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Friday, September 19, 2008


HAT TOP HILL Goldfield Mountains Often overshadowed by their famous neighbors--the Superstition Mountains--the equally interesting Goldfield Mountains also offer outstanding hiking opportunities. That is, of course, if you can manage to find your way around on the confusing maze of old roads and faint paths that provide access to the area. Without a good map and sound route finding skills, it's virtually impossible to stay on track in the Goldfields. In March of 2008, I was fortunate enough to participate in a Sierra Club outing led by Ted Tenny, author of Goldfield Mountain Hikes (Gem Guides, 2006). It was a memorable adventure and a highly recommended destination. However, due to the complexity of the route, I will defer to Ted's book and website for maps and route information. Visit Ted at


BEN AVERY TRAIL Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Deep within the remote Eagletail Wilderness, a cluttered gallery of rock art has survived among basalt niches for more than 3,500 years, leaving behind a mysterious record of the area’s ancient inhabitants. The Ben Avery Trail is the only designated path into the wilderness and although it is over 20 miles in length, an out-and-back hike to the petroglyphs is much shorter. The trail begins in open desert and then drops into a dry wash where carefully placed cairns serve as guides through a maze of arroyos. In spring, water lingers in tiny pools and wildflowers, including fields of owl clover, ajo lilies, chicory and lupine soften views of the surrounding jagged ridges. Follow the trail toward a distinct black outcropping to the south east and soon the cliffs will reveal seldom-seen images of sheep, tortoises, plants, scorpions, deer, reptiles and a mysterious collection of geometric designs. LENGTH: 7 miles round trip RATING: Easy ELEVATION GAIN: 1,700 - 1,820 feet DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 76 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-10 west to just past the town of Tonopah and take exit 81 (Harquahala Road). Follow Harquahala Road south for about five miles to Courthouse Rock Road. Head west (toward the very prominent Courthouse Rock landmark) on Courthouse Rock Road and then merge right onto an obvious Pipeline Road. Continue for about 11 miles to a turnoff on the left and continue south toward Courthouse Rock for another 1.5 miles to the signed trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required. INFORMATION:


LOY CANYON TRAIL Secret Mountain Wilderness The cattle are gone, but the dirt track that was constructed in the 1890s to move them to the cooler Mogollon Rim to escape the summer heat, remains. August is the best month to hike the Loy Canyon Trail because that’s when creek-side wild grapes and raspberries lace the surrounding high desert terrain with a smattering of violet accents. Most of the soft, sandy trail is shaded by cottonwoods, pines and thickets of red-barked manzanilla. Elevation gains gradually over the first four miles where brilliant wild flowers and sweet-smelling grasses attract swarms of hummingbirds and butterflies. After that, though, the going gets rough, as the trail climbs up a sandstone ridge to the top of a beautiful knoll that overlooks the old cattle haunts a thousand feet below. LENGTH: 9 miles round-trip RATING: Moderate ELEVATION GAIN: 1,700 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, drive north on I-17 to the Highway 179 exit. Go left on Highway 179 into the town of Sedona. At the famous Sedona “Y” intersection, turn left onto Highway 89A toward Cottonwood. Continue for 9.6 miles on Highway 89A to Red Canyon Road (FR 525) and turn right. Follow FR 525 for another 3.7 miles to the trailhead. FEE: A Red Rock Pass ($5 daily fee per vehicle) is required to park. Passes are available at most retail stores in town.


HUGH NORRIS TRAIL to WASSON PEAK Tucson Mountains, Saguaro National Park West Hiking the Hugh Norris Trail is one of easiest ways to attain a mountain summit in the state of Arizona. Even though the 9.8-mile-long, out-and-back trail climbs a whopping 2,177 feet, the ascent is so gradual, it seems to glide up the many switchbacks to the 4,687-foot summit of Wasson Peak, the high point of the Tucson Mountain range. An elaborately engineered grade as well as stone stairs built into the trail accelerate hikers uphill with minimal effort. Amazing forests of saguaro cacti define the lower portion of the trail. Dense concentrations of century-old giants as well as newborn sprouts thrive in the fragile ecosystem but increasing elevation soon takes its toll and the thorny treasures dwindle until, on the summit, there are none. LENGTH: 9.8 miles round trip ELEVATION GAIN: 2,117 feet RATING: moderate GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-10 south to the Speedway Blvd. exit in Tucson and turn right. Continue on Speedway Blvd., which will turn into Gates Pass Road, for nearly 12 miles to Kinney Road. Turn right onto Kinney Road and follow the signs to Saguaro National Park. Once inside the park, continue past the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and the Red Hills Visitor Center. Turn right onto Hohokam Road and drive about a mile to the Hugh Norris Trailhead on the right, which is just past the Sus picnic area.


