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

Monday, November 9, 2015


City of Peoria
Looking east from Sunrise Mountain

Who knew that a suburban trail toggled to a kiddie playground could offer a respectable hike?
Sunrise Mountain Trail does just that with a three-tiered system of loops wrapping around a chain of peaks jutting above a sea of residential communities in Peoria. The trail begins at WestWing Park where colorful swings and slides are complemented with restrooms, drinking water and plenty of parking. One of the beautiful things about this system is that it's set up with both easy and difficult options
A Palo Verde tree frames a Valley view
designed in a way that makes short work of customizing treks to suit individual preferences.
Although the first tier is rated easy, some climbing is required to reach the half-mile point where the first of several junction posts points the way for a moderately-challenging summit route or an easier slope-clinging circuit. The route graduates to moderate-rated tier two with a series of ups-and-downs among granite outcroppings and breezy stands of palo verde trees. The roller coaster style trail never stays flat for long, wobbling between highpoint vistas and low slung saddles. After a steep descent off a cactus speckled ridge, tier three takes off on a difficult -rated swing around the flanks of the mountain's eastern most knob. An optional side trail makes the hike's final ascent to a 1,840-foot stub hovering over a landscape of freeways, subdivisions and distant mountain views.

LENGTH: 4.6-miles out-and-back including access trail
RATING: easy-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,270' -1,840'
View of Peoria suburbs

From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Loop 303 exit 221. Turn left (west) and continue 7 miles to Lake Pleasant Parkway exit 131, turn left (south) and go 2.3 miles to WestWing Parkway, turn left and go 1 mile to WestWing Park on the right. Trailhead is accessed via a 0.1-mile dirt road that leaves from the far east end of the parking lot. A large boulder plaque on a crest near WestWing School marks the start point.
City of Peoria

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Apache Wash Loop Trail

In an environment where plants and animals must adapt and invent to survive, desert washes play a critical role in managing life's most precious commodity. These serpentine natural gutters corral and horde rain water in ways that create ribbon-like forests and natural underground reservoirs.
A sure-fire way to get an education about the transformative power of washes is to take a hike on the Apache Wash Loop Trail in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The trail dodges through and around a water-scoured furrow and its companion linear oasis that coils through flatlands below a chain of minor desert peaks.
The rugged, tree-lined trench is scoured by storms that come mostly in torrential bursts accompanied by churning clouds and lightning theatrics. During these downpours, massive walls of water roll off surrounding slopes into low lying channels forming transient rivers of debris. Flowing washes are far more dangerous than they appear, so to avoid being swept away, never attempt to hike (or drive) through one while water is running. There are warning signs where the trail crosses the wash, so pay heed. Porous soils soak up the rainfall almost as quickly as it appears but the benefits are long-lasting. The fringe of green lining the wash is made up of deep-rooted trees and shrubs like mesquite, palo verde, catclaw and ironwood that tap into underground water reserves. This tightly woven community of desert adapted plants huddled among water-tumbled boulders, sandbars and super size saguaros provide pleasant shade spots along the route. Although wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk, javelina wallows, nests and burrow diggings belie a robust critter population dependent on the wash and its reliable stashes of water and food.
The easy loop trail is simple to follow and offers both shortcut options and access to an optional summit climb. Posts at every junction show your position, distance and elevation. After hiking the loop, take a side trip up to Apache Vista to get a bird's eye look at the meandering miracle of the wash.
Overlooking Apache Wash

LENGTH: 6.7 miles (including access trails)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 1700' - 1820'
Apache Wash Loop Trail

Apache Wash Trailhead.
1600 East Sonoran Desert Drive, Phoenix.
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, take Cave Creek Road exit 28, go 4.5 miles north to Sonoran Desert Drive, turn left (west) and continue 3.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.
INFO & MAPS: Sonoran Preserve Ranger Office: 602-262-7901

Monday, October 26, 2015


Arizona National Scenic Trail
Start of the Arizona Trail at the U.S.-Mexico border

If you're reading this, you might be a hiker who has been motivated to take a good long trek by recent movies like Wild and A Walk in the Woods . While these inspiring films romanticize long distance hiking, it's important to do your homework and manage your expectations before hitting the trail.
Here in the Southwest, the obvious draw for a marathon hike is the 817-mile Arizona Trail.
Like many people with a day job whose long-term plans include hiking the entire route from Mexico to Utah, I've been chipping away at the miles in opportunistic grabs and passage-long chunks.
Smuggler's Ridge

Turns out, this bit-by-bit style is the way most hikers approach the Arizona Trail. Sirena Dufault, AZT Gateway Community Liaison says," You don't have to hike the entire AZT to enjoy it. It's a "choose your own adventure", where you decide how much of a challenge is comfortable for you. Hikers who have completed the trail range from age 19 to folks in their 70s. Some have done it in 21 days while others section hike it for a decade or more." Shawn Redfield, AZT Trail Director concurs. "A through- hike is nothing more than a bunch of section hikes done in series with resupply breaks in between. Preparation is critical, though. There is a small portion of hikers who are not prepared and as the popularity of long distance hiking grows, fueled by recent movies based on it, this translates into hikers who become a danger to themselves and the people who will come to help them."
Redfield adds that research and conditioning for a though-hike can take months and that it's vital to understand the AZT's special challenges of water scarcity, heat, elevation change and remote terrain where rescue is not an option. (Become a member of the of AZT Association to get access to tons of current trail information, water data and opportunities to speak with others who have conquered the route:
Joe's Canyon Trail

On October 24th, I stood at the U.S.-Mexico border where a simple sign denotes the beginning of the AZT. It took me 12 years to get there. Having hiked parts of Passage 1 from Montezuma Pass, through Miller Peak Wilderness (with a side trip to the 9,466' peak) and on to Parker Canyon Lake, this last mile was one of several blaring holes on my progress map. Prior attempts had been rained out, burned out or thwarted by schedule conflicts, so I vowed to bite the bullet and hike rain-or-shine to bridge this gap by the end of 2015. Rather than starting at the traditional Montezuma Pass trailhead, I chose to approach from the Coronado National Monument Visitor Center by hiking 2.4 miles on the Joe's Canyon Trail then 1-mile south on Yaqui Ridge Trail (AZT) to the border. This is exceptional trek begins with a 1,400 foot ascent up a rugged drainage to Smuggler's Ridge, a knife-edge saddle with see-forever views overlooking the Mexican State of Sonora. The final mile makes a 600 foot decent to a border monument that marks the beginning (or end) of Arizona's most epic journey. Next up in my gap-plugging adventure: the Mazatzal Divide.
Yaqui Ridge

LENGTH: 6.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5,006' - 6,493'
Joe's Canyon Trail

From Tucson, travel south on Interstate 10 to State Route 90 Exit 302 and go 25 miles south to Sierra Vista. Connect with State Route 92 and continue 16 miles to S. Coronado Memorial Drive and follow it 4.7 miles (road becomes E. Montezuma Canyon Road) to the Coronado National Memorial Visitor Center (open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). Trail begins a few yards up the road beyond the center. Parking is free. Restrooms.
Coronado National Memorial:

Monday, October 19, 2015


McDowell Sonoran Preserve, North
Buckshot Trail

I have a new favorite trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Again. This happens every time I overcome my penchant for hiking well-known long paths with spectacular scenery and try something different. Although it's only 0.8-mile long, Buckshot Trail wins laurels because it straddles the gap between the familiar and the untried. It shoots off from the heavily travelled Brown's Ranch site to connect with the newer Hawknest Trail that arches over the preserve's north section for nearly its entire width. On the day I discovered this desert jewel, a huge group of hikers was assembled at the trailhead preparing to trek the 7.7-mile Cholla Mountain Loop--one of the area's most scenic circuits. They invited me to join them, but the drone of "been there done that" rattling in my cerebellum won over and I plowed north toward new-to-me territory instead. As with all hikes, trying to comprehend the unique character and secrets of an unexplored trail by viewing it as a line on a map is kind of like presuming to know the traits of a wine without having tasted it. Will it be a nobel Grand cru or some pedestrian vin du pays? The essence of the Buckshot Trail falls somewhere between Night Train and a hoity toity Bordeaux--amusing yet rich. Packed with massive saguaros, blooming shrubs and yucca-framed vistas, it's just far enough off the beaten paths to offer savory solitude. Only one other hiker (a preserve steward) and a handful of mountain bikers, crossed my path. Excellent maps available online and at the trailhead show numerous ways to cobble your own circuit using Buckshot Trail. Here's the route I took: From the trailhead, hike 1.9 miles north on Brown's Ranch Road to marker CL6 and turn right onto Corral Trail (note, this is 0.6 mile beyond the first Corral Trail access point). Go 0.5 mile on Corral, turn left on the Buckshot Trail and continue 0.8 mile to Hawknest Trail. Turn right (north) at the sign and hike 1.5 mile to Broken Spoke Trail, turn left and go 0.6 mile to High Desert Trail. Turn right (south) and go 0.7 mile to Corral Trail and follow the signs back to the trailhead.
High Desert Trail

On the return leg of the trip, solitude evaporated as I encountered some of the Cholla Mountain group and dozens of other hikers funneling onto arterial Brown's Ranch Road for the final mile-long trudge back to civilization and perhaps a nice Chianti.
Buckshot Trail

LENGTH: 8.8 mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,610' – 2,770'
HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily
Brown's Mountain viewed from Corral Trail

Brown's Ranch Trailhead
30301 N. Alma School Road, Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite, turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School Road. Turn left and continue 1 mile to the trailhead. There are restrooms, water and maps at the trailhead. No fee.
INFO: McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Monday, October 12, 2015


Exploring a geological hiccup

Talk about a room with a view! Imagine waking up in a cave atop an extinct volcano and seeing a 12,000 foot massif to the west and endless prairies to the east. That's what the Sinagua people enjoyed from a summit abode on a half moon-shaped cinder cone east of Flagstaff. Now known as Old Caves Crater, the pueblo originally had as many as 80 rooms. Exactly how the encampment was used and why it was abandoned in the early 14th century remains a mystery, but an intriguing collection of crumbling foundations and shallow rock shelters provide fodder for the imagination. This cinder cone is unusual, because unlike typical volcanoes of this type, its lava flow happened on the summit instead of at the base. After upside down eruptions splattered thick heaps of molten rock over the mountain top, “geological hiccups” of steaming gasses escaping from the gooey blobs created the maze of grottos and tunnels that are now the highlight of a popular hiking destination.
Climbing the Summit Trail

A 7-mile system of trails explores the archeological site and the Fort Valley Experimental Forest that surrounds the mountain. From either of the two trailheads, follow the wide black cinder road to connect with the 1.4-mile summit ridge trail. The moderate, pine-shaded single track climbs 510 feet to the caves. On the way up, vegetation morphs from pine-juniper forests into sparse, windswept patches of cliff rose and thigh high shrubs. You'll want to stay alert while exploring to avoid trampling on fragile artifacts or falling into one of the caverns. As with all heritage sites, leave only foot prints and take only photos. Do not attempt to reconstruct walls or "fix" anything. The trails are laid out in a double loop format bisected by the summit route. Map signs at the trailheads clearly show the layout making it easy to customize the length of your trek.
San Francisco Peaks viewed from Summit Trail

LENGTH: up to 7 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6,660' - 7,170'
Eastern view from the caves site

Dump Road (north) Trailhead:
From Flagstaff, go east on Interstate 40 to exit 201 for U.S. Route 89 north. Continue 5.6 miles north to Cinder Lake Landfill Road (FR6010) marked only by a "landfill" sign north of mile marker 423. Turn right and go 0.7 mile to the trailhead.
Silver Saddle (south) Trailhead:
From Flagstaff Mall on U.S. Route 89, go 3.5 miles north to Silver Saddle Road, turn right and continue 0.5 miles to the trailhead on the left past milepost 422.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

Monday, October 5, 2015


Village of Oak Creek
Pine Valley Ridge Trail

Sometimes there are just not enough parking spaces. This is conspicuously expressed at the Bell Rock Pathway trailhead in the Village of Oak Creek. Even though there's room for dozens of vehicles, the lot fills up quickly especially on weekends and during winter visitor season. That's because it provides access to the Big Park system of trails that includes some of Red Rock Country's most scenic, easy paths around iconic Bell Rock (a famous vortex site) and Courthouse Butte. If you encounter a packed lot, don't give up on your hiking ambitions----there's another way in. The system can also be accessed via the Pine Valley Ridge Trail that begins at the Jacks Canyon/Hot Loop Trailhead to the southeast. This relatively new route climbs 440 feet on a rocky backbone skirting subdivisions and the border of Munds Mountain Wilderness. Although the trail is obvious, it's not marked with signs. The toughest navigation involves finding where the route begins. From the trailhead gate where there's a sign for Jacks Canyon #55, hike about 20 feet down the road you came in on (do not pass thru the gate) and look for a red dirt single track on the right. Follow this trail 0.1 mile to the gate at Jacks Canyon Road, carefully cross the street, pass through a second gate and begin hiking uphill. At a third gate, turn right and from here, the path is clear although sketchy in some places. Just pay attention and you'll be fine.
Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte on the horizon

At roughly 1.5 miles, beautiful views of the mesas of Jacks Canyon and Sedona's celebrated sandstone formations begin rolling out on all sides. From the high point, the profiles of Cathedral Rock, Capitol Butte and Cockscomb stand out from seldom seen perspectives. The trail then heads downhill to the junction with the Big Park and Courthouse Butte Loop Trails at the 2.4 -mile point. A map sign shows options for joining the wide-eyed masses orbiting Bell Rock, or you can skip the crowds by simply retracing your steps for a mellow 4.8-mile out-and-back hike.
LENGTH: 2.4 miles one-way to Big Park
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,270' - 4,710'
Rabbit Ears rock formation in Munds Mountain Wilderness

From Interstate 17, take the State Route 179 Sedona exit 298, turn left and go 6.5 miles on SR179 to Jacks Canyon Road. Turn right and continue 1.9 miles to the trailhead turnoff (Forest Road 179G) on the right directly across from Canyon Ridge Trail.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

Wednesday, September 30, 2015



It's October and that means Phoenix hiking season is officially underway. Temperatures are starting to cool down and already, out-of-state license plates are showing up at local trailheads. Welcome back snowbirds and winter visitors! Phoenix is a world-class hiking destination, but with so many options it can be a challenge to figure out which trails to hit, especially for newcomers or locals who are new to the sport of hiking. That's where the Phoenix Trail Guide comes in. Created by, the handy guide covers many must-do and classic routes across the Valley and beyond.
The free, pocket-sized guide is available in print and digital editions and provides basic information about more than 140 trails managed by the City of Phoenix, Maricopa County and the City of Scottsdale.
The following description was provided by
Among the new guide’s contents:
• Trail recommendations from local outfitters (in the categories of “Easy,” “Moderate” and “Challenging”)
• Information about guided hiking tours
• Information about trails open to dogs, horses and/or mountain bikes
• Tips about safety precautions and trail etiquette
• Suggestions for hiking trips to other parts of Arizona
The Phoenix Trail Guide is available to guests at more than 30 hotels and resorts in the Phoenix area, and a digital version can be downloaded at
Visitors to downtown Phoenix can pick up a free trail guide at Visit Phoenix’s official Visitor Information Center—open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 125 N. 2nd St—or from one of the orange-shirted Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors who serve as sidewalk concierges seven days a week.
“For those of us who are too sleepy-headed to go hiking at sunrise during the summer months, this is the time of year when we re-introduce ourselves to our favorite trails and maybe try out some new ones,” Visit Phoenix spokesperson Scott Dunn said. “This guide simplifies the decision-making process for visiting hikers, because there are a ton of trails out there.”
Dunn pointed out that Greater Phoenix is home to more recreational open space—nearly 190,000 acres—than any other major metropolis in the United States. “To put that in perspective,” he said, “if you piled together all the mountain parks in metro Phoenix, they wouldn’t fit within the city limits of Chicago—and you could just barely squeeze them into the geographical footprint of New York City.”
Visit Phoenix
Phoenix Trail Guide

FALL COLOR UPDATE 2015: Lockett Meadow Access

Vehicle access to Lockett Meadow to be managed for fall color viewing

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., Sep. 30, 2015 — For Immediate Release.  Coconino National Forest plans to manage vehicle access to Lockett Meadow over the next couple of weekends to ensure public safety and allow safe travel up and down the road that leads to the meadow.
            During the weekends of Oct. 3-4 and Oct. 10-11, Forest Service personnel will be positioned in Lockett Meadow and also at the bottom of the road that leads to the meadow (near the junction of Forest Roads 552 and 418). Once the maximum capacity of approximately 50 vehicles has been reached in Lockett Meadow, personnel will manage traffic and allow one vehicle access as another departs.
Lockett Meadow is a popular destination for viewing fall colors and aspen stands as they turn yellow in the inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks. Forest Road 552, which is used to access the meadow, is a narrow forest road alongside a steep cliff that can be unsafe and difficult for opposing traffic to pass one another. Drivers should pay particular attention to oncoming traffic and blind corners.
Forest visitors are encouraged to seek other locations besides Lockett Meadow to view fall colors—especially on the weekends.  This includes the Around the Peaks Scenic Loop Drive on Forest Road 418, Snowbowl Road and the Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift, Elden Lookout Road (Forest Road 557), Hart Prairie (Forest Road 151) and Forest Road 300 along the Mogollon Rim. For more information and destinations to view fall colors on the Coconino, please visit
Lockett Meadow Campground has 17 campsites ($14/night) that are on a first-come, first-served basis.  The 50-vehicle restriction will not apply to those camping at Lockett Meadow.
  (re-posted from Forest Service press release 9-30-15)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Hikers on the Foothills Loop Trail

When massive blocks of Mississippian Escabrosa Limestone get jostled around by eons of geological turbulence, the results can be both transformative and magical. The Whetstone Mountains south of Benson are a good example of earth's dynamic forces at work. The range began when sediments at the bottom of an ancient inland sea solidified into layers of soft rock. Multiple episodes of faulting and uplifting formed the skyline of peaks that soar to over 7,000' and a chunk of limestone that slipped off the range's eastern flank that became the incubator of a celebrated natural wonder. From the outside, this slipped block appears as an unspectacular, ocotillo-studded hill. But inside, are the water-sculpted wonders of Kartchner Caverns State Park. Within the living wet caves, mineral deposits built over hundreds of thousands of years are still growing. It's like walking through a stadium-size geode.
Chihuahuan semi-desert grasslands

Cave tours must be scheduled in advance. The half-mile excursions are naturally lit (no amusement park theatric here) and set to a soothing soundtrack. Guides tell the story of the cave's discovery and describe the science behind the bizarre formations that hang like melted wax, pulled taffy and flowing sheets of "liquid" stone. After the tour, you'll want to check out two above-ground hiking trails that explore the Chihuahuan semi-desert grasslands and oak-juniper forests that surround the property. The Foothills Loop Trail winds though a riparian area, savannah-like pastures and sandy washes with breathtaking mountain views. This hike is augmented with numbered posts that correspond with a free trail guide available at the Discovery Center. For a more challenging trek, the Guindani Trail #398 leaves the Foothills Trail, crosses into Coronado National Forest and makes a 1,000' climb to a scenic saddle where the peaks of the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista hover over Arizona's border with Mexico.
Guindani Wash

Foothills Loop: 2.5 miles
Guindani Trail # 398: 4.2 mile loop
Foothills: moderate
Guindani: difficult
ELEVATION: 4,750' - 5,620'
GATE HOURS: 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to exit 302 for State Route 90 (Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca). Go 9 miles south on SR 90 to the park entrance on the right.
Cave Tour Reservations:

