Sunday, December 14, 2014


Peoria Sonoran Mountain Ranch Preserve

If you’re new to hiking or looking for a way to build stamina, this cluster of West Valley trails offers three options ranging from easy to difficult. Although none of the trails stray very far from suburban backyards, the difficult-rated summit loop gains enough elevation to provide a good workout backed by excellent scenic views.  The trail is very well constructed with hairpin switchbacks and staircase-like rock slabs that make climbing the steep chutes manageable for even novice hikers.  The trek is a surprisingly quiet journey, and save for the occasional yapping of the local Yorkshire terriers guarding their patios, the soundtrack is one of breezes through Palo Verde trees and the hum of wind-rustled saguaro needles.

LENGTH: 2.4 miles 
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,476’ – 1916’
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables, playground, drinking fountains

Sonoran Mountain Ranch Park, 7098 W. Miner Trail, Peoria.
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to Happy Valley Road exit 218. Go 5 miles west on Happy Valley Road to 67th Avenue, turn right and drive 2.8 miles (road becomes Pyramid Peak Pkwy.) to Sonoran Mountain Ranch Road.  Veer left and go 0.5 mile to Chalfen Blvd., turn left, continue 0.1 mile to Miner Trail and follow the signs to Sonoran Mountain Ranch Park. From the post near the restrooms, hike 0.15 mile south on Chalfen to the official trailhead. Do not park along residential streets.

A patriotic summit display

INFO: City of Peoria


Monday, December 8, 2014


Superstition Wilderness
Weaver's Needle viewed from Lone Pine lookout

A hike up Peralta Canyon Trail #102 in the Superstition Wilderness just might be the longest 2 miles you'll ever trek.  This is because the hike is an unrelenting uphill slog through desert scrub and slick rock chutes that begins immediately after departing the trailhead and does not quit until the trail tops out at the 2-mile point on the Fremont Saddle. Here, up-close views of Weaver's Needle-- the area's most recognizable pillar of rock---deliver a generous ROI for the sweaty haul. The saddle is a popular place to take a break and decide whether to continue hiking downhill another 2.6 miles to the end of trail #102 or back track for a 4-miler.  Another option involves hiking on well-worn social trails to the lone pine tree visible on a ridge to the right (east) of the Needle. This side trip adds 1-mile round trip.  Anyway you hike it, Peralta Trail is an ideal way to burn off those extra holiday calories and a terrific place to introduce out-of-town visitors to the beautiful Supes.

Near the top of Peralta Canyon

LENGTH TO FREMONT SADDLE: 4 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,400 – 3,800 feet
Big exposure, bigger views.

GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take US 60 east to about 8 miles past Apache Junction and look for the “Peralta Trailhead” sign on the side of the road. Turn left onto Peralta Road (Forest Road 77) and drive 8 miles to the trailhead. NOTE: FR 77 is good dirt and passable by sedan. There are nice restrooms but no water at the trailhead. The parking lot fills up quickly on weekends, so plan to arrive early or park in the overflow lot. NO FEES.
One of two needle rocks on the trail

Monday, December 1, 2014


Tonto National Forest

Roosevelt Lake 

At the north end of Roosevelt Lake, an elegant suspension bridge that straddles the gap between the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks Wilderness serves as the gateway to Passage 20 of the Arizona Trail. This 19.5-mile   stretch of rugged roads and narrow footpaths shimmies through of some of the state's most spectacular country. The old 4.5-mile Vineyard Trail #131 that was once used to service a reflector on a pinnacle above the lake has been harnessed into this section of the AZT's state-traversing course.  For a relatively short hike, this one really packs a scenic punch and a grueling climb at the start adds satisfaction to the vistas that unfold on the way up. The heart-pumping initial ascent along Inspiration Point tops out at 1.5-miles with 360-degree views of the lake, Sierra Ancha Mountains and green floodplains of Tonto Basin. From here, the hike is tempered by rolling grasslands as it moves west  toward Four Peaks. Next, get your camera ready because the trail curves around a low slung, saguaro-populated ridge where the Salt River gorge and snaking form of Apache Lake shimmer a thousand feet below. This is one of the prettiest places in central Arizona. Beyond the river-and-lake eye candy, the trail dips down though rock fall and cacti to meet Forest Road 429 and the end of trail #131 at the Mills Ridge Trailhead where you can backtrack for a 9-mile day hike or continue 469 miles north to Utah on the Arizona Trail.
Salt River and Apache Lake

LENGTH: 4.5 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 2,200' - 3,700'
The trailhead is located on the northeast side of the Roosevelt Dam Bridge and can be accessed via State Routes 188 and 88. There are several ways to get there from Phoenix including the shortest route that's a precipitous drive on the rough dirt mountain grades of SR88.  But the faint of heart should instead take State Route 87 north to the SR188 junction and head 30 miles south to the trailhead parking turnout at the big Arizona Trail sign on the left just before the bridge. The hike begins across the road at the AZ88 junction sign.

Four Peaks on horizon

INFO: Arizona Trail Association:
Tonto National Forest: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 928-467-3200

Roosevelt Dam Bridge


Sunday, November 23, 2014


Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District

Salt River viewed from Saguaro (aka Mine) Trail

Originally constructed by mountain bike enthusiasts, this intertwining system of trails overlooking Granite Reef Dam on the Salt River in Mesa is just too interesting for hikers to ignore.  In 2005, 10.3 miles of the 20-mile web of social trails were adopted into the Tonto National Forest System. As would be expected of bike trails, these routes offer an entertaining mash up of twists and swooping turns tracing the site’s hills and valleys. The 5-trail maze is also known as the "Hawes System" after the longest route in the mix. As bikers heavily use these trails, hikers should stay alert and share the dirt accordingly. Trail courtesy dictates that bikers yield to hikers and everybody yields to horses---especially the wild mustangs that roam this riverside terrain. However, a bike careening through a hairpin turn at break neck speed won't necessarily be able to avoid you without drawing blood. So, although riders on these trails are generally courteous and careful, be prepared to relinquish the right of way whenever possible---after all, they were here first.

Views of Red Mountain dominate the hike

LENGTH: 10.3 miles (maintained trails only)
Hawes Trail #52: 3.4 miles
Ridge Trail #59: 1.7 miles
Granite Trail #54: 0.7 mile
Saguaro Trail #50: 3.1 miles
Saddle Trail #51: 1.4 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1150’ – 1760’
From Phoenix go east on Loop 202 to exit 23 for Power Road in Mesa.  Travel 2.1 miles north on Power Road to the Hawes Trailhead on the left. Trail begins across the road.
INFO & MAPS: Global Bikes
Tonto National Forest

Hawes Trail


Thursday, November 20, 2014


8th Annual Race, Raffle & Fundraiser

Hikers take your marks---the 8th Annual Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill Race (KAU), Raffle and Fundraiser event is slated for Saturday, February 7, 2015.  Join 300 climbers on this insanely challenging hike/climb surrounded by a party atmosphere.  With Gore-tex as the title sponsor, racers have the option of wearing Kahtoola (a Flagstaff-based company) MICROspikes, snowshoes, crampons, skis with skins, or a split board for added traction on the steep course.  The catch? There’s no telling who will make it to the finish line first, because whichever product helps (or hinders) your way up the mountain is the product you have (or get!) to wear on the way back down. 
 A racer’s choice of footwear — MICROspikes or ski gear — livens up the competition, given that, in the race’s history, there has never been a consistent winner. Some years, the MICROspikes win; others, the ski gear.  The wide range of experience levels, from competitive racers to recreational athletes to just plain winter enthusiasts, also contributes to the fun. 
 While the competition is fierce and the fun is even fiercer, the event also dishes out a fierce dose of philanthropy. 100 percent of proceeds from the Agassiz Uphill are donated to Camp Colton, an environmental and natural sciences camp for children that informs and encourages children’s interaction with the outdoors.

WHEN: Saturday, February 7, 2015
WHERE: Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff
WHY: benefit for Camp Colton



I have NOT received product or payment for this endorsement. It's just a cool event worth a pitch. Mare

Monday, November 17, 2014


On newsstands Nov. 20, 2014
The December 2014 issue of PHOENIX magazine features 41 great hikes in and around the Valley.
Here’s where you can find PHOENIX magazine: Safeway, Fry’s Marketplace, Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Sunflower Markets, Sprouts, Borders, Barnes & Noble, CVS, Walgreens, Sky Harbor Airport, Albertson’s, Fresh & Easy, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, Whole Foods, Basha’s, A.J.’s, La Grande Orange, The Kitchen, Area hospital gift shops WEB SITE: ORDER BY PHONE: 480-664-3960

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Saguaro Lake

Trail near Camper Cove

Of the sting of reservoirs tethered by the Salt River 30 miles northeast of the Valley, amenity-rich Saguaro Lake is the closest and easiest to find. This is one of the reasons why it's so wildly popular for boating, fishing or simply bonding with a cooler and juicy novel under a lakeside mesquite tree. Hikers can hit the dirt here by way of the Butcher Jones Trail that wraps around a water-piercing peninsula with secluded coves. Most of the route hugs the cliffs high above the lake, but fisherman paths to the shore make nice scenic detours for photography, wildlife spotting or a cozy lunch break. The trail's high points reveal fantastic views of the gaping Salt River Canyon, 1930s-era Stewart Dam and surrounding mountain ranges. Arrive early to get a good parking spot and be prepared to share the trail with pole-toting anglers and gaggles of kids running off their hot dogs and Kool-Aid. If noise and crowds cramp your style, hang in there---the commotion dissipates where the trail makes a hairpin turn around Peregrine Point.
Heading toward Burro Cove

LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1529' - 1600'
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables
FEE: Tonto Pass is required. $6 daily fee
The Flatiron in Superstition Wilderness on horizon

From Mesa, go 27 miles north on SR87 (Beeline Highway) to exit 199, Bush Highway (FR204), turn right and continue 2 miles to the signed turnoff for Butcher Jones Recreation Area.  Follow the access road (FR116) 2 miles to the site.  Trail begins at far east end of the beach.
Burro Cove

INFO: Tonto National Forest


Monday, November 10, 2014


McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Who knew that the ambrosial, mood-altering magic of fragrance could be so pronounced on a trail dubbed "Turpentine"?  Named for Ericameria laricifolia, a knee-high bush in the sunflower family, the Turpentine Trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve celebrates this tenacious plant's olfactory contribution to desert hiking. Instead of the expected nasal membrane singeing vapors, the needle-like leaves of the turpentine bush emit a complex cloud of piney perfume with hints of citrus and sage when pinched gently between the fingers. The late bloomer is at its best during the winter hiking season boasting yellow, broom-shaped blooms from August through December followed by frothy, flightily seed globes.  The plants grow in perfusion throughout the preserve's sandy, crushed granite terrain but are especially robust in the north sector around the Fraesfield and Granite Mountain trailheads, both of which can be used to access the Turpentine Trail. Maps available online coupled with meticulous on-trail signage show numerous ways to weave this trail into a day of exploring.  One option begins at the Fraesfield trailhead with a 1.6-mile trek on Black Hills Trail, to the Turpentine junction. From here, go left and hike 1.4 miles to Whiskey Bottle Trail, veer left and continue 1.6 miles back to the trailhead. This loop has terrific views of the Superstition Wilderness, Four Peaks and the Cave Creek Mountains.

LENGTH: 4.6 miles as described here
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2300' - 2656'
Four Peaks

GETTING THERE: Fraesfield Trailhead
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 go 5.6 miles to the trailhead on the left.  No facilities or water.

Turpentine Bush

INFO & MAPS: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 480-312-7013

Monday, November 3, 2014


Cockscomb formation dominates the horizon


Taking off from a trailhead located less than a mile from busy Highway 89A in Sedona, the Girdner Trail has a surprisingly wild feel about it---if you give it about a mile. The first part of the hike shares space with the 0.2-mile, paved Centennial Trail that leads to an overlook area with big sky views of colorfully layered mesas and blood red rock spires floating over residential properties northwest of town. Trudging beyond this barrier-free gem, the trail boasts cypress-framed vistas of the russet sandstone Cockscomb formation before making a dive into the twisting gorge of Dry Creek where suburbia gets swallowed up in a frenzy of high desert trees and water-sculpted canyon walls.
A rocky crossing of Dry Creek
Although the creek lives up to its "dry" name most of the time, the porous terrain retains enough groundwater and reflecting pools to support an enchanting forest of cottonwood, willow and sycamore trees that flaunt golden canopies from late October thought mid-November.  A walking stick is helpful as the trail makes many crossings of the boulder strewn creek bed.  Along the way, a short trek on a gas pipeline road and telephone line corridor reminds that civilization is not too far away. The trail ends at Dry Creek Road, however, multiple connecting trails in the "Cockscomb cluster" can be cobbled into endless day hike or backpacking trips. NOTE: trail signs are sparse and intersecting social trails can cause confusion.  Study the trailhead map before heading out.

LENGTH: 4.5 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4240'- 4600'
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required
From the AZ89A/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 Cultural Park trailhead on the right. Trailhead has picnic tables and a map kiosk but no restrooms or water.

INFO & MAPS: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Monday, October 27, 2014


Thumb Butte Bypass Trail follows Miller Creek

Soaring to 6514', the sky dominating profile of Thumb Butte is Prescott’s most iconic natural landmark. Its convenient location in the middle of a park just west of downtown's historic Whiskey Row attracts scores of visitors, many of whom use the main Trail #33 as their first exposure to Prescott area hiking. Although it's a good choice for novice hikers or those unfamiliar with the area's terrain, a slew of connecting routes add length and difficulty to satisfy the predilections of most trekkers.
Thumb Butte Trail #33
The heaviest traveled of the seven routes in the park's south end, Trail #33 is engineered with climb-calming switchbacks, safety rails and rest stops that make short work of the 2.1-mile loop around the granite formation.  When hiking clockwise from the trailhead, the path is paved up to the loop's highpoint on a saddle below vertical rock slabs forming the butte's summit. Here, a spur trail that's closed from February 1st to July 15th each year to protect peregrine falcon nesting sites, leads to optional rock scrambling routes.  The trail turns to dirt for the return leg, passing a makeshift memorial to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished in the 2013 Yarnell Hill wildfire.    Maps available at the trailhead show the lay of the land and numerous ways to explore deeper into Prescott National Forest including easy connectivity with the Prescott Circle Trail that makes a 50-mile circuit around the city.

Thumb Butte

LENGTH: 8.3 miles total for 7 trails
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  5705’ – 6314’ (Trail #33)
HOURS: seasonal 7 a.m. to 5, 7 or 8 p.m.
FEE: $5 day use fee (exact change required)
Granite Mountain Hotshot memorial

From the courthouse in downtown Prescott (Gurley St. and Montezuma), travel 3.4 miles west on Gurley Street (turns into Thumb Butte Road) to the Thumb Butte Recreation Area.
INFO & MAPS: Prescott National Forest

