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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MARICOPA TRAIL


MARICOPA TRAIL
Anthem-Lake Pleasant

With the New Year comes the anticipated completion of the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail. Its 240-mile circuit connects county parks, open spaces and suburban communities.  Most of the trail is already cut, signed and ready to explore with the gaps to be bridged in 2015. One interesting, close-to-town section runs for 16.2-miles from Lake Pleasant to Anthem. Beginning at the Agua Fria trailhead that was dedicated in 2011, the route roughly parallels Highway 74, turns north to connect with the Black Canyon Trail then heads east under Interstate 17.  Near the lake, the path scoots around and above the Beardsley and Waddell canals, Camp Dryer Diversion Dam and the massive wall of Carl Pleasant Dam.
The route can be a bit confusing at the beginning.  To stay on track, go east (right) on the dirt path for 0.1 mile to where it comes out on the access road.  From here, continue hiking on the road, cross the canal bridge and look for a Maricopa Trail sign on the right where the road curves to the north at 0.2 mile from the trailhead. From this point on, the route is marked with signs and cairns where it gets sketchy in washes.  In addition to the reservoir features, the trail also passes through an ironwood-lined gully, and crosses a flat plain of creosote and cholla before encountering a RV park near 87th Avenue.  As the trail moves east, the sound of gunfire from Ben Avery Shooting Range heralds the approach to Interstate 17 and a traipse into the Anthem community.
LENGTH: 16.2 miles one way to Anthem
Option: 2.7 miles to 87th Ave
Option: 3.7 to New River Road
Option: 9.3 miles to Black Canyon Trail
Option: 11.5 to I-17
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 1100' - 1737'
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix travel north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway/State Route 74 exit 223. Drive 9 miles west (toward Wickenburg) to Beardsley CSR, turn right, go 0.1 mile and make a U-turn to the trailhead parking area.
INFO:
MAP:
MORE PHOTOS:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

TORTUGA-SPUR CROSS LOOP


TORTUGA-SPUR CROSS LOOP
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is a pristine swath of preserve snuggling up to Cave Creek. It's got everything you'd expect of a Sonoran Desert hiking destination with some unexpected extras to boot. Complementing a community of gigantic saguaros, skulking coyotes, mesquite bosques and  fragrant creosote are a smattering of Native American archeological sites and ruins of mining operations that are best explored via regularly scheduled guided hikes.  With so much to see and do within the Ranch, it can be difficult to decide where to start.  That's where the popular Tortuga-Spur Cross Loop hike comes in handy. Along its 3.6-mile circuit, the trail samples both the rough terrain round the base of Elephant Mountain and the slinky, fresh-cut tread of Spur Cross Trail. A moderate uphill slog on an old 4x4 road leads to a crest overlooking water-scoured gorges, cacti-cluttered cliffs and the riparian wonders of the Jewel of the Creek Preserve. From here, a barely discernable maze of trails braided through surrounding hills and valleys belie a bevy of connecting routes that link the park with adjacent suburbs and the wilds of Tonto National Forest. 
LENGTH:  3.6 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  2,200' - 2,800'
FEE: $3 daily fee per person.  Exact change is required for the self-pay station
GETTING THERE:
From Loop 101 in Phoenix, take Cave Creek Road north to Spur Cross Road (on the left just as you enter the downtown area) and go 4.5 miles to the parking area.
INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation
MAP:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

YAVAPAI POINT TRAIL


YAVAPAI POINT TRAIL
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Yavapai Point Trail

One of three new hiking paths that debuted in November 2014 at Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Yavapai Point Trail adds a moderate climb and sweeping vistas to the park’s 6-trail, 8.3-mile system.  The hike begins at the Cottonwood Day-Use Area with a 0.2-mile walk on Pipeline Canyon Trail to the Yavapai Point junction.  Here the trail swerves toward the water, following the cliffs above the lake.  A scenic viewpoint at roughly the half-mile point serves as an appetizer for what awaits hikers at trail’s end. From here, the hike becomes an edgy, switchback-moderated ridgeline climb with views of Cottonwood Creek, Fireman’s Cove and Pipeline Canyon. The hike’s big payoff is a panorama of the lake and surrounding desert mountains on the breezy summit.  From here, you can return the way you came and pick up the new Cottonwood Trail or connect with Pipeline Canyon, hike 1.9 miles south and step out on the third new route, Wild Burro Trail.
LENGTH:  3.4 miles roundtrip (Yavapai Point out-and-back)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  1,782’ - 2,178’
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic ramadas, camping, nature center
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix go north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway/State Route 74 exit 223.  Head west (toward Wickenburg) to Castle Hot Springs Road turn right and drive 5.4 miles to the Lake Pleasant North Access road. Turn right (pay fee at gate) and go 0.4 mile to the turn off for Cottonwood Picnic area, turn right and go 0.4 mile to the Pipeline Canyon trailhead.
INFO: Lake Pleasant Regional Park
MAP:
MORE PHOTOS:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

EAST WING MOUNTAIN TRAILS


EAST WING MOUNTAIN TRAILS
Peoria Sonoran Mountain Ranch Preserve

If you’re new to hiking or looking for a way to build stamina, this cluster of West Valley trails offers three options ranging from easy to difficult. Although none of the trails stray very far from suburban backyards, the difficult-rated summit loop gains enough elevation to provide a good workout backed by excellent scenic views.  The trail is very well constructed with hairpin switchbacks and staircase-like rock slabs that make climbing the steep chutes manageable for even novice hikers.  The trek is a surprisingly quiet journey, and save for the occasional yapping of the local Yorkshire terriers guarding their patios, the soundtrack is one of breezes through Palo Verde trees and the hum of wind-rustled saguaro needles.
LENGTH: 2.4 miles 
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 1,476’ – 1916’
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables, playground, drinking fountains
GETTING THERE:
Sonoran Mountain Ranch Park, 7098 W. Miner Trail, Peoria.
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to Happy Valley Road exit 218. Go 5 miles west on Happy Valley Road to 67th Avenue, turn right and drive 2.8 miles (road becomes Pyramid Peak Pkwy.) to Sonoran Mountain Ranch Road.  Veer left and go 0.5 mile to Chalfen Blvd., turn left, continue 0.1 mile to Miner Trail and follow the signs to Sonoran Mountain Ranch Park. From the post near the restrooms, hike 0.15 mile south on Chalfen to the official trailhead. Do not park along residential streets.
INFO: City of Peoria
MORE PHOTOS:

Monday, December 8, 2014

PERALTA CANYON TRAIL


PERALTA CANYON
Superstition Wilderness
Weaver's Needle viewed from Lone Pine lookout

A hike up Peralta Canyon Trail #102 in the Superstition Wilderness just might be the longest 2 miles you'll ever trek.  This is because the hike is an unrelenting uphill slog through desert scrub and slick rock chutes that begins immediately after departing the trailhead and does not quit until the trail tops out at the 2-mile point on the Fremont Saddle. Here, up-close views of Weaver's Needle-- the area's most recognizable pillar of rock---deliver a generous ROI for the sweaty haul. The saddle is a popular place to take a break and decide whether to continue hiking downhill another 2.6 miles to the end of trail #102 or back track for a 4-miler.  Another option involves hiking on well-worn social trails to the lone pine tree visible on a ridge to the right (east) of the Needle. This side trip adds 1-mile round trip.  Anyway you hike it, Peralta Trail is an ideal way to burn off those extra holiday calories and a terrific place to introduce out-of-town visitors to the beautiful Supes.
LENGTH TO FREMONT SADDLE: 4 miles round-trip
LENGTH WITH SIDE TRIP TO THE TREE: 5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,400 – 3,800 feet
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take US 60 east to about 8 miles past Apache Junction and look for the “Peralta Trailhead” sign on the side of the road. Turn left onto Peralta Road (Forest Road 77) and drive 8 miles to the trailhead. NOTE: FR 77 is good dirt and passable by sedan. There are nice restrooms but no water at the trailhead. The parking lot fills up quickly on weekends, so plan to arrive early or park in the overflow lot. NO FEES.

Monday, December 1, 2014

VINEYARD TRAIL


VINEYARD TRAIL
Tonto National Forest
Roosevelt Lake 

At the north end of Roosevelt Lake, an elegant suspension bridge that straddles the gap between the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks Wilderness serves as the gateway to Passage 20 of the Arizona Trail. This 19.5-mile   stretch of rugged roads and narrow footpaths shimmies through of some of the state's most spectacular country. The old 4.5-mile Vineyard Trail #131 that was once used to service a reflector on a pinnacle above the lake has been harnessed into this section of the AZT's state-traversing course.  For a relatively short hike, this one really packs a scenic punch and a grueling climb at the start adds satisfaction to the vistas that unfold on the way up. The heart-pumping initial ascent along Inspiration Point tops out at 1.5-miles with 360-degree views of the lake, Sierra Ancha Mountains and green floodplains of Tonto Basin. From here, the hike is tempered by rolling grasslands as it moves west  toward Four Peaks. Next, get your camera ready because the trail curves around a low slung, saguaro-populated ridge where the Salt River gorge and snaking form of Apache Lake shimmer a thousand feet below. This is one of the prettiest places in central Arizona. Beyond the river-and-lake eye candy, the trail dips down though rock fall and cacti to meet Forest Road 429 and the end of trail #131 at the Mills Ridge Trailhead where you can backtrack for a 9-mile day hike or continue 469 miles north to Utah on the Arizona Trail.
LENGTH: 4.5 miles one way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 2,200' - 3,700'
GETTING THERE:
The trailhead is located on the northeast side of the Roosevelt Dam Bridge and can be accessed via State Routes 188 and 88. There are several ways to get there from Phoenix including the shortest route that's a precipitous drive on the rough dirt mountain grades of SR88.  But the faint of heart should instead take State Route 87 north to the SR188 junction and head 30 miles south to the trailhead parking turnout at the big Arizona Trail sign on the left just before the bridge. The hike begins across the road at the AZ88 junction sign.
INFO: Arizona Trail Association:
Tonto National Forest: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 928-467-3200
MORE PHOTOS:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

SONORAN DESERT (HAWES) TRAIL SYSTEM


SONORAN DESERT (HAWES) TRAIL SYSTEM
Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District
Salt River viewed from Saguaro (aka Mine) Trail

Originally constructed by mountain bike enthusiasts, this intertwining system of trails overlooking Granite Reef Dam on the Salt River in Mesa is just too interesting for hikers to ignore.  In 2005, 10.3 miles of the 20-mile web of social trails were adopted into the Tonto National Forest System. As would be expected of bike trails, these routes offer an entertaining mash up of twists and swooping turns tracing the site’s hills and valleys. The 5-trail maze is also known as the "Hawes System" after the longest route in the mix. As bikers heavily use these trails, hikers should stay alert and share the dirt accordingly. Trail courtesy dictates that bikers yield to hikers and everybody yields to horses---especially the wild mustangs that roam this riverside terrain. However, a bike careening through a hairpin turn at break neck speed won't necessarily be able to avoid you without drawing blood. So, although riders on these trails are generally courteous and careful, be prepared to relinquish the right of way whenever possible---after all, they were here first.
LENGTH: 10.3 miles (maintained trails only)
Hawes Trail #52: 3.4 miles
Ridge Trail #59: 1.7 miles
Granite Trail #54: 0.7 mile
Saguaro Trail #50: 3.1 miles
Saddle Trail #51: 1.4 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1150’ – 1760’
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix go east on Loop 202 to exit 23 for Power Road in Mesa.  Travel 2.1 miles north on Power Road to the Hawes Trailhead on the left. Trail begins across the road.
INFO & MAPS: Global Bikes
Tonto National Forest
MORE PHOTOS:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

BUTCHER JONES TRAIL


BUTCHER JONES TRAIL
Saguaro Lake
Trail near Camper Cove

Of the sting of reservoirs tethered by the Salt River 30 miles northeast of the Valley, amenity-rich Saguaro Lake is the closest and easiest to find. This is one of the reasons why it's so wildly popular for boating, fishing or simply bonding with a cooler and juicy novel under a lakeside mesquite tree. Hikers can hit the dirt here by way of the Butcher Jones Trail that wraps around a water-piercing peninsula with secluded coves. Most of the route hugs the cliffs high above the lake, but fisherman paths to the shore make nice scenic detours for photography, wildlife spotting or a cozy lunch break. The trail's high points reveal fantastic views of the gaping Salt River Canyon, 1930s-era Stewart Dam and surrounding mountain ranges. Arrive early to get a good parking spot and be prepared to share the trail with pole-toting anglers and gaggles of kids running off their hot dogs and Kool-Aid. If noise and crowds cramp your style, hang in there---the commotion dissipates where the trail makes a hairpin turn around Peregrine Point.
LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1529' - 1600'
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables
FEE: Tonto Pass is required. $6 daily fee
GETTING THERE:
From Mesa, go 27 miles north on SR87 (Beeline Highway) to exit 199, Bush Highway (FR204), turn right and continue 2 miles to the signed turnoff for Butcher Jones Recreation Area.  Follow the access road (FR116) 2 miles to the site.  Trail begins at far east end of the beach.
INFO: Tonto National Forest
MORE PHOTOS:

Monday, November 10, 2014

TURPENTINE TRAIL


TURPENTINE TRAIL
McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Who knew that the ambrosial, mood-altering magic of fragrance could be so pronounced on a trail dubbed "Turpentine"?  Named for Ericameria laricifolia, a knee-high bush in the sunflower family, the Turpentine Trail in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve celebrates this tenacious plant's olfactory contribution to desert hiking. Instead of the expected nasal membrane singeing vapors, the needle-like leaves of the turpentine bush emit a complex cloud of piney perfume with hints of citrus and sage when pinched gently between the fingers. The late bloomer is at its best during the winter hiking season boasting yellow, broom-shaped blooms from August through December followed by frothy, flightily seed globes.  The plants grow in perfusion throughout the preserve's sandy, crushed granite terrain but are especially robust in the north sector around the Fraesfield and Granite Mountain trailheads, both of which can be used to access the Turpentine Trail. Maps available online coupled with meticulous on-trail signage show numerous ways to weave this trail into a day of exploring.  One option begins at the Fraesfield trailhead with a 1.6-mile trek on Black Hills Trail, to the Turpentine junction. From here, go left and hike 1.4 miles to Whiskey Bottle Trail, veer left and continue 1.6 miles back to the trailhead. This loop has terrific views of the Superstition Wilderness, Four Peaks and the Cave Creek Mountains.
LENGTH: 4.6 miles as described here
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2300' - 2656'
GETTING THERE: Fraesfield Trailhead
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit 36 and go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd./Rio Verde Dr.  Turn right and go 5.6 miles to the trailhead on the left.  No facilities or water.
INFO & MAPS: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 480-312-7013
MORE PHOTOS:

Monday, November 3, 2014

GIRDNER TRAIL


Cockscomb formation dominates the horizon

GIRDNER TRAIL
Sedona

Taking off from a trailhead located less than a mile from busy Highway 89A in Sedona, the Girdner Trail has a surprisingly wild feel about it---if you give it about a mile. The first part of the hike shares space with the 0.2-mile, paved Centennial Trail that leads to an overlook area with big sky views of colorfully layered mesas and blood red rock spires floating over residential properties northwest of town. Trudging beyond this barrier-free gem, the trail boasts cypress-framed vistas of the russet sandstone Cockscomb formation before making a dive into the twisting gorge of Dry Creek where suburbia gets swallowed up in a frenzy of high desert trees and water-sculpted canyon walls.
Although the creek lives up to its "dry" name most of the time, the porous terrain retains enough groundwater and reflecting pools to support an enchanting forest of cottonwood, willow and sycamore trees that flaunt golden canopies from late October thought mid-November.  A walking stick is helpful as the trail makes many crossings of the boulder strewn creek bed.  Along the way, a short trek on a gas pipeline road and telephone line corridor reminds that civilization is not too far away. The trail ends at Dry Creek Road, however, multiple connecting trails in the "Cockscomb cluster" can be cobbled into endless day hike or backpacking trips. NOTE: trail signs are sparse and intersecting social trails can cause confusion.  Study the trailhead map before heading out.
LENGTH: 4.5 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4240'- 4600'
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required
GETTING THERE:
From the AZ89A/179 traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west (left thru the circle) on 89A to Cultural Park Way (traffic signal). Turn right and continue 0.3-mile to the Cultural Park trailhead on the right. Trailhead has picnic tables and a map kiosk but no restrooms or water.
INFO & MAPS: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Monday, October 27, 2014

SOUTH THUMB BUTTE TRAILS


SOUTH THUMB BUTTE TRAILS
Prescott
Thumb Butte Bypass Trail follows Miller Creek

Soaring to 6514', the sky dominating profile of Thumb Butte is Prescott’s most iconic natural landmark. Its convenient location in the middle of a park just west of downtown's historic Whiskey Row attracts scores of visitors, many of whom use the main Trail #33 as their first exposure to Prescott area hiking. Although it's a good choice for novice hikers or those unfamiliar with the area's terrain, a slew of connecting routes add length and difficulty to satisfy the predilections of most trekkers.
The heaviest traveled of the seven routes in the park's south end, Trail #33 is engineered with climb-calming switchbacks, safety rails and rest stops that make short work of the 2.1-mile loop around the granite formation.  When hiking clockwise from the trailhead, the path is paved up to the loop's highpoint on a saddle below vertical rock slabs forming the butte's summit. Here, a spur trail that's closed from February 1st to July 15th each year to protect peregrine falcon nesting sites, leads to optional rock scrambling routes.  The trail turns to dirt for the return leg, passing a makeshift memorial to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished in the 2013 Yarnell Hill wildfire.    Maps available at the trailhead show the lay of the land and numerous ways to explore deeper into Prescott National Forest including easy connectivity with the Prescott Circle Trail that makes a 50-mile circuit around the city.
Thumb Butte

LENGTH: 8.3 miles total for 7 trails
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  5705’ – 6314’ (Trail #33)
HOURS: seasonal 7 a.m. to 5, 7 or 8 p.m.
FEE: $5 day use fee (exact change required)

