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Friday, November 25, 2011


Tonto National Forest
Looking East Over the Verde River Valley

View from the Summit
Sometimes I just feel like a brainless hike up a hill with no route finding, treacherous terrain or precarious precipices. Just. Up.  Thankfully, Humboldt Mountain meets this criteria and it's not too far from downtown Phoenix.  You've probably seen this hill and wondered about it ---there's a huge, white “golf ball” (as it’s commonly called) on the summit that’s visible from the back roads north of Cave Creek and Carefree. The white ball, which is an FAA radar station used for air traffic control, shares the summit with a fire tower and a hardware jungle of tech equipment.  The hike involves walking up a narrow road of crumbling asphalt via a series of gentle switchbacks and a combination of flat and fairly steep segments.  The 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire took a toll on the area's vegetation, but recovery is underway and desert shrubs are popping up everywhere.  With every few feet of elevation gain, the views get bigger and better.  Much of the lower road winds through cactus-studded grasslands with Cave Creek Mountains, Pinnacle Peak and New River Mesa on the horizon.  Higher up, the road winds around to the eastern slope of the mountain where there the sprawling Verde River Valley and Horseshoe Lake come into view. Just below the summit, the one and only hairpin turn in the road kisses the edge of a scenic saddle.  Here, sycamore-and-cottonwood cluttered drainages appear as  twisted meanders nearly 2,000 feet below.  From this saddle, the final uphill slog to the summit rewards with more excellent views and the revelation that “golf ball” is hardly an accurate description of the FAA tower. It is most indubitably, a soccer ball.

LENGTH:  7.8 miles roundtrip
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 3,570' – 5,204'
BEST SEASON: October - April
Saddle View

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 (a.k.a. FR 24, Seven Springs Road) to FR 562 (Humboldt Mountain road) located between MCDOT mile markers 9 and 10.  The turnoff is easy to miss—it’s on the right, paved and there’s a “562” sign about 100 feet up the road.  Park in the turnouts along FR24 and FR562 and hike up FR562 to the summit. 
HINT: If you get to Seven Springs Recreation Area, you have gone roughly 2 miles too far.
INFO:  Cave Creek Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, (480) 595-3300


Sunday, November 20, 2011


Ocotillo on Ringtail Trail
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
Lost Dog Wash Trail
Thompson Peak from Taliesin Overlook
Now, here's a trail after my own heart.  Although the eponymous canine didn't have such luck---it's nearly impossible for hikers to get lost on this trail. That's because this desert path bumping up against the 'burbs of North Scottsdale is lovingly maintained and outfitted with directional signage at every critical point.  Not exactly the best trail choice for solitude or a “wilderness feel”, this popular path's benefits are its ease-of-tread, proximity to town, beautiful views and nice trailhead facilities. Also, for those living in less than fit bodies due to Arizona summer hibernation, this trail makes for an effortless segue into the winter hiking season. 
Sandwiched between a sea of terracotta tile roofs and the foothills below the peaks of the McDowell Mountains, Lost Dog Wash is kind of a peanut-butter-and-jelly hike---easy to make and everybody loves it. For comparison, the Tom's Thumb hike—one of the tougher trails in the preserve-- is a Tofurkey Rubin hike---more exotic and not for everyone.
Lost Dog Wash
Given that I only had a couple of hours to hike this week, Lost Dog Wash was a natural choice. However, to add interest, I made a loop hike using 3 short trails. The Lost Dog trail is extremely popular and is usually crowded with hikers, runners, dog walkers and mountain bikers.  This loop option (details below) briefly escapes the spokes and spandex via the Old Jeep Trail.  The preserve also boasts a team of trail stewards—highly trained and knowledgeable outdoor enthusiasts who volunteer their time to educate the public about this precious swath of desert.  I hiked with one of them today for about a mile and learned quite a bit from him before we hiked off on divergent paths.  The stewards also lead public hikes and there’s one coming up this Thanksgiving morning called “More Pie Please”.  To join this free, easy, 3-mile hike, meet at 7:45 a.m. at the Lost Dog Trailhead (see below) and preemptively work off the calories for your extra slab of pecan pie (or Tofurkey Rubin).
Begin on Lost Dog Wash Trail (LD) and hike 0.5 mile to the Ringtail Trail (RT) junction.  Go right and follow RT 0.5 mile to the LD Overlook at emergency marker RT5.  Visit the overlook, then return to the trail and go another 0.2 mile to the junction with Old Jeep Trail (JT).  Go left (north) on JT and hike 1.4 miles to where the trail reconnects with LD.  Continue straight on LD.  In another 0.5 mile, you'll come to the turn off for Taliesin Overlook.  Although LD trail continues another 0.4 mile past the overlook, I made this the turnaround point for the loop.  Hike back to JT junction, but this time, go right (south) and follow LD 1.6 miles back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 5.3 mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  1,755' – 2,092'
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, shade ramadas, horse hitching posts 
HOURS: sunrise to sunset (it's illegal to be in the preserve outside these hours)
DOGS: leashed dogs allowed.  Handlers must immediately pick up poo and pack it out.
From the Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take exit 41 for Shea Blvd., turn east (right) and go 4.2 miles to 124th Street. Turn left (north) on 124th Street and go 1 mile to where the road dead-ends at the trailhead.
INFO: City of Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy: