Monday, October 27, 2008
TAVASCI MARSH Dead Horse Ranch State Park Situated in the backwaters of the upper Verde River, Tavasci Marsh is a bird watcher’s paradise. Herons, egrets, finches, wrens and flycatchers flourish in the profuse vegetation and aren’t shy about spreading their wings. The hike passes through a healthy mesquite bosque—one of the most rare ecosystems in the world—ending at a wooden observation deck with a viewing bench at the edge of the wetlands. Here, river otters cut through pond water like oiled torpedoes accompanied by a boisterous avian soundtrack. LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip RATING: easy elevation gain: 50 feet ELEVATION GAIN: 3,350’ – 3,300’ GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Camp Verde (exit 287) and take Highway 260 west to Cottonwood. Turn left on Main Street (89A toward Clarksdale) and continue to 10th Street. Turn right on 10th St. and proceed over the Verde River Bridge to the park entrance. From the park entrance, follow the main road to Flycatcher Road (2nd road on the left) where there’s a “Tavasci Marsh” sign. Follow this road less than a mile to the signed parking area.
RIO SALADO HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT Just two miles south of downtown Phoenix, where the Salt River once flowed, a former dumping ground has been transformed into a thriving 595-acre oasis in the desert. With the cooperation of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Flood Control District of Maricopa County and droves of volunteers, tons of waste were cleared out of the Salt River channel and replaced with ponds, waterfalls and tens of thousands of indigenous plant species. Although the 5-mile-long strip of riparian habitat looks as if it occurred naturally, it’s actually a “demonstration wetland” that was created by tapping into the groundwater beneath the river channel and pumping more than 2.65 million gallons of water per day to sustain the habitat. Stretching from 19th Avenue to 16th Street, the project is a work in progress. The Central Avenue gateway is currently the most complete segment and there’s parking, interpretive signage, restrooms and drinking water. Trail segments are organized to feature specific desert habitats such as Cottonwood-Willow, Lower Sonoran, Mesquite Bosque and Palo Verde. Although just a few years old, the plants—which were harvested from seeds or cuttings within a half-mile of the Salt River—are already flourishing and attracting wildlife. Snowy Egrets, raptors, toads and dozens of other species have settled in. Future plans for the project include adding more gateways to access the more than 10 miles of paved and dirt trails and an Audubon Nature Center. LENGTH: about 10 miles of paved and dirt trails are planned. As of 0506, about 3 miles of established trails are open. RATING: easy and informative ELEVATION GAIN: 50 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix. Drive south on Central Avenue through downtown. Just past the I-17 underpass, look for the obvious parking area on the leftAlternate routes: From the east Valley, take Highway 60 west and connect to I-17. Exit I-17 at 7th Street. Go south on 7th Street to Broadway Road. Turn right (west) on Broadway Road and continue to Central Avenue. Turn right onto Central Avenue and head north for about 1 mile to the gateway. From the west Valley, take I-10 to I-17 and exit at 7th Avenue. Go south on 7th Avenue to Broadway Road. Turn left (east) onto Broadway Road and go to Central Avenue. Turn left (north) onto Central Avenue and continue for about a mile to the gateway on the right.
COON BLUFF Tonto National Forest Sunrise over Coon Bluff is sometimes greeted by a herd of wild mustangs wandering on the shores of the Lower Salt River. Early morning is the best time to sight the horses and a seat on top of Coon Bluff offers the best vantage point for viewing the elusive beasts. Coon Bluff’s rugged escarpment flanks the river and is one of several scenic high points along a maze of unofficial trails that meander through the desert terrain above the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers. To reach the bluff, just follow the wide paths uphill and take your pick of the many options along the ridges. There are several spur trails that lead down to the water. There, water birds and raptors chatter in the mesquite trees that thrive along the sandy shore. Although sighting a bald eagle or a turkey vulture is pretty common, catching a glimpse of the mustangs requires more patience. On days when they show up, they appear like ghosts and then disappear back into the desert in a flash of commotion that leaves behind hoof prints and a cloud of dust. LENGTH: 3 miles round trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION : 1,486' - 1,593' GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go east on US 60 to the Power Road exit. Continue north on Power Road, which will turn into the Bush Highway, and then turn left on the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site Road (Granite Reef Dam Rd). Drive about 100 feet and park in the corralled dirt lot just before the gate. The hike starts at the generic trail sign. INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 480-610-3300
O’LEARY LOOKOUT TRAIL Coconino National Forest A “middle child”, O’Leary Peak often plays second fiddle to its more famous siblings—the San Francisco Peaks and Sunset Crater. In comparison to the rival peaks, O’Leary is truly middling in height, age and relative location. The 250,000-year-old lava dome volcano rises to an impressive 8,916 feet and although it lacks the star quality that draws hordes of tourists and hikers to the other two peaks, O’Leary is anything but the ugly step sister. The trail up O’Leary Peak is just a 4x4 road that’s still used by forest service workers to get to the fire lookout on the summit. The hike begins by flanking a thick, inky-black lava flow with views of the distinctive rust-colored slopes of Sunset Crater in the distance. The lower path is mostly made of black and red cinders that crunch under foot. The first 3 miles are easy going, gaining elevation gradually, but the grunt work begins where the road meets the mountain and becomes much steeper. Crystalline cliffs of dacite, the volcanic rock that pushed up from the earth’s core to build O’Leary Peak, line the trail that’s little more than a narrow cut in the mountainside. On the top, there are amazing aerial views of Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow. To the north, the Painted Desert shimmers in the haze and to the west; Arizona’s grandest peaks get up close and personal. While taking in the 360-degree smorgasbord of sights, you’ll wonder why all the little cars on the roads below are zooming right past O’Leary Peak. LENGTH: 10 miles round trip RATING: Moderate ELEVATION: 6,930 – 8,916 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-17 North to Flagstaff. In Flagstaff, take I-40 east and then connect to Highway 89 north. Continue north on Highway 89 to the signed exit for Sunset Crater National Monument (FR 545) and turn right. Continue for less than a mile and then turn left at the “O’Leary Group Campground” sign onto FR 545A. Drive a short distance past the fee area campground to the gate and signed trailhead for “O’Leary Lookout”. There are restrooms and running water at the campground. The dirt roads are accessible by sedan.