GETTING THERE:
From the courthouse in downtown Prescott (Gurley St. and Montezuma), travel 3.4 miles west on Gurley Street (turns into Thumb Butte Road) to the Thumb Butte Recreation Area.
INFO & MAPS: Prescott National Forest

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WEST WING MOUNTAIN TRAILS


WEST WING MOUNTAIN TRAILS
City of Peoria

Every town and city in the Valley has its popular workout trail where the hordes converge for their daily dose of sweat and grind. Examples are Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and, Scottsdale's Pinnacle Peak. Not to be left out of the fitness frenzy, Peoria's trek of choice is West Wing Mountain. Unlike its neighbors, which offer one option---moderately difficult, straight up-and-down trudges-- this system of loop trails offers you a choice of difficult and extreme options. Although the trails are well maintained and not too steep, the difficult rating is likely because of the slick rock and loose scree underfoot.
The mountain is actually an undulating ridgeline with trails wrapping up and around scenic viewpoints and a high summit.  Rising above a Northwest Valley suburban domain of kids and cul-de-sacs, the trails dodge among crusty cliffs and barrel cactus showcasing ever-improving views as the routes gain elevation. At the top of the extreme loop, views of a sea of terra cotta roofs nuzzling up to the mountain’s base and West Valley mountains form a 360-degree panorama beyond a familiar landscape of freeways and shopping malls.
LENGTH:  3.4 or 3.5 miles (including 0.2-mile access trail from the park)
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 1400'- 1903’
GETTING THERE:
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to Loop 303 exit 221 .  Turn left (west) and continue 7 miles to  Lake Pleasant Parkway exit 131, turn left (south) and go 2.3 miles to West Wing Parkway, turn left and go 1 mile to West Wing Park on the right.  Trail begins at the far west side of the parking lot. Although there are numerous access points from residential streets, The City of Peoria wants hikers to park at the West Wing Park lot.
INFO: City of Peoria, 623-773-7120
West Wing Neighborhood Park
27100 N. West Wing Parkway, Peoria

Sunday, October 12, 2014

BARBERSHOP and U-BAR TRAILS


BARBERSHOP-U-BAR TRAILS to DANE CANYON
Coconino National Forest
Barbershop Trail, Oct. 11, 2014

One of the best long hikes on the Mogollon Rim is the Cabin Loop System.  Several trailheads provide myriad options for making multi-day backpack treks or day hikes using the five trails that link a system of abandoned fire lookout cabins. In autumn, the Barbershop Trail portion of the route is famous for its awesome display of colorful foliage.
The hike begins with a steep descent into Yeager Canyon, a creek crossing and an immediate climb back up to a ridge. The trail is sketchy in places but is marked by tree blazes. Along this section, moist pockets of Bigtooth maples form canopies of red, orange and gold over a moss-fleeced pine-fir woodland.  At the 0.7-mile point, turn right to pick up the U-Bar Trail.  Deeply wooded, this trail features Gamble oaks and aspen groves that shine in electric yellow in mid-October.  The ruins of Dane Cabin and its companion spring appear at mile 2.3 before the trail winds north along the edge of Dane Canyon. Soon the path dips into the gorge via a series of switchbacks landing hikers in a stream-bisected meadow at the 4.3-mile point---a good turnaround point for a leaf-peeping day hike.
LENGTH:  8.7 miles (as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7120’ – 7598
BEST TIME FOR FALL COLOR: mid-October
GETTING THERE:
From Payson, go 29 miles east on AZ260 to Rim Road (Forest Road 300 at the Woods Canyon Lake sign).  Turn left and go 22.8 miles on FR300 to FR137, turn right and continue 3.4 miles to the Barbershop Trail sign.  Hike begins on the west side of the road at a small wooden sign. Dirt roads are sedan friendly.
INFO:
MORE PHOTOS:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

WEST FORK OF OAK CREEK: POST FIRE


WEST FORK OF OAK CREEK: POST 2014 SLIDE FIRE
Sedona
Narrow Canyon Pool, Oct. 7, 2014

I cried when I first learned that the 2014 Slide Fire had crept into the West Fork of Oak Creek, impacting one of Sedona’s premier hiking destinations. Prior to the blaze, the soaring crimson and buff canyon walls that cradle the creek were embellished with pines, maples, elders, willows and hop trees. In spring, apple blossoms burst from an abandoned orchard and in autumn, the canyon glowed in shades of russet, gold and orange. After a months-long closure, the forest service re-opened the canyon on October 1, 2014.  I re-visited a few days later and found that the damage is minimal. The vast majority of the trail is intact and I only noticed six areas of moderate fire damage---but nothing bad enough to detract from the canyon’s beauty.  Despite our wet summer, water levels in the creek are very low and the sandbars are stained black with ash. But, low water means that hiking into the slot canyon beyond the maintained trail is now easy to do without having to wade. On October 7th, the leaves were just beginning to show some color, which means the week of the 15th should be prime time for fall foliage hiking.
LENGTH: 3.3 miles one-way
RATING: easy with 13 creek crossings
ELEVATION: 5324' – 5594’
FEE: $10 daily fee per vehicle or $2 per person walk in
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables, no water
Fire damage at creek crossing #11

GETTING THERE:
From the AZ179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, veer right and continue 10.5 miles north on 89A to the Call O the Canyon trailhead on the left.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Sunday, October 5, 2014

ASPENS ON THE ARIZONA TRAIL


ASPENS ON THE ARIZONA TRAIL
Arizona Trail Passage 34, Flagstaff
Aspen color on October 5, 2014

Trekking the Arizona National Scenic Trail Passage 34 can best be described as hiking through an aspen alley. Although this section of the 817-mile, state-traversing route is well over 30 miles in length, some of the best fall foliage viewing happens in the 4-mile strip of forest between Forest Road 418 and Bismarck Lake . Right from the start, hikers are immersed in colonies of slender, white-barked trees with feather-duster-like canopies that glow in shades of gold from early to mid-October. After about a mile, deep woodlands of pines and firs overcome the aspens.  Here, sporadic, survivor aspens stand out like torch flames.  At the 1.8 mile point, a small grove adds spots of color and at 2.7 miles, the aspens return with a vengeance, dominating the trail all the way to the Bismarck Lake junction in the shadow of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks.



LENGTH: 4.2 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8287' - 8897'
GETTING THERE:
From Flagstaff go 19 miles north on US180 to Hart Prairie Road (FR151) at milepost 235.
Turn right and go 1.6 miles to FR418, turn left and continue 1.1 mile to the trailhead.

INFO:

Monday, September 29, 2014

West Fork to Reopen Wednesday Oct. 1, 2014

For Immediate Release (from Coconino National Forest)
September 29, 2014
           
Most of Oak Creek Canyon to reopen Wednesday 
Visitors urged to continue to use caution
October 14, 2011

Sedona, Ariz.
– This summer, Coconino National Forest managers, along with the City of Sedona, Sedona Fire District, Coconino and Yavapai Counties and State partners, have worked diligently to assess and mitigate hazards caused by the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon. On Wednesday, October 1, most of the National Forest in Oak Creek Canyon will reopen.

The only areas which will continue to be closed in Oak Creek Canyon include Cave Springs Campground (closed for the season), A.B. Young Trail and also a section of land between Slide Rock State Park and Halfway Picnic area.

While the monsoon season has passed, there continues to be potential for occasional storms and the threat of severe flash flooding is still present within the canyon and surrounding areas. In addition, falling trees and rocks are possible even without rain. As such, visitors are asked to remain vigilant when recreating within the canyon.

“Returning visitors will likely be relieved to see that their favorite spots aren’t completely blackened and desolate, but it’s important to remember that these areas aren’t completely risk-free,” says Nicole Branton, Red Rock District ranger. “We’ve mitigated many of the imminent hazards caused by the fire, but the canyon is no longer in the condition it was before.”

Each visitor is responsible for his/her own safety. The public is urged to be mindful of their surroundings, keep an eye on the weather, err on the side of caution and make smart decisions while visiting the forest.

Oak Creek Canyon visitors and residents are reminded to sign up to receive Coconino County CodeRED emergency alert notifications to their home, cellphone or via email. Visit www.coconino.az.gov/emergency <http://www.coconino.az.gov/emergency>  to register. For additional information on the Slide flood preparations, visit www.coconino.az.gov/slidefloodinformation <http://www.coconino.az.gov/slidefloodinformation> .

Forest managers will continue to work closely with partners to monitor conditions and may need to temporarily close portions of the area for public safety. For updates, visit www.coconinonationalforest.us <http://www.coconinonationalforest.us>  or contact the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-203-7500.
  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

