Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
BLACK MESA LOOP
It may be just a stone’s throw from town, but hiking out from the First Water Trailhead at the western edge of the Superstition Wilderness is a surprisingly alien experience. Because the first mile or so of hiking in this area is considered to be easy, the site is a big draw for parents herding a mixed lot of dogs and kids outfitted with Sponge Bob backpacks and spiffy shoes that light up in sync with their stride. A very popular circuit here is the Black Mesa Loop that uses the Dutchmans, Black Mesa and Second Water trails for a continually-changing tour of this wild pocket in Tonto National Forest.
Easy at first, the route transitions into a twisted collection of dips, climbs and tricky crossings of boulder-clogged washes and creeks. After the first 2 miles, the crowds become noticeably thinner. A sturdy pair of boots and hiking poles for balance will help get you through the rough parts to reap the rewarding views of a volcanic landscape scoured by millions of years of exposure to the earth’s turbulent elements. You'll be swallowed up in a wonderland of oddly-shaped pinnacles, gaping canyons and rugged arroyos. Add to that, the effects of changing light over the course of an afternoon, and it’s easy to feel as if you have been transported to another planet. For an extra treat, hang around until dusk and watch the stars come out for a show that's more brilliant than light-up shoes.
From the trailhead, follow the access path 0.3 mile to the Dutchman's Trail #104 junction. Veer right (south) and follow #104 3.9 miles to the Black Mesa Trail #241 junction. Turn left (northwest) here and continue 3.0 miles on #241 to the Second Water Trail #236 junction, turn left (south) and follow #236 1.5 miles back to the Dutchman's junction, turn right and hike 0.3 mike back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9-mile loop
ELEVATION: 2,200' - 2,750'
From Phoenix, go east on US 60 to the Idaho Road (State Route 88) exit. Turn left and follow Idaho to SR88, turn right and continue to First Water Road (Forest Road 78), which is located about a half mile past the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park (between mileposts 201 and 202) and is signed for First Water Trailhead. Turn right and go 2.6 miles to the trailhead. Forest Road 78 is on maintained dirt with some potholes and washboard sections passable by carefully-driven sedan.
INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest
Monday, December 28, 2015
ETHICAL HIKING FOR 2016
During my 2015 hiking adventures, I noticed a disturbing trend. It seems the popularity of off-trail and bush whack hiking has been growing. I've witnessed this firsthand, read endless news reports about off-trail hikers needing rescue and saw hiking clubs promoting these types of outings on their websites. Although cross country travel on some public land is not necessarily illegal; I question the ethics of such use. Land management agencies across the board are embracing sustainable practices for recreational management. These include paying special attention to trail construction, ATV access, group size limitations and educating the public about the damage caused by irresponsible use.
For hikers, the message is simple----stick to established trails. This rally cry encompasses more than the cartoonish cliche of the "militant tree-hugger". It is supported by science (see one good source below) and rooted in maintaining access while preserving irreplaceable resources for future generations.
|Don't trample pristine land---use the trail|
Here a just a few reasons why hikers should stay on trails:
• Studies have shown that initial, low levels of trampling on pristine land causes the most severe damage.
• Unofficial social trails can cause confusion and lead to hikers getting lost.
• Social trails are built without the benefit of environment impact studies and are largely of poor design making them dangerous for users and harmful to sensitive vegetation.
• Delicate soil crusts that contain organisms essential for forest health take hundreds of years to form are destroyed by one boot print.
• Off-trail exploring can harm fragile archeological sites.
• There are hundreds of abandoned mines in Arizona that are not obvious until somebody gets injured.
• Trail cutting and widening along with carin building cause erosion and encourage others to follow suit.
• Off-trail hikers can trigger higher defense response in wildlife.
• Contrary to popular belief, hiker-blazed routes are NOT automatically adopted into the land agent's scope of official trails. If you have an idea for a new trail---contact the agency.
• Even a short off-trail traipse to find a good lunch spot causes damage. Take breaks on durable surfaces like established camp sites or trail-side logs.
• The seeds of invasive species have been documented to stay lodged in shoes for hundreds of miles. When you cut into soft, untraveled land, these seeds may take root causing devastating disruption of the ecosystem.
• Hiking off trail puts the search and rescue workers who will come to save your butt at unnecessary risk.
My New Year's wish for 2016 is that individual hikers and groups alike adopt and share sustainable trail ethics with a vengeance.
Arizona has a deep bench of hiking clubs that organize events, teach skills, donate countless hours of volunteer work and foster lasting friendships and a love of the outdoors. These same wonderful clubs have a great opportunity to promote stewardship by example.
See you on the trail in 2016!
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics