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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Short fitness trail

McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Fountain Hills
Jump start your New Years resolutions

Before reading this blog post, please insert the following earworm in your brain:  the theme song from the Rocky films. Ready.  Set. Go.  Instead of the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs, or ballpark bleachers---use this trail.  'Nuf said.

LENGTH:  0.5-mile up-and-back
RATING:  easy
ELEVATION:  1860' - 1961'
FEES:  $6 daily fee per vehicle, $2 walk or bike-in, annual passes available.
FACILITIES:  restrooms, water, visitor center, picnic tables, camping
From Phoenix, go east on Loop 202 to Beeline Highway (SR87). Head north on SR87 to Shea Blvd, turn left and drive less than a mile to Saguaro Blvd, turn right and continue to Fountain Hills Blvd, turn right and continue 4 miles to the park entrance. Pay your fee and drive thru the park to the main trailhead staging area at the end of Shallmo Drive.  Maps are available at the park entrance and visitor center.

INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation, 480-471-0173


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ridgeline hike above the Verde River Valley

Holiday surprise on the trail: Dec. 24, 2012
McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Fountain Hills

With 20 trails laced over 21,000 acres of Verde River Basin desert, selecting a hike in this northeast Valley county park can be a dilemma. Therefore, I submit a suggestion---begin with Scenic Trail to get a fast and easy overview of the park layout.  Scenic Trail leaves from the main trailhead staging lot making a lasso-loop up and over the Lousley Hills.  Although the Rio Fire ravaged some of the area in 1995, once up on the ridgeline, the land returns to beautiful Sonoran desert glory.  Because much of the route follows the backbone of the Hills, the trail lives up to its name by offering double-edge views of the entire park, the town of Fountain Hills (look for the famous fountain at the top of each hour), the Verde River Valley and the green pecan and citrus farms of the Ft McDowell Indian Reservation.  A memorial bench on the crest provides a nice meditation or water break spot.  Here, look for an unusual crested saguaro on the downhill slope.  It's unique because the fan-like deformation is on one of the cactus' arms instead of on the top.
Overlooking the Verde River Valley

LENGTH:  4.3-mile loop
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  1860' - 2011'
FEES:  $6 daily fee per vehicle, $2 walk or bike-in, annual passes available.
FACILITIES:  restrooms, water, visitor center, picnic tables, camping
From Phoenix, go east on Loop 202 to Beeline Highway (SR87). Head north on SR87 to Shea Blvd, turn left and drive less than a mile to Saguaro Blvd, turn right and continue to Fountain Hills Blvd, turn right and continue 4 miles to the park entrance. Pay your fee and drive thru the park to the main trailhead staging area at the end of Shallmo Drive.  Maps are available at the park entrance and visitor center.
A curious coyote checks us out

INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation, 480-471-0173


New Years Eve Day guided hike

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Sunrise Peak

End the year on a high note atop Sunrise Peak with volunteer stewards of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  This guided trek with some steep sections is open to experienced, hardy hikers.  Click the link below to learn more.

LENGTH: 6 miles
RATING: moderate-difficult
DATE: Monday, Dec 31, 2012
TIME: meet 7:45 sharp
PLACE: Lost Dog Wash trailhead, Scottsdale

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The super volcano in our backyard

Superstition Wilderness

Recent rains wet the washes: Dec. 22, 2012
So, now that we've survived the Mayan calendar end of the world scenario, let's take a step back in time to reflect on what a fire and brimstone extinction event might have looked like.  Fortunately, we can hike on the slag of just such a cataclysm---just pick any trail in the western Superstition Wilderness.
Weavers Needle
Stepping out on Dutchman's Trail
Between 25 and 15 million years ago, the craggy outback we know as the "Supes” was a churning cauldron of molten rock and white-hot volcanic cinders.  Here, the earth-borne violence was on the scale of what geologists call "super volcanoes"---incomprehensibly massive eruptive forces that spewed ash over thousands of miles.  As the firestorms wound down, the volcanoes collapsed to form a chain of deep depressions known as calderas.  Today, what remains of this maelstrom is a tumultuous landscape of bizarre hoodoos and eroded pillars of fused ejecta called "welded tuff".  Although this type of geology does not produce prime pickings for gold hunters, myths that the Lost Dutchman's Mine (and its rich cache) is hidden in this wilderness persist--adding colorful lore to the stark, rugged landscape.  First Water Trailhead is the major gateway to the western edge of Superstitions providing access to major hiking routes that crisscross the 160,200-acre badlands.  A relatively mild way to experience the guts of this terrain in a day hike is to make a loop with Dutchman's, Black Mesa, and Second Water trails.  The loop moves among some of the Supe's most awe-inspiring landmarks---deeply incised canyons of igneous rock, Yellow Peak (3061') and the area's signature feature, 4553' Weaver's Needle.  Contrary to what many people think, the needle is not a volcanic plug.  It's just eroding tuff like most everything else around it. So hike soundly fellow trekkers, Weaver's Needle will not pelt our trails in a fury of molten rock.  We'll have to settle to marvel in its deterioration as it slowly crumbles to dust over the next 100 million years.
From the trailhead, follow the access path 0.3 mile to the Dutchman's Trail #104 junction.  Veer right (south) and follow #104 3.9 miles to the Black Mesa Trail #241 junction.  Turn left (northwest) here and continue 3.0 miles on #241 to the Second Water Trail #236 junction, turn left (south) and follow #236 1.5 miles back to the Dutchman's junction, turn right and hike 0.3 mike back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  9-mile loop
RATING:  easy-moderate
ELEVATION:  2,270' - 2,750'
FACILITIES:  restrooms, map kiosk
FEE: NONE at First Water trailhead.

From Phoenix, go east on US60 to the Idaho Road (SR88) exit.  Turn left and follow Idaho to SR88 and turn right.  Follow SR88 to First Water Road (FR78), which is located about a half mile past the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park (between mileposts 201-202) and signed for First Water Trailhead. Turn right on FR78 and go 2.6 miles to the trailhead.

INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 480-610-3300


Friday, December 21, 2012

Hike to help adoptable dogs


Register now to help a local animal rescue organization socialize their dogs during this January promotion.  You'll be walking/hiking adoptable dogs for a chance to earn t-shirts and other prizes---not to mention bringing attention to some really great canines looking for forever homes.

call 623-396-8466 or visit:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hike a desert river gorge

Near Wickenburg

Picking our way through the willows
Route passes under Burro Creek Bridge on US93
Betcha haven’t hiked THIS one. Burro Creek is a 23-mile-long desert waterway located in the rugged and remote Bureau of Land Management wilderness north of Wickenburg. There’s no “official” trail--just follow the creek. Conditions vary according to water levels. In dry times, it’s possible to hike for miles without getting wet feet. However during periods of heavy rain and snowmelt, wading is required. The area is known for its active wildlife including beavers, javalina, shore birds and the marauding herds of wild burros for which the creek is named. Soaring copper-colored cliffs, mesquite-cottonwood forests, expansive desert views and the graceful arch of Burro Creek Bridge round out the sights. Private properties owners in the area guard their turf jealously. As long as you park in the Burro Creek Campground and stick to hiking in the creek bed, you’re legal.

