Sunday, May 24, 2015


Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Chevelon Creek flows north on the Mogollon Rim

It's a long, dizzying hike from the top of Telephone Ridge down to Chevelon Creek. The 1.25-mile, cliff-hugging trail plunges 700 feet to reach the pristine waterway coveted by anglers and beloved by hikers seeking solitude in this otherwise congested area of the Mogollon Rim south of Chevelon Canyon Lake. Although the Telephone Ridge Trail #103 was built only as a path from the rim to the creek, it's possible to continue hiking up or downstream. Just follow the water and be prepared for creek crossings and bush
Steep climb on Telephone Trail 
whacking. Even if all you do is trek down trail #103 to the creek and back, the trip is a satisfying adventure. Not recommended for the directionally challenged or faint-of-heart, the narrow route snakes down the canyon wall through a mix of pine-oak woodlands and precariously exposed ridges. In some spots, social trails leave the true route heading straight down the cliffs. The official trail makes much safer, long climb turns, so if you find yourself going dangerously vertical, backtrack and scope out the better (and more sustainable) path. At the bottom of Chevelon Canyon, a field of deadfall from an old wildfire obscures the trail, so make a mental note of your entry point before exploring the alternating patches of open meadows, willow-cluttered bogs and deep pools along the creek.
Beautiful views of Chevelon Canyon

LENGTH: 1.25 miles one way on trail.
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 6,450' - 7,225'
Deep pools on Chevelon Creek reflect earth and sky.

From Payson, go 29 miles east on State Route 260 to Rim Road (FR300, signed for Woods Canyon Lake). Turn left and continue 8.4 miles to FR 169, turn right and go 7.4 miles to FR 119. Follow FR119 1.5 miles to the FR 180 junction. From here, the road degrades into a very rough, narrow 2-track suitable only for high clearance vehicles. At this point you can park in the turnouts and hike or carefully drive the last 1.5 miles on FR 119 to the trailhead.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Chris Hosking uses a mini track hoe to work the trail

If you want to build an excellent hiking trail-- just follow the deer. So says Joe Baynes, Recreation Services Director for the City of Prescott. Baynes, along with the city's Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator Chris Hosking and battalions of volunteers including the eclectic mix of workers known as the Over the Hill Gang have just completed an epic project that began on the heels of the herds and ended with a community unifying, 54-mile loop trail around the city. May 14, 2015 marked the "golden spike" moment for the
Joe Baynes walks the fresh-cut, final segment of the PCT
Prescott Circle Trail (PCT) which began as a concept of the Yavapai Trails Association back in the early 1990s and has developed gradually by linking existing national forest trails, roads and new construction. After more than two decades of planning, negotiating with land management agencies and countless hours of sweaty toil, the final gap below Badger "P" Mountain was bridged and will be ready for non-motorized use by the end of June. On a recent preview hike, Baynes and Hosking pointed out key considerations in the trail building process. As wildlife has a knack for finding efficient passages through rough terrain, about 80% of the PCT follows these established trackways. After performing archeological and environment impact studies, the route design was driven by the needs of trail users. The path must be wide enough for horses, scenic and varied for hikers while incorporating line-of-sight considerations to make for safe mountain biking. The trail purposefully integrates long switchbacks, climb-mitigating flat sections, distinctive landforms, vista lookouts and impressive vegetation specimens as part of the master plan to achieve an average 8% grade and maximum visual appeal. Multiple trailheads and connectivity with camp grounds and local business will make hiking the trail convenient for everybody.
Once the design was set, brush crews moved in to flag and clear vegetation. Next, a mini dozer plowed the basic course followed by a mini track hoe that cut the slope. Hand crews will then rake, shape, trim, construct drainages and install signage. Finally, the boots, tires and hooves of the nearly one million visitors that step out on City of Prescott trails each year will perform the finishing pack down. Although the PCT is officially complete, it will continue to evolve. Regular maintenance, rerouting, adding adjacent loops and establishing new trailheads will keep volunteers busy enhancing the trail's symbiotic relationship with open spaces and the surrounding communities.
New segment of trail beneath Badger "P" Mountain

