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Monday, December 22, 2008

SPUR CROSS RUINS

SPUR CROSS RUINS Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Maricopa County Parks To the untrained eye, the desert hillsides that flank Cave Creek stand in an awesome, yet harsh beauty. The rich strips of riparian life that thrive in the immediate area of the water are rare pockets of life in this unforgiving, arid environment. Still, footprints on the muddy banks of the creek and the hidden remnants of past human populations hint at the area’s robust history. Observant hikers will easily find tracks of bobcats, javalina, deer, shore birds, skunks and lizards. However, finding the human elements requires a bit more effort. That’s where the park rangers and docents come in. In order to protect the dozens of fragile archeological sites in the area, their locations are not advertised. Still, the park rangers offer regular guided hikes to some of them. From the deeply incised, simple etchings of the Desert Archaic peoples who lived in the area from roughly 5000 B.C.E to 200 C.E. to the crumbling foundations of a dude ranch that had its heyday in the 1940s, Spur Cross Conservation Area is cluttered with the leavings of humanity from pre-history to modern times. Most of the ruins are those of the Hohokam people (1200 – 700 C.E.) and they range from intricate images of game animals and artistic symbols tapped into rock veneer to stone frames of multi-room living quarters and a magnificent mountain top fortress. In addition to the outstanding visuals on the hikes, there's a healthy dose of learnin’ included in each outing. So, if you walk away without picking up something you didn’t already know; then you just weren’t paying attention. To participate in a Spur Cross ranger-led hike, visit:http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/spur%5Fcross/

Sunday, December 21, 2008

HORSE CROSSING

HORSE CROSSING TRAIL Coconino National Forest A leisurely amble through the pristine and complex canyon system of upper East Clear Creek reveals wonders that even the most well traveled Arizona hikers will find astounding. There’s the epic views from the coniferous forest rim, a scenic drop into the canyon along a fossil-encrusted limestone trail, and an emerald-green riparian environment along the water. Sandwiched between two reservoirs, East Clear Creek slices into soft sedimentary pediments leaving behind a meandering sheer-walled canyon. This 50-mile-long ribbon of life-giving water flows northeast from Blue Ridge Reservoir to Clear Creek Reservoir near Winslow where it merges with the Little Colorado River. Although traversing the entire length of this gorge would involve technical climbing skills, swimming and rafting, all that’s needed to hike the Horse Crossing trail #20 is a pair of boots and a day pack. Exploring the mid-section of the creek, Horse Crossing is hemmed in by hard scramble rock escarpments. At the bottom of the canyon, running water sculpts sandstone walls that look like dunes tilted on their sides in layer-cake formation. Tens of millions of years ago, the landscape surrounding East Clear Creek was part of a vast ocean and the fossilized remains of sea-dwelling algae, coral and brachiopods are strewn about like scattered bones. Like all of the “crossing” trails on the Mogollon Rim, this one continues up the opposite side of the canyon. However, it’s more fun to follow fisherman paths for several miles up or downstream where clouds reflected in mirror-like pools in the worn sandstone gives the impression of walking on the sky. Highlights: This shallow, perennial creek is easy-to-explore and offer countless opportunities for discovery. Length: 3 miles round-trip Rating: moderate Trail elevation gain: 500 feet Elevation range: 6,900’ – 6,400’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 170 miles one-way Getting there: From Payson, travel north on Highway 87 to Clints Well. From there, continue on Hwy 87 for another 9.4 miles to the turn off for Forest Road 95 (between mileposts 299 and 300). Turn right (east) on FR 95 and drive 4 miles to Forest Road 513B. Go left (east) on FR 513B and continue 2 miles to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required on FR 513B. Information: (928) 477-2255 or fs.fed.us/r3/coconino

