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Friday, April 8, 2011


PIMA CANYON WASH South Mountain Park, Phoenix Because of its close proximity to suburbia, the Pima Canyon recreation area draws the crowds--especially on weekends. From what I’ve seen, many people use the area as an outdoor treadmill-- speed hiking or power walking uphill on the wide dirt road heading west from the trailhead. Although all the traffic does tend to keep the resident pit vipers at bay, the trail gets a bit loud and congested. However, for those who prefer solitude and/or more of an exploratory hike, the Pima Wash Trail--located below the road---offers a slower, scenic meander through classic Sonoran desert terrain. With lots of sand and loose rock underfoot, the trail is hemmed in by weather-worn vertical cliffs decorated by centuries-old petroglyphs and inhabited by myriad critters including Harris Antelope Squirrels, rock squirrels and Turkey vultures.  LENGTH: 2.2 miles one-way to National Trail junction (official trail) OR 3.3 miles one-way to canyon end RATING: easy-moderate ELEVATION: 1,390 – 1, 690 (1,990 if you continue up the canyon beyond the National Trail Junction) GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go east on I-10 to the Elliot Road exit. Go a couple blocks west (go right) on Elliot to 48th Street (major stoplight intersection), turn right (north) and go exactly 1 mile on Elliot to where the road splits just before Guadalupe Road. Take the left fork toward the golf course (which is the continuation of 48th St. Hint: if you reach Guadalupe Road, you’ve gone about a half-block too far---just make a U-turn and backtrack) and go a few yards to a guard gate on the left---there’s a City of Phoenix sign, but it’s not prominent. Turn left here onto Pima Canyon Road (no signs) and follow it all the way to the end—or park in any of the designated spots along the road. FINDING THE TRAILHEAD: Access to Pima Wash begins near the first ramada on the right (north) side of Pima Canyon Road at the “West Loop” sign where there are trash bins and a poop bag station—see photo for reference. Follow West Loop downhill roughly 0.1 mile to the signed Pima Wash junction. FACILITIES: restrooms, water, covered picnic ramadas. DOGS: canines must be on leash at all times and owners must bring poop bags and clean up after their pets. FEES: none as of April 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


WATER WHEEL-ELLISON CREEK OPEN Tonto National Forest Good news, hikers, as of April 1, 2011, the Water Wheel-Ellison Creek area off Houston Mesa Road north of Payson has been reopened for day use ONLY. Due to the 2009 human-caused Water Wheel Fire, this primo hiking destination has been off limits-- but no more. Here’s the rub---there’s now an $8 per person day use fee. Self-service kiosks are posted at key access points. Hikers must deposit cash (bring exact change) into provided envelopes and carry the detachable permit stub while inside the fee area. Forest Rangers are aggressively enforcing this new fee---and fines are much more than $8!! RULES: DAY USE ONLY--no camping, no fires.
See my previous Water Wheel and Ellison Creek blog entries for hike directions.


One of the Seismic Bunkers
HOUSTON LOOP Payson During the Cold War Era, Payson was a prime location for spying on the "commies"-- and the remains of a couple of seismic bunkers used in the cause still stand in the forests along the Houston Loop Trail. Perhaps they were/are associated with the Tonto National Forest Seismological Observatory, I’m not sure. What I was able to glean from the paltry historical public records is that the bunkers were used to house equipment that measured the rumblings of nuclear weapon testing across the globe. Kewl. It’s stuff like this that makes hiking the little trails like Houston Loop so much fun. Sure, it’s short and kinda easy, but few hikes offer a nostalgic glimpse of a time when the world was held hostage by  Atom-Bomb hysteria.  Although accessible, I did not explore within the one bunker I located because it smelled like, oh I don’t know---urine, maybe? This has not deterred beer-toting graffiti hooligans from lying siege to this relic of our great nation’s 1950-60s “duck and cover” days--as evidenced by a bevy of empty Bud Light cans littering the area. They've turned this idyllic woodland into a squalid kingdom of debauchery. Heed their crudely scrawled advise and "leave this place". But, I do digress--back to hiking. A pleasant stroll, this little loop connects with the longer Houston Mesa Trail and offers nice views of the chaparral-pine forests surrounding Payson. The route crosses two seasonal creeks—Mayfield and Houston---where water flows during spring snowmelt season and after rainstorms. The trail is wide, well signed and has only a few steep segments, making for a quick, carefree hike. I did this in combination with the Goat Camp Ruins Trail (see separate blog entry), which connects to the Houston Trail. From there, hike about 2 miles east to the Houston Loop. LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6 miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead ELEVATION: 4,800’ – 4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)
BEST SEASON: September - May RATING: moderate GETTING THERE: CHAPARRAL RANCH TRAILHEAD: From the intersection of SR 87/260 in Payson, go right (east) onto 260 and continue 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive. Turn left (north) and go 1.2 miles to the Chaparral Ranch Trail access turnout. Parking is very limited--room for 3-4 cars max. Do not block private driveways in the area. Large groups should access this trail via the Houston Mesa Trailhead. HOUSTON MESA TRAILHEAD: From the intersection of SR 87/260 in Payson, go 1.7 miles north on 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right (east) and continue 0.8 mile to the trailhead on the right (past the “horse camp”). From here, follow Houston Trail 3 miles to the loop. INFO:


The "trailhead" on Tyler Parkway
GOAT CAMP RUINS Payson Unless you know what to look for, you’ll likely walk right past the Native American ruins for which this trail is named. That’s because the site is in an unrestored state. The remains of a pit house and various other structures are highly eroded. I could see the footprint of at least 4 ruins—but then again, I’m a geek. This short connector route makes for an interesting alternative access point when hiking the Houston Mesa Trail. Future plans for this six-acre site include development of a “passive archeological park” similar to the Shoofly Ruins off Houston Mesa Road. There’s no signage to lead you to the ruins, however, obvious footpaths leaving the main trail serve as clues. From the Goat Camp-Houston Trail junction gate you can go left to get to the horse camp or go right and hike 2.5 miles to the Houston Loop hike described in a separate blog entry. LENGTH: 0.3 mile one-way to the Houston Trail junction. ELEVATION: 5,080’ – 5,100’ RATING: easy THE RULES: open to foot traffic ONLY. Leave what you find—it’s illegal to remove items or alter heritage sites. Please be respectful. GETTING THERE: From the intersection of SR87/260 in Payson, go 1.8 miles north on SR87 to Tyler Parkway (across from Home Depot). Turn right and go 0.8 mile to the signed trailhead on the north (left) side of the road. For reference, look for a “staircase” near two utility boxes. INFO: Payson Area Trails System