Typical hiking scene in the gorge
JUG TRAIL Salome Wilderness Overlooking Roosevelt Lake, the Salome Wilderness offers solitude, fabulous geological features and a variety of vegetation zones. Blazing hot during the summer months, inaccessible in spring due to high run-off and occasionally buried in snow in winter, there is a narrow window of opportunity to visit this rugged area. The Jug Trail is a 2.2-mile-long old Jeep road that descends along a ridge to Salome Creek. Along the way, stunning views of the Salome “Jug”, a water-filled ravine carved out of pink and white granite dominate. The official trail ends at the wilderness sign just before a cattle gate, but it is possible to extend the hike by following informal footpaths along the rim of the canyon. For a more challenging adventure, follow the obvious spurs that lead down to the creek. Some hand-over-foot scrambling is necessary to get to the water, but it’s not too difficult for reasonably fit hikers. It’s wise to check with the ranger before visiting the area because flooding can make the access roads impassable. LENGTH: 4.5 miles round-trip ELEVATION:  3,330' - 2,680' RATING: moderate GETTING THERE: From Fountain Hills, go north on SR87 to the SR188 junction. Drive south on SR188 to milepost 255 and then turn left onto A+ (A-Cross) Road (FR 60). Continue 1 mile uphill on A+ Road (rugged dirt) to the ford of Tonto Creek--do not attempt to cross when flooded! Once over the ford, continue another  10 miles to the signed “A Cross” trailhead on the left.
INFO:  Tonto Basin Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 928-467-3200


SIPHON DRAW Superstition Mountains Hovering above Lost Dutchman State Park like a bow of a ship, the prominent rock formation known as the “Flatiron” cuts an impressive figure on the local horizon and holds major appeal for intrepid hikers. Although the official Siphon Draw trail ends at the 1.6-mile point, hikers can continue on to the Flatiron by following a series of white dots spray painted onto the rocks. Some hikers opt to bush whack the off-trail segment while others prefer to use the easier “girls routes” (ones without the clothing remnants and blood stains), either option requires some tricky vertical maneuvers over sheer rock, boulder fields and a couple of perpendicular hand-over-foot scrambles. After scaling a final 25-foot wall of rubble, the path flattens out for an easy traipse to the top and incredible views of the surrounding Superstition Wilderness. Getting back down the rugged trail is more complicated than going up. Trust me; follow the girls. LENGTH: 4.8 miles round trip ELEVATION: 2080'-4861' RATING: Difficult GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, drive east on Highway 60 to Apache Junction and then connect to Highway 88 (Idaho Road) and continue to Lost Dutchman State Park. Once inside the park, follow the signs to the Siphon Draw trailhead. There is a fee per vehicle and free trail maps are available at the pay station. Siphon Draw may also be accessed via Jacob's Crosscut Trail and other points on the Tonto National Forest. Check these sites before heading out:


COCHISE STRONGHOLD Coronado National Forest Only one white man knows where the remains of Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise were interred in 1874 among the clefts and canyons that bear his name –and he ain’t talking. As he promised, Thomas J. Jeffords took the secret to his own grave, amplifying the intrigue of his blood brother’s legacy. Exploring the hauntingly beautiful expanse of weathered granite and high desert ecosystem of the Dragoon Mountains is as much a trip through American history as it is an outdoor adventure. Sights along the trail, make it easy to imagine how the jumbled ocher ramparts that had once served as fortifications continue to shield the chief in a stony embrace.
 LENGTH: 6 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,050 feet  
RATING: Moderate  
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, drive south on I-10 to just past the town of Benson and then take exit 318 (Dragoon Road). Continue on Dragoon Road to Highway 191. Go south on Highway 191 to the town of Sunsites and then turn left onto Ironwood Road. Continue on Ironwood Road, which will turn into a good dirt byway (FR 84) and follow the signs to the campground. There is a $5 daily fee per vehicle. Bring the exact amount because no change is available at the pay station. The hike begins at the bridge near the restrooms and follows the Nature Trail briefly before connecting to the main route. The turnaround point for this hike is at the signed “east-west divide” junction.