Winter hike on Burro Creek

LENGTH: 6-9 miles round trip (without bush whacking and wading)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 1,960 – 2,100 feet
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 114 miles 1-way. Roads are paved up to the last 1.5 miles, and passable by sedan.
GETTING THERE: In Wickenburg at the intersection of US60 and US93, go north on US93 for 59 miles to the turnoff for Burro Creek campground—between mileposts 140 and 141. Turn left (west) onto the campground access road and continue 1.5 miles to the parking lot. Facilities include restrooms and running water.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dream of wildflowers. Howl at the moon.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

I'm keeping this one on my list to re-visit during spring wildflower season.  That's because by then, the ironwood trees lining the park's numerous washes will be laden with pink, pea-like blooms and the now-dormant strawberry hedgehog cactuses will be dressed up in fragrant, fusha-colored blossoms.  But, right now,  our cool winter weather makes hiking this open-to-the-sky (shadeless) trail system a real treat.  With a soft treadway and enough directional signage to keep even novice hikers on track, this loop is just right for a quick outing with kids or even non-hiker (our winter visitor) types.
Also--as their names suggest--the Moonlight and Stargazer trails offer front row quality night sky viewing. 
In case you don't get a free map from the visitor center or trailhead kiosk: From the main trailhead, begin on Moonlight Trail (ML), hike 1.2 miles to the San Tan Trail (SA).  Turn left (south and hike 1.5 miles to the Hedgehog Trail (HG).  Turn left (north) and continue 1 mile to SA, turn left and go 0.3 mile to Stargazer Trail.  Turn left hike 0.8 mile to ML, turn right and hike 0.7 mile back to teh trailhead.

LENGTH:  5.5 mile loop
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  1400'-1600'
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
PARK HOURS: Sunday- Thursday: 6 a.m. - 8 p.m. , Friday-Saturday: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.
PETS: leashed pets allowed
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, visitor center, wildlife exhibit, tortoise habitat, ranger-led activities

From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 to Ellsworth Road exit 191.  Follow  Ellsworth 13.6 miles south (Ellsworth turns into Hunt Highway at about the 12 mile point) to  Thompson Road (traffic light), turn right (south)  and go 2.1 miles to Phillips Road. Turn right and continue 1 mile to the park entrance.
INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation: San Tan Mountain Regional Park, 480-655-5554


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Desert beaches and a “hang five” saguaro

San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Queen Creek
Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills

the "hang five" crested saguaro
Part of the fun of visiting this desert park on the southeastern fringe of Maricopa County is the drive down Ellsworth Road through Queen Creek.  It’s a 13-mile stretch of cow pastures, cotton farms and horse corrals tossed together with acres of stucco and strip malls.  At the base of this suburban-rural interface is San Tan Mountain Regional Park—10,200 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert with 20 miles of shared-used trails ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. All of the park's nine trails are well-signed and laid out so users can easily cobble custom treks, but when the park ranger told me there was a rare crested saguaro and a petroglyph site on the San Tan Trail (SA) , choosing a route was a no-brainer for me.  Using the park map available for free at the visitor center, I planned my hike around those two features.  Except for a few places where the trail follows sandy washes---which is similar to strolling on a beach---the route is a walk in the park.  One short, minor climb leads to the crest of a ridge with astonishing views the park's signature geological features---Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills.  From this breezy vantage point, you can do a visual walk through of the return leg of the hike.  The petroglyph site is located a quarter-mile downhill from the crest.  Look for a jumble of granite on the left.  The rock art here appears to be quite ancient and only one incised design stands out. To see the crested saguaro, continue past the Rock Peak Wash junction, turn right to stay on SA and hike a few yards to where the trail makes a sharp left swerve and heads up an embankment.  From here, you can catch a first glimpse the plant’s famous “hang five” (or "I Love You" in American Sign Language)  gesture about 0.1-mile down the path.   To complete the loop, continue hiking north and take any of these connector trails: Hedgehog, Moonlight or Goldmine-Littleleaf.
Sonoran Desert "beach"

LENGTH:  7.4-mile loop (6.4 on San Tan, 0.4 on Goldmine, 0.6 mile on Littleleaf)
RATING:  moderate-difficult
ELEVATION:  1,160’ – 1,800’
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, visitor center, wildlife exhibit, tortoise habitat, ranger-led activities
HOURS: open 365 days a year, Sunday-Thursday: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
PETS: leashed pets are allowed
From Phoenix, travel east on US60 to Ellsworth Road exit 191.  Follow Ellsworth 13.6 miles south (Ellsworth turns into Hunt Highway after about 12 miles) to Thompson Road (traffic signal), turn south (right) and go 2.1 miles to Phillips Road, turn right again and continue 1 mile to the park entrance.
INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation, 480-655-5554

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Re-thinking Richinbar Mine

For your consideration.....

One of the great things about the blogosphere is its networking opportunities.  Because of this blog, I frequently receive emails from like-minded hikers and outdoor enthusiasts telling me of obscure routes, warnings of road closures and contributing interesting info about various AZ trails.  Recently, local mineral expert Gary Carter shared some enlightening observations about Richinbar Mine (a very popular hike in the Agua Fria National Monument area) and gave me permission to share them with you, to augment your understanding of the area's muddled history.  Here are Gary's findings:
The Richinbar Mine area—sure is an interesting old site and easy to get to (which will eventually be its death).
Anyway, I have been out there many times and done some detailed reading and observations about the area at the Arizona  Geological Society (downtown Phoenix).They have a file of over 100 photos on  the Richinbar.
 My intent here is just to make sure you are aware of some falsehoods about the mine.
•      The Az. Pioneer Cemetery group are to be commended on what they are trying to do--however  not everyone agrees with their info or interpretations—especially. those with background/training in geology/mining. They also will not make corrections when they are notified of errors.
2     My background is in minerals and recently I also took an exploration geologist of long standing and  high regard to the site ---to confirm some of my thoughts and to see what else he could tell me. The  mine was not a rich one—in fact they were in pretty low grade ore for much of the time, they operated  on a shoestring.
4      Copper was never a major product from that mine---it was basically a tourmaline/ quartz vein with  minor gold they were following.
5      The two shafts further from the mill workings were probably dug first since the concrete footings for the first stamp mill are directly across from it on the Aqua Fria side of the slope.
        The  dump of waste rock sits right behind and below the Zyke shaft which fed the ball mill and circular cyanide tanks that have left their tailings and depression . Not near enough tonnage  to indicate they could or did process much ore.  A tailings pond (for waste material) is still evident as a small plateau like area of pinkish cyanide tailings below the now dry wash. There is no evidence –either visual nor in the research of any graves or burials on the property.

I have been involved in so much research on old mine sites where folks with no expertise or backup research (other than what they read on the net) have added to the historical falsehoods, myths and confusion. Can’t tell you how many phony stories –even TV docs and videos have been circulated about the old Vulture Mine, outside of Wickenburg. They were done by well meaning folks who did a modicum of reading, guessing and hypothesizing—yet passed on inaccurate info about the subject. Once done it is very difficult to “take it back” or correct it.
LENGTH:  1.5 miles one way to the mine. 
(We wandered around the site for a total hike of just under 4 miles).
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3,370' – 3,497'
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 (roughly 35 miles) to the Sunset Point rest area.  From here, continue 1.7 miles  to the turnoff for FR9006 on the right.  A windmill and stock tanks are your landmark. (if you reach Badger Springs Road, you've gone 2.3 miles too far. Turn onto FR9006 and park in the dirt lot being sure not to block the gate. The gate is usually locked, but it's easy (and legal) to squeeze through.   Roads are paved up to the dirt parking area.
Agua Fria National Monument: general info and maps

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project: historical info and photos

