens swooping above as they warn you to move on from this coveted water source.
Oak galls contain insect larva---usually wasps
A huge Alligator juniper clings to the lip of Smith Ravine.
Beyond the spring, the slim trail traces the stone-jumbled head of the ravine before emerging onto a juniper-framed clearing at Forest Road 52A. This is the upper terminus of Trail No. 297 and the turnaround point to a moderate 6-miler. To continue on to Spruce Mountain, pass the gate head left and follow the dirt road 1.4 miles uphill.  The short road hike is fringed with pines, oaks and firs---but no spruce trees. The elegant conifers with blue-green needles that line the mountain’s flanks are actually white firs that were misidentified by early explorers.
Bradshaw Mountains seen from Smith Ravine Trail
Optional road hike leads to Spruce Mountain lookout
Yellow columbine grow near Smith Ravine Spring
The route dips and climbs through several drainage areas
On the summit, picnic tables, restrooms and the Spruce Mountain fire tower provide a convenient rest stop. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 30-foot-high fire tower was constructed in 1936 to keep watch over the Bradshaw Mountains.
The tower is open to visitors when a lookout is on duty, but even if you don’t get to tour inside the tiny cabin, the cliffs at its base showcase equally-impressive panoramic views of surrounding mountain lakes and green valleys.
LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip or 8.8 miles with Spruce Mountain
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6004 – 6947 feet or 7,693 with Spruce Mountain
From State Route 69 in Prescott, go 5 miles south on Walker Road (toward Lynx Lake) to the trailhead on the right just past mile marker 5.
INFO: Prescott National Forest

Monday, September 16, 2019


Phase I trails of Western Gateway system opened spring 2019
Way back when, my grandfather kept his “church key” can opener tied to the cooler we’d take along on our fishing trips when I was a snot-nosed kid chasing frogs in Connecticut swamps. The simple strip of metal embossed with the Knickerbocker Beer logo got a workout on these outings—puncturing the lids of pre-flip-top-era beverage cans. When pull-tabs eliminated the need for the handy little tool, our tackle box staple rusted away on its cotton cord. Sometimes, we’d use it to scrape grit off our shoes.
Great Sedona views on the Western Gateway trails
The new trails wind through the Dry Creek drainage area
The distinctive puncture of the church key can opener
Big Sedona views on the Ledge-N-Airy Trail
It’s been more than 50 years since flat-top metal containers that required a church key opener went extinct in the mid 1960s, but in many places in Arizona’s backcountry, piles of these old-style food and beverage cans belie the locations of defunct ranch and mining encampments.  Determining the age and stories behind these sites is best left to professionals who use the distinctive triangular pierce mark of the church key as an index fossil of sorts in the science of can-ology.
View of Mingus Mountain from the Roundabout Trail.
Over the years, various antiquities acts designed to protect archeologically-significant resources on public lands have expanded to include objects as young as 50 years old.  So, although grandpa’s discarded beer cans were once trash, those that survived the elements are now historic artifacts.
Cockscomb formation, center horizon, visible from the trails
A few of these rusty relic sites are visible on the new Western Gateway Trail System in Sedona. Phase 1 of the proposed 30-mile system of fresh-cut, re-aligned and adopted user-created trails was completed earlier this year with the help of  Flagstaff-based American Conservation Experience trail crews and funding from various organizations. The twisted, interconnected trails wind though the hilly high desert that had been part of the old Girdner Ranch in the area around Dry Creek and its drainages.
Capitol Butte seen from the Outer Limits Trail
Centered around the old-standard Girdner Trail that begins north of State Route 89A near Sedona Cultural Park, several routes are finessed, signed and open for exploration. With fun names like Ledge-N-Airy, Outer Limits, Drano, Last Frontier and Roundabout, the singletrack routes offer additional access to a pocket of Coconino National Forest 4 miles west of Uptown Sedona.
Limestone escarpments on Ledge-N-Airy Trail
The new routes spin off from the Girdner and Centennial Trails and may also be accessed from the north at the Fay and Aerie trailheads along Boynton Pass Road.  For a moderate 4.6 mile hike, follow the Girdner Trail to the Outer Limits junction, veer left, pick up the Ledge-N-Airy trail and follow the signs to complete a loop. To see some of the rusty can artifacts, go right at the Outer Limits junction and step out on the Roundabout Trail. Within a half-mile, mounds of the now-protected camp litter are scattered among cacti and scrub oaks, dissolving into the red, dusty soil. As with all heritage sites, please do not disturb or remove anything.
Silverleaf nightshade berries on the Centennial Trail
If you are tempted to “clean up” the place, consider volunteering with an organization like Natural Restorations that will teach you how to differentiate trash from treasures and to remove refuge responsibly without disrupting the ecosystem or sensitive, protected relics. Phases II and III of the Western Gateway project are planned for the near future and are expected to be completed by 2021.
New trails spin off the Girdner & Centennial trails
Historic artifacts on the Roundabout Trail
Prickly pear fruits on the Girdner Trail
LENGTH: 4.6 miles  for the loop described here.
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4440 – 4020 feet
From the State Route 89A/179 traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west (left thru the circle) on 89A to Cultural Park Way (traffic signal). Turn right and continue 0.3-mile to the Girdner Trailhead on the right. Trailhead has picnic tables and a map kiosk but no restrooms or water.

To Volunteer or donate to the Western Gateway project:
To volunteer and learn about responsible trail clean-ups statewide: