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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A waterfall for all

White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Pool at the base of Waterfall Canyon: Feb. 12, 2013

Approaching the slot canyon
How many people can fit into the 12' x 12' box canyon at the end of White Tank Mountain Park's Waterfall Trail?  By my observations, at least 16--while a constant que waits on deck to rotate in.  Perhaps a better question might be; what on earth could possibly be so interesting that 16 people would want cram into such a place?  Welcome to one of Arizona's premier mostly-barrier-free hiking destinations. This extraordinary trail's popularity is bolstered by its wide, flat surface which is advertised as suitable for strollers, wheelchairs and walkers for at least the first 0.6-mile.  However, I've seen wheeled trekkers make it all the way up to the final 300 yards where a set of stone stairs leads to the box canyon---and beyond with a little assistance.  This is a beautiful thing.  Because so many of Arizona's special hiking trails require physical stamina and equipment lists beyond the scope of casual day trippers, it's good to know that Waterfall Canyon offers a glimpse of desert splendor to anyone willing to get out of  their car.  Besides the sometimes-flowing-sometime-not waterfall, galleries of ancient rock art line the entire route. "Petroglyph plaza"--an open-air amphitheater with benches--displays several major design panels with trailside signs explaining their significance.
Just below the waterfall, another considerable heritage site includes an eclectic mix of astronomical, hunting and magical designs tapped into boulders.  Here, the trail meets stone stairs for a short climb to the waterfall box canyon.  Inside, a trio of  stone walls, worn smooth by a million rainy seasons, jut vertically skyward from a  white sand beach and plunge pool echoing a serinade of digital camera clicks and whizzes.
Crowd in Waterfall Canyon

LENGTH: 2 miles round-trip
RATING: easy, barrier-free up to the last 300 yards.
ELEVATION:  1500' - 1700'
DOGS: leashed dogs are allowed
FACILITIES: restrooms
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle

From Phoenix, go 18 miles west on I10 Loop 303.  Go north and contnue on 303 to Olive.  Turn left (west) on Olive and proceed 4 miles to the park entrance. Once in the park, follow the main road (White Tank Mountain Rd) 2 miles to Waterfall Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 mile to the signed trailhead on the left.  NOTE: 2013 road construction plans may cause detours.  Visit the  park web site or call ahead for details.

Art in "petroglyph plaza"
INFO: White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Waddell AZ 623-935-2505


Monday, February 11, 2013

A beautiful suburban treadmill trail

City of Scottsdale
Winter storm over Pinnacle Peak Trail: Feb. 9, 2013

Traversing the north face of one of Scottsdale’s signature geological wonders, Pinnacle Peak trail is as manicured and swanky as the tony golf communities lapping at its base.  It's a beautiful trail for sure, but don't expect solitude—this suburban route is the north Scottsdale equivalent of Piestewa Peak---replete with elbow-to-elbow crowds and buff bodies intent on maintaining target heart rates.  More of an outdoor tread mill than a hiking trail—most people come here for a workout---except for me, who comes to take photos and indulge in a post-hike beer at nearby Greasewood Flat saloon. The trailhead is nicely outfitted with restrooms, drinking water, visitor center and picnic tables.  An informative sign marks the start point followed by mileage posts every quarter mile and lots of little plaques identifying points of interest like plants and landmarks visible from the trail.  Like a sky island jutting above an emerald sea of country club homes, the trail gets just high enough above civilization for a decent desert experience  but stays close enough for comfort when hiking alone or with winter visitors. 
View of the final mile  from near the trail's high point

LENGTH: 3.5 miles out-and-back
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,366' – 2,889' (trails climbs both on the way in and out)
DOGS: not allowed
BIKES: not allowed
HOURS: dawn to dusk and variable---check web site before going
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Drive exit 36 and go 4.5 miles north on Pima Road to Happy Valley Road.  Turn right (east) and go 1.8 miles to Alma School Road, turn left (north) and continue 1 mile to Pinnacle Peak Parkway turn left and follow the signs to the park.  Turn left (west) on PPP and go 0.5 mile to the park.

INFO: City of Scottsdale 480-312-0990