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Sunday, February 19, 2017


Town of Bagdad
Bridle Creek flows below Sanders Mesa
On a desert highway halfway between Phoenix and Las Vegas , motorists are treated to a botanical spectacle that unfolds in springtime.
From late February through April, the Joshua trees along US 93 sprout gigantic, lime-white blooms with surreal spikes and a not-so-sweet aroma. The annual event is reason enough take a drive along this scenic route through a landscape of sprawling flatlands tossed with rugged canyons and mountains.
Cottonwoods and willows in the riparian corridor
Despite the bloom fest, only a handful of the travelers rumbling by ever stop to marvel at the hairy-barked yuccas that can live up to 300 years. Although it's impossible to know their reasons for zooming past or their ultimate destinations, one thing's for certain though, most motorists are not going to Bagdad. And, that's a shame---especially for vehicles with hikers on board. That's because those who veer off the byway and head into town will be treated to a pleasant “who knew” moment. Located 100 miles northwest of Phoenix, the company town that orbits around the Freeport-McMoRan copper and molybdenum mine features a massive open-pit operation that hums 24/7 and Main Street is a mix of mom and pop shops, watering holes, a single grocery store, gas station, and a golf course. Although the place doesn’t exactly scream “primo hiking destination”, the hamlet’s signature trail is a very fine one indeed.
The trail is wide and easy to follow
The Bridle Creek Trail is an unexpected trek surrounded by an expanse of barren mesas and raw, mineral rich back country tucked between the Aquarius and Weaver Mountains. The 27-acre Bridle Creek Habitat Enhancement Area traces the edge of Sanders Mesa and the riparian green zone of an intermittent desert stream. The site is certified through the Wildlife Habitat Council's “Wildlife at Work” program and is managed for habitat enhancement, community outreach and wildlife rehabilitation activities. Except for three easy creek crossings that involve some minor rock hopping, the park-like, linear trail is an easy stroll among cottonwood, willow and juniper trees.
Cottonwoods frame Sanders Mesa
Halfway through the out-and-back hike, the terraced mounds of the mine are visible in the distance. Since Bagdad isn't near a major metropolis, it's a long drive for most people. So, to get your gas money's worth, plan on taking the guided Bagdad Mine Overlook tour which is conducted on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m.. Then, head back to the Joshua Tree Forest, pull over at a road side table and enjoy the blooms.
Joshua trees bloom Feb. - Apr.
LENGTH: 1.4 miles round trip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3799'- 3870'
HOURS: 5 10 p.m.

Joshua trees along US 93 near Bagdad
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to exit 223B for State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Go 30 miles west toward Wickenburg to US 60, turn right and continue to the traffic circle in Wickenburg and connect to US 93. Go 43 miles north on US 93 and turn right on State Route 97 (just past mile post 155). Continue 10.6 miles to State Route 96, turn left and continue 4.2 miles on SR 96 (turns into Main Street) to the town of Bagdad. Turn right on Lindahl Road and go 1.3 miles then turn left onto an unsigned dirt road located just before the sign for Turtle Rock Ranch. Follow the narrow dirt (sedan friendly) road 0.1 mile to the trailhead.
There's a seating area and portable restrooms at the trailhead.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Wolf Creek Falls
Wolf Creek is dry most of the year, but when winter snow on the Bradshaw Mountain peaks begins to melt, this waterway comes alive for a few weeks each year. Just before the creek dumps into the Hassayampa River, it tumbles through a narrow granite gorge spilling icy water over slick rock into drop pools 90 feet below the cliffs. A quarter-mile “waterfall alley” features two major falls as well as water chutes, natural dams and cascades.  
HIKE DIRECTIONS: from the Groom Creek trailhead, hike across Senator Highway to the Horse Camp entrance. The hike begins at the “383” sign at the south side of the camp gate. From here, follow trail #383 (some of the signs say: 383/384) one mile to the junction for trail 384. Tricky spot: a fallen tree near the third 383/384 sign hides the path---the arrow on this sign points straight up and the bottom of the sign has been cut into a point. The correct trail is indeed straight ahead not off to the left or right. Beyond this point, keep an eye out for “384” signage to stay on track. After about 2.5 miles, the trail meets a wide dirt road (CR 101). Cross here and head toward the metal gate blocking a road heading steeply downhill---this is the continuation of trail 384, although you won’t see any signage until you reach Wolf Creek in 0.3 mile. Here, hop the creek, veer right and follow it to the falls. The upper falls are only about 0.1 mile in and are easy to get to while the lower falls can be seen at 0.4 mile but to get to them requires some scrambling and bush whacking. Once done exploring the falls, return the way you came OR complete the loop by following the 384 signs posted in a clearing above the falls.  
Wolf Creek Falls
LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip to the falls and back OR 7.5 mile loop  
RATING: moderate
RATING: moderate 
ELEVATION: 6,200 – 5,600 feet  

BEST SEASON: Year-round. The falls run best during spring snow melt (Feb-April) and after summer monsoon rains.
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Interstate17 to Cordes Junction. Exit onto State Route 69 west and proceed through the towns of Mayer, Dewey and Prescott Valley to the town of Prescott. Continue on SR 69/Gurley Street through Prescott to Mt. Vernon Ave. Turn south (left) onto Mt. Vernon Ave. (which will turn into Senator Highway) and continue 6.4 miles to the Groom Creek Trailhead on the left. The hike begins across the road at the Horse Camp Gate. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, 928-771-4700

Monday, January 30, 2017



Town of Prescott Valley
Inside the volcano
There’s a little volcano in Prescott Valley that despite its lack of climate-altering fireworks a la Krakatoa or a festering apocalypse like the one under Yellowstone National Park, still managed to create a big enough impression on the landscape to warrant a hiking trail to its summit.  
With its out-of-nowhere character, the new route walks out of the suburbs into the spent inferno of an extinct volcano culminating on a scenic highpoint in Arizona’s Central Highlands.  Dedicated in May 2016, the Glassford Hill Summit Trail makes a moderately difficult climb among the crumbling lava flows and eroding slopes of a Miocene-epoch volcano situated at the edge of State Route 69.
Prescott Valley with San Francisco Peaks on horizon
When viewed from the highway, the rounded form of Glassford Hill doesn’t look that special. With a smattering of subdivisions and shopping centers lapping at its base, the grassy mound humbles in comparison to cloud-brushing Bradshaw Mountain Peaks visible across the valley.  However, the hill’s back side is quite a different scene. A gaping gash severs the mountain’s north face. Between 10 and 14 million years ago, this area was a cauldron of bubbling magma, fiery cinders and molten lava bombs that broke the surface and froze into bizarre pillars and rivers of basalt.
Grazing pronghorn
Layers of ocher and russet stone are evidence of multiple volcanic events that built the hill and eventually caused it to spill its guts.  The first mile is a moderate stroll through sparse grasslands, weather-beaten junipers and hardy shrubs where resident pronghorn graze. Interpretive signs along this section provide information on local wildlife and geological features.  
Bradshaw Mountain views
Beyond the 1-mile point, the wide, dirt path heads upwards, ascending more than 900 feet by way of tight switchbacks. At each turn, the trail becomes steeper but picnic tables placed at each juncture and mileposts located every quarter mile make it easy to take a break and decide if you want to press on or turn back.
Entering the collapsed volcano
Those who reach the summit are rewarded with unobstructed, 360 degree vistas, a display of historic heliograph equipment and more picnic tables. The bald zenith rises over a sprawling valley ringed by mountains. On clear days, the peaks of Flagstaff, Williams and Prescott National Forest gleam on the horizon while homes and business roll out in neat grids below the hill’s fractured slopes.
Summit of Glassford Hill
LENGTH: 2.1 mile (4.2 miles roundtrip)
RATING: more difficult
ELEVATION:  5183’-6123’
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to exit 263 for State Route 69. Follow SR 69 26.5 miles to Prescott East Highway (located just past mile post 289), turn right and continue 0.6 mile to Sunset Lane. Turn left and go 0.1 mile to Castle Drive, turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the parking lot on the left.  From the map sign, head right and hike 0.1 mile on the dirt road to the bridge and the beginning of the trail. Roads are 100% paved and there’s a portable restroom at the trailhead.

Monday, January 23, 2017



Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Reservoir
Granite boulders above Bartlett Lake
From the drive in to the trailhead to its turnaround point, this hike is packed with stunning scenery. Hedged among rough cut cliffs and desert highlands of the Verde River watershed, Bartlett Reservoir fills 12 miles of the canyon bound channel with crystalline waters teeming with bass, catfish and bluegills. Although the year-round recreation site which is located roughly 50 miles north of Phoenix is famous mostly for its boating, fishing, shaded picnic areas and camping opportunities, the Palo Verde Trail offers hikers a surprisingly challenging route with terrific mountain and water views. The trail meanders among the foothills and washes on the lake’s western banks. This is not a hike to try during or immediately after storms because rain rumbling off the foothills turns washes and gullies into raging rivers of debris.
Chollas frame Tonto National Forest mountain vistas
Don’t be fooled by the hike’s minimal amount of elevation change---the trail is a deceptively convoluted series of twists, steep climbs and slippery descents on a base of crumbling granite and sand. Overall, you will have accumulated 900+ feet of elevation gain over the 9.4-mile, out-and-back trek.  The trail wastes no time getting you up into the hills above Rattlesnake Cove for breathtaking vistas of the distant peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness and fire tower-capped Mount Ord. Across the water, the hulking profiles of Maverick and SB Mountain in Tonto National Forest bolster the reservoir’s 33 miles of shoreline casting shadows on peninsulas and islands that morph in size with water levels. 
Rattlesnake Cove
In springtime, these hills are ablaze in wildflower glory. Look for desert lavender, chuparosa, brittlebush, Mexican gold poppies, filaree, lupines and blooming cholla and saguaro cacti.
Beyond the marina at near the 3-mile point, the trail splits. The path to the left is a spur that shaves a mile off the route. To the right, the main trail makes a hairpin loop among deep washes, quartz mounds and areas of washouts that make the route somewhat difficult to follow. Strategically-placed rock barriers and cairns mark the way. Soon, you’ll reach the beachy inlet of SB Cove. Strewn with driftwood, this cozy notch in the landscape is a favorite stomping ground for blue heron and seasonal shorebirds. The route terminates a short walk from the SB Cove Recreation Site. If you didn’t park a shuttle vehicle there, return the way you came.
Foothills of the Verde River watershed
LENGTH: 4.7 miles one way or 3.7 with shortcut
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1798’ – 1882’
Desert lavender can bloom any time of year
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Drive exit 36 and go 13 miles north on Pima and turn right on Cave Creek Road.  Continue 4.1 miles to Bartlett Dam Road, turn right and go 12.6 miles to North Shore Road (Forest Road 459). Turn left continue 0.6 mile to the turn off Rattlesnake Cove Recreation Site (Forest Road 459A). Park at the last restroom at the south end of the parking loop. Walk down the stairs behind the restrooms and head right toward the trailhead sign.
FEE: A Tonto Pass is required to park.  $6 daily fee per vehicle.
INFO: Tonto National Forest

Monday, January 9, 2017



Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, Yarnell
Journey Trail
I’m not a fan of writing trail descriptions in the first person. Hiking trails are not about me. The staring characters of Arizona trails are the terrain, waterways, scenery, wildlife and plants. That I happened to hike a particular trail is incidental and not part of its theme or the influence it will have on other trekkers. When approaching a trail, I plan for the worst and hope for the best while in anticipation of foul ups, the mantra “suck it up, buttercup” bounces around in my skull. Normally, I subdue my voice so my personal biases won’t dilute a trail’s character or unwittingly seed expectations.  Why rob hikers of the joy of discovery? But occasionally, there’s a trail that’s so steeped in emotion that all I can muster is a stammering, first person account. The Hotshots and Journey Trails at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park near Yarnell embody that spirit.
Hotshots Trail
My first impression of this oddly remote and decidedly vertical destination was one of awe and confusion. As State Route 89 approaches the site, the imposing Weaver Mountains rise over the desert in sheer, granite heaps. I wondered how the heck does a trail get up those hills? The answer came at the trailhead which is just a tiny pull out along the highway, its fresh-paint and bright new information kiosk bolstered by neon orange road barriers. Here, a metal staircase hoists hiker up an insurmountable cliff face to connect with the trail. From this point, the hike is a whole lot of up with a few short stretches of flat in between. Epic views of the Date Creek Mountains and dry-wash-riddled valleys appear immediately. These wildlands give us so much. Fresh air, peace and quiet, natural resources and recreational opportunities. Peering out over landscape, the random remains of torched trees remind that the wildlands also take. In June 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire blazed through this rugged territory taking the lives of 19 fire fighters. These brave men are memorialized with plaques placed roughly every 600 feet along the Hotshots Trail. Additional signage placed near benches at scenic lookouts, gives information about firefighting and the timeline of the Yarnell Hill Fire. The first memorial plaque shows up after a few hundred feet of hiking. It’s mounted on a gigantic, pyramid-shaped granite boulder and sets the stage for an emotional 2.85-mile journey of remembrance. This hit me harder than I thought it would. I didn’t know any of these men or their families, so why was a pain in my gut working its way up to my throat?
Date Creek Mountains
“I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry. Suck it up.”
As I approached each plaque, I stopped to read the short paragraphs about each man’s life. They were so young and dedicated to their work and families. It occurred to me that the nature of their work also made them elite hikers---kindred spirits for those of us who aspire to trek for miles in horrible conditions packing 50 pounds of gear and still have enough energy and courage to risk life and limb to protect others.
“Heart be still. Ain’t gonna happen. Suck it up.”
Saddle overlooking the town of Yarnell
Just beyond the final plaque, the trail makes a long traverse on a ridge overlooking the fatality site. Four hundred feet below, a Stonehenge-like circle of 19 gabions surrounds the place where the men perished.  At the trail’s high point, an observation deck marks the beginning of the Journey Trail that traces the hotshots final trek. Here, I met a group of people wearing t-shirts and hats emblazoned with various fire department logos. They came from Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff, California and Canada in sort of a pilgrimage of brotherhood. There’s a sign at the deck with color photos of the 19 and a summary of the fire’s progression. When viewed from just the right angle, the portraits align with the fatality site below.
Fatality Site
“I’m not gonna cry.”
Decision time. Should I go down the 0.75-mile Journey Trail to visit the final memorials? To further mess me up, right at this juncture, a flock of ravens appeared on the air currents above, their vocalizations morphing from “Caw, Caw” into “Go, Go”. A psychic in Sedona once told me that the raven is my animal totem, so I went.  The sensation was a maniacal elixir of exhilaration and numbness. I didn’t know quite what to feel. Was this a taking sort of voyeurism or a genuine giving of respect? It’s hard to discern when distracted by conflicting moods egged on by astonishing beauty and utter disaster.
The fatality site sits at the mouth of a yawning canyon a heartbreaking half-mile from a ranch. The ugliness of the fire has mostly disintegrated and fresh sprouts are emerging from the bases of resilient shrubs that were here, then gone and here again.
Fatality Site

At the east end of the memorial circle, somebody left a scorched Granite Mountain Hotshots t-shirt. That’s where I lost it.  Heaving sobs for people I don’t know in a place I had never been, I guess this trail was a little bit about me after all. And it's about you, too. We live, we love, we hike, we win, we lose and it all ends up in a big friggin’ circle--kind of like the one that rolled out before me at the base of Yarnell Hill.
The T-Shirt
LENGTH: 7.2 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,318’ – 5,061’
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Head 30 miles west toward Wickenburg and turn right (north) on US 60. Continue on US 60 to the traffic circle at the Hassayampa River bridge, veer left and go north on State Route 93 to State Route 89 (White Spar Highway). Follow SR 89 toward Yarnell, go left at the split, head up the winding mountain road and turn left at the sign for the park.  Roads are 100% paved. There are 13 parking spaces and temporary restrooms at the trailhead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Windgate Pass
In the highly competitive, (oft embellished) sphere of hiking lore, there are precisely two loop circuits in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve that have earned the title of “epic”.  They are the Tom’s Thumb-East End-Bell Pass Loop and the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop. Both are beautiful. Both will kick your butt. Before tackling the 13-mile, 2,205-foot Tom’s Thumb slog, you might want to do a warm up trek on the later. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the “measly” 1,484 feet from the circuit’s base to its highest point bellies the fact that the mountain’s dips and dives reclaim much of what you gain, multiple times. There’s a 600-foot loss between the two passes alone.  These two ambitious circuits are staples on the training programs of hikers preparing for Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trips or long distance hauls on the Arizona Trail.  
Bell Pass
Whether you have eyes on bigger prizes or are just looking for a challenging day hike, the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop satisfies both the urge for a good workout and the desire to wander among the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The hike begins at the famously busy Gateway Trailhead. A brief walk over a metal bridge leads to the first leg of the circuit which follows one of the preserve’s most popular routes: Gateway Loop. Beyond this 1.6-mile segment, the crowds begin to thin out where Bell Pass Trail veers off and heads uphill. From this point, a relentless series of ups-and-downs through cholla and ocotillo tops out at Bell Pass.
Sonoran Desert beauty
In the shadow of 3,969-foot Thompson Peak, the breezy pass showcases views of Four Peaks, the Verde River, the town of Fountain Hills and an overview of the route snaking through a valley below. This mile-long descent ends at the Windgate Pass Trail where you’ll turn left and earn back all the lost elevation to reach another wide saddle with equally gorgeous vistas.  With the major climbing complete, head down the opposite side of the pass knowing that it’s mostly a downhill trudge.

From the trailhead, follow the main access path and Saguaro Trail 0.4 mile to the Gateway Loop junction. Head right and follow Gateway Loop 1.2 miles, connect with Bell Pass Trail and hike 2 miles to the scenic mountain pass. From here, continue 1.3 miles and veer left onto Windgate Pass Trail and climb 0.9 mile up to the pass. Next, descend 2.5 miles to the Gateway Loop junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9.6-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  1,720’ – 3,204’
Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Rd. Scottsdale, 85255.
City of Scottsdale:
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Summit of Schuerman Mountain
An old dandy standing tall above a hub of new trails in west Sedona, Schuerman Mountain Trail is the gold standard of the bunch. With the opening last year of the Scorpion-Skywalker- Pyramid loops, this moderate trek up an extinct volcanic mound pads it resume with birds-eye views of its newborn siblings and a chance to glimpse Sedona and Verde Valley landmarks from an easy-to-conquer mountain summit. The first section the trail follows an array of solar panels on the edge of Sedona Red Rock High School then passes a junction for the Scorpion trail before turning upward along a thin, cypress shaded path pecked from the mountain’s east slope.
A dusting of snow in December
On the way up, look for the dominate sandstone dome of Capitol Butte and the flat, pine-coated crown of Wilson Mountain.  At the 0.3-mile point, veer left at a signed junction for the vista spur and make the 0.3-mile hike up a boulder cluttered ridge that culminates at a promontory hovering above the distant profiles of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. On the near horizon, the isolated plateau of Airport Mesa hosts a continual stream of planes coming and going overhead. To the west, Mingus and Woodchute Mountains rise to over 7,000 feet at the edge of the Verde Valley. Once done gawking at the landscape, descend to the junction and jog left to continue 1.7 miles through high desert grasslands and pockets of juniper to where the route intersects the Lime Kiln Trail that connects Dead Horse Ranch and Red Rock State Parks. From this point, there’s no real option to make a day hike loop unless you’re happy to walk on roads or have parked a car at one of the parks. That’s why many hikers approach this trail as an out-an-back trek.
Capitol Butte on the horizon
LENGTH: 2.6 miles one-way (with summit spur)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4450’ – 4900’
Mingus and Woodchute Mountains
From the State Routes 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west (left) on 89A and turn left onto Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Continue 0.2-mile to the high school parking lot on the right. Park at the designated trailhead lot only.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Tonto National Forest/Superstition Wilderness
Hackberry Spring Dec. 25, 2016
Intrepid hikers with a good pair of boots and reasonable balance will have no trouble navigating the maze of horse trails that lead to Hackberry Spring in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The hike begins on an old dirt road that leads to a collection of decaying corrals and dilapidated buildings that surround the spidery legs of a windmill. Over the years, the windmill’s blades gradually rusted, fell to the ground and eventually disappeared. Please take only pictures and leave only footprints. From this abandoned ranch site, look for a slim dirt path to the left of the windmill and follow it to the slickrock corridor of First Water Creek.
Slickrock section through First Water Creek
Veer left and enter a stony corridor that flanks the wilderness boundary. Although the route is heavily travelled, directional fortitude and minor scrambling is necessary. Depending on rainfall, the creek can be churning, trickling or reduced to residual pothole pools. Regardless of its condition, expect to hop the creek about a dozen times and wet feet are a real possibility. It’s advisable to avoid the area during and immediately following heavy storms for safety and to avoid eroding the trails.

The route soon enters a water-scoured gorge weaving among boulders, tiny stands of trees, and reeds full of vociferous, cardinals and canyon wrens. Evidence of the area’s volcanic origins as well as the landscape-shaping effects of running water is showcased in soaring canyon walls, shallow caves chiseled out of lava rock and hundreds of mini pools scoured from solid rock. The spring itself features a rusty pipe poking out of a cliff face that funnels water into a quiet pool surrounded by Fremont cottonwoods, Goodding willows and, of course, hackberry shrubs. Return the way you came or consult forest service maps for alternate routes.

LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate, some route-finding skills are required.
ELEVATION: 1,900 – 2,450 feet
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take US 60 east to the Idaho Road/State Route 88 exit 196. At the bottom of the off ramp, go left, follow Idaho Road to SR 88, turn right and continue to just past the Lost Dutchman State Park entrance (between mileposts 201 and 202) and turn right onto First Water Road (Forest Road 78). Follow FR78 for just over 2 miles to the horse parking lot (NOT the First Water trailhead) on the left and park there.

Thursday, December 22, 2016



Cave Creek
Art imitating life.
In his essay The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde stated: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” This concept has been fodder for arguments among philosophers and pundits since ancient times. Throughout history, notable minds have contributed to the fray.
 “Art is imitation and that’s bad.”  Plato
 “Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature's unrealized ends.” Aristotle
“Art is what you can get away with.” Andy Warhol

Genuine and imposter saguaros mingle on the hill.
The serene memorial gardens and trail at the Carol Bartol Preserve at Saguaro Hill is an excellent place to ruminate on the muddling of life with art and there’s a perfect subject waiting at the gateway--fake saguaros. At the top of the preserve’s entry staircase, visitors are greeted by an array of enormous sculptures imitating Carnegiea gigantean. At first glance, their too perfect, unblemished fa├žade and pure symmetry might make you think these are superb genuine specimens, but the not-quite-right-green coloring and suspicious seams reveal the ruse. Look a little closer and high voltage signs tacked around the back eliminate any lingering doubt.
The cleaver shells disguise cellphone towers. While the structures’ purpose and placement are cause for pause, consider of the big picture before condemning. Case in point, on a recent visit, I observed a couple making comments about how awful the towers look while snapping photos of them with their cell phones.  So, essentially we have an ersatz life form concealing the means to make visual facsimiles that will undoubtedly end up on a social media forum that apes actual living.  Ironic, methinks.
Moving on, there’s more to the preserve than the gallery of paradox. If the 6-acre parcel in Cave Creek isn’t the tiniest hiking destination in Arizona, then it’s certainly a contender. Situated on a mini ridge behind the town library, the site was the first property purchased by the Desert Foothills Land Trust, a nonprofit, all-volunteer conservation organization which protects over 680 acres on 23 preserves in the Sonoran Desert Foothills.  The teeny hillside features gardens with placards identifying plants, seating areas and a short hiking trail with interpretive displays about the life cycle and survival strategies of saguaros. Want to know how to tell the difference between a barrel cactus and a saguaro? There’s a sign for that. In addition to its educational features and adjacent media center, the trail showcases views of Black Mountain and the wild ranges of Tonto National Forest. After exploring, let the aroma of mesquite drifting from local eateries lure you to a cozy table to discuss the intersection of art and nature over drinks, grub and a smart phone.
Black Mountain seen from Saguaro Hill Preserve
LENGTH: 0.5 mile
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2240’ – 2280’
HOURS: open every day from dawn to dusk
From Cave Creek Road, turn north on School House Road and continue 0.1 mile to the Desert Foothills library parking lot.
INFO: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Monday, December 19, 2016



