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Saturday, August 20, 2011


Ash Creek Falls

UPDATE: This area was heavily impacted by the June 2017 Frye Fire. Closures may be in effect. Check before going.
Brushing the clouds at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, Webb Peak hovers above the Gila Valley where, in summer, triple digit heat hangs in a stifling haze. 
Getting into the refreshing climate of the Pinaleno range involves a scenic drive up the Swift Trail, which rises 6,400 feet over 29 miles. Temperatures drop as the road passes through desert scrub, juniper chaparral and oak woodlands before entering thick coniferous forests where it’s typically 20 degrees cooler than at the base of the mountain. From a distance, the summit looks formidable.
In reality though, hiking to the top of this peak is only moderately challenging and when combined with a side trip to nearby Ash Creek Falls, makes for a memorable journey.
Rushing water, alpine meadows, a fire tower, mountain slopes fleeced in spruce and fir, far-reaching summit views and dozens of hiking trails make this southeastern Arizona “sky island” (isolated peaks surrounded by arid environments) a popular summer destination. 
HIKE DIRECTIONS: From the Columbine trailhead, hike 0.5 mile north on Ash Creek Trail #307 to the Webb Peak Trail #345 junction.  Veer right here and continue on #307 to the 1.7-mile point where the trail splits.  Take the right stem and go 0.7 mile to the falls.  From here, backtrack to the Webb Peak junction and head uphill. The route crosses the summit and loops back to the Columbine trailhead.

LENGTH:  8.1 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION: 9,120’- 9,960’
RATING:  moderate
DOG RATING:  moderate
KID FRIENDLY: just okay--steep climb on the way out
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX:  204 miles one-way
From Safford, go 8 miles south on US 191 to 1st Ave (signed “Willcox”) and turn right.  Follow this road, which will become Swift Trail (AZ 366) 29 miles to the Columbine corrals and trailhead on the right just past the information center. Road is paved for 22 miles, then turns to maintained dirt suitable for passenger cars.  There are restrooms at the trailhead.

INFO: Safford Ranger District, Coronado National Forest
(928) 428-4150

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Flagstaff Urban Trail System

Pluto was robbed.  Dissed by astronomers, this tiny space orb recently was demoted from planet to “plan-ette” status.  This seems absurd considering it sports two moons and a cartoon character namesake. Pluto was discovered in 1930 using a telescope on Flagstaff’s Mars Hill.  Today, the site is owned by Lowell Observatory, which has kindly granted an easement for non-motorized recreational use on its scientific preserve.  Mars Hill trail is maintained by the City of Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS, called “foots”) and has several access points.  When I visited here on Aug. 13, the Thorpe Park lot was full, but I saw on the park map that I could connect to the trail from the community center—this added roughly 1 mile to the roundtrip mileage. The route is wide and smooth with good views of Flagstaff peaks, and although it passes through Lowell Scientific Preserve, you cannot get to the observatory from this trail (well, you could, but, don’t break the rules and blow it for the rest of us).  Added bonus:  after hiking this trail, you can hike from Earth to Pluto---albeit in miniature, of course--by making a side trip Lowell Observatory.  In addition to the 350-foot interpretive trail, the (usually kid-crammed) destination offers educational tours, and plenty of entertaining (a mausoleum!) diversions.  

LENGTH: 1.9 miles one-way  (or 2.4 mile one-way from the community center)
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  6,933' – 7,402'
DOGS: must be on leash, there's a fenced bark park at the Thorpe complex
BEST SEASON: May-October
FACILITIES: restrooms, water at Thorpe Park
COMMUNITY CENTER TRAILHEAD: From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Flagstaff.  Drive north through town on Milton Rd. to Humphrey's St. Turn left onto Humphrey's and go north to Birch Street, and continue to where the road dead ends at the community center/tennis court parking area.  Trail is the dirt road straight ahead.
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Flagstaff.  Drive north through town on Milton Rd. to Humphrey's St. Turn left onto Humphrey's and go north to Birch Street (Cherry St. works, too), turn left and continue a few blocks to N. Thorpe Road.  Turn right and continue a couple blocks to Thorpe Park on the right. Trail begins across from Frances Short Pond/Baseball/Dog Park complex.