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Thursday, October 2, 2008


Elephant Mountain Spur Cross Conservation Area Located just a few minutes north of Scottsdale, the rugged beauty of Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is an island of pristine Sonoran desert surrounded by a sea of golf greens and adobe rooftops. The Elephant Mountain trail uses a maze of old Jeep tracks and primitive paths that cut through stream washes, grasslands and boulder fields to explore a remote section of this area. The commotion of the busy trailhead is soon left behind as the trail descends along a volcanic ravine where ancient ruins pepper the landscape. The ruins themselves are difficult to locate—and that’s the way park rangers would like to keep it—to help preserve the fragile artifacts. However, it’s still possible to learn more about the ruins by participating in ranger-led interpretive hikes. About a mile into the hike, at the Tortuga-Elephant Mountain trail junction, the distinct pachyderm profile of Elephant Mountain takes center stage. From here, the destination is clearly visible. The trail heads up hill to a saddle below the “tusks”. The saddle, located at the 3.5-mile point, offers panoramic views of Sugarloaf Mountain, Skull Mesa and the McDowell Mountains. But that’s not the best part—teetering atop the “tusks” are a series of ancient stonewalls. However, don’t even think about scrambling up to explore them because the area is off limits, except, of course, to ranger-led hikes. LENGTH: 9.2 miles out-and-back RATING: moderate (route-finding skills are required) ELEVATION: 2,400' - 3,200'  FEE  $3 daily fee per person. The self-pay station requires exact change. GETTING THERE:  From Loop 101IN north Phoenix, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive north for approximately 15 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. This is an easy-to-miss junction located just before entering the busy main drag of Cave Creek.  It is signed and the turn off is on the left. From here, the road jogs north and then makes  a tight turn to the right to another funny junction.  There's a BIG sign here pointing north (go left) to Spur Cross Ranch. Continue north for 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left. The last mile of the road is good dirt and passable by sedan. HIKE DIRECTIONS: Follow the Tortuga trail for 1.2 miles to the Elephant Mountain trail junction. From there, the trail becomes primitive, marked only by rock cairns and faint footpaths.
INFO  & MAPS : Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:


Oak Creek flows at the base of the rim
Limestone formations along the trail
Oak Creek cascade

East Pocket Fire Tower

A.B. Young Trail after the Slide Fire, May 2014
UPDATE: This trail sustained major damage from the May 2014 Slide Fire. This hike has everything --water, high-desert ridges, a grueling climb and a pleasant traipse through a pine and oak forest to the historic East Pocket fire lookout.
The trail begins in the Bootlegger Day Use Area near site number two.  From there, descend the flagstone stairs to Oak Creek and follow the generic trail markers to the creek. Boulder-hop the water and head toward the stone retaining wall where there’s a metal “A.B. Young #100” sign.  The ascent begins immediately through a cool, creek-side environment that quickly transcends into a pine forest. After about the half-mile point, the trail leaves the shade and begins switch backing up steep sun-drenched cliffs on its way to the 7,196-foot West Rim of Oak Creek Canyon.  Many spectacular rock formations and great views of the narrow canyon open up as the trail gains elevation.  Once on the rim, follow the carins into the forest to the wooden “A.B. Young/Oak Creek” sign that marks the official end of the trail. To reach the East Pocket fire lookout, continue for just under a mile following a series of huge rock cairns. Staffed by a USFS worker during the fire season, visitors are welcome in the funky old 1930s-style wooden tower.

LENGTH:  6 miles round trip
RATING:  difficult
ELEVATION: 5,100’ – 7,196”
FACILITIES: restroom
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required: there’s a permit kiosk at the trailhead that takes paper, plastic and coins.
From Phoenix, take I-17 north to the Sedona-Oak Creek exit 298 for SR179.  Head left (west) on SR179 and continue to the Sedona “Y” intersection of SR 179 and US89A. Veer right (north) through the traffic circle and continue 8.8 miles to the Bootlegger Day Use Area near milepost 383. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO:  Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-282-4119

