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Saturday, March 12, 2011


WOLF CREEK FALLS Prescott Wolf Creek is dry most of the year, but when winter snow on the Bradshaw Mountain peaks begins to melt, this waterway comes alive for a few weeks each year. Just before the creek dumps into the Hassayampa River, it tumbles through a narrow granite gorge spilling icy water over slick rock into drop pools 90 feet below the cliffs. A quarter-mile “waterfall alley” features two major falls as well as water chutes, natural dams and cascades. HIKE DIRECTIONS: from the Groom Creek trailhead, hike across Senator Highway to the Horse Camp entrance. The hike begins at the “383” sign at the south side of the camp gate. From here, follow trail #383 (some of the signs say: 383/384) one mile to the junction for trail 384. Tricky spot: a fallen tree near the third 383/384 sign hides the path---the arrow on this sign points straight up and the bottom of the sign has been cut into a point. The correct trail is indeed straight ahead BEHIND the fallen tree; not off to the left or right. Beyond this point, keep an eye out for “384” signage to stay on track. After about 2.5 miles, the trail meets a wide dirt road (CR 101). Cross here and head toward the metal gate blocking a road heading steeply downhill---this is the continuation of trail 384, although you won’t see any signage until you reach Wolf Creek in 0.3 mile. Here, hop the creek, veer right and follow it to the falls. The upper falls are only about 0.1 mile in and are easy to get to while the lower falls can be seen at 0.4 mile but to get to them requires some scrambling and bush whacking. Once done exploring the falls, return the way you came OR complete the loop by following the 384 signs posted in a clearing above the falls. LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip to the falls and back OR 7.5 mile loop RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 6,200 – 5,600 feet BEST SEASON: Year-round. The falls run best during spring snow melt (March-April) and after summer monsoon rains. GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to Cordes Junction. Exit onto SR 69 west and proceed through the towns of Mayer, Dewey and Prescott Valley to the town of Prescott. Continue on SR 69/Gurley Street through Prescott to Mt. Vernon Ave. Turn south (left) onto Mt. Vernon Ave. (which will turn into Senator Highway) and continue 6.4 miles to the Groom Creek Trailhead on the left. The hike begins across the road at the Horse Camp Gate. Roads are 100% paved.
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 120 miles one-way. INFO: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, 928-771-4700 MORE PHOTOS:

Thursday, March 10, 2011


MONUMENT PEAK LOOP Payson This easy loop trail swings around the base of 5,092-foot Monument Peak—a pyramid-shaped granite monolith in southeast Payson. In my opinion, this hike is the “jewel in the crown” of the Payson Area Trails System (P.A.T.S.)—mostly because of the seasonal stream and the variety of terrain it contains. Kudos to P.A.T.S. for wrangling and weaving a web of old roads and footpaths into a cohesive collection of easy-to-follow trails flanking the suburbs of Payson. A work-in-progress, P.A.T.S. already boasts dozens of miles of finished routes with plans in the works for many more. A key feature of these trails is their accessibility. Trailheads are obvious and the routes are well maintained and marked with abundant signage, so hikers of all skill levels can enjoy carefree walks in the forest. LENGTH: 3-mile loop ELEVATION: 4,630’ – 4,795’ RATING: easy GETTING THERE: From the intersection of SR87/260 in Payson, go less than a mile east on SR260 to Granite Dells Road (located just past the Safeway center). Turn right and go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into FR435 after 1.3 miles) to the parking area on the left. Begin the hike at either the east or west trailhead sign. BEST SEASONS: all year, but best from October - May INFO: Payson Area Trails System MORE PHOTOS:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


RACKENSACK CANYON Cave Creek Occupying a non-descript crack in the landscape just a few miles north of the tony golf communities of Cave Creek, Rackensack Canyon retains an “old west” ambience. A 2005 wildfire swept through this part of the Tonto National Forest, but it’s amazing how fast the canyon’s vegetation is recovering. Although it’s kind of “out there” in terms of ease-of-access, Rackensack is no secret to bird watchers, wildflower aficionados, equestrians and hikers alike. This year, we selected a warm sunny day following a couple of rainy weeks to visit this place, which several hiking friends assured us, would be teeming with spring wildflowers. We were disappointed. Although we found some isolated blooms, the canyon was mostly barren. Our “finds” for the day included a single Desert Golden Poppy, one primrose, a tangle of wild cucumber vines and intermittent patches of Desert Rockpea and Goodding’s Vervain. Looks like 2011 is not going to be a good year for desert wildflowers. LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip to the water tank; 5.40 miles roundtrip to Rackensack Spring RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 3,362’ – 4,158’ GETTING THERE: From Loop 101 in North Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit and go 13 miles north on Pima Road to Cave Creek Road. Turn right (east) and continue on Cave Creek Road 8.5 miles (past the Sears Kay Ruins) to where the pavement ends. From here, go another 0.4 mile to a wide parking apron on the right. For reference, there’s a “do not block drive” sign across from the parking area marking the start of the hike. NOTE: Cave Creek Road is also referred to as “Seven Springs Road” and FR24. Do not block the dirt side roads; there are some private properties in the area that use them. HIKE DIRECTIONS: From the parking area, cross to the west side of the road and follow the old tracks OR drop into the canyon on the east side of the road and bush whack your way roughly 2 miles to Camp Creek. BEST SEASONS: October - April ROAD CONDITIONS: Paved up to the last half-mile and passable by sedan in dry conditions. Do not attempt after heavy rain, as the road may be flooded. INFO: Tonto National Forest, Cave Creek Ranger District (480) 595-3300 RESOURCES: ARIZONENSIS—great resource for identifying plants, animals and geology. WILDFLOWERS of the SONORAN DESERT—a local hiker and plant enthusiast shares his sightings:


RATTLESNAKE ENCOUNTER Had my first rattlesnake encounter of 2011 today while hiking near Cave Creek. This handsome fellow (or gal---I wasn't about to check) was at least 4 feet long and boasted a very healthy girth---obviously a well-fed specimen. This is a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atroy). This species can grow up to 66 inches in length and is notorious for being responsible the vast majority of snake bites on humans in the United States. Arizona also is home to 12 additional species of rattlers (14 if you count the arena football and baseball teams named for them)--more than any other state. Arizona Game and Fish has a handy online resource for identifying and learning to safely share our public lands with snakes. ARIZONA GAME & FISH SNAKE INFO:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


WILDFLOWER SEASON IS HERE! Arizona's 2011 spring wildflower season got off to a slow start, but thanks to some much needed rain in the last couple of weeks followed by warmer temperatures, the show has begun. Here's a couple of links to local-based hikers who update about wildflower sightings regularly: ARIZONENSIS—great resource for identifying plants, animals and geology. WILDFLOWERS of the SONORAN DESERT—a local hiker and plant expert shares his sightings: Also, search this blog for "wildflowers" for a selection of desert hiking trails known for colorful and abundant blooms. Happy trails!