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Friday, March 8, 2013

Barrier-free wildflower trails

South Mountain Park
Judith Tunell Challenge Trail, March 7, 2013

Recently re-paved and groomed these two trails make getting out into the desert easy for everyone.  Two connected loop routes offer choices for those with mobility concerns or families with little kids.  The Accessible Loop is 100% paved, flat and outfitted with benches, shade ramadas and interpretive signage giving insight to the local flora, fauna and human history.  The Challenge Loop, although also paved, features a slightly steeper grade leading to a scenic rest point overlooking downtown Phoenix.  Both loops are perfect choices for viewing spring wildflowers. Right now, brilliant Mexican Gold Poppies are spilling over the bajadas while vivid purple lupine and scorpionweed vie for attention among saguaros and hedgehog cactuses.  Today’s rain will surely amplify the colorful show, which usually runs wild through April.
Scorpionweed & Gordon's Bladderpod

LENGTH:  1 mile (two 0.5-mile loops)
RATING: easy, barrier-free
ELEVATION:  1370’ - 1440
From Phoenix, travel south on Central Ave., which will dead end at the park entry gate.  Pass through the gate, take the first left and continue 0.1 mile to the Environmental Education Center.  Trail begins behind the center.

City of Phoenix, South Mountain Park


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Urban wildflower hike

Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area
Globemallow, March 7, 2013

Wolfberry, March 7, 2013
She appeared out of a pile of rubble to check me out as I photographed wildflowers on the flood plain.  The beautiful white pitbull mix kept both her distance and a watchful eye on my wanderings, never letting me get more than a few dozen yards of her. I dubbed her “Ghost”. Sadly, feral dogs and cats are common in this 5-mile stretch of the Salt River, which cuts through Phoenix just south of downtown.  Surrounded by quarries and construction industries, this 595-acre City of Phoenix multi-purpose project spanning from 19th Ave to 28th Street was developed to restore the native riparian life zone, improve flood management and open new recreational opportunities.  The formerly blighted river corridor was cleared, water pumped in and thousands of native plants reintroduced into created wetland marshes, mesquite bosques and cottonwood-willow habitats. Even with all the improvements, the sights and sounds of the heavy industry end of town are ever present ---planes overhead, earth movers groaning in the quarries that flank the river and unfortunate piles of trash carried in on the wind.  Still, it’s important to keep in mind how extraordinary it is that this place even exists.  And, for me that’s the draw.  Although the Terrace Trail is one of the least attractive of the area’s hiking routes, I find it fascinating to marvel at the variety of life inhabiting this sliver of green wedged between freeways and barrios.  Beautiful life such as globemallow, wolfberry and popcorn flowers mix with water fowl, rabbits, lizards and misplaced beasts like Ghost, who I last saw loping off toward 19th Avenue.
Terraced waterfall & cottonwood trees

LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip
RATING:  easy---rocky, unpaved route
ELEVATION:  1,100’
DOGS:  leashed dogs are allowed only on paved trails
HOURS: sunrise to sunset or 7 p.m. whichever comes first
There are many access points.  I used the 7th Ave trailhead just south of US 60. Hike west from &th Ave to 19th Ave. 

"Ghost" the feral dog
City of Phoenix, 602-262-6863
Audubon Visitor Center, 602- 468-6470


Sunday, March 3, 2013


Water on the Cypress Trail: March 2, 2013

Snow on North Boulders Loop: March 2, 2013
The seasons of spring and fall share a common, landscape transforming magic.  While autumn is famous for painting the Arizona high country in warm fiery hues, spring brings on a rush of “pop up” snow melt rivers to our deserts.  March and April are the best months to view the transient water works in the Payson area.  There’s still enough snow on the peaks and hiding out in shady canyons to keep ravines and gullies flowing, but it won’t last long. Located close to town in a surprisingly untamed terrain of weathered granite dells and abrupt mini-canyons, the Cypress-Boulders Loop, is an ideal place to experience snowmelt runoff.  The trail is shared-use and open to hikers, equestrians, bikes and ATVs, and thus sees lots of action especially during this prime time.  When we hiked here this week, water was everywhere and we found ourselves hopping rivulets and ogling at water chutes cascading over bare rock every few minutes.  Forests of pines, junipers and of course cypress trees mixed in with open, boulder-studded fields form a patchwork of shade and sun along the route.  Although this hike would be pretty anytime of year, cool temperatures and rare water make it exceptional in spring.
From the trailhead, follow Cypress Trail 2.5 miles to the junction for Boulders Trail.  Take either the north or south leg and hike the 2.7-mile loop back to this junction, then retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  7.3 miles round trip
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  4485’- 4932’
From Phoenix, travel north on SR87 (Beeline Hwy) to Payson.  At the intersection of SR87 and SR260, go right and follow 260 less than a mile to Granite Dells Road on the right just past the Safeway.  Go 1.9 miles on Granite Dells to a small easy-to-miss sign for Cypress Trail.  There’s no official parking area, just find a spot along the road being mindful of the private driveways in the area.
Go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into FR435 after 1.3 miles) and park at the Monument Peak trailhead on the left just before a roadblock.  From here, hike down to the roadblock on FR435 and hike 0.5 mile (crossing 3 concrete bridges) to the Boulder Loop trailhead—look for a sign on the cliff wall on the left.  The trail begins on the dirt road heading downhill to the right. NOTE: From the first P.A.T.S. sign above the gorge, the trail continues directly across the gorge.  (NOTE: when we hiked this trail in April 2017, this access trail had been washed away. To reach eh trail, continue another 0.25 mile down FR435 and follow the ATV track to cross the gorge) You can see the signs high on the opposite embankment. 
Payson Area Trails System (PATS)