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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