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Sometimes a little confusion makes for a good team-building exercise. That’s what we got while hiking the Indian Farm Trail. Or, at least we THINK we hiked the Indian Farm Trail. Our first mistake was to trust the hike description given in a popular hiking book which turned out to be over simplified and rife with typos---noteworthy among them was the back-ackwards FS road number which makes up the majority of the hike. Next, the maps in the book showed the route as a straight-forward path. However, what we found was that the area is riddled with a maze of unnamed 4x4 roads and informal trails—none of which appear on the forest servce maps or in the National Geo TOPO software. Soooo, we decided to trudge along anyway, using GPS waypoints and carin-building to create our own route. (see details below) We were not disappointed. After a short, uphill climb, the trail dips down into Tonto basin—a sprawling river gorge flanked by desert mountain peaks. After about a half-mile of hiking, the sycamore-and-cottonwood-lined river channel is visible below the trail. The floodplain is massive—sinuous, wide and feeding a healthy band of green where birds of all sorts populate the trees and shorelines. The road we followed ends roughly a quarter mile from the creek. At this point, it became necessary to plot many waypoints and build elaborate cairns so we would be able to find our way back through the dense mesquite bosque and clusters of sycamore and cottonwood trees. Exploring along the creek is a blast. There are lots of reed-choked coves, riffles, fishin’ holes and sandy beaches to hold your interest. Although we found some corral ruins and a pipe that may have been a well; we doubt it was the Indian Farm described in the book. No matter; it was a great day on the trail. LENGTH: 6 miles round trip ELEVATION: 1550-3,036 feet RATING: moderate hiking, difficult route-finding IMPORTANT NOTE: this trail is closed December thru June to protect nesting native birds. GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Highway 87 to the Gisela Road (FR 417) which is located just north of milepost 239. Turn right onto FR 417 and then take the first right onto FR 184. Follow FR 184 for 3.8 miles to FR 1434, a steep Jeep road on the left side of the road. (if you get to the metal bridge, you have gone too far). Park in the turnoffs along FR 417. THE HIKE: From FR 417, hike uphill along FR 1434. 1st junction: stay right and go downhill. 2nd Junction: continue straight down a narrow road. Cross a wash. 3rd Junction: near the 1-mile point, stay straight. The spur trail on the right leads to a scenic campsite over Tonto Creek and is worth the quarter-mile it adds to the trip. 4th Junction: at a wash, go left, then take an immediate right on to the road that heads uphill. 5th Junction: cross the wash and continue straight. 6th Junction: go straight. After the 6th junction, the trail narrows and heads steeply downhill on a twisting path that leads to a sandy wash at the edger of the flood plain. Here is where route finding becomes critical. Mark your path and bush whack your way down to the creek. From here, head north, making up your adventure as you go.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The cool spring water that gurgles to the surface year-round in the  lower portion of Sycamore Canyon attracts a motley crew of outdoor enthusiasts.  Popular with the locals and out-of-towners alike, you are bound to run into hikers, backpackers, bird watchers, rambunctious kids, ecstatic Labrador retrievers and the occasional  group of skinny dippers.  Most of the commotion ends after the first mile where the going gets a bit too rough for casual visitors.  The trail begins with  a steep, 300-foot descent into the canyon (remember this for the way back) and is marked by a series of sometimes hard-to-find carins made of river rock wired into 50-gallon drum-size cylinders.  Rains and floods change the terrain frequently, so it's smart to pay attention along the route which includes numerous creek-crossings. Dense riparian vegetation, including wild grapes, holly, squash and cattails, flourishes in the moist sandy soil around the seep areas and springs.  There are several deep pools, suitable for swimming an done of the best is nestled in a beautiful cover surrounded by limestone ledges under a canopy of sycamore and walnut trees.
LENGTH:  7.4 miles round trip
RATING: easy
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 for 90 miles to exit 287 (Highway 260).  Go west on Hwy. 260 
to the town of Cottonwood.  From there, go straight through town on Main St and Broadway (aka Highway 89A) following the signs to Tuzigoot National Monument.  Turn right onto thesighed Road to Tuzigoot and continue for less than a half-mile, cross the Verde River Bridge and then take the first left onto  Sycamore Canyon Road (CR 139).  The road turns into maintained dirt and merges with FR 131.  Continue on FR 131 for 10.5 miles to the trailhead.