BEARFOOT TRAIL


BEARFOOT TRAIL
Pine-Strawberry
Junipers and Ponderosa pines shade the trail
UPDATE March, 2016:
Several new trail signs have been installed and a bridge is being built across Pine Creek. Thanks to hiker Randy Cockrell for the photo and update.
New signs installed 2016. Photo by Randy Cockrell
Officially introduced in May 2014 during Pine-Strawberry Trail Days festivities, the area’s newest hiking path connects with Tonto National Forest routes Pine Canyon Trail #26 and Forest Road #608 (a.k.a. Rock Wall Trail). The hike takes off from a small pull out along Highway 87 and follows a ridgeline above the town of Pine.  There are no signs along the route and finding where the path begins is a little tricky.  From the trailhead, pass the gate, veer right and hike 0.2 mile on the power line road to a 4-way junction where the road gets very steep. Pick up the trail heading right and from here on, the route is obvious.  While hiking, note the beautifully constructed native stone retaining walls and drainage ditches. The din of the highway accompanies outstanding views of the Mazatzal Mountains for the first mile, but the noise recedes as the trail curves to the northwest,  dipping and climbing among cypress pockets, juniper-studded gullies and cool pine-shaded woodlands backed by Mogollon Rim vistas. You’ll pass by several private residential communities and Camp Lo Mia before connecting with Trail #26 in Pine Canyon.
LENGTH: 5.6 miles one-way
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 5690’ – 6050’
GETTING THERE:
From Payson go 20 miles north on AZ87 to the trailhead at milepost 270 on the right.  There’s parking for about 4 cars, but additional space is at the Trail #15 lot a few yards up the road on the left.
INFO:
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

HIGHLANDS CENTER FOR NATURAL HISTORY


HIGHLANDS CENTER FOR NATURAL HISTORY
Prescott
Lynx Creek

Located adjacent to the Lynx Lake recreation site a few miles south of downtown Prescott, the trails of the Highland Center for Natural History blend hiking with education. Two easy trail loops are laid out to highlight the unique geology, plant life, conservation concerns and watershed resources of the Central Arizona Highlands. Accompanying field guides available at the trailhead correspond with numbered points of interest along the collective 3-miles of nature trails. These short paths also connect with longer forest trails for those who want more of a challenge. In addition to being a model of sustainable building practices and fire-wise landscaping, the center offers a plethora of guided field hikes, youth learning opportunities and naturalist certification programs. But the keynote event is the annual "Take A Hike" Hiking Spree. Participants in the popular self-paced event hike a list of designated trails within the Prescott National Forest and City of Prescott systems between September and December. Hikers who complete the program may purchase a specially designed commemorative medallion and also are entered into a prize drawing.  The 2014 Spree kicked off on Sept 6th and this year's trail selection includes perennial classics like Juniper Mesa as well as newly opened Granite Gardens trails. Click the link below to get started.
LENGTH: 3 miles
RATING: easy, partially barrier free
ELEVATION: 5300’ – 5590’
FEE: none, but donations are appreciated
HOURS: variable, but generally 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
GETTING THERE:
1375 S. Walker Road, Prescott. 
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Cordes Junction, connect with  SR69 and go 30 miles west to Walker Road at milepost 293. Turn left and continue 1.8 miles to the center on the left.
INFO:
Take A Hike Hiking Spree
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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CHEVELON CANYON


CHEVELON CANYON from CHEVELON CROSSING
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Crossing of Chevelon Creek

One of my hiking  buddies describes the trip through Chevelon Canyon on the Mogollon Rim as a "cross the creek and cross your fingers" venture. This spot-on assessment is a playful nod to the dozens of creek crossings, overgrown willows, log jams, and befuddling boulder-clogged bends that make route-finding a challenge. Therefore, navigating the steep walled, twisted watercourse from Chevelon Crossing to the dam at Chevelon Canyon Lake is a trip only experienced hikers should attempt.  Sporadic rock cairns belie clues where the primitive trail cuts through thick  vegetation or was taken out by floods. As a general rule, if you find yourself getting very high on the canyon walls or disoriented, backtrack, cross the creek and hunt for signs of a passage.For attentive hikers, the trail-muddling obstacles are but an inconvenience in an otherwise beautiful gorge of vertical limestone cliffs, flowing stream channels and refreshing pools.  Within the moist riparian corridor at the bottom of the canyon, Ponderosa pines, alders and Gambel oaks (think: fall foliage hike) provide plenty of cool shade, but just a few yards up from the stream, drier pinon-juniper grasslands speckled with cacti can be quite warm in summer.  Trekkers planning a through hike should come prepared with map, gps and plenty of supplies as the 8.5-mile, trip is slow going. For those out for a day hike, the way is relatively simple before the head scratching begins at around 2-miles in.   Finding the start point also is tricky. Here's how--at the Long Draw North trailhead, where the dirt road splits just past the restrooms, walk down the left fork for about 20 yards to a campsite with a picnic table. Where the road makes a sharp right turn going uphill, look for an unmarked path on the left (N 34 35.425 W 110 47.270) heading toward the creek.
LENGTH: 8.5 miles one-way
RATING: experienced hikers only
ELEVATION: 6,300' -6100'
FACILITIES: restrooms, campsites, picnic tables
GETTING THERE:
From Payson, go 29 miles east on AZ260 to Rim Road (Forest Road 300 at the Woods Canyon Lake sign).  Turn left and follow FR300 8.3 miles, turn right on Forest Road 169 and go 20.3 miles to Forest Road 504.  Turn right and drive 1.4 miles to the turn off on the right for Chevelon Crossing Campground. Forest Roads are sedan-friendly dirt, but there are steep drop offs and hairpin turns on FR504.
INFO:
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Monday, August 25, 2014