KINDER CROSSING

KINDER CROSSING Coconino National Forest When dogs dream about hiking, images of Kinder Crossing dance in their heads. Tucked into a picturesque canyon with a perennial stream, this trail packs every imaginable doggie delight into a single water-themed hike. Scampering rock squirrels, taunting blue jays, jumping fish and leaping frogs give chase, inciting primitive stirrings in even the most sophisticated of city dogs. Sandy beaches along East Clear Creek beckon dig-happy hounds and a plethora of swimming holes stoke the canine “inner wild” into overdrive. But, from a dog’s point of view, the best part about this trail is that there are always other four-legged friends around to join in a serious romp. The creek is accessed via a steep, three-quarter-mile path that descends 500 feet along the crumbling, fossil-laden limestone walls of the canyon. As the trail nears the creek, the pine canopy melts into a lush green corridor of moisture-hungry willows, alders, brambles, wild geraniums and daisies. Once at the creek, recreational opportunities abound. Although the official trail (#19) crosses the water and continues up the opposite wall of the canyon, most hikers prefer to stay in the gorge and scout along the banks of the creek. While hikers may be overwhelmed by the exploratory options in the canyon, dogs, in their infinite wisdom, see the dilemma as a no-brainer and simply belly-flop into the nearest swimming hole. Highlights: Contorted sandstone cliffs, swimming holes and sandy beaches. LENGTH: 1.2 miles round-trip (on trail) RATING: difficult  ELEVATION: 7,000’ – 6,500’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 165 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Payson, go north on State Route 87 to Forest Road 95, which is located roughly 10 miles north of Clints Well between mileposts 299 and 300. Turn right onto FR 95 and continue 4.5 mile to the turn off on the left for Forest Road 95T and follow the signs for just over a half-mile to the trailhead. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 95T. Information:  fs.fed.us/r3/Coconino

Friday, December 19, 2008

CACTUS FLOWERS

December19, 2008 For all of you in the Midwest and New England who are enjoying today's BLIZZARD, here's a gallery of desert blooms to help warm you up...Mare

GROOM CREEK

GROOM CREEK LOOP Prescott National Forest Topping off at 7,700 feet of elevation, the well-maintained Groom Creek trail heads steeply uphill through pine-shaded Wolf Creek drainage to the lookout tower on Spruce Mountain. Considered to be one of the most attractive horse/hiker/mountain bike trails in the Prescott National Forest, hikers are treated to a continuous smorgasbord of splendid panoramic views, gurgling streams and, (if invited up by the ranger), a chance to visit in the fire tower. LENGTH: 9 mile loop RATING: difficult ELEV. GAIN: 1,350 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 for about 65 miles to the Cordes Junction interchange. From there, connect with Highway 69 and go west toward Prescott. Continue on Highway 69 for about 25 miles into the town of Prescott. Once in Prescott, continue on Highway 69 as it turns into Gurley Street. Go south (left) onto Mt. Vernon Ave. and follow it for 6.4 miles as it turns into the Senator Highway. The trailhead is on the east (left) side of the road. There are restrooms at the trailhead and below the lookout tower.

DONOHUE TRAIL

DONAHUE TRAIL Tonto National Forest THE HIKE: From the trailhead, follow the Pine Canyon Trail #26 0.5-mile to the Pine View trail #28 junction. Bear right at the signed junction and continue for another 0.65-mile to the Highline Trail #31. Continue on #31 for roughly 0.40 mile to the turn off for Donahue Trail #27 on the left. From here, it’s all uphill for another mile to the top of Milk Ranch Point. Last mile to the top is steep and very rocky. Marked only by occasional cairns, the loose rock underfoot slows your pace, but that’s probably a good thing because the views of the Mazatzal Mountain range and the hamlets of Pine and Strawberry are exquisite. For it’s entire length, the trail alternates from shaded conifer forest to sun-drenched terraces of crumbling sandstone. Once on the top, the trail becomes difficult to follow because of many fallen trees and overgrown brush, but it’s still possible to continue on the primitive path for another three-quarters-of-a-mile to Forest Road 218 and the turnaround point for the hike. LENGTH: 6.5 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION : 5400' - 7332' GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) north for 90 miles to the town of Payson. From the intersection of Highways 87 and 260, continue north on Highway 87 for another 15 miles toward the town of Pine. Once past the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and “Control Road” 64, look for the turn off for the Pine Trailhead (FR 297) on the right side of the road. Follow FR 297 for one quarter of a mile to the trailhead. The roads are paved all he way and there’s a restroom at the trailhead.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HARQUAHALA PACK TRAIL

