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Saturday, December 26, 2009


LIMESTONE LOOP Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Cave Creek Although it’s located just a few clicks north of the city, this scenic loop hike traversing both Spur Cross Conservation Area and adjacent Tonto National Forest lands, encompasses some of the most spectacular desert scenery around. Think—a gurgling desert creek lined with cottonwoods and Goodding willows, outrageous forests of gigantic saguaros and sweeping views of the Valley. Although there are several options for making loop hikes using Limestone trail #252 (visit the Web site listed below for a detailed map) one really sweet option works like this: From the conservation area entry point and pay station, hike up the road and continue straight (north) on the Spur Cross Trail. Follow this wide old Jeep road (aka Forest Road 48) for 1.8 miles (hopping the creek several times) to an abandoned circular corral area where you’ll find a tiny “trail” sign pointing south. Follow the generic signs (there’s no “Limestone Trail” signage) to a narrow, rocky path that veers west heading steeply uphill. From here, this sketchy, un-maintained 2.3-mile segment vacillates between easy-to-follow and essentially—invisible. No worries, though—if you think you’ve lost the trail, just take a deep breath and scope out the intermittent rock cairns that mark the faint sections, leading hikers past two springs at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. The worst route-finding challenges end at a fancy trail marker etched out of stone where you’ll veer left (east) heading toward Spur Cross and continue 0.4 miles to the Elephant Mountain junction. From here, stay on the main, wide trail (straight ahead) and hike another 0.3 miles to the Tortuga Trail junction. The quickest way back to the trailhead is to head left at this junction and follow the Tortuga Trail for 0.7 miles to the Spur Cross trail junction. Hang a left here and continue 0.6 miles back to the parking lot. LENGTH: 6-mile loop RATING: moderate-rocky, loose footing, creek crossings ELEVATION GAIN : 1000 feet GETTING THERE: Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is located approximately 35 miles north of central Phoenix. Interstate 17, State Route 51, and Loop 101 can all be used to reach the park. From the intersection of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road head north on Cave Creek Road about 2.5 miles to Spur Cross Road. Turn north for approximately 4.5 miles to the public parking area on the right. As of summer 2016, the road is 100% paved.  INFORMATION: FEE: There’s a $3 per person daily fee. PLEASE BRING EXACT AMOUNT. The self-serve pay station does not make change. Free maps are usually available at the kiosk.

Friday, December 25, 2009


COLOSSAL CAVE LADDER TOUR Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Tucson Guided tours of Colossal Cave are offered to the public several times each day except on major holidays when the park is closed. Entrance to the cave is by guided tour ONLY. The easy, basic tour takes about 45 minutes. The more difficult “Ladder Tour” (1.5 hours) and the “Wild Cave Tour” (3 hours) require reservations. Both tours require hikers to be in good physical condition and able to climb narrow, vertical ladders. Participants are required to wear helmets with headlamps that are provided by the park and must be able to maneuver through some tight spaces and walk on narrow ledges with deep drop-offs. A tour through the “dry” cave includes visits to a series of “rooms” with names like “Crystal Forest”, “Silent Waterfall” and the “Kingdom of the Elves” that lend a sense of wonder to the limestone chambers of stalactites, stalagmites and bizarre water-borne rock formations. LENGTH: 1 mile underground RATING: fun ELEVTION CHANGE: 50 feet FEES: visit the Web site for current fees and tour information. GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-10 south past downtown Tucson to exit 279 (Vail/Wentworth exit) and follow the signs for about 7 miles to the park. (16721 Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641) INFORMATION: or (520) 647-7275

Monday, December 21, 2009


JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER Hi hikers, as avid outdoors persons, I'd like to solicit your input regarding what drives you to purchase hike-related publications. Content? Impulse? Cover photo? Cover lines? Price? What?? Your input is greatly appreciated. Please add your comments!!! Thanks, Mare

Saturday, December 12, 2009


WEST BOULDER SADDLE Superstition Wilderness This trail offers much of what we love about nearby Peralta canyon—soaring cliffs, rugged terrain, a steady climb and terrific views of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The route is an interesting one, passing old campsites, and decommissioned spring and a nice smattering of pinion pines clinging to life in the crumbling volcanic soil. THE HIKE: from the trailhead, hike west on the Lost Goldmine Trail for 1.2 miles to a cattle guard-type opening in the wilderness barbed wire fence. Pass the gate and head north along a clear path-of-use. After about a half-mile, the trail becomes more difficult to follow as it takes on the steep ridge up to the saddle. Near the top, you’ll encounter some slick rock and a few vertical sections---nothing too difficult, but the terrain could be risky when wet. Once at the saddle, hiking options abound---see the Superstition Wilderness map for details. Or, for a simple day hike, just head back the way you came. LENGTH: 4.5 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 2,320 – 3,680 feet GETTING THERE: Take Highway 60 east to Peralta Road (FS77 at milepost 204) where there’s a road sign stating “Peralta Trail”. Turn left onto Peralta Road, set your odometer, and continue through the subdivision for 7.1 miles to the Lost Goldmine trailhead on the left. NOTE: some of the older hiking books recommend using the “Carney Spring” trailhead to access the W. Boulder Saddle route, however, that road had been blocked off and you can no longer drive very far up the road as described in the books. Using the Lost Goldmine trailhead is easier.

