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Friday, February 20, 2009

PICACHO PEAK

HUNTER TRAIL Picacho Peak State Park You’ve got to be just a little bit “nuts” to hike to the top of Picacho Peak. Visible for miles along Interstate-10, the imposing heap of lava looks insurmountable. However, the Hunter Trail, with its network of cables bolted into bare rock, guides adventurous hikers to the top. While climbing up along the vertical hardware, you may find yourself questioning your sanity. That’s because most humans have a built-in fear of heights. Squirrels, on the other hand, do not share this trait. The peak’s resident critters seem to enjoy pestering hikers as they toil up the trail. But, don’t be too concerned -- they’re more interested in the snacks in your backpack than testing your mental fortitude. The exhausting climb to the summit rewards with expansive panoramas of the surrounding desert. From the top, Interstate-10 looks like a desolate pale ribbon leading to nowhere. While ogling the views, be sure to keep an eye on your gear or else a nut-loving squirrel might ambush your backpack and run off with your trail mix. LENGTH: 4 miles round-trip ELEVATION GAIN: 1,374 feet RATING: difficult GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, drive 75 miles south on I-10 to exit 219, Picacho Road. Once inside the park, follow the main road to the turnoff for Bartlett Loop. The trail starts at the picnic area at the north side of the loop. Wear boots with good traction and bring non-slip gloves to protect your hands on the cables. Fees: $6 daily fee per vehicle. Information: pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/picacho (520) 466-3183

QUARTZ RIDGE

QUARTZ RIDGE TRAIL #8 Phoenix Mountains Preserve Meandering in the arid foothills and washes beneath Piestewa Peak, the Quartz Ridge trail leads to great views of the Valley--without a lot of uphill climbing. The jewel of this short but interesting trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve is a minivan-size chunk of glistening, white quartz nestled in gully full of stony rubble. The crumbling rocks in the area are among the oldest on earth. Some date back billions of years to the era when our planet was transitioning from a mass of molten lava into solidified landmasses that would eventually become the continents. Flecks of mica imbedded in the decomposing stone act like tiny mirrors bouncing sunlight off the spindly palo verde trees, cactuses and creosote bushes that line the path, which tops out at on a sunny, open ridgeline. There, in the shadow of the second highest peak in Phoenix, a breath-taking panorama of a sprawling desert city melts into the horizon. LENGTH: 5 miles round-trip ELEVATION GAIN: 220 feet RATING: easy-moderate GETTING THERE: From Shea Boulevard in North Phoenix, turn south on 40th Street and continue to the end of the road and the trailhead parking area. The trailhead is open daily from 5 a.m. to sunset. Information: Vist, ci.phoenix.az.us/PARKS/hikphgud.html or call (602) 262-7901

BUTCHER JONES TRAIL

BUTCHER JONES TRAIL Saguaro Lake Tonto National Forest Wrapping around the mountains and valleys surrounding one of Arizona’s most popular lakeside recreation areas, Butcher Jones trail offers a surprisingly peaceful hiking experience. However, getting to the “peaceful” part requires some effort. That’s because the first half-mile of the trail is usually congested with anglers, weekend picnic groups, rambunctious kids and manic water dogs. After that, though, the trail emerges from the commotion and climbs exposed desert ridges for spectacular views of the hillsides that form both the harbors and beaches of Saguaro Lake. High points along this gracefully undulating ribbon-like trail hover above cattail-choked coves and pebble strewn beaches with reflections of Four Peaks shimmering in the rich blue waters of the lake. In order to really appreciate the beauty of this trail, be sure to explore the spur paths that plunge to secluded shorelines and shady coves where silken, lazy waves lap at the bases of mesquite bosques and massive forests of saguaro cactuses. LENGTH: 5 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION GAIN: 400 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) to Forest Road 204 (Bush Highway). Continue on the Bush Highway for 3 miles, turn right (east) onto Forest Road 166 and go another 2 miles to the Butcher Jones Recreation Site. The signed trailhead is located at the beach near the dock. FEE: A Tonto Pass ($6 daily fee per vehicle) is required. Information: visit fs.fed.us/r3/tonto or call (602) 225-5200