HARQUAHALA PACK TRAIL Harquahala Mountain Wilderness Area An abandoned solar observatory on top of the 5,691-foot summit of Harquahala mountain, the highest point in southwestern Arizona, is but one of many points of interest atop this desert peak. Stunning views of the sprawling farmlands near Wickenburg, a healthy desert tortoise population, skulking Gila monsters and ruins of an abandoned mine camp provide hours of visual interest along the narrow pack trail that spirals skyward from the desert floor. Just below the summit, there’s a mountain pass with good views of a precipitous dirt road that snakes up the massive south slopes of the mountain. In addition to being a favorite destination for brave 4 x 4 enthusiasts, the bumpy route also is used by Central Arizona Project workers to access the array of solar-powered equipment on the apex which regulates the flow of water in the CAP canals that criss-cross the Metro Phoenix area. LENGTH: 11.5 miles round-trip RATING: difficult ELEVATION: 2320' - 5691' GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take  US60 (Grand Avenue) west towards Wickenburg. From Wickenburg, continue on US60 for about 14 miles past the little town of Aguila. Between mile markers 70 and 71, look for a gate on the left and a small brown “trail” sign and turn onto the dirt road. You’ll need to open the latched gate and close it behind you. Follow the generic “trail” signs for 2.2 miles to the trailhead where there’s an interpretive sign and a restroom. Information: Arizona Bureau of Land Management, http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/recreation/autotour/harq_summit.html

Y-BAR

Y Bar Trail #44 Mazatzal Wilderness Rugged, contorted escarpments of shimmering metamorphic rocks studded with high chapparal woodlands are the hallmark attractions of the Mazatzal Wilderness. The Mazatzal (which is pronounced “mah-zaht-zahl” and means land of the deer) mountains tower to nearly 8,000 feet for spectacular vista views. The Y Bar trail is a continual uphill climb along the base of Suicide Ridge through dense stands of juniper and agave. Near the 2-mile-point, the trail transitions into a heart-pumping crawl on the cliffs above Shake Tree Canyon. There, the path enters a burned area where charred pine trees and scorched snags make the remainder of the route tricky to follow. Watch for rock cairns to use as your guide. At roughly the 4.2-mile point, the trail tops out at 6,400 feet on the Cactus Saddle, a large open area with views that stretch all the way to the White Mountains in the east. From there, the trail dips downhill to a seep area known as the Y Bar Tanks-- the turn around point for this hike. LENGTH: 9.6 miles round-trip RATING: difficult ELEVATION GAIN: 2,400 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Highway 87 for approximately 65 miles to Forest Road 419 and the signed turn off for the Barnhardt Trailhead, which is located a quarter-mile south of the town of Gisela. Follow FR 419 for 5 miles to the parking area. Information: Visit fs.fed.us/r3/tonto or call (928) 474-7900

SYCAMORE RIM

SYCAMORE RIM Kaibab National Forest, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness A meager crack in a wind-swept prairie marks the origin of Arizona’s second largest canyon. In fact, the source of Sycamore Canyon is so subdued that, without an understanding of the area’s geology, you’d probably stroll right past it without giving it second thought. From its humble birthplace on the prairie, the canyon cuts a meandering 20-mile-long gorge stretching from the Colorado Plateau to the Verde Valley. A hike along the Sycamore Rim trail samples the canyon’s diversity by tracing slumping earthen edges as they fall away into gaping crevasses, dry waterfalls, natural stone tanks brimming with water and spring-fed meadows drenched in wildflower color. Although it is first runner up in size when compared to the Grand Canyon, this many-fingered precipice is second to none in geological complexity and visual interest. Landscapes--both harsh and soft--serve up a delicious dichotomy of wonders. Moving seamlessly between lifeless, stone-cold canyons and sun-washed fields of lusty, waist-high grasses, this trail is saturated with ever-changing eye candy. Interpretive signs at key points along the route explain the significance of logging ruins, water sources, geology, old roads and the delicate eco-system of a bucolic spring area where water lilies bob in shallow pine-rimmed pools. HIGHLIGHTS: Magnificent views, deep canyon, historic ruins, spring-fed meadows. LENGTH: 11-mile loop RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 3,600’ – 6,500’ Driving Distance from Phoenix: 185 miles one-way GETTING THERE: DOW SPRING TRAILHEAD: From Flagstaff, go 18 miles west on I-40 to to exit 178 (Parks). Turn left at the stop sign, cross the rail tracks and go 9.6 miles on FR 141  to FR 131. Go 0.6 mile south on FR 131to the turn off for the trailhead on the right. NOTE: there are five major trailheads for this hike.  See the Kaibab National Forest website for maps. Information: (928) 635-8200 or fs.fed.us/r3/kai