LENGTH: 54.45 miles
ELEVATION: 5140' - 6690' (5,500' cumulative elevation gain)
City of Prescott
Yavapai Trails Association

Monday, May 11, 2015


McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Complex geological features are highlights of the hike

Opened in 2014, the Andrews-Kinsey Trail acts as a connector route between Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve and adjacent Fountain Hills Preserve. The trail pays tribute to the efforts of Chet Andrews and Roy Kinsey who have given over 40 years of service to the McDowell Mountain Conservancy stewardship programs. The two-mile preserve section of the route runs along foothills overlooking a green valley bolstered by the distinctive profiles of Four Peaks, Mount Ord and Weaver's Needle. At the top of each hour, the Fountain Hills geyser can be seen from the high ridges spewing one of the tallest water spouts in the world. The mostly exposed trail begins across from a junction located beneath Sunrise Peak. Rolling out in a curvy single track, it clings to the edge of cactus cloaked slopes, rock escarpments and patches of cholla sprouting from clearings littered with glinting slabs of broken quartz. These beautiful specimens are just a tiny part of the complex geology of the surrounding terrain. Both the rocks underfoot and those visible on the horizon chronicle many cataclysmic chapters of earth's history. During high hiking season (October-April), stewards occasionally offer guided geology hikes and talks that give insight into the volcanism, faulting and erosion that continues to shape this stretch of basin and range topography. For a primer, check out the resources available on the Arizona Geological Survey website.
Four Peaks framed by blooming Palo Verde trees

LENGTH: 8.4 miles (as described here)
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,923'-2,962'
A scenic lookout on the Andrews-Kinsey Trail

Sunrise Trailhead, 12101 N. 145th Way, Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, exit onto Shea Blvd. and go 5.8 east to 136th St. Turn left, go 0.4 mile north to Via Linda, turn right and continue 1.75 miles to the overflow/horse lot on the right or continue to the 2-mile point and the main trailhead on the left. Begin on the Sunrise Trail and hike 2.2 miles to the Andrews-Kinsey junction. From here, the trail goes 2 miles to the border with Fountain Hills Preserve, where you can continue on or return the way you came.
INFO: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 480-312-7013
GEOLOGY INFO: Arizona Geological Survey

Monday, May 4, 2015


The head of Wilson Canyon

Sedona's red rocks are famous for their beauty and soul soothing qualities. And, what they're also really good at is absorbing noise. This is especially apparent on the Jim Thompson and Wilson Canyon Trails where russet cliffs soak up the din of nearby Uptown Sedona and the bustling recreation sites at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. The well-marked route traces stoney ledges high above busy Highway 89A where a constant stream of cars and trucks can be seen (but not heard) rumbling across Midgley Bridge. Jim Thompson Trail jogs around the massive form of Steamboat Rock through a mix of cypress forests, sandy washes and exposed slick rock. As the trail snakes around vertical rock escarpments, the white limestone cliffs of Wilson Mountain soon come into view. Although there are two popular trails that lead to its summit, the lesser-used Wilson Canyon Trail---which begins at the far east end of the Jim Thompson Trail--- explores a deeply wooded gorge below the south face. The slender path makes a mostly easy, half-mile climb among scrub oak, cypress, juniper and occasional patches of cottonwood trees that inhabit moss embellished, spring-fed enclaves. To stay on course, look for basket carins where the trail crosses gullies and drainages. As the trail ascends, the canyon walls converge, echoing the sounds of dripping water and wild bird songs before ending in what appears to be a dead end. However, there's a primitive spur path for sure-footed hikers who want to make a short but very steep, 400-foot haul up to a secluded lookout point surrounded by soaring bluffs and whispering mountain breezes.
Jim Thompson Trail 

LENGTH: 7 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,390' - 4,920'
FEE: A Red Rock Pass is required. There's a self-serve pay station at the trailhead.
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables
Steamboat Rock

Jim Thompson Trailhead.
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go right onto 89A, drive 0.3 mile to Jordan Road on the left. Go 0.8 mile on Jordan Road, turn left onto Park Ridge Dr. and continue 0.5 mile to the trailhead on the right. The last half mile is on a gravel road with potholes but is suitable for all carefully driven vehicles.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Monday, April 27, 2015


McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Crested saguaro on Coyote Canyon Trail

The next phase of trail development in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve is underway. Repurposing of existing social paths and new construction in the far north corridor that stretches from Dove Valley Road to the border of Tonto National Forest will continue through 2016. Several fresh routes have already been opened including the Coyote Canyon Trail which is already becoming a hiker favorite because of its unique features. In addition to see-forever views of the Cave Creek
Granite boulders in Coyote Canyon
Mountains and Verde River Valley, the route has two signature attractions--- a granite-walled slot canyon and a gloriously gnarled crested saguaro. Since this trail is deep-baked into the heart of the preserve, the only way to get to it is by hiking along connecting routes.
Until additional legal parking areas are established, the trail must be accessed from the Granite Mountain trailhead. Here's the most direct circuit. Follow the 136th Street Express 1.3 miles north and turn left onto the Dove Valley Trail. Hike 0.9 mile to the Coyote Canyon Trail junction veer left and trek 1.3 miles to where it ends at the Granite Mountain Loop Trail. From here, there are many options for your return route (download the preserve map for details) but the shortest way back to the trailhead is to turn turn left and go 0.5 mile to the Cow Poke Trail, follow it 0.6 mile back to Dove Mountain Trail and return the way you came.
Entering the slot canyon

LENGTH: 6.2 miles (as described here)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,580' – 2,840'
Mesquite trees frame mountain views

Granite Mountain Trailhead, 31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit #36 and go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd./Rio Verde Dr.  Turn right and continue 5.9 miles to 136th St., turn left and go 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left. Trailhead is open sunrise to sunset.  No facilities.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Hualapai Mountain Park, Kingman
View from Aspen Peak 

In Arizona's northwest corner, an archipelago of "biological sky islands" juts from the desert around the town of Kingman providing cool respite for heat-weary hikers. The roads and trails that ascend into the razorback ridges and rounded granite pinnacles of the Hualapai Mountains glide up from arid foothills through vegetation life zones of chaparral, pine-oak, mixed conifer and fir-aspen. Occupying a band of high elevation cool air and shady forests, the sprawling recreational hub of Hualapai Mountain Park makes exploring this diverse sphere of outdoor wonders a cinch.
The 2,300 acre park offers camping, picnic sites and over 10 miles of hiking trails.
There's so much to see and do here that you'll want to pitch a tent, park a RV or splurge on "glamping" in one of the rustic rental cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. With your base camp established, grab a map from the ranger station and hit the trails. The beautifully illustrated map which complements the well-signed routes also corresponds with numbered points along the trails and has tidbits on the history and natural features visible at each stop. If you enjoy climbing to high summits, there's plenty to keep you busy as trails lead to Hayden Peak (8,390'), Hualapai Peak (8,417') and Aspen Peak (8,124') while numerous overlooks with comfy benches offer more casual ways to view the ring of mountain ranges flanking the park. The park's signature trek--4.3-mile Potato Patch Loop--begins at the main trail junction (#4 on the map) and forms sort of a wagon wheel around the site with spokes connecting to major roads and trails. The loop winds through thick forests, exposed edges and massive stone outcroppings with expansive views all the way around. An optional 1.26-mile roundtrip hike up the Aspen Peak Trail leads to Dean Peak Overlook (7,950') where you can relax and enjoy the vistas or scramble to the true summit---a short haul that requires route finding and some hand-over-foot climbing.
Potato Patch Loop

LENGTH: 4.3-mile loop (5.56 with Aspen Peak)
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 6,486' - 7,950'
FEE: $7 day use (7 a.m. - 7 p.m.) See website for camping & cabin rental rates.

6250 Hualapai Mountain Road, Kingman.
From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 to SR74 (Carefree Hwy) exit 223. Head west on SR74 to US 60, turn right and continue to the US93 junction in Wickenburg. Take 93 north to I-40, head west to the DW Ranch Road exit 59, turn left and follow the signs to the park.
INFO: Mohave County Parks, 928-681-5700

Monday, April 13, 2015


Traversing a rock wall high above Strawberry Canyon
The rock walls hug the canyon's edge 

Fitting squarely into the "who knew" category of Rim country hiking trails, Rock Wall Trail #608 is a pleasant surprise hiding in clear view of Highway 87 near the hamlet of Strawberry. The unsigned, unadvertised route follows rugged Forest Road #608 as it clings to flaking limestone ledges below the Mogollon Rim. Ascending more than 1000' through the filtered shade of Emery oaks and Ponderosa pines, the red-earth Jeep route hangs in precipitous knots above Strawberry Canyon and is shored up by artfully constructed stone retaining walls where it bends along the choppy contours of the gaping, conifer-fleeced gorge.
In the beginning, the route is not marked, but once you've navigated through the maze of paths at the trailhead, the rest of the way is simple to follow.
From the trailhead, pass the gate, veer right and follow the power line road 500 feet to a fork just before the road heads very steeply uphill. Turn left here (marked by a green metal post at N 34 24.405, W 111 28.891). From this point, ignore the side paths and veer right to stay on the wide road heading uphill. In just under a mile, the first of the eponymous rock walls stabilizes a hairpin turn. Here, additional fortifications are visible high on the cliffs across the canyon. This is your destination. As the trail climbs, views of the Mazatzal Mountains peek through the forest before it swings onto a scenic, exposed ledge where the road is hacked from wildflower-embellished vertical rock faces. The two- miles-long "walls" portion of the hike ends where the road heads inland at the trail's high point. Although this is a popular turnaround spot, you can opt to follow the "608" signs two more miles through fragrant woodlands to reconnect with Highway 87. Unless you parked a shuttle vehicle here, return the way you came.
Rock walls shore up drainage sections of Trail #608

LENGTH: 4 miles round trip for the "walls" segment or 8 miles round trip for the entire road.
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6000' - 7160'
Nice views of the Mazatzal Mountains

Strawberry Trailhead:
From the State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go 17 miles north on SR87 to the trailhead at milepost 270 on the right.  There’s parking for about 4 cars, but additional space is at the Trail #15 lot a few yards up the road on the left.
Forest Road 608 Trailhead:
Continue on AZ87 to just past milepost 277 and park near the FR 608 gate on the right.
Overlooking Strawberry Canyon


Tuesday, April 7, 2015


McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Among the cloud bumping mountain peaks that hover above the suburbs and shopping centers of North Scottsdale sits an impressive, pyramid-shaped pinnacle with a well-defined trail leading to its summit. A hike up Sunrise Peak offers commanding views, a respectable workout and a pleasing mountain experience without having to venture beyond the din of civilization. Nice signage at the trailhead shows the route: follow the Ringtail Trail for a half-mile then, go right onto the Sunrise Trail and follow the signs to a steep, rocky spur path off the main route for a short climb up to the top. This final haul rewards with 360-degree vistas that transcend the urban landscape below to showcase the rugged ridge lines of the Sierra Estrella mountain range to the west and the high peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness to the north.

LENGTH: 5.5 miles round trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,786-3,069 feet

From the Loop 101 in North Scottsdale, take exit 41 for Shea Blvd., turn right and continue to 124th St. Go left (north) on 124th St. to Via Linda, turn right (east) and continue to 128th St., turn left (north) and follow 128th St. all the way to the end and park at the Ringtail (128th St.) Trailhead.
Hike directions: from the trailhead, follow the Ringtail Trail for .48 miles to the Sunrise Trail. Turn right and continue uphill to the peak.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Red Rock views on the Aerie Trail

For hikers stepping out on Sedona's rusty soils for the first time, best bet trails to try include Boynton Canyon, Bear Mountain and Fay Canyon. Until recently these crazy-popular routes were isolated from each other, but now the Aerie Trail tethers the trifecta of Upper Dry Creek Area trailheads to it's own roomy parking area. This new access point off Boynton Pass Road provides respite from the boot-clad masses and access to dozens of trails. The 5.2-mile Aerie-Cockscomb loop takes off from this portal swooping around Doe Mountain and the distinctive silhouette of the Cockscomb rock formation. As with any Red Rock Country hike, views long this gently undulating trail are picture-postcard quality and an optional slog up the connecting Doe Mountain spur path offers a panoramic spectacle of color saturated mesas and buttes for those willing to tag on another 1.2 miles to the trek.
Doe Mountain seen from Cockscomb Trail

From the Aerie trailhead, begin on Cockscomb Trail. Hike past the Rupp and Dawa junctions and turn left at the Aerie Trail sign at the 3.3 mile point. From here, hike 1.2 miles to the Doe Mountain junction. This 0.7-mile spur trail climbs 460 feet to the summit of a long mesa and is well worth a detour or you can skip the climb and continue 0.7 mile back to the trailhead. All routes are signed.
Bear Mountain view from Doe Mountain Trail

LENGTH: 5.2-mile loop (6.6 with Doe Mountain spur)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4250' – 4660' (5120' with summit spur)
FEE: None. A Red Rock Pass is NOT required at the Aerie trailhead
Cliff Fendlerbush blooms March -June on Doe Mountain
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 3.2 miles west (left toward Cottonwood) on SR89A to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2.9 miles to Boynton Pass Road (FR152C), make a left and continue 1.5 miles to a “T” junction and veer left to stay on FR152C. Continue 1.4 miles to Aerie Road, turn left and go 0.4 mile to the turn off for the trailhead on the right.
Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Monday, March 23, 2015


Prescott National Forest, Mayer
Grapevine Creek

From Highway 69, the high desert grasslands around Big Bug Mesa near the town of Mayer don't look like they're hiding an oasis. But, deep within these arid hills, Grapevine Canyon harbors a perennial creek and a meandering sliver of green fed by snowmelt-charged springs. This sensitive site has been designated "Grapevine Botanical Area" and is now open only for day-use by hikers and equestrians. The dirt access road to the trailhead gets rough and narrow after 2 miles, which is why many hikers prefer to park at the
Grapevine Creek flows year-round
first fork and hike the final 1.5 miles. While the road hike is pleasant, it also saves your vehicle from the "Arizona pin stripping" caused by thorny shrubs that arch over the rugged two-track. Whether driven or hiked, the road follows the terrain as it makes an amazing and rapid transition from dry scrub and cacti to pine-oak groves. Then, with the jolt and flamboyance of a firecracker display, bang---a verdant Garden of Eden spills from a moist woodland corridor at the trailhead. Here, a forest of alder trees crowd around an information kiosk and a small "Trail 4" sign marks the beginning of the 2.5 mile hike up the canyon. Although Grapevine Creek goes underground at the trailhead, it resurfaces after a few minutes of hiking. Massive stands of oak, walnut, boxelder and wild canyon grape vines sink their roots deeply into the crystalline water that tumbles over boulders and slick rock chutes. Dozens of waterfalls gush through log jams and columbine-decorated embankments providing photo opportunities galore as well as a soothing soundtrack. After about a mile of shaded, creekside hiking, the trail begins an aggressive climb along the canyon wall above the creek. This half-mile segment, which winds through exposed cliffs populated with manzanita and cacti, provides excellent views of Prescott Valley and the strikingly divergent riparian gorge below. On the top of the canyon, the route meets the creek and cool tree cover once again, passing through two gates (presumably to keep cows out) before making several creek crossings and a final ascent to the main source spring at trail's end.
View from the top of Grapevine Canyon

LENGTH: 2.5 miles one-way (4 miles one-way with road hike)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4750'-6320'
RULES: Day use only. Mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are not allowed.
Dense forests in the botanical area

From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Cordes Junction exit 262 and head west on State Route 69 (toward Prescott). Continue 11 miles and make a left turn onto Grapevine Road (FS87A) just before milepost 274. There is no sign at the turn, but there's one on the road. Follow the dirt road 2 miles to a fork where there's a parking apron for drivers who want to avoid the rough road ahead. Those with high-clearance or 4x4 vehicles can continue down the left fork to a green gate at the 2.7 mile point. Park here if the gate is locked, otherwise, you may drive another 0.6 mile (go straight and then veer right at a fork) to the trailhead. Be prepared for some very rocky obstacles and shrubs that will scratch wide vehicles.
Hiking the road to the trailhead