Friday, December 11, 2009


BOULDER CANYON Superstition Wilderness Offering a kalidescope of ever-changing, colorful views, Boulder Canyon Trail #103 provides a memorable tour of the turbulent landscape of the Superstition Wilderness. From the trailhead, the route takes off on an uphill grind along the rocky cliffs above Canyon Lake, topping out at a saddle where the 224-foot-high crest of Mormon Flat Dam is visible peeking out from a stony cove. To the north, the mauve-tinged pinnacles of the Four Peaks wilderness, sit like bold sentries above a sea of barren foothills. From here, the trail moves over a high desert ridgeline of tortured volcanic rock with LaBarge Creek churning hundreds of feet below. During the next few minutes of uphill walking, the blocky massif Battleship Mountain slowly creeps up until its profile looms large on the horizon. At this point, a gorge-riddled terrain takes center stage as the route transitions into an unrelenting series of ups-and-downs—something to keep in mind for hike out—before reaching its terminus at the intersection with Dutchman’s Trail #104. LENGTH: 7.3 miles one-way RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 1,680- 2,300 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 60 east to the Idaho Road exit. Go left at the light and follow Highway 88 to the Canyon Lake Marina between mileposts 211 and 212. A Tonto Pass is NOT required as long as you park in the “hiker” section of the marina lot. INFORMATION:

Saturday, December 5, 2009


DRAGONFLY TRAIL Jewel of the Creek Preserve It’s finally open! We learned of this new trail in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area last winter when it was still under construction. The Dragonfly Trail, which opened in April 2009, was engineered to showcase the desert foothills and thriving riparian environment surrounding the “Jewel of the Creek” area of perrenial Cave Creek. This unexpected strip of lush creek-side willows, alders, walnut trees and cattails is hemmed in by rugged Upper Sonoran Desert terrain making for a breathtaking hybrid desert-wetland hike. While there, you’ll also wander through a mesquite bosque—the 5th rarest eco-system on earth. Although most hikers prefer to grab a map at the trailhead and head out on their own, the park ranger, Kevin Smith—who knows just about everything about the local flora, fauna, geology and human history of the area-- conducts regular guided tours for those who would like an educational experience. Check out the link below to find out when the next one is happening. We can thank the efforts of the Desert Foothills Land Trust for securing the preservation of this delicate eco-system and for also raising the funds needed to plan for and build the trail. Check out their Web site to learn more about this guardian of our beautiful Sonoran Desert and how YOU can help preserve this precious resource: LENGTH: 4-mile loop (with optional connecting trails to add length if we like) RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 2,400 -2,150 feet FEE: $3 per person (exact change is required) GETTING THERE: Option 1: From I-17 go east on Carefree Highway (AZ 74) at exit 223. Continue on Carefree Highway for 9.7 miles to Cave Creek Road. Go north onto Cave Creek Road and drive 2.6 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. (this is a tricky intersection…the road kind of swerves left and turns into Spur Cross Ranch Road. Continue north for 4.2 miles to the dirt parking on the left. The last mile or so of the road is good dirt and passable by sedan. THE HIKE: from the parking area, hike up the road a few yards, pay your fee and pick up a free map. Option 2: From Loop 101, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive north for approximately 15 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. (this is a tricky intersection…the road kind of swerves left and turns into Spur Cross Ranch Road. Continue north for 4.2 miles to the dirt parking on the left. The last mile or so of the road is good dirt and passable by sedan. THE HIKE: from the parking area, hike up the road a few yards, pay your fee and pick up a free map. INFORMATION: visit, or call 480-488-6623

Thursday, November 12, 2009


CAMP CREEK FALLS Cave Creek The innocuous, wildfire-tinged roadside pullout that marks the beginning of this hike gives little insight to the wonders that lie in the canyons below. This unmarked route ventures into the craggy desert canyons of Blue Wash and Camp Creek. Although this is not an “official” trail, it’s easy to stay on course by simply following the obvious footpaths and bends in the canyon. The first of several tricky spots happens at roughly the half-mile point where the trail seems to dead-end over a dry waterfall. From here, veer right and hike up above the rise following a narrow path-of-use. Once back in the gully, there are several more minor hand-over-foot rock scrambles to overcome before Blue Wash meets the wide, sandy course of Camp Creek. At this “T” intersection, head left and hike upstream, hopping the many rivulets that flow in lacy, meandering currents. Soon, the rangy walls of a box canyon open up to reveal a cascade of water tumbling over a 20-foot-high granite escarpment. From here, those with good route-finding skills can opt to scramble up to the top of the falls and continue hiking north along Camp Creek where water-hungry reeds and velvet ash trees live side-by-side with drought tolerant cactuses and acacia trees. LENGTH: 3.5 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 3,243-2,643 feet GETTING THERE: From the Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit. Go north on Pima Road for 13 miles to Cave Creek Road. Turn right (east) onto Cave Creek Road and continue 6.5 miles just past a sign on the right that reads “Blue Wash #1”. Park in the gravel turnouts on either side of the road. The trail begins near the cottonwood trees. Information:, (480) 595-3300

Monday, November 2, 2009


Sears Kay Ruins Tonto National Forest Although we may never fully understand how a group of ancient people known as the Hohokam eeked out a living on the seemingly inhospitable ridgelines above Cave Creek; we can still marvel at the brilliance and utility of their architecture. Archeologists believe the Sears Kay Ruins site was first inhabited by an agrarian culture around 1500 C.E.. A conglomerate of 40 lichen-encrusted stone foundations clearly shows the arrangement of living quarters, storage rooms and ceremonial chambers within the village while abundant informational signage helps visitors understand what life must have been like for the farmers who inhabited this rugged terrain and who also left an indelible footprint on the landscape for future generations to explore before abandoning their hilltop fortress. LENGTH: 1.2 miles roundtrip RATING: easy ELEVATION: 3,300 – 3,550 feet GETTING THERE: From Scottsdale, go north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road. Turn right onto Cave Creek Road and continue for 7 miles and turn right at the signed turn off for the ruins. INFORMATION: (480) 595-3300,

Monday, October 26, 2009


RED ROCK STATE PARK Sedona Talk about diversity! This 286-acre park really packs in the eye candy in one compact, family-friendly, educational and stunningly beautiful slice of Oak Creek Canyon. More than 10 miles of well-planned, easy-to-follow trails (there are signs with maps at nearly every junction) make for effortless exploring. A dozen routes range in difficulty from the wheelchair & stroller accessible Mesquite Loop to the Eagle's Nest Trail which climbs 300-feet to a scenic lookout above the park. A good introduction to the park trail system is to make a loop hike with the Smoke, Kisva and Eagle's Nest trails. This combo is roughly 5 miles and some change in length and takes you over 3 wooden bridges that span the rushing waters and riparian life zone of Oak Creek and also to the park's yucca-and-cypress-studded high point where interpretive signs explain key features of Sedona's unique geology visible on the horizon. Your seven buck per vehicle entry fee gets you a trail map plus access to free interpretive programs and clean restrooms. LENGTH: 12 trails, 10.3 miles combined RATING: easy & accessible to moderate ELEVATION: 3,880 - 4,080 feet FEES: $10 daily fee per vehicle (up to 4 adults), $3 bike or hike in.   GETTING THERE: From the "Y" intersection of Highways 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) on Highway 89A for 5.5 miles to Lower Red Rock Loop Road and follow the signs 3.3 miles to Red Rock State Park. INFORMATION:, (928) 282-6907

Friday, October 16, 2009


WOODCHUTE MOUNTAIN TRAIL Woodchute Wilderness Area Cooler temperatures and shorter days work together to paint the oak trees on Woodchute Mountain in a palette orange and gold. The mountain is really more of a long ridgeline with Prescott Valley on one side and grand views of the red cliffs of Sedona and the peaks of Flagstaff on the other. Easy-to-follow, trail No. 102 ascends the mountain in a gently meandering style that swings from east to west showcasing vistas of much of northern Arizona. The hike culminates with an easy stroll across a breezy high prairie that dead-ends at the steep east face of the mountain. Here, blood-red maples and honey-colored scrub oaks frame views of Jerome and the Verde Valley. LENGTH: 7.4 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 7,000 – 7,700 feet GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on Highway 89A to the turn off for Potato Patch Campground. Turn right and continue .3 mile to the signed road for the Woodchute trailhead on the left and follow it to a parking loop with restrooms. Those without a high clearance vehicle should park here. To find the trailhead, head right (east) and hike or drive (high clearance needed) up Forest Road 106 (also signed as FR 102/106) for a half-mile to the wilderness sign and trail register. If you opt to hike the road, add 1 mile to the trip length above. INFORMATION: NOTE: The Woodchute Fire of Aug-Sept 2009 resulted in the temporary closure of Trail102. Check with the forest service before hiking this trail. Photos shown here are from October 2008. For current information on fire restrictions or wildfires visit or call the Prescott National Forest fire information line at 928-777-5799.


NORTH MINGUS TRAIL Prescott National Forest An eclectic mix of scenery and forests are the highlights of the North Mingus Trail No.105. Although there are two trailheads for this route, most hikers choose to start at the top of Mingus Mountain and hike downhill. That’s because the route is easier to follow when hiked in this direction. Right from the start, this popular trail will “wow” you with magnificent views from atop a pine-shaded hang glider launch pad. Here, the rugged Verde Valley rolls out 1,600 feet below. The hike begins with a pleasant stroll across the mountain summit under a canopy of warm gold Gambel oaks huddling beneath enormous confirs. After this short “warm up” section, the trail dips downhill along the north face through colorful corridors of Bigtooth maples, boxelders and velvet ash. Soon, the path enters an enchanting passage where a mass of volcanic boulders cascade down a slender slot canyon where vertical stony walls and a stand of aspens thrive in the cooler microclimate. Past the aspen grove, the trail enters a more arid clime with intermittent sections of grasslands, fields of agave and ridgelines studded with whispy mountain mahogany. An abandoned mine marks the point where the trail merges with an old Jeep road that leads downhill to Mescal Spring, the turnaround point for the hike. This trail also can be hiked one-way using a car shuttle at each trailhead. LENGTH: 8.5 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 6,000 – 7,800 feet GETTING THERE: Mingus Mountain trailhead: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on Highway 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Turn left here and go uphill to the trailhead near the hang glider launch pad. Mescal Spring trailhead: From Jerome, go 4 miles southwest on Highway 89A. Just before sign for Prescott National Forest, between mileposts 339 and 338, turn left onto an unmarked dirt road (Forest Road 338). FR 338 is a very rough 4x4 road so those without appropriate vehicles should park in the turnouts along the highway. Continue down FR 338 for a half-mile to the cement tank that marks Mescal Spring. From here, veer right (southwest) and go uphill. Bear left at all unmarked junctions until you reach the signed turn off for trail No. 105 on the right. This route adds one mile to the hike description above. INFORMATION:


VIEW POINT TRAIL Prescott National Forest A traipse through an archway of golden Gamble oaks sets the stage for the hallmark mountain vistas and brilliant foliage of the View Point Trail No. 106. Beyond this “grand entrance” the slender path begins its gradual descent along the east face of Mingus Mountain weaving through a mixed bag of terrain including exposed juniper-agave high desert and pine-oak forests fringed with Bigtooth maples. From the trail’s high vantage point, the towns of Jerome and Cottonwood appear like scribbles on a map far below while the course of the Verde River paints a lazy swath of green on a brown landscape. Just past the 1.3-mile mark, at the junction for trail 105A, the route makes a severe dip into the canyon. It’s here where the hike rating goes from moderate to difficult as the path clamors roughly 700 feet downhill on loose rocks to the turn around point at Allen Springs Road. Casual hikes can opt to stay on the high road and make the junction their turnaround point instead. LENGTH: 4 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate-difficult ELEVATION: 7,800 – 6,000 feet GETTING THERE: From Jerome, go 7 miles southwest on Highway 89A to Mingus Mountain Road (Forest Road 104). Turn left and continue on FR 104 for 2.4 miles to where it ends at a “T” intersection in the campground. Take an immediate left and park in the circular turnout near the “106” trail sign. FEE: $2 per person daily fee. Bring exact change for the self-serve permit kiosk. INFORMATION:


HINKLE SPRING TRAIL From its shaded, riverside access point to the high pastures above Blue River Canyon, the Hinkle Spring Trail #30 is a gateway to a seldom-seen tour of one of the most remote areas of Eastern Arizona. The trail, which is still used to drive cattle from the canyon floor to rim-top grazing areas, has some faint, difficult-to-follow segments marked only by tree blazes and occasional rock carins. This provides a good excuse to slow down and savor the sights. Ducking in and out of canyons and forests, the upper portion of the trail features outstanding views of the eastern reaches of the Blue Range Primitive Area. In addition to the route-finding requirements, hikers will encounter a few steep switchbacks and some fallen trees, before reaching the reliable waters and corral of Hinkle Spring, the turnaround point for this trip. LENGTH: 9 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 5,700 – 7,220 feet GETTING THERE: From Alpine, drive 3.5 miles east on Highway 180 to Blue River Road (a.k.a. Country Road 2104 or Forest Road 281). Go south on this good dirt road and continue 21.3 miles to the signed trailhead on the left side of the road. Those with a high clearance vehicle can opt to ford Blue River and park further up the road.