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Monday, August 10, 2009


“THE POOLS” Catalina State Park, Tucson Hemmed in by the stony slopes of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains, Romero Canyon Trail #8 switchbacks uphill through classic high-desert terrain, revealing amazing views at every turn. At roughly the three-mile point, the ocotillo, creosote and Palo verde-studded hillsides give way to an oasis of waterfalls and swimming holes scoured out of Precambrian rock imbedded with streaks of glimmering quartz. Here, the perennial waters of the Romero Pools foster a green zone of riparian plant life. A tangle of moisture-loving plants including cattails, cottonwood and velvet ash flourish in the canyon’s drainage providing a cool and shady respite from the surrounding desert heat. It’s smart to hike this one early in the day to avoid brutal afternoon heat. HIGHLIGHTS: Unlikely pockets of cool water and riparian vegetation in the middle of the high desert. LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION RANGE: 2,700 – 3,600 feet NOTE: dogs are not allowed DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 130 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, travel south on I-10 to exit 240 (Tangerine Road). Continue 13.5 miles to stoplight at Oracle Road (Highway 77), go right (south) and follow the signs to the park entrance near milepost 81. Once inside the park, follow the main road 1.5 miles to the Romero Canyon trailhead. FEES: $7 day use fee per vehicle.
INFORMATION: Catalina State Park, 520-628-5798,


HUTCH MOUNTAIN Coconino National Forest A quiet little place with a surprisingly in-your-face outdoor experience, the Hutch Mountain trail showcases amazing views of Northern Arizona’s plateau country. This adventure consists of two parts: the visit to the tower and the trail hike. To find the trail, start at the gate near the parking area and hike up the dirt road for .12 mile to a point where the road swerves sharply to the right. From here, you’ll see the unmarked trail heading downhill. Along the trail, big views of Anderson Mesa dominate the first half-mile before the steep, narrow path dips into a shadowy canyon embellished with rich red earth and bold green swaths undergrowth splattered with blood-red berries and lemony daisies. The path ends at Gooseberry Springs campsite---a grassy depression in an airy mountain valley where there’s a spring that flows nearly year-round. To visit the tower, hike back up the trail to the main road, go left and continue uphill. Built in 1936, the 31-foot-tall tower hovers over a blanket of close-knit forests of fir, spruce and pine trees that melt into Northern Arizona’s volcanic highlands. HIGHLIGHTS: historic fire tower, epic views LENGTH: 4 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 8,535 – 8,000 feet DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 180 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to exit 339, Lake Mary Road. Go south on Lake Mary Road for 33 miles to Forest Road 135 near milepost 311. Go 2.6 miles on FR 135, bear left at an unsigned junction and then left again onto Forest Road 135B. Go 2 miles on FR 135B to the parking area where an access gate sometimes bars vehicles from driving to the tower. No worries, though. Hikers can continue beyond the gate on foot. A high clearance vehicle is required. INFORMATION: (928) 526-0866


KENDRICK PARK Coconino National Forest One of the best places in the world to see Long-tailed weasels poking around in abandoned potato fields, the Kendrick Park Watchable Wildlife Trail is as much an educational experience as it is a fun hike. Two loop trails guide visitors through shaded glens that bump up against expansive plains full of foraging beasts and swooping raptors. Interpretive signs along the trails provide a substantial dose of learnin’ about the resident flora and fauna, while handy restrooms and paved access roads earn points in the family-friendly category. HIGHLIGHTS: accessible, short hiking trails with educational signage LENGTH: 1.5-mile and .25-mile loops RATING: easy/accessible ELEVATION: 7,900 feet DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 166 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, go north on Highway 180 for 20 miles. The trailhead is located between mileposts 235 and 236 on the west side of the road. INFORMATION: 520-526-0866


BISMARCK LAKE Coconino National Forest The high country bog known as Bismarck Lake is all that remains of an ancient volcanic crater in the watershed of Arizona’s highest peaks. The lake’s volume expands and contracts with nature’s whims, often shrinking to a wildflower-choked wetland by mid-summer. The trail that leads to the lake passes through a canopy of delicate aspens, old growth Ponderosa pines and willows that attracts more than 40 species of birds and countless critters. At the one-mile point, in the middle of a windswept prairie, turn left at a signed junction to visit the lake. Here, abundant sunlight bathes fields of yarrow, lupines, and a variety of mushrooms. HIGHLIGHTS: Volcanic lake, alpine meadows, pine forests and wildlife. LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip RATING: easy ELEVATION: 8,550 – 8,800 feet INFORMATION: (928) 526-0866, refer to the Coconino National Forest map DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 160 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, go north on Highway 180 for 10 miles to Hart Prairie Road (Forest Road 151) near milepost 225. Turn right and continue 5.6 miles to Bismarck Lake Road (Forest Road 627), turn right and go .6 mile to the trailhead.