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

INNER BASIN

INNER BASIN TRAIL Coconino National Forest
The robust conifer forests that thrive in the inhospitable volcanic bowl of San Francisco Mountain can be partly attributed to an industrious and vocal bird called Clark’s Nutcracker. Easy to identify by their black-and-white feathers and sharp khaaa-khaaa-khaaa cry, the birds are consummate seed collectors. It’s common for them to store up to 100,000 pine seeds per season (many times more than they could possibly eat) in shallow underground caches. Uneaten seeds sprout and grow into trees--replenishing the birds’ food supply. The pine canopy above the Inner Basin trail is a favorite hang-out for the birds as they go about their “accidental environmentalism” by propagating the trees that slow erosion and protect an important source of water for the city of Flagstaff. Snowmelt from San Francisco mountain runs downhill and feeds springs in the Inner Basin (the collapsed crater of the 1.5 million-year-old volcano) below the peaks. As the pleasant mountain trail glides uphill, it passes several pump stations. You’ll want to tote an empty water bottle on this hike because at about the 9,400-foot point, there’s a pump house with a spigot that dispenses fresh, ice-cold spring water. Farther up the trail, another pump station has a covered viewing bench overlooking an aspen-framed alpine meadow which makes a good place to catch your breath along this high-altitude path. From there, the combination of a steep grade and thin air taxes the lungs as the path heads up to the 10,200-foot-point and the intersection with the Weatherford trail--the turnaround point for this hike. At the junction, you’ll want to linger a few moments to take in views of the surrounding Colorado Plateau where patches of trees damaged by wildfires and bark beetles are dwarfed by verdant old-growth conifers and spindly saplings—courtesy of Clark’s Nutcracker. LENGTH: 8 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 8,800 – 10,220 feet GETTING THERE: From the junction of Interstates 17 and 40 just south of Flagstaff, go east on I-40 to the turnoff for Highway 89 north. Follow Highway 89 to just past milepost 431 (across from the entrance to Sunset Crater). Turn left onto Forest Road 552 and follow the signs to Lockett Meadow. Turn right at the Lockett Meadow sign and continue on FR-522 to the signed trailhead. The road is a winding dirt mountain road passable by sedan.
INFO:  Flagstaff Ranger Distict, Coconino National Forest
http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/peaks/inner-basin-tr.shtml

WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE

WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE TRAIL Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Although it’s best known as one of the best mountain bike trails on the Mogollon Rim, the Willow Springs trail also provides an invigorating trek for those who prefer to hoof-it. The route is a closed double-track dirt road that rambles through ponderosa pine forests and boggy backwaters above Willow Springs Lake. From the trailhead, the path crosses an open meadow beneath humming power lines. At about the half-mile point, the trail comes to a fork in the road. From here, it’s best to go right because the trail signage is easier to follow when the loop is hiked counterclockwise. Because the trail is surrounded by prime wildlife habitat, there’s always a good chance of spotting deer, elk and waterfowl during the hike. Near the half-way mark, the route passes several shallow ponds and marsh areas before meeting the shores of the lake. The trail parallels the water for about a quarter-mile before it turns uphill and heads back into the forest. Finding your way along this short segment is a bit tricky--look for generic trail signs tacked to trees to use as your guide. The return leg of the loop climbs up along a shaded ridge where bright blue daylilies and brilliant red paintbrush flowers blossom in the cool sheets of spring water that cascade over the trail and into the lake below. LENGTH: 8.1-mile loop RATING: easy ELEVATION GAIN: 100 feet GETTING THERE: From the junction of Highways 87 and 260 in Payson, go right (east) on Highway 260 and continue to Larson Ridge Road (Forest Road 237). Turn left on FR-237 and continue a short distance to the parking area with restroom on the left just south of Forest Road 237A. The trail starts a few yards up the road from the parking area at an unmarked gate on the left. From there, follow the generic blue trail blazes and “bike” signs. This description turns right at the first major junction.

