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Saturday, February 7, 2009


FOREST ROAD 48 Tonto National Forest There's really no plan here....just use the road as your arterial route and indulge your inner wild. LENGTH: 5+ miles roundtrip (optional exploratory) RATING: moderate (route-finding skills are required) ELEVATION GAIN: 200 - 800 feet depending on your mood FEE: There’s a $3 per person entry fee. The self-pay station requires exact change. GETTING THERE: To reach the Spur Cross trailhead, From Loop 101, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive north for approximately 15 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. Continue north for 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left. The last mile of the road is good dirt and passable by sedan. HIKE DIRECTIONS: From the Spur Cross Conservation Area trailhead, follow the Spur Cross Trail north for roughly 2 miles to the Skull Mesa trailhead. From there, continue north on FR 48, tread lightly and explore at will. INFORMATION: or (480) 488-6601


DINOSAUR WASH Wickenburg Although there are no fossilized bones to be found, many other “dinosaurs” are easy to spot along this exploratory route in the Hassayampa River gorge. The remains of an old manganese mine, a hermit’s roost and a smattering of petroglyphs vie for attention among towering canyon walls, riparian vegetation and sandy, water-filled narrows. Because there’s no formal trail and some boulder scrambling is involved, only experienced hikers should attempt this route, which begins with a steep decent along a Jeep road into the canyon. As the water level in the creek varies from trickling to torrential, it’s smart to avoid the area after heavy rains and come prepared with wading sandals. From the canyon floor, head right and pick your way downstream keeping your eyes open for the many discoveries that lurk in the shadows. LENGTH: 1-7 miles, exploratory hike RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 2,420 – 2,744 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 60 west to Wickenburg. Connect to Highway 89/93 and drive north to milepost 195 and turn right onto Scenic Loop Drive. Set your odometer and continue on the dirt road past two cattle guards and an old mine site at mile 6.9. Stay right at the next junction, and then veer right onto an unmarked road at the 7-mile point. The parking area is a short distance ahead, on the rim of the canyon. INFORMATION: Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix Field Office, (623) 580-5500


MURRAY BASIN: FLAT TOP MOUNTAIN Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Whether you’re a weekend warrior, seasoned power-hiker, mountain biker or an equestrian, the trail system of Murray Basin has got you covered. More than 18-miles of shared-use trails criss-cross the emerald green pinion-and-juniper-studded grasslands in the foothills of the White Mountains. Each of the 10 well-defined trails in the basin is unique –it would take several days to explore all that this scenic area has to offer. Easy options include trails that lead to an old cemetery, cabin ruins and interpretive signs that describe the history of the basin. A more challenging route climbs to the top of Flat Top Mountain (8,120 feet) for great views of the Springerville volcanic field and Mount Baldy Wilderness. Although the Flat Top Mountain hike is a good introduction to Murray Basin it’s helpful to pick up a detailed map of the area at the Springerville ranger station to learn how to access the entire trail network. LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 7,220 – 8,120 feet GETTING THERE: From downtown Eagar, go left (east) on Highway 260/180 and continue 3.4 miles to the turnoff for the trailhead on the right between mileposts 403 and 404. The Flat Top Mountain route: start hiking on the obvious main trail -- keeping left at the unsigned junctions and follow the signs to the top of the ridge. INFORMATION: Springerville ranger station: (928) 333-4372


FORD CANYON White Tanks Regional Park Pick a day with blue skies after a healthy rain to hike Ford Canyon because that’s when the barren granite pools in the White Tank Mountains blossom into a wonderland of shimmering reflections. The Ford Canyon trail begins across the road from an immaculate parking area with a restroom and meanders through an open desert plain for two miles before it encounters an imposing sign that warns of treacherous terrain ahead. Experienced hikers wearing boots with good traction will have no trouble scrambling through a narrow gully and down into a rocky gorge where dozens of shallow basins scoured out of the area’s ancient granite retain rainwater that reflects images of the sky and surrounding rock formations. An old concrete dam at the 3-mile mark is the turn around point. An opportunity to enjoy a blue sky above as well as its image shimmering at foot in snowy-white granite pockets is reason enough to visit this local treasure. LENGTH: 6 miles ELEVATION GAIN: 800 feet RATING: moderate GETTING THERE: GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go 18 miles west on I-10 to Loop 303. Go north on 303 to Olive Ave., turn west and follow Olive all the way to the end at the park entrance. Once inside the park, follow White Tank Mountain Road for 3 miles and turn left onto Ford Canyon Road. The signed trailhead is located across the road from picnic Area 9. There is a $6 daily fee per vehicle.


