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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hike an underrated Flagstaff volcano


Snow at 8,500', April 20, 2012
Trails like this one "don't get no respect". In the grand promised land of Flagstaff-area hiking, it's easy to understand why a perfectly decent destination like Saddle Mountain would get lost in the fuss of more showy trails . Visible from US 180 just north of the Kendrick wildlife viewing area, the extinct cinder cone volcano rises 700 feet above woodlands recovering from the 2000 Pumpkin and 1996 Hochderffer fires.  In fact, several hiking books and online sources focus soooo much on the wildfires when describing this trail that they fail to fully respect its headliner attraction: fabulous views. Therefore, its B-list status persists. Certainly, unfortunate proximity to much more impressive mountain hikes (Kendrick Peak, Humphreys Peak) doesn’t help visitation either.  Get over it---I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend this trail. The hike itself is a moderate trudge on a service road that twists up the hill candy-cane-style, revealing sweeping, 360-degree landscape vistas that stretch all the way to the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert.  To the north, geological landmarks Red Mountain and Red Butte stand out on the flat plains of the Colorado Plateau while massive San Francisco Mountain commands the southern flank. On the summit, a visual spectacle of eroding cinder cones can be seen in northern Arizona’s volcanic field while communication transmitters hum in sync with alpine breezes. 
Volcanic field as seen from the summit

LENGTH:  5.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,100' - 8,800'
From Flagstaff, go 21 miles north on US 180 to FR 514 located at milepost 236.5 (at the now defunct White Buffalo place).  SET YOUR ODOMETER---trust me. Turn right and travel 2.5 miles east on FR 514 (stay straight, ignore all side roads) to FR 550, turn left (north) and drive 1.9 miles to where there’s a small loop turnaround road on the left. This is FR 550A, but it’s not signed.  The road climbing the mountain on the left is the trail.  Park anywhere along the road, or, there’s also a small (one car) dirt turn out roughly 0.2 mile up FR550A if you want to shorten the hike.
Flagstaff Ranger District, 928-526-0866


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Urban wetlands hiking


The sound of waterfowl is deafening.  Even with its proximity to US60 and a busy community center, a hike in this wetland complex of 7 ponds and a fishing lake mimics a stroll in a wilderness marsh.  These created groundwater recharge basins are surrounded by massive, green riparian vegetation attracting thousands of shorebirds, making for a cool, shady hike, even in warm weather.  Great blue herons, Snowy egrets, Long-billed dowitchers, mallards, grebes, killdeer, warblers and hummingbirds are extremely easy to spot.  Short loop trails with interpretive signs weave among flower gardens, mesquite bosques, nesting sites and feeding grounds.  For hard-core birders, viewing blinds are set up along the shores.  In addition to the hiking trails, the site features a kiddie playground with educational (dinosaur dig, anybody) opportunities, an observatory and a hefty events calendar.

LENGTH: 1.7 miles one-way
RATING: easy,barrier-free
DOGS:  dogs MUST be on leash
KID FRIENDLY?: yes, very
HOURS: open daily dawn to dusk
From Phoenix travel east on US 60 to Greenfield Road. Go south on Greenfield to Guadalupe, hang a left and continue less than a block to the preserve parking areas on the right.
Town of Gilbert, 480-503-6200