Monday, March 16, 2015


Payson Area Trails System
View of the Mogollon Rim

The Payson Area Trails System (PATS) is a collection of routes weaving through the business districts and suburbs of this north-central Arizona town. The trails tie in nicely with nearby Tonto National Forest routes and most are open to hikers, equestrians, bikers and ATV users alike. Round Valley Trail begins in a quiet residential neighborhood with a climb along foot paths and 4x4 roads that leads to scenic high points with far-ranging views of the flat-topped profile of the Mogollon Rim and majestic peaks of the Mazatzal Mountains. Because many unsigned roads bisect the route, be sure to look for PATS signs to stay on track. Even though it's close-to-civilization, the trek offers a genuine outdoor escape as it runs through undulating juniper-pine forests south of town. In springtime, wildflowers like the ground hugging, purple blossoms of the Featherplume dalia and wild carrot pop up from the loose, rocky soils. One of the trail's most prolific spring bloomers is a shrub called Gregg's Ceanothus which sprouts tiny white or pink flowers that release a lilac fragrance from March through May. After topping out at 5200', the trail dips down into Round Valley and curves toward Highway 87 where the sweet wildflower breezes mingle with the aroma of burgers and fries as the path approaches its west trailhead at the Sonic restaurant lot on the Tonto Apache Reservation.
Mazatzal Mountain view

LENGTH: 4.5 miles one-way
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 4800' - 5200'
Gregg's Ceanothus buds ready to bloom

From Phoenix, travel north on State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) to Payson. Just past the Mazatzal Casino, turn right on Phoenix Street (easy to miss, near the Circle K), drive 1.6 miles to Gibson Court, turn right and continue 0.1 mile to the inconspicuous trailhead on the left. There's parking along the road and in a cul de sac a few yards up the street. Do not block private drives in the area.
Located at the south end of the Sonic restaurant at SR87 and Green Valley Pkwy. near the Mazatzal Casino.
INFO: Payson Area Trails System

Monday, March 9, 2015


Mazatzal Wilderness
Inside the grotto

Late winter snowfall followed by suddenly warm days of spring form a perfect storm for waterworks in the Mazatzal Mountains. The challenging Barnhardt Trail #43 is the ideal trek for viewing dozens of cascades drenching a canyon-bound wilderness south of Payson. The route zigzags uphill through a complicated stew of geological delights including spectacular "chevron folds"--accordion-style bends in metamorphic rock-- created by millions of years of tectonic forces. Also, look for "fossil" waves in the rose-colored quartzite that lines the trail. These stone ripple marks are either preserved ocean-bottom wave action or fingerprints of shallow rivulet currents. Throughout the hike, outcroppings of blush-colored stone and scaly shales are doused by trickling springs and roaring waterfalls plunging 2000 feet over rough cut cliffs. Several stony ledges along the edge-hugging path offer excellent views of churning water at the bottom of the canyon. A particularly grand vista can be seen at the 2.80-mile point where a natural rock shelter teeters above a vertical drop that frames the hazy purple outline of the Mogollon Rim. Although trail #43 runs for 6 miles one-way, many hikers prefer to trek to the 3.14-mile point and climb into a secluded grotto where a triple-tiered cataract plunges 100 feet into an icy drop pool. It takes a bit of scrambling through brush and wet rock to get into the waterfall grotto, but it's well worth the effort to experience the spectacular but transient display of desert water that peaks during March and April.
Entry to the grotto
LENGTH: 6.5 miles to the grotto and back.
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 4210' - 5580'
Entry to Barnhardt Canyon

From Shea Blvd. and AZ87 (Beeline Hwy) in Fountain Hills, travel 51 miles north on AZ87 to FR 419. This road is located just beyond the sign for Barnhardt Trailhead and roughly 0.25 mile south of the town of Gisela. Turn left and go 4.8 miles on FR 419 to the trailhead. FR419 is rutted dirt but passable by carefully driven sedans.