Sunday, October 19, 2014


City of Peoria

Every town and city in the Valley has its popular workout trail where the hordes converge for their daily dose of sweat and grind. Examples are Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and, Scottsdale's Pinnacle Peak. Not to be left out of the fitness frenzy, Peoria's trek of choice is West Wing Mountain. Unlike its neighbors, which offer one option---moderately difficult, straight up-and-down trudges-- this system of loop trails offers you a choice of difficult and extreme options. Although the trails are well maintained and not too steep, the difficult rating is likely because of the slick rock and loose scree underfoot.
The mountain is actually an undulating ridgeline with trails wrapping up and around scenic viewpoints and a high summit.  Rising above a Northwest Valley suburban domain of kids and cul-de-sacs, the trails dodge among crusty cliffs and barrel cactus showcasing ever-improving views as the routes gain elevation. At the top of the extreme loop, views of a sea of terra cotta roofs nuzzling up to the mountain’s base and West Valley mountains form a 360-degree panorama beyond a familiar landscape of freeways and shopping malls.

LENGTH:  3.4 or 3.5 miles (including 0.2-mile access trail from the park)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 1400'- 1903’

From Phoenix, go north on I-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 West Wing Parkway, turn left and go 1 mile to West Wing Park on the right.  Trail begins at the far west side of the parking lot. Although there are numerous access points from residential streets, The City of Peoria wants hikers to park at the West Wing Park lot.

INFO: City of Peoria, 623-773-7120
West Wing Neighborhood Park
27100 N. West Wing Parkway, Peoria

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Coconino National Forest
Barbershop Trail, Oct. 11, 2014

One of the best long hikes on the Mogollon Rim is the Cabin Loop System.  Several trailheads provide myriad options for making multi-day backpack treks or day hikes using the five trails that link a system of abandoned fire lookout cabins. In autumn, the Barbershop Trail portion of the route is famous for its awesome display of colorful foliage.
The hike begins with a steep descent into Yeager Canyon, a creek crossing and an immediate climb back up to a ridge. The trail is sketchy in places but is marked by tree blazes. Along this section, moist pockets of Bigtooth maples form canopies of red, orange and gold over a moss-fleeced pine-fir woodland.  At the 0.7-mile point, turn right to pick up the U-Bar Trail.  Deeply wooded, this trail features Gamble oaks and aspen groves that shine in electric yellow in mid-October.  The ruins of Dane Cabin and its companion spring appear at mile 2.3 before the trail winds north along the edge of Dane Canyon. Soon the path dips into the gorge via a series of switchbacks landing hikers in a stream-bisected meadow at the 4.3-mile point---a good turnaround point for a leaf-peeping day hike.
U-Bar Trail, Oct. 11, 2014

Maples on Barbershop Trail, Oct. 11, 2014

LENGTH:  8.7 miles (as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7120’ – 7598
From Payson, go 29 miles east on AZ260 to Rim Road (Forest Road 300 at the Woods Canyon Lake sign).  Turn left and go 22.8 miles on FR300 to FR137, turn right and continue 3.4 miles to the Barbershop Trail sign.  Hike begins on the west side of the road at a small wooden sign. Dirt roads are sedan friendly.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Narrow Canyon Pool, Oct. 7, 2014

I cried when I first learned that the 2014 Slide Fire had crept into the West Fork of Oak Creek, impacting one of Sedona’s premier hiking destinations. Prior to the blaze, the soaring crimson and buff canyon walls that cradle the creek were embellished with pines, maples, elders, willows and hop trees. In spring, apple blossoms burst from an abandoned orchard and in autumn, the canyon glowed in shades of russet, gold and orange. After a months-long closure, the forest service re-opened the canyon on October 1, 2014.  I re-visited a few days later and found that the damage is minimal. The vast majority of the trail is intact and I only noticed six areas of moderate fire damage---but nothing bad enough to detract from the canyon’s beauty.  Despite our wet summer, water levels in the creek are very low and the sandbars are stained black with ash. But, low water means that hiking into the slot canyon beyond the maintained trail is now easy to do without having to wade. On October 7th, the leaves were just beginning to show some color, which means the week of the 15th should be prime time for fall foliage hiking.

