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Saturday, June 11, 2011


Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Ahh, June in Phoenix. The heat is on, the monsoon rains are a month away, wildflowers have gone to dust and our beautiful desert hills look like parched moonscapes. So what’s to see on them thar hills during this dreaded month? Beans. Lots of beans. Most desert trees, including mesquite, palo verde and ironwood are in the legume (bean/pea) family. They paint desert washes and slopes with brilliant yellow, pink and white blooms from March through May—gradually transforming from things of beauty to sources of wildlife nutrition. Of course, this smorgasbord of protein brings out the rodents and birds that feed upon the arboreal buffet. And, where there are lil’ critters, snakes position themselves at the top of the food chain. One good place to see the bean show is Estrella Mountain Regional Park. With over 30 miles of trails ranging in difficulty from short and barrier-free to long and difficult, the park has something for everyone. Today, a friend with a shoulder injury suggested we hike the Baseline Trail because it appeared to be innocuous. The route proper is well-signed, but there are dozens of unofficial paths blazed in all directions---just watch for the “BA” signs to stay on course. A short distance in, the trail comes to a “Y” intersection. The right spur leads to a short (0.4 mile) sub loop with a nice vista point over looking the green farmlands of the Gila Valley, then swings around a pyramid-shaped mound to reconnect with BA. From here, the path undulates along the shoulders of boulder-strewn hillsides, dipping into a scenic valley before taking on its one steep climb before coming full circle back at the trailhead. Turns out, this trail was steeper and rockier than anticipated, but we still made it through without incident. Although we saw hundreds of rabbits, Harris Antelope squirrels, turkey vultures, lizards and a scrawny coyote, not a single snake crossed our paths.
LENGTH: 2.8 miles (3.9 with connector & viewpoint spur)
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 900’- 1,050’
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix,go west on I10 to the Estrella Parkway exit. Turn south (left) and go 4 miles south to W. Vineyard Ave. (watch for the brown park signs). Turn left onto Vineyard and continue to the park gate. To get to the Baseline trailhead—follow the main road (Casey Abbott Dr. North) less than 0.25 mile and take the first right past the Nature Center (Casey Abbott Dr. South). Continue about 0.2 mile to Ramada #6 (just before the amphitheater) and park there. Trail access is across the road.
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle. Free maps are available at the gate.
PARK HOURS: Sunday – Thursday: 6 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday – Saturday: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
INFO: Estrella Mountain Regional Park, Goodyear

Friday, June 10, 2011


Fred Haught Cabin
Water pools in General Crook Canyon
Descending into General Crook Canyon

a.k.a. Arizona Trail Passage 28
One of many early Anglo settlers on the Mogollon Rim, Fred Haught (died 1938) ran cattle in the bucolic pastures of General Crook Canyon. Skeletal remains of his one-room cabin make for an interesting side trip while hiking the trail he and others once used to move livestock and market commodities between Camp Verde and Fort Apache. Today, trail #141 (aka #22) is a much quieter place--open only to hikers, horseback riders and dogs on leash. From the south trailhead, the route begins behind (north side) old General Spring Cabin. The first 3 miles are shared with Passage 28 (Blue Ridge) of the Arizona Trail (AZT). Along this segment, AZT posts mark the way. About a half-mile in, the trail gets sketchy as it passes over slabs of limestone---look carefully for strategically placed cairns to stay on course. Just beyond the stone maze, the trail begins its descent into General Crook Canyon. Three easy switchbacks flanked by striated limestone cliffs and clusters of wild strawberries transport hikers to the canyon floor. Here, pools of water and intermittent streams foster wide swaths of green. The canyon’s girth yawns and contracts accordion-style, moving from steep, V-shaped shady gorges to broad, sunny meadows. At the 3-mile point, AZT branches off to the northwest while trail #141 continues due north. Roughly 0.3 mile from this junction, a wooden sign marks the turn off for Fred Haught Cabin. To get to the ruins, slide down the dirt bank into the meadow and hike 0.5 mile due east (stay to the right of the water and head up a low slung embankment) and follow a faint trail marked by (really ancient) tree blazes until an old fieldstone fireplace comes into view off to the left. After visiting the ruins, head back to the main trail. Because the path is not maintained beyond this point, route-finding skills are needed to stay on track. Carins and “Cabin Loop System” signs mark the route on its way up to Pinchot Cabin at the northern trailhead.
LENGTH: 6 miles one-way
RATING: easy up to AZT junction, moderate after that (route-finding)
ELEVATION: 7,045’- 7,390’
SOUTH (General Springs) TRAILHEAD as described here: from the intersection of SR87/260 in Payson, continue 28 miles north on SR87 to FR300 (Rim Road) near milepost 280. Turn right and go 12.2 miles to FR705 where there’s a Battle of Big Wash Monument on the NE of the intersection. Go left (north) onto FR705 and continue 0.5 mile to the General Springs/AZ Trail trailhead. Roads are maintained dirt and passable by sedan, although high-clearance is a better idea.
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Camp Verde. Connect to SR260 east (toward Payson) and travel 31 miles to the SR87 junction. Turn left (north) and go 9 miles on SR87 to Clint’s Well. From here, continue 8.3 miles to the turnoff for the Moqui campground (FR138). There will be a “Moqui” sign a few hundred feet before the road on the right. Turn right onto FR138 where a sign located roughly 50 yards in from SR87 reads: "Blue Ridge Campground/Moqui Campground/138". The trailhead is on the left about 100 yards from SR87. All paved roads up to the last few yards.
ALTERNATE: From Phoenix, take Loop 202 east, connect with SR87, continue to the SR87/260 junction in Payson and then follow the directions for the south TH above. It's a few miles longer this way, but the scenery is nice.
INFO: Coconino National Forest, Mogollon Rim Ranger District, (928) 477-2255


Photo on the left shows the Wallow Fire on June 8, 2011. For more amazing looks at the astonishing magnitude of this blaze, click on the link below.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011



Escudilla Mountain is officially up in flames. Tragically, two favorite hiking trails—Escudilla National Recreation Trail and Government Trail are, by now, in ashes. Photos are from my last hike up the mountain. Follow the links below for frequent updates & fire progression maps.