Saturday, September 26, 2015



TODAY at the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area (a.k.a. Viet Springs) in Flagstaff.
The trail elevation is 8600' and the aspens are just beginning to turn gold. We saw some rich spots of color on Snowball Road but mostly the aspens are lime and lemony.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Abineau-Bear Jaw Trail
Here in Arizona, fall color season runs from late September through December. Autumn leaf-peeping begins in the high elevations of Flagstaff, the White Mountains and sky islands like the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson and Mount Graham near Safford. Above 8,000', you'll find mostly aspens---the quintessential mountain tree. The season trickles down to the Mogollon Rim, Prescott, Payson and Sedona, usually peaking in late October through early November. Look for electric red maples, golden oaks, ash, alders and hoptrees.  Finally, desert trees like cottonwood, sycamores and willows turn tawny toward the end of November. Here are some perfect hiking trails for fall color. Find trails descriptions and directions by scrolling to the  TRAIL INDEX on this blog. You can also click on "fall color" to read about 165 hikes for autumn splendor:
Abineau-BearJaw, Flagstaff
Inner Basin, Flagstaff
Veit Springs, Flagstaff
Wilson Meadow, Flagstaff
Pole Knoll, Greer
West Baldy, Greer
Icehouse Canyon, Globe
Marshall Gulch, Tucson
Ash Creek, Safford
Barbershop Trail, Mogollon Rim
Rim Lakes Vista, Mogollon Rim
West Fork of Oak Creek, Sedona
Red Rock State Park, Sedona
Huckaby Trail, Sedona
Baldwin Trail, Sedona
Hackberry Spring, Superstition Mountains
Jewel of the Creek, Spur Cross Ranch
New River Nature Reserve, New River
Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Globe

National Forest Service (AZ is in Region 3)
Flagstaff-Sedona Updates
Flagstaff Leaf-O-Meter:

Monday, September 21, 2015


Bulldog Canyon Trailhead to Pass Mountain Trail
Granite outcroppings on Maricopa Trail

Loop trails are fantastic inventions. Hiking on one feels sort of like a following a cinematographer filming a visually-rich sequence that ends where it began. Arizona has some impressive hiking hoops. Revered for their flowing, long lengths and community-unifying qualities, projects like the Flagstaff Loop Trail (42 miles), Prescott Circle Trail (54.4 miles) and the grand dame of them all--Maricopa Trail-- act as the glue for regional, non-motorized recreation systems. When complete (target 2017), the Maricopa Trail will form a 310-mile loop around Greater Phoenix, connecting parks, suburbia and surrounding cities. The thrill of trekking on fresh dirt is rekindled each time a new segment drifts into pristine tracts or provides an alternate path to familiar hiking haunts. With the recent opening of a 1.4-mile section in the East Valley, there's now another way to approach the popular Pass Mountain (PM) Trail. Previously, access to PM was only though Usery Mountain Regional Park or a lot off Meridian Road in Mesa. This new western approach from Bulldog Canyon Trailhead will eventually tie in with a yet-to-be-constructed corridor to the Granite Reef recreation area near the Salt River. Volunteers are needed to complete the work and you can sign up to be part of this historic effort by visiting the Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation website:
The "Bulldog" segment makes an easy, 300-foot ascent to the junction with 7.5-mile PM Trail (not signed). Roughly 5.6 miles of the PM loop trail is on the Tonto National Forest and there's no fee to hike on this scenic section. However, if you cross into the part of the trail that's in Usery Mountain Park, be prepared to pay the $2 per person fee (exact change required). You can avoid the fee by heading left at the junction. From here, its just under 2 miles to the saddle overlooking a valley straddling the desert space between the Superstition and Goldfield Mountains. This makes for a good turn around point for those left their wallets at home or are not up to the 10.3-mile circuit.
Sunrise over Pass Mountain

LENGTH: 1.4 miles one way (trailhead to PM)
or 10.3 miles roundtrip with Pass Mountain Loop
RATING: easy-difficult
ELEVATION: 2,010'- 2,340' (2,740' with PM)
FEE: $2 per person if you enter the park on foot. Exact change required.
View of Four Peaks

From Phoenix, go east on US60 to the Ellsworth Road exit. Go north 8.2 miles north on Ellsworth (turns into Usery Pass Rd.) to the trailhead corral on the right past milepost 22 which is 1.6 miles north of the Usery Mountain Park entrance.
Maricopa Trail:
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