MILLER PEAK Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Located just a few miles from the Mexican border, Miller Peak is the southern most mountain summit in the United States. The 9,466-foot high point of the Huachuca range is the product of a “super volcano” created by the Pacific continental plate sliding under the North American plate. Millions of years of cataclysmic geological events have transformed the landscape and left behind some of the most complex geography in the country. The lower trail passes by several abandoned mine shafts that now provide shelter for colorful lizards as well as undocumented Mexican nationals as they attempt to avoid detection by border patrol agents and the surveillance device that hovers over the area. The vegetation and geology changes continually along the way; passing through grasslands, forests and cliffs of marble before emerging onto an exposed ridge for the final climb to the limestone summit where views of southeastern Arizona’s basin and range topography transcend international boundaries. NOTE: Mexican nationals frequently use this route to cross into the USA. So, you may run into them or stumble upon their litter-strewn campsites. In my experiences, they usually run away when they encounter hikers. NOTE: the trail sustained substantial damage from the 2011 Monument Fire. LENGTH: 10.6 miles roundtrip RATING: difficult ELEVATION: 6,440 - 9466 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-10 past Tucson and connect to Highway 90 south to Sierra Vista. From Sierra Vista, follow Highway 92 south for 14 miles to the turn off for the Coronado National Monument (FR 61) and continue past the visitor center and up the winding unpaved road to the Montezuma Pass lookout. The hike begins on the Crest Trail located to the north east of the parking lot.


PICKET POST MOUNTAIN Superior Quikrete is pretty handy stuff and it’s a good thing that some enterprising mountaineer used the instant cement mix to create footholds and a secured boulder where bare rock goes vertical on Picket Post Mountain. The little Quikrete ledges reduce the risk of plunging over ocotillo and hedgehog cacti into stony oblivion. But the little cheater steps aren’t visible from the trailhead; which is why, at first glance, the hill looks insurmountable. Once on the trail, though, the chutes and gullies that stair step to the top become apparent. The hike begins by following an old mine road for about a half mile. At that point, a rock cairn on the left indicates the summit spur trail. Here, the terrain becomes rugged and the hiking gets steadily steeper involving rock scrambling with easy-to-find hand and foot holds. The arduous climbing ends abruptly as sky comes into view over the mountain. From there it’s an easy haul through desert scrub to the crest of the mesa where a bright red mailbox, (secured with Quikrete), proclaims the high point. LENGTH: 6 miles RATING: Moderate ELEVATION: 2,370 – 4,372 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 60 east past Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Between milepost 221 and 222, look for a nice new sign that reads "Picketpost Trailhead" on the right side of the road . Follow the signs along the maintained dirt road for one mile to the trailhead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


MORMON MOUNTAIN TRAIL Coconino National Forest Often starring as background characters in horror flicks, bats have been portrayed as rabid harbingers of doom, when all they really wanna do is eat bugs and sleep. The much-maligned flying mammals are far from villains and in Arizona, they are an essential component of forest health. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the slopes of Mormon Mountain, the smallest “major volcano” in the Flagstaff area. The Mormon Mountain trail #58 ascends the rounded slopes through a thick, old growth forest of mixed conifers, oaks, and aspens. Dead trees known as “snags” act as “bat condos” where layers of peeling bark make convenient belfries (roosts). Rarely harmful to humans, bats actually make taking a walk in the forest safer and more comfortable. That’s because they have voracious appetites for insects including ever-pesky mosquitoes. In addition to the bat show, this pleasantly shaded route is loaded with active wildlife including turkey, elk, bear and myriad wild birds. The trail ends in a sunny clearing near the crest of the mountain where it connects with forest road 648 for the final climb to the 8,500-foot summit. Although it has been heavily logged and houses a couple of radio towers, the pinnacle features sweeping views of boggy Mormon Lake and the San Francisco Peaks. Highlights: Gradual climb, old growth forests, views of Mormon Lake, bats. Length: 6 miles round-trip Rating: moderate Elevation range: 7,200’ – 8,440’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 170 miles one-way Getting there: From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 to Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3). Continue south on Lake Mary Road for  20 miles to the Forest Road 90 intersection. Turn west (right) on FR 90 and drive another 3.6 miles to the Montezuma Drive turnoff. Follow the dirt road for 0.3 mile to the signed trailhead. Information: (928) 774-1147 or


ROCKY RIDGE Coconino National Forest Unusual because of its hybrid desert-alpine climate zone, the Rocky Ridge Trail #153 plays host to an eclectic mix of desert and alpine plant life. This seemly schizophrenic environment is a result of its location in the rain shadow of 9,295-foot Elden Mountain. Large massifs are known for creating their own weather. In this case, precipitation is diverted from the western slopes, robbing Rocky Ridge of the moisture needed to sustain a pure alpine climate zone, despite its altitude. Yet, it’s this happenstance of nature that makes this trail so interesting to explore. Stunted scrub oaks, yuccas and cactuses live within sight of majestic pine and aspen trees on the other side of the mountain. The trail undulates lazily as it contours the slopes passing through dry washes, exposed volcanic ridgelines and sunny meadows making for an easy day hike with great views. HIGHLIGHTS: Hybrid, desert-alpine eco-system, easy tread and epic views. LENGTH: 4.4-miles, round-trip RATING: easy ELEVATION: 7,300’ – 7,650’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 160 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, drive 2 miles north on US180 to Schultz Pass Road (Forest Road 420). Go right and continue on FR 420, bearing left at the junction with Forest Road 557. From the junction, go another quarter mile and make a sharp right turn onto a dirt road that goes steeply downhill just beyond a cattle guard. The trailhead is at the bottom of the hill. Information: (928) 526-0866 or


HACKBERRY SPRING Superstition Wilderness Although there’s no “official” trail leading to Hackberry Spring, intrepid hikers with a good pair of boots will have no trouble locating this favorite hideaway in the Superstition Mountains. The hike begins on an old dirt road that meanders through an abandoned corral and windmill site before dropping down into the bed of First Water Creek. From there, the route weaves among boulders, tiny stands of trees, and reeds full of vociferous, bright red cardinals. Water is sporadic in the canyon, so some creek hopping may be necessary. Evidence of the area’s volcanic origins as well as the landscape-shaping effects of running water is showcased in soaring canyon walls, shallow caves scoured out of lava rock and pot-hole-shaped water tanks. The most scenic part of the hike passes through a slot canyon where shallow water-carved caves make for fun exploratory side trips. The spring itself is just a rusty pipe that funnels cool water into a quiet pool surrounded by Fremont cottonwoods and, of course, hackberry shrubs. Nearby there’s a sandy “beach” with lots of shade and great views as well as many paths-of-use that lead to many points of interest along First Water Creek. Length: 3 miles round-trip Rating: moderate, some route-finding skills are required. Elevation: 1,900 – 2,450 feet Getting there: From Phoenix, take Highway 60 east to the Idaho Road exit (Highway 88). Go left and continue on Highway 88 (follow the signs leading to Lost Dutchman State Park) to just past the park entrance (between mileposts 201 and 202) and turn right onto First Water Road (Forest Road 78). Follow FR78 for just over 2 miles to the horse parking lot (NOT the First Water trailhead) on the left and park there. From the lot, hike up FR78 for one-tenth-of-a-mile to an unmarked dirt road on the left where there’s a closed gate. Hike directions: Pass through the gate (which is sometimes locked but the area is still open to hikers). Continue down into First Water Canyon and the corral area. From the corral, hike east (straight ahead) along the informal paths that lead to First Water Creek. From the point where the path intersects a bare-rock slot canyon, head north (left) and hike in the creek bed through the canyon. Hackberry Spring is located roughly 1.1 mile from the gate. Return the way you came. Information: or call (480) 610-3300