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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dream of wildflowers. Howl at the moon.


MOONLIGHT-STARGAZER-SAN TAN-HEDGEHOG LOOP
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. 
DIRECTIONS FOR LOOP DESCRIBED HERE:
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

GETTING THERE:
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

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