13th creek crossing: Oct. 7, 2014

Beginnings of Fall color: Oct 7, 2014

LENGTH: 3.3 miles one-way
RATING: easy with 13 creek crossings
ELEVATION: 5324' – 5594’
FEE: $10 daily fee per vehicle or $2 per person walk in
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables, no water
Fire damage at creek crossing #11

From the AZ179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, veer right and continue 10.5 miles north on 89A to the Call O the Canyon trailhead on the left.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900


Sunday, October 5, 2014


Arizona Trail Passage 34, Flagstaff
Aspen color on October 5, 2014

Trekking the Arizona National Scenic Trail Passage 34 can best be described as hiking through an aspen alley. Although this section of the 817-mile, state-traversing route is well over 30 miles in length, some of the best fall foliage viewing happens in the 4-mile strip of forest between Forest Road 418 and Bismarck Lake . Right from the start, hikers are immersed in colonies of slender, white-barked trees with feather-duster-like canopies that glow in shades of gold from early to mid-October. After about a mile, deep woodlands of pines and firs overcome the aspens.  Here, sporadic, survivor aspens stand out like torch flames.  At the 1.8 mile point, a small grove adds spots of color and at 2.7 miles, the aspens return with a vengeance, dominating the trail all the way to the Bismarck Lake junction in the shadow of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks.

LENGTH: 4.2 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8287' - 8897'
From Flagstaff go 19 miles north on US180 to Hart Prairie Road (FR151) at milepost 235.
Turn right and go 1.6 miles to FR418, turn left and continue 1.1 mile to the trailhead.


Friday, October 3, 2014


ICEHOUSE CANYON TRAIL Pinal Mountains, Globe

Maples, alders, walnut and oak---and aspens near the top

Fall color in Arizona often conjures images of aspens in Flagstaff or maples on the Mogollon Rim, but there's another place---only 95 miles from the Valley--- that glows just as well. The Pinal Mountains in the Tonto National Forest near Globe offer autumn foliage and challenging treks. Of the four major trails that ascend the mountains (Icehouse, Six Shooter, Kellner and Telephone), Icehouse presents the most colorful option for leaf peeping.
It’s a bit tricky to stay on track, but with some attention to detail, hiking to the cool pockets of aspens and maples  is an exhausting yet memorable adventure. From the trailhead, hike a short distance uphill along Forest Road 112 to the Telephone Trail on the right. Follow the Telephone Trail for two-tenths of a mile to the Icehouse Canyon Trail junction, hang a right and go downhill and through a dry wash. Next, pass through a cattle guard and continue up to the top of a rise. From there, go left and follow the road for a half-mile to a junction where there are spring-fed water troughs and salt licks for the domestic cattle (and black bears) that inhabit the area. Veer left and continue on the Icehouse Canyon Trail following the signs to FR 651 (7,560 feet), the turn around point for this hike. To visit Signal Peak (7,812 feet) and Pinal Peak (7,848 feet), continue up the road toward the radio towers and follow the signs.  
Yup---it's steep

View from top of the trail
IMPORTANT NOTE: Pinal trails are notoriously overgrown and rife with obstacles. In addition, directional signage is sparse--so hikers must have excellent map and route-finding skills in order to safely navigate these trails. A good map resource is the National Geographic Maps, Salt River Canyon, Tonto National Forest #853. INFORMATION: LENGTH: 10 miles round trip ELEVATION: 4,520' – 7,560' RATING: difficult. DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 95 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take US 60 east to Globe. Once in Globe, follow the “Besh-Ba-Gowah Ruins, Globe Ranger Station” signs through downtown to Icehouse Canyon Road (FR 112). Turn right onto FR 112 and continue for 4.2 miles to the Icehouse CCC campsite which is indicated by a brown sign that says: “197, 192”. INFORMATION: (928) 402-6200,