INFO: Payson Ranger District, Tonto National Forest

Monday, March 2, 2015


Sonoita Creek along the Railroad Trail

The 9,453' summit of Mt. Wrightson is a magnet for winter snow and summer rain. This year-round precipitation is the source of the perennial waters flowing through the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. Located south of the sky-scraping Santa Rita Mountains near the vineyards of Arizona's southeast wine region, the preserve was established in 1994 to protect the fragile watershed and riparian corridor. More than 20 miles of hiking trails wander through the 9,959-acre site that encompasses seven types of vegetative communities from
View of Patagonia Lake from the Overlook Trail
semi-desert grassland to moist deciduous forests along the creek. For an overview of the area, begin with the 0.7-mile, 500' climb up the Overlook Trail. On the summit, there are terrific views of adjacent Patagonia Lake and the peaks of the San Cayetano and Patagonia Mountains huddling around ocotillo studded savannah. To the east, the creek appears as a green satin ribbon dressing up the muted hills and gullies that bevel toward the water's twisting groove. A diverse menu of trails offer treks into the arid foothills, the lake dam and spillway, up into the Coal Mine Spring watershed and of course, walks along the creek.
Maps available at the visitor center and ample junction signage make navigation simple. One of the most popular day hikes is the easy, 4-mile Sonoita Creek-Cottonwood Loop circuit which begins with a 1.5-mile walk through high desert and ends with a spindle plunge into the creek channel and traipse through a lush forest of ash, willow, mesquite and walnut trees. For an extended, more challenging hike, continue on along the Railroad Trail which makes a stepping stone creek cross to follow the abandoned bed of the New Mexico and Arizona Railway 3 miles to the confluence with the Santa Cruz River. This section of trail is subjected to the whims of nature, so look for carins where the path gets erased by floods or downed trees. In addition to proper gear and plenty of water, a pair of binoculars will come in handy for viewing the more than 315 bird species--including the impossible to miss, brilliant red, Vermillion Flycatcher--- that inhabit the area.
Mountain views on the Sonoita Creek Trail

LENGTH: 20 miles of trails
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 3610'-4250'
FEE: $15 daily per vehicle
DAY USE HOURS: 4 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is always open, but the Visitor Center is closed during summer. Permits for hiking, hunting and horseback riding in the Natural Area can be obtained from the park gatehouse or by calling (520) 287-6965.
FACILITIES: Primitive, hike-in camping. Major ammenities are available at adjacent 
Patagonia Lake SP
Days of wine and water at Sonoita Creek
400 Lake Patagonia Road, Patagonia.
From Tucson, go 17 miles east on Interstate 10 to the State Route 83 exit 281. Head 24 miles south on SR83 to the SR83/82 junction in Sonoita, turn right (west) on SR 82 and continue 7 miles to Lake Patagonia Road. Turn right and go four miles to the Patagonia Lake State Park gate. Pay the entry fee and proceed to the visitor center to get a free hiking permit for the natural area. Only a limited number of hikers (and horses) are allowed in the natural area at any time. So, call ahead if you're hiking with a group.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Thursday, February 26, 2015



This year's theme--Illumination-- is a perfect match for hikers. Enter your best shots of moonlit lakes, sunsets, sunrises, city lights as seen from Arizona mountaintops, campfires, sun-kissed cacti, electric leaves, glowing tents or whatever light-themed image your lens captures. Winner and finalists will be featured in a PHOENIX magazine photo essay and the top photog gets a luxury weekend getaway prize. UPLOAD YOUR PHOTOS BEFORE MARCH 27, 2015.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015



Another season of Wag & Walk dog adoption hikes at Mesa's Usery Mountain Regional Park is nearly over. There are just two more opportunities left to hike with adoptable dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care & Control's Mesa shelter before we take a break until October. This is your chance to meet lovable mutts and see how well they walk on leash and behave outside of the kennel environment. The dogs are already spayed or neutered, up-to-date on their shots, licensed and ready to go home with you on the spot. Volunteer handlers will be more than happy to share tidbits about each dog's personality, activity level, care needs and goofy quirks. Even if you don't find the love of your life on the easy, one-mile loop hike, shelter volunteers will be on hand to direct you to county adoption facilities and answer questions about selecting a dog that suits your lifestyle. So, come on out and spend the day in the park while the weather is perfect.

WHEN: Saturday, March 7 and April 4, 2015
WHERE: Usery Mountain Regional Park. Meet at the Area 6 Merkle trailhead.TIME: 9 a.m.