An adoptable dog takes a break on the Merkle Trail

On Saturday, October 3, 2015, dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care & Control's Mesa shelter will be hitting the trail for the Season 3 premier of the Wag & Walk Adoption Hike Program. This year, there's something extra howl about. The program was awarded the 2015 "Best in Category" for parks and recreation prize from the National Association of Counties. This prestigious honor recognizes the cooperation between the shelter and county parks to promote the adoption of homeless pets.
On the first Saturday of every month, October though April, adoptable dogs converge in a frenzy of wiggling butts and sloppy kisses on the Merkle Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa. The dogs are mostly "long-timers" having spent more than 30 days in the shelter. Needless to say, they are thrilled to work the crowds on the easy, 1-mile hike. The goals of the program, which launched in 2013, are to give the dogs a chance to socialize, decompress from their kennels, draw attention to adoptable shelter pets and encourage people to get out and discover hiking trails in our county parks.
During the hikes, human participants may "test drive" dogs to see how they handle on leash. Post hike, the dogs reassemble at the trailhead for meet-and-greet sessions (and belly rubs) where shelter volunteers can provide information on each pet's personality, exercise needs and silly quirks. Even if you're not looking to adopt, please join us for yapping good time in a beautiful desert park.
An adoptable shelter dog demonstrates his hiking skills.

WHEN: Saturday, October 3, 2015 (and every 1st Saturday, Oct-Apr)
TIME: 8:45 a.m. hikes begin at 9:00 a.m.
WHERE: Usery Mountain Regional Park,
3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
FEE: $6 per vehicle
A cute Chihuahua mix looking for her forever home.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Grasslands and mountain views on Longview Trail

The Prescott Circle Trail (PCT) is a non-motorized trail system that works like a 54-mile wagon wheel around the city with spokes radiating to myriad recreational goodies in "everybody's hometown". The route is a master work in trail design with multiple access points  and connectivity to city and county parks,  lakeside recreation areas, campgrounds and wooded paths within Prescott National Forest. This super network layout makes it simple to explore the 54-mile circuit at either a leisurely day hike pace or a more ambitious, multi-day backpack trip.  Downloadable maps and an excellent app for smart phones and tablets are available on the city's website.
Segment #10 of the route links Williamson Valley Road with Pioneer Park via the Longview Trail. This short trek winds through sprawling grasslands and juniper scrub with the hulking mound of Granite Mountain dominating its western flank. From the trail's high spots, hazy glimpses of Sedona's red rock canyons and the peaks of Flagstaff punctuate a landscape of golden prairies. At the 1.78-mile point, the trail enters Pioneer Park. From here, you can continue on PCT or make a customized hike using the park's 9-miles of loop trails. Although Prescott Circle Trail was officially completed in summer 2015, it will continue to evolve with added trailheads, scenic spur loops and ongoing improvements to optimize the outdoor experience for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. Whether sampled as an effortless stroll from a kid-friendly park or tackled from its feral fringes, the trail serves up a balanced blend of trekking opportunities. 
Williamson Valley view from Longview Trail

Longview Trail: 1.78 miles one-way
Pioneer Park Trails: 9 miles cumulative
RATING: easy-moderate
Longview Trail: 5,419' - 5,547'
Pioneer Park Trails: 5,220' - 5,580'
Granite Mountain

There are many ways to get to this trailhead. Here's a convenient route when coming from Phoenix.
From State Route 69 in Prescott, go 2 miles north on Prescott Lakes Parkway (across from the Prescott Gateway Mall near milepost 294 ) to State Route 89. Turn right, continue 3.5 miles to Pioneer Parkway, go left and drive 5 miles to Williamson Valley Road. Turn right and make an immediate turn into the lot at the Welcome to Williamson Valley sign.
Longview is part of the Prescott Circle Trail

Maps & Apps, City of Prescott:
Yavapai County Parks:

Monday, September 7, 2015


Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Morgan City Wash is open only to ranger-led hikes