Big Bug News: a story about a local who worked there

Monday, December 3, 2012

Colorful late Autumn desert hike

Cave Creek
Early December on Camp Creek

Camp Creek Falls
The innocuous, wildfire-tinged roadside pullout that marks the beginning of this hike gives little insight to the wonders that lie in the canyons below. This unmarked route ventures into the craggy desert canyons of Blue Wash and Camp Creek. Although this is not an “official” trail, it’s easy to stay on course by simply following the obvious footpaths and bends in the canyon. The first of several tricky spots happens at roughly the half-mile point where the trail seems to dead-end over a dry waterfall. Here, veer right and hike up above the rise following a narrow path-of-use. Once back in the gully, there are several more minor hand-over-foot rock scrambles to overcome before Blue Wash meets the wide, sandy course of Camp Creek. At this “T” intersection, head left and hike upstream, hopping the many rivulets that flow in meandering lacy currents. Soon, the rangy walls of a box canyon open up to reveal a cascade of water tumbling over a 20-foot-high granite escarpment. From here, those with good route-finding skills can opt to scramble up to the top of the falls and continue hiking north along Camp Creek where water-hungry reeds and velvet ash trees live side-by-side with drought tolerant cactuses and acacia. Please be respectful of the pockets of private property in the area.

LENGTH: 3.5 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 3,243-2,643 feet

From the Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit. Go north on Pima Road for 13 miles to Cave Creek Road. Turn right (east) onto Cave Creek Road and continue 6.5 miles just past a sign on the right that reads “Blue Wash #1”. Park in the gravel turnouts on either side of the road. The trail begins near the cottonwood trees.

Cave Creek Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, (480) 595-3300

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Up the down stonecase

South Mountain Park

This week, I achived an accidental milestone--I have now hiked every single mile of South Mountain Park official trails. This was never a deliberate "project" of mine---I just sorta realized it while perusing my map collection over the long weekend. The coupe de grace was the Geronimo Trail, one I never got around to  for a really lame reason: it's favored as a downhill mountain biker route.  Bikers like to start at the top of the trail at Buena Vista Lookout parking lot and descend the rocky pitch  at break-neck speeds.  I'm a fan of shared-use, non-motorized trails and enjoy meeting bikers on the trails, but the constant moving aside for racing machines isn't my favorite kind of hike. Certainly, a hike UP would be against the grain, but what better way to check off the sole survivor on my SoMo trail map.  The crux challenge of this hike is its lack of directional signage, so route-finding skills (at the basic "pay attention" level) are required. It starts out as a clear path between two fences at the trailhead and continues 0.1 mile to the official park sign.  That's it for the help.  Beyond the sign, the trail makes its climb over a combination of bare rock, dirt, rock-lined passages  and constructed native stone staircases.  The collection of corrals and buildings near the beginning of the hike are part of the Heard  Scout Pueblo which is private property and off limits to hikers. Sketchy in places, the path seems to get swallowed up  in washes and switchbacks.  Here,  hiker-placed carins and twigs serve as beacons.    Like nearby Mormon Trail, Geronimo features some sweet views of downtown Phoenix and local mountains. Hike it on a clear day, and it's exquisite.  In between,  the route delves into a beautiful slot canyon loaded with desert vegetation. Creosote, palo verde, ironwood, elephant trees, and saguaro cactuses flank the path spiking the air with spicy aromas.  At near the mid point, an optional exploratory  side trip into a gorge of sand and schist (similar to Hidden Valley) offers peeks at Hohokam petroglyphs while adding only 0.5 mile more to the trek. Keeping in sync with the theme of the hike--- don't expect this spur path to be obvious. I was lucky to run into a local man who has been hiking the park almost daily for many years  and he was kind enough to point it out and even gave me a tour, otherwise, I would have trudged right past it in ignorant bliss. (So many nice folks hike and bike in the park!)
And so, after puzzling over a few confusing junctions, I emerged on a crumbly high ridgeline on South Mountain, took in a celebratory deep breath of crisp air,  oogled the views and descended  among the wheeled hordes.

