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Saturday, February 19, 2011


MORMON LOOP South Mountain Park, Phoenix Rain schmain---although the National Weather Service predicted a 100 percent chance of rain for the Phoenix area today, we simply HAD to get out and hike. Our original plan was to head out to the White Tank Mountains. However, by 8 a.m., the range was already immersed in deep cloud cover and the majority of my hiking pals had opted out---except for two diehards. From our meeting place vantage point, we could see clear skies over South Mountain Park and it looked as if the track of the approaching storm would give us a few hours to hike a trail there before the rain set in. So, off we went. We selected the Mormon Loop trail because two of us hadn’t been there in several years. With its easy access, clearly signed junctions and amazing terrain, we weren’t surprised at all to find the trail teeming with hikers and bikers-- despite the ominous weather forecast. The first mile climbs up into the hills featuring some pretty great views of Metro Phoenix. After that, the route descends into the Beverly Canyon-Hidden Valley area for a more remote feel. Adding a bit of history to the hike, several Hohokam petroglyph sites line the route--the best one is located just before the National Trail junction. We also made a quick side trip to Hidden Valley’s natural tunnel (turn left at the Hidden Valley trail sign and hike a few yards to the tunnel) before completing our loop just before the skies dumped some much-needed rain on our desert town. HIKE DIRECTIONS: Begin on the Mormon trail hiking uphill 1 mile to the Mormon Loop junction. Turn left here and continue 1.1 miles to the National Trail junction (there’s a HUGE rock pile here in addition to park signage). Veer right and hike 1.4 miles on the National Trail to the Hidden Valley Junction. From here, keep right to stay on the National Trail, hike another 0.4 mile back to the Mormon Loop Junction and head downhill back to the trailhead. LENGTH: 5 mile loop RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 1,400’ – 2,000’ GETTING THERE: From central Phoenix, go south on 7th Ave to Baseline Road. Head east (left) and continue to 24th Street. Turn south (right) onto 24th Street and follow it all the way to the end (veer left at Euclid) to the signed trailhead. FACILITIES: parking, shaded kiosk, no restrooms or water. No fees. DOGS: leashed dogs are welcome. Please bring poop bags and clean up after your pets. BEST SEASONS: October-April INFO: MORE PHOTOS:

Thursday, February 17, 2011


WILLOW CANYON-MESQUITE LOOP White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Waddell Ingeniously engineered to sample all that’s great about the White Tanks, this loop route is a perfect way to get to know the terrain of this range buttressing the western edge of Metro Phoenix. Even with punishing budget cut backs and staff reductions, Maricopa County somehow manages to keep our regional parks clean, maintained and safe. Your six-buck park entry fee is put to good use. Known for its beautiful white granite “tanks” (depressions in the rock scoured out by running water) and graceful, meandering trails, the park harbors a surprising amount of water. The coolest water hole I’ve seen there can be found off of the Willow Canyon (WL) trail. To get there, start at the Mesquite Trail (MQ) sign at Ramada Way. I like to start here instead of at the trailhead staging area because I find the extra 0.9-mile trek flat and dull---better to get to the good stuff quicker. Hike 1.7 miles on MQ and pick up the Willow Canyon (WL) trail heading northwest (go right at the sign). Willow Canyon trail is only 1.6 miles in length and the spring area spur is located off to the left near an old gate. This makes for a good place to take a break before continuing on WL to the Ford Canyon junction. Here, go south (left) and hike 0.7 mile to the MQ trail, and head east (left) to complete the loop. PHOTOS: For old times sake, I dug these photos out of my 2004 files. They were taken with a crappy point-and-shoot camera, so they’re not the best quality. Bear with me---I’m hauling the big lens out there this weekend. LENGTH: 10 miles roundtrip from Trailhead (horse) Staging Area OR 8.1 miles roundtrip from the Ramada Way trailhead. RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 1,600 – 2,995 DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 45 miles one way 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. TRAILHEAD (HORSE) STAGING AREA: Once inside the park, go north on the main drag—White Tank Mountain Road— roughly 1.2 miles to the signed staging area on the right. RAMADA WAY TRAILHEAD: Once inside the park, go north on the main drag—White Tank Mountain Road— roughly 1.2 miles and turn left onto Waterfall Canyon Road and go 0.8 mile to Ramada Way. Turn left onto Ramada Way and follow it 0.2 mile to the trailhead. FACILITIES: maps available at the park entrance, restrooms, picnic ramadas, horse staging, nature center. HOURS: Park hours vary, check Web site for current info. All trails close daily at sunset. DOGS: leashed dogs are allowed. Owners must bring poo bags and clean up after their dogs. INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation, 623-935-2505