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Friday, January 16, 2009


BOYNTON CANYON Secret Canyon Wilderness, Sedona To New Age devotes, the metaphysical merit of Sedona’s vortex sites ranks right up there with Machu Pichu, the Egyptian Pyramids and Mount Everest. Along the Boynton Canyon trail, Sedona’s most popular vortex, peace symbols made of pine cones and hundreds of stone cairns mark special places discovered by droves of spiritual pilgrims and extraterrestrial zealots. It’s not unusual to hear the sounds of didgeridoos and flutes emanating from the cliffs. The trail begins on a sandy, desert path overlooking the Enchantment Resort and culminates in a box canyon shaded by oaks and pines. Once at the head of the canyon, venture out onto the sandstone ledge and peer around the corner for breath taking views of the area’s monolithic red and beige sandstone formations. Although it’s easy to see why spirits and little green men would feel right at home in Boynton Canyon, abductions are rare. LENGTH: 3.7 miles one way RATING: Moderate ELEVATION: 4,500' - 5,050' GETTING THERE: From the Sedona "Y" intersection, turn left onto highway 89A (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right onto Dry Creek Road (FR 152C) and go 3 miles to the intersection for Boynton Canyon Road and turn left. Proceed another .3 mile to the parking lot on the right. A Red Rock Pass is REQUIRED to park. The passes are available for purchase at the ranger station in Oak Creek and at a sub station along Dry Creek Road.


BARRINGER CRATER Although it’s located the middle of nowhere, and it costs 15 bucks to see it, a trip to this natural wonder is well worth the travel time and expense. Best known as the backdrop for the dramatic final scenes in the 1984 movie Starman, (starring Jeff "his Dudeness" Bridges as a disturbingly believable extra terrestrial visitor) the experience of seeing this honest-to-goodness meteorite impact crater easily outshines Hollywood’s best special effects talent. The massive 4,000-foot-wide, 550-foot-deep wound in the high desert plains of Northern Arizona was created when an iron-nickel meteorite smashed into the earth roughly 50,000 years ago. Better known by the misnomer “Meteor Crater”, this natural wonder should be called Meteorite Crater. That’s because “meteors” burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, never reaching the ground while meteorites are extraterrestrial hunks of iron that survive the fall through earth’s atmosphere and hit terra firma at speeds in excess of 26,000 miles per hour just like the one that blasted out Barringer Crater. Yup--I learned all that cool stuff and much more by spending about 3 fascinating hours in the adjacent visitor center/geek emporium. Guilty. Guided one-mile walking tours are offered hourly through mid-afternoon and include informative talks on the colorful history, geology and paleontology of the crater. Tour leaders are knowledgeable, entertaining and will happily take a picture of you teetering over the crater’s edge at “picture rock”. FEATURES: world-famous impact crater, learning center, guided hikes LENGTH: roughly 1-mile round-trip RATING: easy but rocky (close-toed shoes are required, no sandals) ELEVATION: 5,700’ NOTE: Pets are not allowed. Please do not leave pets in parked cars as heat can be fatal. Driving distance from Phoenix: 195 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, travel 35 miles east on Interstate 40 (toward Winslow) to exit 233. Follow the signs to the crater. Hours: open year-round but hours change seasonally. Call ahead. Information: Meteor Crater Enterprises: (928) 289-5898 or


BLACK TOP MESA Superstition Wilderness In 1888, an anonymous Spaniard etched mysterious codes in the rock veneers on the summit of Black Top Mesa. So did some guy named Frank in 1954. The Spaniard’s hieroglyphs are well hidden on the mesa and are rumored to lead to a cache of gold. Adventurous treasure hikers can take advantage of cooler, winter temperatures to enjoy locating the glyphs and (however improbable) striking it rich. The Superstition Mountains are the product of ancient volcanism that resulted in high mesas, breccia-filled trails and craggy ridges complete with twisted and towering hoodoos. Along the trail, Sonoran Desert plants add foreground color to the knarled rock formations as well as a sweet fragrance indigenous to Arizona trails. Most hikers opt to turn back at the Bull Pass junction. Ambitious trekkers may continue all the way to the 3,354 ft. summit of the mesa, where human history and nature compete for attention. On the summit, reach-out-and-touch views of Weaver’s Needle, the signature natural feature of the Superstitions, are priceless. Bring a lunch. You will want to linger long enough to contemplate life and decide where you will go to buy your lotto tickets, for surely, Frank beat you to the gold. HIKE DIRECTIONS: Follow the Dutchman Trail 4.5 miles to the Bull Pass Trail junction. Follow Bull Pass Trail 0.6 mile to the saddle and look for a primitive path heading uphill to the right. Follow this unmaintained trail 0.6 miles to the summit of Black Top Mesa. LENGTH: 11.5 miles, roundtrip. RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 2,300 - 3,300 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go east on US60 to the Idaho Road exit, turn left and follow the AZ 88 signs heading toward Lost Dutchman State Park. Roughly 0.25 mile past the park entrance, go right on First Water Road (FR 78) and continue 2.6 miles to the First Water trailhead at the end of the road. Accessible by passenger car---there are a few rough spots, though. FACILITIES: restrooms. NO fees.


BROWN’S PEAK Four Peaks Wilderness Several states, including Arizona, feature images of mountains on their vehicle license plates, but unlike Washington’s treacherous Mt. Rainier or the oxygen-deprived peaks of Colorado, our own bumper icon, Brown’s Peak, is accessible to anyone with a high-clearance vehicle and a sturdy pair of boots. Hikers must hurdle a triad of challenges in order to gain the summit of Brown’s Peak, the highest (7,657 feet) of the four signature pinnacles on the horizon east of Phoenix. First, the drive to the trailhead is a kidney-jarring adventure on sinuous dirt roads. Next, hike 2 miles up a boulder-strewn, forested slope to a wide saddle with views of Roosevelt, Apache and Saguaro lakes as well as the silhouettes of seven mountain ranges. The final challenge is a rock scramble to the summit. Experienced hikers will have no trouble following the cairned route up “hiker’s gully” but, if you fear heights, are out of shape or have a dog or child in tow, don’t even think about attempting the 700-feet of vertical, hand-over-foot climbing. The apex is a jumble of crags and wispy grasses bearing little resemblance its stamped-metal knock-off. LENGTH: Four miles round-trip to the saddle or five miles to the summit. RATING: moderate-difficult ELEVATION GAIN: 1,700 feet GETTING THERE: From Fountain Hills, take Highway 87 north and turn right onto Four Peaks Road (FR 143) then drive 18 miles on the unpaved road to FR 648 and turn right. Follow FR 648 for1.3 miles to the Lone Pine Trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required.