LENGTH: 2.5 miles one way
RATING: moderate (steep, loose footing, route-finding)
ELEVATION: 1,280' - 2,320'
From Phoenix, go south on Central Ave to Baseline Road. Turn left (east) and continue 2.3 miles to 20th Street. Turn right (south) and go 0.8 mile to where the road makes a sharp right turn and becomes Dobbins Road just beyond a roundabout.  This turn is marked by 2 big yellow arrow signs on the left next to a small dirt lot----this is the trailhead, and there's a small "Geronimo Trailhead" sign tucked among the curbside creosote marking the start point of the hike. Parking is very limited, maybe room for 4 cars---do not block private drives.

INFO: City of Phoenix

Friday, November 23, 2012

Under the radar canyon hike

Tonto National Forest, Seven Springs Area

The seeds for this exploratory trek in the Seven Springs area north of Carefree were sown last year when we viewed the rambling course of Mashakattee Canyon from the summit of Humboldt Mountain--the prominent peak with the  big white "golf ball"  FAA radar station on top . From above, the sinuous juniper-lined sliver was a beautiful sight, and I vowed to someday get down into it.
Visualizing the route from our mountaintop vantage point, it appeared to be straightforward ---more or less, just follow the drainage, which cuts a downhill gash to merge with Seven Springs Wash.  And, we could see that the canyon bisected Cave Creek Road (FR24), so theoretically, access would be easy.   However, as with any off-trail trek, even the best-laid plans can be thwarted by unexpected kinks.
We showed up at the "trailhead" with my GPS loaded with NatGeo topos.  Turns out, we were the only ones in the area armed with such innocuous technology.  Everybody else had guns.  Kink number one.  As we knew that the area is popular with target shooters and hunters, we wore bright colors and planned our hike time frame to miss the prime dawn/dusk stalking hours. (I'm writing this, so, we survived).  Kink number two:  never underestimate the slowing down power of an off trail hike.  The entire length of the canyon is a major drainage full of boulders and slick rock.  The advantage of this is that the stone keeps scratchy shrubs mostly at bay, but also makes for a constant game of finding stable footing—taxing your stair-climbing muscles.  Kink number three: obstacles.  Toppled trees, boulder jams, cliff scrambles and a fence we had to crawl under, added elements of fun, but also slowed the pace considerably.  The canyon grows narrower and more cluttered as it approaches its terminus below Humboldt Mountain.  So, just know your limits and turn back when you've had enough. Still, for an under the radar station  kind of hike, Mashakattee Canyon is easy to follow, has great views, seasonal water and interesting geology.  

LENGTH:  2.35 miles one way
RATING:  moderate--100% on rocks with  obstacles. Sturdy footwear and hiking stick required.
ELEVATION:  3,517' - 4,256'
From Loop 101 in North Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 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 254 located just past MCDOT mile marker 10 on the right (0.6 mile past Humboldt Mtn Rd. FR 562).  If you have a high clearance vehicle, turn onto FR 254 cross the wash and continue 0.2 mile to a turnout on the right with a fire ring.  Park here and make an easy scramble into the canyon veer left and hike the gorge northeast toward Humboldt Mountain.  Alternately, you can enter the canyon where FR 254 crosses a wash at about 0.15 mile from FR24.  Those without high clearance should park along FR24 and make the short hike up the road.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Arizona Trail "Cyber Monday" gifts for hikers


If you've got a hiker on your nice (or naughty) list this holiday season, then give a gift that benefits the Arizona Trail Association. These items are available year round, not just during the frenetic Black Friday-Cyber Monday shopping weekend.  Of course, giving an annual membership which includes access to tons of online resources is a no-brainer, but additionally:

DVD: THE WALK ACROSS ARIZONA: This documentary by Trevor Arwood chronicles his 60-day AZT journey from Mexico to Utah. Only $12 or $5 for the digital download.

An absolute must for thru-hikers, backpackers and day trekkers alike. The DVD is loaded with details like topos, elevations, mileage waypoints, GPS data, water sources and re-supply points. Spend a measly $13 and never get lost again.