JOJOBA TRAIL #511 Arrive early enough in the morning and you’ll be greeted by turkey vultures roosting on escarpments above the driftwood-littered beaches of Bartlett Lake. Years of drought have taken a toll on the lake. Low water levels have exposed colorful stratified layers of earth around the man-made reservoir. The Saturn-esque bands read like tree rings, providing a petrified snapshot of the lake’s ever-changing water levels. Jojoba Trail climbs along the same cliffs favored by the vultures for dramatic views of the lake and the surrounding arid hillsides. Framed with healthy stands of ocotillo, desert lavender and, of course, jojoba shrubs, the trail meanders above the stark canyon lake. As the route approaches the turnaround point near the marina, a promontory juts out above what used to be an inlet teeming with fish. Today, the cove is bone-dry and serves as a reminder of the fickle nature of water in the desert. LENGTH: 2.6 miles round-trip RATING: Easy ELEVATION GAIN: 60 feet GETTING THERE: From Scottsdale, go north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road. Turn right (east) on Cave Creek Road and continue 4 miles to Bartlett Dam Road and turn right. Go 13 miles and turn left at the sign for Rattlesnake Cove Recreation Area (Forest Road 459). Follow FR-459 to Forest Road 459A, turn right and continue to the parking area. A Tonto Pass ($6 daily fee per vehicle) is required. There are restrooms and water at the trailhead.


MILITARY SINKHOLE TRAIL #179 Mostly shaded by junipers, maples, oaks and pines, the lower portion of the Military Sinkhole Trail winds through a dense woodland. At about the half-mile point, there’s a creek that’s dry in the summer months but runs wet and wild after heavy rains and during spring snow melt season. Many fallen trees bear witness to the power of running water in the area. Once past the creek, the uphill haul is gradual but constant. Just below the point where the trail meets the Mogollon Rim, fields of soft green ferns and wildflowers blanket the forest floor in the shadow of majestic stone cliffs. The trail officially ends at FR 300 on the rim, however, take time to hike up to the road and explore the moss-encrusted ramparts and peaceful meadows. Views from the top are unbelievable.
LENGTH: 5 miles round trip
RATING: Moderate Elevation gain: 850 feet GETTING THERE: From Payson, go 27 miles east (right) State Route 260  to the“Two Sixty” trailhead turn off on the left. Follow the good gravel road for a quarter-mile to the trailhead parking area where there is a restroom and a corral. Optional Rim Access: you may opt to access this trail from the Rim Road FR 300. Exit Highway 260 at the FR300 sign and drive 1.9 miles up to the scenic vista parking lot. From there, the trail is downhill all the way, but you’ll need to car shuttle to avoid hiking back up the steep trail.
INFO: Tonto National Forest


Nothing says; “summer hiking in Arizona” quite like scrambling up the slopes of a dormant volcano. Among the eroding remains of the more than 600 volcanoes that dot the highlands north of Flagstaff, sits a particularly beautiful cinder cone called Strawberry Crater. Just a pup in geological time, this volcano began erupting around the year 1066. Since those explosive medieval times, the series of lava flows that built Strawberry Crater have cooled into a sea of gray-and-crimson-colored cinders framed by a crescent of jagged volcanic walls. Frozen in time, the contorted layers of solidified molten rock look so fresh it’s difficult to imagine that the final blobs of magma sputtered from this natural wonder nearly a thousand years ago. Because of the wild and raw nature of the route, it’s smart to wear sturdy boots with good traction when hiking the Strawberry Crater trail. The path, which is just a shoveled-out ledge on the slopes of the volcano, is sketchy (look for strategically-placed pinion pine branches as your guide) and tantamount to walking on marbles. In order to get the hardest part of the hike done first, head right at the loop junction sign located a few yards from the trailhead. From there, it’s a slow uphill slog on pesky, pea-sized cinders. However, the struggle ends at a saddle within the crater where views of the Vermillion Cliffs and the Little Colorado River gorge are visible in the distance. From the saddle, it’s possible to augment the hike by picking your way along unmarked paths (go left and uphill) to the volcano’s rim where a series of low-profile ruins of mysterious origin tease the imagination. Yet, because of the steep ascent and bushwhacking involved, most hikers prefer to skip visiting the ruins and stay on the main trail which heads down into the crater and around a collapsed ridge. Along the last leg of the trail, panoramic views of a barren landscape, dotted with wind-worn junipers stretch to the horizon. LENGTH: 1.5-mile loop RATING : moderate ELEVATION: 6100' -6500'  GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, connect to I40 east and then connect to US89 north. Continue north on US 89 to just past milepost 434 and turn right onto an unmarked dirt road (Forest Road 546). Continue east on FR546 for roughly 3.6 miles to FR 779 (continue straight at the fork). Follow FR779 for another 2 miles to the signed trailhead. There’s an interpretive sign but no facilities. The roads are dirt and passable by sedan but may be impassable when wet.
INFO: Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Mazatzal Wilderness
The best time to hike North Peak is in early spring when the snow-capped mountains of Flagstaff stand out on the horizon from this northern-most summit in the Mazazal mountain range. But this rewarding panorama doesn't come cheap.  You must work for it. The haul up North Peak is a 4-mile 3,209-foot climb--straight up  with only 3 notable switch backs and the slope is nearly vertical on the final stretch to the 7,449-foot summit. Mineral Spring flows along the trail for the first easy mile.  Cottonwoods and pinion pines shade the wide track making this "warm-up" section fragrant and cool.  After hopping the spring three times,  the trail narrows and makes a distinct change from placid to precipitous.  Climbing to the 6,000-foot level is moderately strenuous with loose footing and patches of snow and ice.  At the 3-mile point (6,220 feet) there is a clearing with magnificent views.  It's here where the hike goes off-trail (to the left or SW) and vertical, up the final half-mile to the summit.  Route-finding skills are required to successfully bush whack your way up the final 1,400 feet.  The struggle pays off, though, with breathtaking views from the solitude of a seldom-visited mountain peak.
LENGTH:  8.2 miles round-trip
RATING:  difficult
ELEVATION: 4,240-7,449 feet
GETTING THERE:  From Phoenix, take AZ 87 (Beeline Highway) north to Payson.  Turn left onto Main Street and continue to where it turns into FR 406.  From there, stay on FR 406 for 5.2 miles to the signed turn off for FR 414.  Follow the signs another 5 miles to the Mineral Creek trailhead.


Sierra Estrella Wilderness

Rising out of the Rainbow Valley along a desert ridge, the rugged Quartz Peak trail gains elevation aggressively.  The route hugs a "saw tooth edge" along the spine of the ridge with deep valleys and incredible views on each side.  The first two miles follow an established trail, but after that, only sporadically-placed rock carins indicate the way through boulders, shimmering mica and rough-hewn, metamorphic rock formations. As a rule of thumb, if you think you have lost the trail, just go up.  The path is truly on top of the ridge, and yes, that  means quite a bit of  rock scrambling is required.  Gaining the summit requires negotiating 50-feet of hand-over-foot (non-technical) climbing. An outcropping of snowy-white quartz caps the 4,052-foot apex where views of metro Phoenix and the surrounding desert plains beg to be photographed.
LENGTH:  6 miles out-and-back
RATING:  difficult
ELEVATION:  1,552 - 4,052 feet
GETTING THERE:  NOTE: a hiker reports that on 11-10-2012, construction at the phone line road made for a very rough crossing, however, they got thru okay. 
From Phoenix, take I-10 west to exit 126 and turn left onto Estrella Parkway. Drive 8.3 miles and turn right onto Elliot Road.  Continue 2.6 miles and turn left onto Rainbow Valley Road.  Proceed 9.3 miles to Riggs Road and turn left. Drive another 3.9 miles to Bullard Ave. and turn right and then make an immediate left onto an unmarked dirt road that parallels some phone lines.  Follow the dirt road 5.3 miles and turn right at the "T" intersection where a tiny sign points towards a "trail".  Continue for two miles and turn left at another generic trail sign and drive 1.9 miles to the trailhead.  
FACILITIES:  restrooms

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


South Fork Trail #97 Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Originating in the majestic Rocky Mountains, the Little Colorado River roars south through the plateaus and canyons of northern Arizona. Near the end of its twisting course, the river spawns scores of tributary streams that spill into the serene valleys of the White Mountains. The South Fork Trail follows the river’s southern-most tributary to where it trickles out into marshy open plains and into White Mountain reservoir. The trek begins in the canyon-bound South Fork campground and immediately enters woodlands of mixed conifer and broadleaf trees embellished with lush undergrowths of shrubs and wildflowers. Because the waterway is the beneficiary of a seemingly boundless supply of replenishing rain and spring waters, it runs fast and wild. The sound of rushing water is an appropriate soundtrack for the airborne sprays of water that bounce off the boulders and beaver dams in the river channel. This natural “misting system” keeps the lower portion of the trail dripping in a cool, moist fog. At about the halfway point of the hike, the trail emerges from the forest and leaves the stream behind. From that point, the route embarks on a moderately-steep climb up to a high-altitude bench. Situated at 9,000 feet in elevation, views from the bench are spectacular. The rounded domes of Mount Baldy (11,590 feet) and Escudilla Mountain (10,912 feet) stand out above a sprawling landscape of peaks and valleys. Beneath the bench, boggy Mexican Hay Lake fills the bowl of an alpine meadow attracting hordes of elk, wild turkeys and chattering waterfowl. UPDATE: This trail has been impacted by the WALLOW FIRE, June 2011. LENGTH 11 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 7510' -8890' GETTING THERE: From the traffic light in downtown Eager, go south on Highway 260 for 5 miles to Country Road 4124. Turn left on CR-4124 and continue for 2.4 miles to the South Fork campground. Just inside the campground, turn right, cross a small bridge and drive another quarter-mile to the signed trailhead.