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Thursday, February 23, 2012

A water-themed hike near Black Canyon City

View of the Agua Fria River from Horseshoe Bend trail

Horseshoe Bend crossing
Along the Skyline trail
Just behind the Rock Springs Cafe (the “world-famous pies” place on I-17 near Black Canyon City), the Agua Fria River makes a U-bend around the defensive stone of Horseshoe Bar before continuing on its southbound, trickling meander.  It's here where two easy, open-to-the-sky segments of the 79-mile-long Black Canyon Trail (BCT) combine for a satisfying trek for both novices and expert hikers alike. Running from the Carefree Highway in Phoenix to near the town of Mayer in the Prescott National Forest, the course of the BCT has been in use since ancient times transitioning from Native American footpath, livestock driveway and wagon route to its current status as a hiking destination. The process of repurposing it into a multi-use recreational trail system began in 1969 and remains a work in progress.  However, much of the trail is already hike-able with 3 major and 7 rudimentary trailheads now in place.  A good way to get to know BCT is to hike the Horseshoe Bend and Skyline segments beginning at the easy-to-access Black Canyon City Trailhead.  Roughly 0.2 mile in, the trail splits-- take the south leg (go left) and follow the dirt track on its coiled-and-folded route to the river.  Here, you'll need to cross the water, which ranges from inches deep in the dry season to a raging torrent during spring runoff.  Once over the river, the thin trail makes long, edgy hairpin bends on its way up to a scenic highpoint then dips and climbs another 1.5 miles to connect with the next segment.
Truly a world-class achievement, the route has been designated a National Recreation Trail-- an honor reserved for only the most significant paths in the United States.  The trail's proximity to the aforementioned eatery makes for a convenient stop to indulge in a post hike snack. Rock Springs Cafe serves up filling, roadside-joint fare --though the “world famous” claim is debatable.  Still, both the pies and the trail live up to the cafe's slogan: “worth the drive from anywhere”.

Horseshoe Bend Segment: 1.5 miles one-way
Skyline Segment: 3.4 miles one way
To the Skyline highpoint and back: 6.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
Horseshoe: 2,040'- 1,850'
Skyline: 1,850'-2,584'
DOGS: leashed dogs allowed
Black Canyon City Trailhead:
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to exit 242 (Black Canyon City-Rock Springs).  Go west (left) and continue to the stop sign, turn north (right) onto the frontage road and continue a few hundred feet to Warner Road (the first road on the left where there's also a BCT sign). Turn onto Warner and go a short distance to the first intersection, turn right and drive roughly 0.1 mile to the parking area.
FACILITIES: none.  Room for cars and trailers.
INFO: Black Canyon Trail Coalition
The author is not associated with the cafe and has NOT received payment, free pies, beer or any other bennies in exchange for this blog mention. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lakeside hiking in Prescott

City of Prescott Mile-High Trail System

Lakeside views, millions of ducks and route-finding through a maze of  1.4 billion-year-old granite  rock formations keep things interesting on this intertwined collection of short trails. Although there are countless ways to explore these scenic gems, here's how we hit the dirt on this past Saturday. The plan:
From the trailhead, follow Peavine Trail  north to the turnoff on the right for Lakeshore Trail—there's a big boulder with a plaque just past the 1 mile post.  From here, finding your way is easy. Trail signs with maps are placed roughly every quarter-mile and where the trail crosses slick rock; follow the painted white dots to stay on course.  The first detour comes at the Treehouse Loop---a very rocky segment that's sure to bring the kid out in you, and yup, there really is a treehouse lodged in an alligator juniper.  Next up is a little traipse to Secret Cove, which is worth the diversion if only to  creep up on the Great blue herons and egrets that love the seclusion afforded by this mini fjord.
Farther along is the Over the Hill trail which crosses Boulder Creek on its way to  Watson Dam.  This winding path is almost 100% on bare rock and includes a couple of slick/steep sections. Near the end, the trail dips down to Granite Creek and swings south following the reed-lined stream to a narrow metal bridge below the dam that connects hikers to the Flume/Watson Dam Trails that lead to the Granite Dells Road trailhead.  As we didn't park a car at the at the north access, we hiked back the way we came.

LENGTH:  up to 6 miles
Lakeshore Trail: 2 miles one way, 5,160' – 5,220'
Over the Hill Trail: 0.4 mile one way, 5,076'-5,194'
Discovery Trail: 0.8 mile one way, 5,158' – 5,188'
Tree House Loop-Secret Cove: 0.1 mile each
Watson Dam-Flume Trail: 1.17 miles one way, 5,057' – 5,186'

RATING: easy-moderate (good balance and traction footwear is required!)
DOGS: This is a sensitive bird habitat--leashed dogs are allowed.
FACILITIES: port-o-potties.  New restrooms are in the works and should be installed by June 2012, picnic tables, maps
FEE:  $2 daily parking fee
HOURS: 5 a.m (7 a.m. In winter) to 10:00 p.m.
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 112 miles one way
South Access: Peavine-WatsonWoods trailhead:
1626 Sundog Ranch Road, Prescott.
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to Cordes Junction  exit 262 for Prescott  AZ 69.  Turn west and follow AZ 69 32 miles to Prescott.  Just outside of downtown, pass Walker Road and begin looking for Prescott Lakes Parkway---located across from the Prescott Gateway Mall where there's a huge Cadillac dealership. Turn right (north) on Prescott Lakes Pkwy and continue 1.7 miles to Sundog Ranch Road, turn right and go 0.2 mile  to Peavine Trail/Watson Woods Riparian Preserve parking area.
North Access:
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to Cordes Junction  exit 262 for Prescott  AZ 69.  Turn west and follow AZ 69 32 miles to Prescott.  Connect with AZ89 and go north to Granite Dells Road, turn right (east) and continue to the parking area on the right.

INFO & MAPS: City of Prescott