Shirts, socks, buckles, patches and such are available at the AZT online store:

DISCLAIMER:  the Arizona Trail Association has not provided payment or gifts in exchange for this blog post---the author is just a fan of this very worthy organization.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hike off that extra slice of pie

McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale

Preventive healthcare starts on the trail---at least when it comes to burning off excess feast calories. Join the stewards of McDowell Sonoran Conservancy for their annual salute to culinary indulgence: the "More Pie Please" Thanksgiving morning hike. Steeped in festive energy, this popular event makes for a healthy way to start the holiday season and also enjoy a guilt-free little extra something at dinner. Registration is NOT required. Just show up on time with water and closed toe shoes, and you're in!
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012
TIME: 7:45 a.m. sharp
LENGTH: 3 mile loop
RATING: easy, suitable for ages 5 and up


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jewel of the Creek event Saturday, Nov. 17


Join representatives from the Arizona Archeological Society, AZ Audubon, Wild at Heart, Southwest Wildlife and Maricopa County Parks & Recreation for a day of interactive outdoor activities and learning.  Here's your opportunity to immerse yourself in Sonoran Desert eco-education and gain a better understanding of what makes Cave Creek's Jewel of the Creek area so precious. Registration is NOT required.  FREE snacks, too!

DATE: Saturday, Nov 17, 2012
TIME:  10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
WHERE: Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Monday, November 12, 2012

Edge of the suburbs desert hike

McDowell Sonoran Preserve-McDowell Mtn. Regional Park
Boulders near Rock Knob

With a glinty grainy tread way of decomposing granite underfoot and haze-muddled views of the Mazatzal, Superstition and McDowell Mountain ranges hugging the horizon, this spectacular loop hike in a shadeless basin of Sonoran Desert showcases a lot of what we love about our local landscape.

Cradled between a preserve area and a county park, this swath of boulders and cholla is a stubborn holdout amidst garrisons of swanky golf communities lapping at its fringe.  Thanks to the foresight and persistence of concerned citizens, this precious local gem remains closed to development and open for climbing, hiking, biking and equestrian activities.  Although its proximity with the red-tile-aqua-pool suburbs of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills puts a mild pox upon the wilderness experience, the up side is easy access to the great outdoors.  My favorite part of this thrown together trek is the geology and the big-sky views.  The route passes by the jumble of granite known as Rock Knob, the lower end of Marcus Landslide and numerous stone "sculptures" and "mushroom" rocks.  As the terrain is rather flat, there are unobstructed vistas---look for Superstition Wilderness landmarks Weaver's Needle and the Flatiron in the east and, if you hit the trail at the right time, you'll get a peek at the famous waterspout in Fountain Hills. A spur path on the return leg of the loop leads to a lookout spot with an interpretive sign identifying these key features.
Saguaros on the Boulder Trail

HERE'S THE HIKE PLAN:  from the trailhead, hike 0.3 mile east on the Marcus Landslide Trail to the junction for Rock Knob Trail.  Follow Rock Knob 0.5 mile to the McDowell Mtn Park boundary where you'll need to deposit $2 and secure your permit.  Continue another 0.6 mile on Rock Knob to Pemberton Trail, turn right (southeast) and hike 1.1 miles to Boulder Trail.  Pick up Boulder and continue 1.1 mile to Marcus Landslide (back in the preserve), turn right (north) and trek 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  5 miles according to park maps; 5.4 miles by my GPS track
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 2,800' - 2,280'
FACILITIES: restroom at trailhead, no water
FEE: $2 per person to enter McDowell Mtn Regional Park (exact change req)

Tom's Thumb Trailhead:
From the loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and continue 5 miles north on Pima to Happy Valley Road.  Turn right (east) and go 4.1 miles on Happy Valley to Ranch Gate. Turn right on Ranch Gate, follow it 1.2 miles then turn right onto 128th St. and continue 1 mile on 128th to the signed trailhead. Roads are paved all the way.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Loopy Sedona hike with fall color