SEE CANYON

SEE CANYON Nothing says “autumn in the high country” quite like a willowy stand of golden-crowned aspens. Transient and opportunistic, aspen trees rely on forest fires for their survival. In their natural cycle of life and death, aspens can only sprout and regenerate when bathed in sunlight. Young aspens literally rise from the ashes of sun bathed burned areas and thrive for years until encroaching pine trees catch up and choke out sunlight and nutrients. Eventually, the aspens dwindle, and their subterranean root systems go dormant until fire clears the canopy again. A hike on the See Canyon trail is like getting a field lesson in the lifecycle of this tenacious, showy species. From the ancient knarly-trunked hangers on that refuse to succumb to the clutch of predatory pines to spindly, soot-covered sprouts on barren charred slopes, the aspens chronicle how fire has transformed the landscape over time. To find the route, descend down through a wooden fence that’s located to the right of the parking lot trailhead sign. Bear left and head down toward the creek. Cross the creek, head up the bank and then veer right along a faint path to the signed intersection for the Highline and See Canyon Trails. Turn left at the junction where the See Canyon trail sign is sometimes covered by tall vegetation. The first portion of the trail is usually overgrown with soft grasses and washouts may camouflage the trail in places, but by paying attention to the metal trail markers that are nailed to trees, it’s not too difficult to stay on track. The trail crosses Christopher Creek several times before it leaves the green streamside environment behind and begins an arduous 1,700-foot climb up to the rim. For an easier option, turn right at the junction for See Spring Trail #185 that branches off the main path before the going gets rough. The See Spring Trail is a half-mile in length and dead ends at the spring. Intrepid hikers can opt to stay on the main trail and complete the uphill grind to experience exquisite vistas and plenty of fresh mountain air on the 7,860-foot-high crest of the Mogollon Rim. LENGTH: 4.8 miles one-way RATING: difficult ELEVATION: 6,100 – 7,860 feet PEAK COLOR: mid October GETTING THERE: Lower trailhead: From Payson, go right (east) onto Highway 260 and continue for 20 miles to the Christopher Creek Loop exit. Continue on Christopher Creek Loop to Forest Road 284, which is located directly across the road from the Tall Pines Market. Follow FR 284 for 1.6 miles (ignore the many dirt spur roads; stay on the gravel) to the signed circular parking area where there’s a restroom and a corral. Rim Road trailhead: From Highway 87, go east on FR 300 for roughly 30 miles to the signed trailhead on the right.

DREW TRAIL

DREW TRAIL While the downside of wildfires is the destruction of our beloved woodlands, the upside is improved forest health and the opening up of previously obscured views. Although recent wildfires have denuded sections of the Drew Trail, the result has been mostly positive. Before the fires, dense stands of trees (some unhealthy due to bark beetle infestation) had blocked views that now showcase the stunning geology and beauty of the area. The hike starts out at the See Canyon trailhead below the Rim Road and then heads east on the Highline trail through a 2.25-mile-long checkerboard of creek side ferns, manzanita scrub and soaring pines before it encounters the Drew Trail junction. From here, the hiking becomes more difficult as the final stretch of the steep path climbs 820 feet in just over a mile. As the route gains elevation, the fire damage wanes and the forest grows thicker. Finally, at trail’s end on top of the 7,600-foot escarpment, shimmering aspens, billowing oaks and a healthy crowd of unscathed pines shade the path. LENGTH: 7 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 6,780 – 7,600 feet PEAK COLOR: mid October GETTING THERE: Lower trailhead: From Payson, go east (right) on Highway 260 for 21 miles to the Christopher Creek Loop exit. Continue on Christopher Creek Loop to Forest Road 284, which is located directly across the road from the Tall Pines Market. Follow FR 284 for 1.6 miles (stay on the main gravel road ignoring the many spur roads) to the signed See Canyon trailhead where there’s a restroom and corral. Rim Road trailhead: located roughly 6 miles from the Highway 260/300 turn off near FR 9350, marked only by a generic trail post. Consult a good forest service map to make sure you’ve found the right path.