From a lookout point near the 10-lane boat ramp at Lake Pleasant Regional Park, an emerald gorge is visible winding through the foothills below. Morgan City Wash occupies an area south of the lake where the high water table and a perennial creek support a dense forest of cottonwood, mesquite and willows. This lush, riparian ecosystem stands out in brilliant contrast to the muted tones of the surrounding desert. Within the 0.75-mile green zone, rare birds, native fish, dragonflies, amphibians and myriad critters like fox, raccoons and javelina thrive amid flood-scoured bends and water-sculpted stone escarpments. To protect the sensitive nature of this rehabilitating site, visiting the wash is only possible through regularly-scheduled, guided hikes. Park Interpretive Ranger Terry Gerber leads the way armed with deep insight (and a rather silly, but effective battery-powered cooling fan) of the area's history, geology and wildlife. The 4-mile treks descend from the lake along exposed saguaro-lined routes before entering the shady canopy of the wash. Along the way, Gerber describes animal tracks, bird calls, plants and interesting features such as Rattlesnake Arch and the “cowboy bathtubs”. If you haven't been out to the park lately, now is the perfect time to enjoy these cool hikes and get reacquainted with this north Valley recreation site.
With over 8 miles of new trails added this past year and an upgraded visitor center slated to open in early 2016, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a hiker's paradise located less than an hour north of Downtown Phoenix.
Ranger Terry Gerber describes an old dam feature

Upcoming guided hikes to Morgan City Wash. Check the park website for details:
Sept 19: Hike & Splash
Oct 9: Hike into a Desert Forest
Oct 24: Hike and Splash
View from the Beardsley Trail

LENGTH: 4 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,740' – 1,440'
FEE: $6 daily fee per car
A shady canopy of cottonwoods and willows 

41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown. 928-501-1710
From Phoenix go north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway/State Route 74 exit 223. Head 11 miles west (toward Wickenburg) to Castle Hot Springs Road (milepost 19) turn right and drive 2 miles to the main park entry ( Lake Pleasant Access Road) and follow the "hike" signs to the meet up spot.
INFO: Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Kaibab National Forest
Whitehorse Lake Trail #33

Due to some very serious competition, the two little trails at Whitehorse Lake don't get the attention they deserve. Located adjacent to several classic hiking destinations on the Kaibab National Forest south of Williams, it's no wonder these lakeside gems live in unheralded obscurity. Although these mini treks are certainly not in the same league as the nearby Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, Overland Road or the epic routes ascending Bill Williams Mountain, they are ideal for a warm up leg stretch or educational strolls with kids. Also, they're situated within Whitehorse Lake Campground, which makes the perfect base camp for hitting the aforementioned famous trails.
Whitehorse Lake #33 begins at a parking area near camp Loop F where there's a map sign and a supply of brochures with descriptions for 12 numbered points of interest along the route. The one-way trail ends at a blocked road gate near camp Loop B. From the "F" trailhead, go left and hike out over a dam built in 1934 to improve wildlife and recreational opportunities in the area. Follow the posts through pine-oak woodlands, marsh areas and reed-choked coves. Features along the way include waterbird habitats, "yellow-bellie" Ponderosa pines, wildflowers, bird and bear feeding sites and mushroom logs. At post #9, the Canyon Overlook Trail #70 veers off for an optional 2.5-mile roundtrip hike to a scenic point over Sycamore Canyon. Both trails have short sections where the route is obscured by deadfall and leaf litter, but finding your way isn't too challenging. Beyond post #12, the trail swings through prime critter country along the southeast shore of the 35-acre lake before ending directly across the water from the start point. Retrace your steps or follow campground roads back to the trailhead.
The marshy end of the lake

Trail #33: 2 miles roundtrip
Trail #70: 2.5 miles round trip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6,600'-6,625'
FACILITIES: restrooms, camping, fishing (fee)
Trail over the dam

From Williams, go 8.2 miles south on 4th Street (turns into Perkinsville Road, County Road 73) to Forest Road 110 at milepost 177. Turn left and go 7.2 miles to Forest Road 109, turn left and continue 3 miles to the lake. Follow the signs to either day use area nears Loops B or F. There are no fees for day use only. Roads are paved and sedan-friendly dirt/gravel.
INFO: Kaibab National Forest