SCHOLZ LAKE


SCHOLZ LAKE
Kaibab National Forest
The wild north end

Tucked into a shallow gorge at the western edge of Garland Prairie, Scholz Lake may be the best-kept hiking secret in Kaibab National Forest.  This is probably because most hikers instead make a beeline for nearby superstar destinations like Sycamore Rim Trail, Overland Road Historic Trail or the strenuous routes on Bill Williams Mountain.  The high-altitude lake is open year-round, however, the north end is closed to all access annually from February 1st through August 1st to allow waterfowl and raptors to nest in peace.  The hike begins with a quarter-mile walk on a dirt trail that emerges on the south shore dam. From here, primitive angler paths circle the lake.  In drier months, the water settles into a patchwork of glassy ponds, rivulets and swales of frog-populated Lady's Finger smartweed. The T-shaped lake is fringed with Ponderosa pines and dozens of creaking snags that provide cover and perches for ospreys, ravens, geese, and eagles.  Keep an eye out for Hummingbird moths sipping nectar from thistles and herds of elk charging through Frenchy Canyon at the northwest end of the wetlands.  Although the hike is short and effortless, the scenic drive to the trailhead, proximity to longer routes and prodigious wildlife viewing opportunities make a visit to Scholz Lake worth a detour.
LENGTH: 3 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6730' - 6750'
GETTING THERE:
From Flagstaff, go west on Interstate 40 to the Parks exit 178.  Go 11.4 miles south on Garland Prairie Road (Forest Road 141, paved and sedan-friendly gravel) to Forest Road 62 and the signed turn off for Scholz Lake, turn right and drive 1 mile to the trailhead.  Forest Road 62 is good dirt for 0.5-mile, after that it gets rougher but is still passable by carefully driven sedan. There's a parking circle just before the road degrades for those who prefer to avoid the potholes and walk an extra half-mile. There's a restroom at the trailhead. Day use only.
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Monday, August 18, 2014

OSPREY CONNECTOR to ICE CAVE


OSPREY CONNECTOR to ICE CAVE
Pinetop-Lakeside

Crossing of Porter Creek

Of all the wonderful routes in the White Mountain Trail System, Ice Cave Trail #608 is a hiker favorite.
Known for its easy tread and cool, pine-juniper forests, the trail's big attraction is the eponymous lava tube located mid-way along the path.  Because of its popularity, the trailhead fills up quickly, which is why the Osprey Connector #636C is gaining recognition as an alternative access route. A relatively new addition to the 25 trails within the system, this one was built to link the Timber Mesa and Blue Ridge Mountain clusters of trails.  But to view this woodland traipse as just a means to an end is to miss the point---it holds its own as a standalone hike. Passing through the gorge and surrounding wetlands of Porter Creek, the trail makes a steppingstone-assisted water crossing before ascending along the ridgeline above Scott Reservoir. 
However, as visiting the White Mountain ice cave is a hiking itch that must be scratched, here's how to use this route to get to the prize. Begin by hiking 0.5-mile on the Timber Mesa Trail #636, turn right onto the Osprey Connector and follow it 2.5 miles to the Ice Cave Trail junction.  From here, it's 0.5-mile to the cave.  Despite the hype, (and to the chagrin of many hikers) the cave itself is little more than a glorified sinkhole--with no ice. The forest service has fenced off the cave for preservation (the gate has been open on all my visits) and it's smart to avoid climbing into the potentially dangerous abyss.

Scott Reservoir viewed from Osprey Connector

LENGTH: 7 miles roundtrip to the cave and back
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  6350' - 6890'

Trail signs correspond with online maps

GETTING THERE:
In Pinetop-Lakeside, go south on AZ260 (White Mountain Blvd.) to the Porter Mountain Road traffic light at milepost 350.  Turn left and continue 2.2 miles to the Timber Mesa trailhead or 2.4 miles to additional parking at a gate along the road. Parking at the gate cuts 2 miles off the roundtrip distance.

INFO: Pinetop-Lakeside TRACKS
http://www.tracks-pinetop-lakeside.org/
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