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Friday, March 9, 2012

Sedona vortex hike


Renowned for its come-hither, otherworldly beauty, Sedona is like a quivering supernova on the Arizona landscape. The mere mention of the “S-word” sends me scrambling to assemble my gear in a heart palpitating must-go-hiking frenzy.  Alas, this is what addiction must feel like.  Thankfully the “fix” for a Sedona hiking Jones is benign (except, of course, for the whole $4 gas thing).  Obnoxious fuel costs notwithstanding, when the Sirens of Sedona call, and the weather is a perfect blend of winter nip and spring balm---what Valley resident can resist?  Although the destination choice is a relative no-brainer, selecting a hiking trail is the more complicated side of the Sedona hiking equation. Cow Pies is one of those off-the-radar vortex (a place thought to harbor energy and spiritual powers) routes popularized in Sherry & Richard Mangum’s book, Sedona Hikes.  Because of its funny name, this trail has been on my to-do list for decades so, when a friend suggested we do it, the equation tipped into balance. Because Cow Pies and most of the hundreds of other Red Rock Country trails are short, we wanted to incorporate a second path to get in enough foot time to justify the drive expense. A natural choice was the Munds Wagon Trail, which can be used to add hike mileage and/or avoid the kidney-jarring drive on Schnebly Hill Road.  However, like the adventuresome moron that I sometimes can be, I decided to brave the rutted road and drive to the Cow Pies trailhead---hey, what else are new tires and shocks for anyway, right? Driving a Toyota RAV4, with reasonably high clearance, it took us 30 minutes to go 3.5 miles.  Although I did not have to use the 4x4 and never came close to bottoming out-- I cannot help but wonder if the lurching little sedan with Nebraska plates we passed had the same success. As is turned out, the drive was the most interesting aspect of this trip.  Although it’s certainly an attractive area, the sketchy, canyon-bound route pales in comparison to other Sedona trails. Several minutes into the hike, it becomes clear how this path got its name.  Clusters of smooth-tiered russet rock mounds resemble bovine splatter wads—except, they are huge, actually FUN to step on and some cast colorful images onto shallow reflecting pools at their bases.  Rock cairns mark the out-and-back journey while obvious paths-of-use lead to scenic overlooks and a ledge traversing Mitten Ridge.  With our hiking Jones sated for the day, we headed uptown to service our truly pathological addictions---locally–roasted coffee and 44 oz jugs of Diet Coke.

LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
Cow Pies: 1.5 miles one-way
Mitten Ridge: 2.5 miles one-way
Munds Wagon Trail: 2 miles to Cow Pies or 4.5 miles/1000 feet gain, one-way for entire route
ELEVATION: 5,000' – 5,300' (Munds-Cow Pies)
RATING: easy (some loose footing & bare rock)
FEE:  $5 Red Rock Pass required
FACILITIES: restrooms at Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 129 miles one way
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to exit 298 for AZ 179/Sedona-Oak Creek. Go west (left) on AZ 179 to the traffic circle just before entering downtown Sedona.  Veer right into the circle and then take an immediate right onto Schnebly Hill Road (FR 153). Then....
Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead: continue 1 mile to the lot on the left. From here, hike 2 miles north on Munds Wagon, take the spur path up to Schnebly Hill Road and hike up to the Cow Pies trailhead.
Cow Pies trailhead: Continue 2.5 miles (road will turn to dirt) beyond the Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead to the Cow Pies trailhead on the left. The “official” parking lot is on the right across from the trailhead—but good luck getting over the massive ruts.  We parked along the road instead.
Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-7500
This hike is not featured on the FS web site, however, for an overview of the area, see:


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lost Dutchman State Park guided hikes

Medicinal plants of the Sonoran Desert hike
Apache Junction

There’s always something fun going on at Lost Dutchman State Park, and the month of March is jam-packed with events, hikes and programs.  This week I participated in a guided hike called Medicinal plants of the Sonoran Desert.  Following parts of the park’s Treasure Loop, Prospector’s View and Jacob’s Crosscut trails, volunteer hike leaders stopped at various shrubs, trees and flowers explaining each plant’s medicinal and food value attributes.  For instance, did you know that parts of the creosote bush can be used to reduce symptoms of arthritis, asthma and certain bacterial and fungal infections?  Or, that mesquite tree beans make flavorful, nutritious flour and that a tea made from its leaves can sooth sunburn, rashes and sore throats?  Here’s a sample of what’s on deck in the coming weeks, check the park web site for details:
March 14: Getting to know the birds around you.
March 16: Star Talk with astronomer Bill Dellinges
March 21: Geology Hike
March 24: Reptiles & Amphibians program

