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Tuesday, November 25, 2008


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,


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 or call (928) 474-7900


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