Tucson Mountain Park
View of the Tucson Mountain on David Yetman Trail
How exactly do people get a trail named for them? Well, there’s probably no one formula, but it certainly helps if you’ve made considerable contributions in the fields of conservation, outdoor recreational planning or the sweat and grind of construction and fund raising for Arizona trails. Or, maybe you become a celebrity scientist who stokes curiosity in desert biomes. David Yetman Ph.D., is that kind of guy. As a scientist, author, photographer and host of The Desert Speaks series on PBS, he’s been educating the masses for decades.  
The "stone house" is made from local rocks.
The eponymous trail is a roundup of all things desert-y offering a rich trip among Sonoran desert plants, animals and homesteading history wrapped up in the ragged peaks and jumbled washes of the Tucson Mountains.  One of the most popular attractions along the trail is the Bowen Homestead which is also known as the “stone house”. The still-standing walls and foundations of the 1930s-era ranch house can be found 1.1 miles from the Camino de Oeste trailhead. Built of native stone that mingles quietly with its surroundings, the structure appears more grown than built.
The trail is rich in desert plants and animals.
Large picture windows that lost their glass years ago, frame sharp-edged escarpments and softly rounded, saguaro-dusted slopes while the footprints of living areas hint at a life far removed from 21st-century excess. An interpretive sign at the site describes the homestead floorplan and gives some background about the Bowen family and their impact on the surrounding territory.
Bowen Homestead
The 5.9-mile one way hike is the longest route within Tucson Mountain Park’s 62-mile trail system. Because it’s anchored by two trailheads and linked to several other trails, it’s easy to customize a long out-and-back or shorter loop trips.
Mesquite trees flourish near washes that flank the trail.
LENGTH: 5.9 miles one-way
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2600’ – 3000’
Camino de Oeste Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway Blvd. exit 257. Go 4.5 miles west on Speedway, veer left at the Speedway/ Gates Pass Road fork then make an immediate left onto Camino de Oeste. Continue 0.6-mile along a narrow, dirt road that’s passable by sedan to the trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.
David Yetman West Trailhead:
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway Blvd. exit 257. Follow Speedway/Gates Pass Road roughly 9 miles (mind the narrow, mountain curves) to the trailhead/scenic lookout on the left.
Tucson Mountain Park
About David Yetman:
Arizona Public Media (PBS)

Monday, December 12, 2016

BLACK CANYON TRAIL: Gloriana Segment

BLACK CANYON TRAIL: Gloriana Segment
Near Bumble Bee
View of Bradshaw Mountains from BCT
Sandwiched between the spot where Interstate 17 splits to begin its climb up to the mesas and gorges of Agua Fria National Monument and a gaping valley below the Bradshaw Mountains, the Gloriana Segment of the Black Canyon Trail is the middle road between a freeway and  dusty dirt double tracks. The 80-mile route flows from Carefree Highway in Phoenix to just outside of Prescott following centuries-old Native American trails, defunct livestock paths, dirt roads and sections of new construction.
A battered saguaro stands above Maggie Mine Road
The trail is divided into segments with trailheads located along its entire length. The 3.4-mile-long Gloriana Segment is smack dab in the middle and wanders along slopes above the scoured courses of Sycamore, Poison, Arrastre and Rock Creeks.  Geology buffs will find a plenty to explore. Within a few hundred feet of the trailhead, the path bumps into an outcropping of metamorphic rock tilted vertical and resembling fossilized Stegosaurus fins weathering from the earth. A couple of hairpin turns through a gully of giant saguaros and a short walk through a Palo Verde forest deposits hikers on a breezy edge splattered with chunks of milky white quartz overlooking Maggie Mine Road.
"Stegosaurus" rock slabs
Take a moment to spy the various mine prospects that dot the hillsides. Continuing south, the trail wanders through sunny rangeland
accompanied by morphing mountain vistas in what the Black Canyon Trail Coalition calls “Arizona’s Outback”.  The segment can be tackled as an out-and-back day hike, multi-day backpack or a one-way car shuttle using maps available on the coalition’s website.
Juvenile saguaros on the Gloriana Segment of BCT
LENGTH: 6.8 miles out-and-back
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2520’ – 2720’
GETTING THERE: Gloriana Trailhead.
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to the Bumble Bee/ Crown King exit 248. Follow Bumble Bee Road 1.1 miles to the trailhead on the left. There are no facilities. The hike begins at the south side of the lot near the big sign. Roads are 100% paved. (The sign across the road marks the start of the Bumble Bee Segment.)