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Wednesday, February 12, 2014



A relatively new addition to the sanctioned stock of Sedona hiking trails, this one originated as a mountain bike route. As with many wheel-wrangled paths, the Mescal Trail is big on challenging terrain and vertigo-inducing exposure.  Beginning at roughly a mile into the trek, the gaping, U-shaped bend on the flanks of Mescal Mountain known as "the bowl" comes into view. Here, the trail seems to disappear into the russet sandstone making the traverse of the cliffs appear impossible. Within a few yards, a wood sign marks a brief section where the trail splits---one side is "difficult", the other "extreme". Pick your poison. Although these ratings pertain mostly to bike technicality, I chose to err on the conservative side by taking the "difficult" arm and found that, except for some slick rock and edgy narrows, it wasn't too tough. The path soon becomes clear and after another mile-and-change of semi-queasy ledge hiking, the route rounds the mountain to meet Dead Mans Pass Trail at the border of Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness and Boynton Canyon.  Straight ahead is the Kachina Woman vortex site---a popular spiritual retreat and platform for musicians who fill the canyons with soulful strains of Native American flute or didgeridoos. Mescal Trail ends here, however, a map at the junction shows how to use Dead Mans Pass and Long Canyon Trails for an optional loop back to the trailhead.

LENGTH: 4.8-mile loop
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION:  4239' - 4723'
FEE: a Red Rock Pass is required. $5 daily fee per vehicle.

From the US89A/AZ179 traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west on 89A (left, toward Cottonwood) to Dry Creek Road (FR 152C), turn
right and continue 2.9 miles to Long Canyon Road (FR 152D), turn right and go 0.2 mile to the trailhead on the right. Trail begins across the road. This route can also be accessed via the Long Canyon trailhead 0.3 mile farther up FR152D.
Follow Mescal Trail 2.3 miles to Deadmans Pass Trail, turn right (NE) and hike 0.9 mile to Long Canyon Trail. Turn right (S) and hike 1.6 miles back to the trailhead.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-2900

Monday, February 10, 2014


Tonto National Forest, north of Carefree

Sycamores along Camp Creek

The sandy, canyon-bound courses of Blue Wash and Camp Creek provide an interesting twist on desert hiking. During rainstorms, turbulent sheets of water pummeling off of the Cave Creek Mountains rush through these natural funnels that channel moisture into the Verde River. But, on most days, the rocky corridors are hikable mazes of boulders and rock jams settled in a soft-floored, multi-armed gorge that supports a community of willows, sycamores and bamboo plugged into precious groundwater. There's no "official trail" but well-worn footpaths ambling among house-high blocks of granite are reasonably easy to pick out in this quiet section of Tonto National Forest between Cave Creek Road and Bartlett Dam Road that's off limits to motorized traffic.  From the Cave Creek Road trailhead, the hike begins with a passage through "boulder alley" where there are three tricky spots that require some minor scrambling. At the 1.1-mile point, Blue Wash intersects with Camp Creek at a wide "T" junction. Turn left (northeast) here and hike 0.28 mile to visit Camp Creek Falls---a box canyon grotto with spring-fed water cascades and drop pools. Once done exploring the falls, return to the "T" and hike south down the wash another 3 miles to the turnaround point at Bartlett Dam Road. Actual mileage may vary slightly because there are multiple paths through the canyon.
"boulder alley"

LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2640' - 3200'

NORTH (Cave Creek Road) TRAILHEAD:
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit 36 and go 13 miles north on  
Camp Creek Falls
Pima to Cave Creek Road (a.k.a. Seven Springs Road and FR24). Follow Cave Creek Road 6.5 miles to the gravel lot on the left just past the "Blue Wash #1" sign. Trail begins near the cottonwood trees across from the parking place.
SOUTH (Bartlett Dam Road) TRAILHEAD:
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit 36 and go 13 miles north on Pima to Cave Creek Road (a.k.a. Seven Springs Road and FR24). Follow Cave Creek Road 4.1 miles to Bartlett Dam Road, turn right and continue 2.8 miles to the trailhead on the left.