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Monday, January 18, 2010


CAT PEAKS LOOP Usery Mountain Regional Park Kid, bike, dog and horse-friendly, this short hike in the desert offers all the amenities of a stroll through a vivacious subdivision---except with much better scenery. The wide, easy-to-follow trail with only one minor uphill section makes for a perfect family outing. Along the way, forests of chain fruit cholla cactuses dripping in spiny seed necklaces, and ironwood trees with their delicate pink, pea-like blooms clutter the landscape. The roundabout route showcases views of the park’s signature landmark—3,300-foot-high Pass Mountain--before bending to the east where the jagged peaks of the Superstition Wilderness stand out on the horizon. In between, the path circles the two Cat Peaks---pyramid-like summits within the park. To cap off your hike in the desert, pay a visit to Shakira (affectionately known as “Shakes”) the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, one of three resident snakes housed at the park’s new visitor center. HIKE DIRECTIONS: Begin by hiking east on the Blevins Trail. Continue .3 miles, pass the Amigos Wash trail, veer left and continue on Blevins for another .4 miles to the Cat Peaks Trail junction. Follow this trail for 1 mile to the Cats Peak Pass trail and turn right. Climb over the pass back to the Blevins Trail, turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. LENGTH: 2.7 mile loop RATING: easy ELEVATION: 1,925 – 1,795 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go east on US 60 to exit 191, Ellsworth Road. Go north on Ellsworth for 7 miles to Usery Park Road, turn right and continue 1.7 miles to the horse staging trailhead. FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle INFORMATION: FACILITIES: restrooms and horse trailer accommodations at the trailhead. All trails are well-signed and easy-to-follow.


ST. CLAIR MOUNTAIN Tonto National Forest This short but steep exploratory hike near Horseshoe Dam leads to a series of ancient Verde Hohokam dwellings and a mesa peppered with petroglyph-encrusted boulders. Discovered by Anglos in the 1960s, archeologists have since determined that the site originally had 92 rooms and was occupied from between 1100 and 1300 C.E. The site also served as a burial ground and human remains found during excavations yielded a wealth of sea-shell jewelry—mostly bracelets. In fact the site was dubbed “Brazaletes Pueblo”, Spanish for village of jewelry/bracelets. For those who enjoy poking around and making discoveries, this hike holds a lot of promise. As with all hikes to historical sites: COLLECTION OF ARTIFACTS INCLUDING POTTERY SHARDS, ARROWHEADS AND GLYPHS IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED. Also visitors need to be especially careful to avoid damaging the fragile ruins—no climbing, sitting or touching. Picture taking, however, is highly encouraged. LENGTH: 1-2 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate-exploratory ELEVATION: 2,964 – 3,252 feet GETTING THERE: From Scottsdale, go north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road. Turn right (north-east) and follow Cave Creek Road to Bartlett Dam Road. Turn right (east) and follow Bartlett Dam Road for 7 miles to Horseshoe Dam Road, turn left (north), set your odometer and continue 4.1 miles to an unmarked, steep & primitive dirt road on the left. There are no signs here—park in the pull-outs along Horseshoe Dam Road and then follow the primitive road on foot up to the site. NOTE: Horseshoe Dam Road is nasty. We got through with high-clearance vehicles in dry conditions. We would not attempt this if the roads are wet—not even in a 4x4 due to the potential for flooding and mud slides. INFORMATION: Tonto National Forest map.