View of Oak Creek from Baldwin Trail

Cathedral Rock, Nov 4, 2012
An aerial view of Sedona's network of trails reveals a very loopy web.  Most of Red Rock Country's short trails are interconnected, allowing hikers, bikers and equestrians to customize their treks.  The Baldwin Trail loop anchors the far west end of the Bell Rock-Cathedral Rock cluster of paths.  Beautiful as both a standalone or combo hike, Baldwin makes a scenic swoop near the base of world-famous Cathedral Rock, topping out at a sunny highpoint with great views of Sedona and the Bradshaw Mountains before dipping down to graze the wooded fringes of Oak Creek.  A map kiosk at the trailhead details the route and its connecting trails, including a (highly recommended) diversion to a vortex (place known for its spiritual energy) site on Oak Creek via the Templeton Trail.
The diversity of this trail is a wonder.  Hikers wander through flood plain grasslands, over slabs of bare rock dotted with cypress and agaves and among enormous creek side sycamore-cottonwood riparian forests flanked by soaring red walls of sedimentary stone.  All this variety makes it a good "appetizer" trail to get a little taste of all the goodies of hiking in Sedona.

LENGTH:  2.1 mile loop (according to my calculations--FS says its 1.6 miles)
RATING:  easy
ELEVATION:  4020' - 4150'
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required.  $5 daily fee per vehicle.
FACILITIES: restroom
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to exit 298 for Sedona AZ 179.  Turn left (west) and continue 6 miles on AZ 179 to the Verde Valley School Road traffic circle. Veer left and drive roughly 5 miles to the Baldwin Trailhead. Last few miles are rough dirt, but passable by sedan.  Alternate access:  a point on the right side of Verde Valley School Rd just before FR 9829 where a 0.3 mile spur path connects to the trail.  Also connects to the Templeton Trail.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sedona fall color update: Nov. 4, 2012

Sycamores on Oak Creek, Nov. 4, 2012

Oak Creek, Nov. 4, 2012
Although the crowns of the sycamores and cottonwoods surrounding Oak Creek have turned to crispy brown toast, there’s still plenty delicious autumn color to be seen along Sedona’s favorite stream.  One way to get to the color quickly is to hike the Templeton Trail which can be accessed several ways including from Bell Rock Pathway (which takes you through 2 tunnels under SR179) and a road pull out at milepost 308.7 on SR 179.  However, since this is a fall color update, my hike takes off from the Cathedral Rock trailhead, which is closest to the water.  From the trailhead, follow a 0.3 mile access path along a combo of constructed rock stairs and slick red sandstone marked by basket cairns to the Cathedral Rock/Templeton junction sign.  Straight ahead is a short (0.4 mile), semi-technical rock scramble leading to two nice vista points----optional, but not this hike.  Instead, head right and follow Templeton, which clings to a rugged, yucca cluttered slope.  After about a half-mile, the path swerves for first views of Oak Creek and its flood plains.  Here, the route makes an easy but edgy descent to the forested color frenzy along the waterway. A kaleidoscope of massive  sycamore, cottonwood, of alder, sumac, willow, walnut and countless shrubs (beware of poison ivy) glow like beacons among cypress and junipers with a backdrop of rusty cliffs to boot.  Along the next half-mile, the trail stays by the water exposing countless root tangled coves and shady spots to relax in this high-desert oasis.
overlooking Oak Creek
LENGTH:  3.4 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  3970’ – 4330’
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required.  There’s a permit kiosk at the trailhead that takes cash and plastic.  Daily fee is $5.
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to exit 298 for Sedona  SR179.  Go left (west) and follow SR179 11 miles to Back O’ Beyond Road at the traffic circle near milepost 310.  Veer left and go 0.6 mile on Back O’ Beyond to the Cathedral Rock trailhead on the left.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900