LENGTH:  3.5 miles
RATING:  easy
ELEVATION: 2,000' – 2,500'
DOGS: must be on leash, pack out droppings
From Phoenix, go east on US60 to exit 196 for AZ88/Idaho Road.  Turn left and follow Idaho Road
2.3 miles to AZ88/Apache Trail.  Turn right and continue 4.9 miles to the park entrance on the right.
FEE: $7 daily fee per vehicle (includes guided hikes)
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, camping, picnic tables, visitor center

INFO:  480-982-4485

Monday, March 5, 2012


City of Prescott-Prescott National Forest
Summit of White Spar

In Prescott-- the town where the streets have multiple, morphing  names--the same confusing moniker-muddling  applies to  local trails and geographic landmarks.   Case in point: the Wolverton Mountain Trail.  This lovely, pine-chaparral trail is also dubbed the Sierra Prieta Trail, forest trail #9415 and is now also part of the City of Prescott  Circle Trail System.  Confused?  Don't be—the trail is meticulously signed, heavily-traveled, and not-too-far from civilization, so there's little chance you'll loose your way.
Snow on Aspen Creek trail: March 3, 2012
Anchored by two easy-to-access trailheads, we chose to begin the hike at the Aspen Creek lot on Copper Basin Road.  From here, the hike begins across the road on trail #48 (Aspen Creek Trail). Hike steeply uphill 0.4 mile to  the turn off for “9415” (Wolverton Mountain Trail) at the second junction.   Note that the “9415” signs are located a few yards past the intersections---so make sure you locate them before making any turns.  Along the way, two side trips make for interesting exploration.  First up--just past the a gate near mile 1.2--there's a short 0.5 mile dirt road heading left that leads to a weather station below a high ridge on Wolverton Mountain where nice views of Prescott's  Thumb Butte area shine below.  The second detour is a highly-recommended  trip up to White Spar Peak (a.k.a. Quartz Mountain). At roughly 2.5 miles, turn right onto trail 9415A and follow a maze of old roads to a point just below the  top of the snowy-white quartz massif.  Here, it's easy to pick out informal footpaths that lead to the summit.  Hint---you should not have to scramble or use your hands to climb to the summit—if you find yourself doing so, locate an easier  route.  Well worth the extra effort, the hike up White Spar rewards with 360-degree views of  Flagstaff's  San Francisco Peaks, Bill Williams Mountain in Williams, the Verde River Canyon, and of course, the local lakes, woodlands and granite dells. We hiked this trail on March 3, 2012—a couple of days after a storm dusted the forests with a few inches of snow. Waning drifts in the south-facing canyons and a veil of frost on the peak made this trek all the more enjoyable.
Approaching White Spar (left) from Wolverton Mtn. trail

LENGTH: 5 miles one-way (7.6 miles with side trips)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  5,600' -6,694'
BEST SEASON: year-round, but best October – May
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 118 miles one way
WEST: Aspen Creek trailhead:
From the AZ69/89 junction in Prescott continue 1.25 miles west on 69 (becomes Gurley St) to Montezuma St.. Turn left (south) on Montezuma (turns into AZ89/White Spar Road) and go 1 mile to the light at Copper Basin Road.  Turn right and go 4.6 miles on  Copper Basin (turns to good dirt after 1.6 miles) to the trailhead on the right---signed Aspen Creek Trailhead. 
EAST: White Spar Campground trailhead:
From the AZ69/89 junction in Prescott continue 1.25 miles west on 69 (becomes Gurley St) to Montezuma St. Turn left (south)  south on Montezuma (turns into AZ89/White Spar Road) and go 3 miles to the parking lot on the left.  Trail access is south of the campground on the west side of  AZ89.