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Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Payson Area Trails System
View of the Mogollon Rim from Houston Loop
For a short, moderate-rated trail, this one really packs a punch. It's wide, well-signed and within shouting distance of suburbia, but what's not advertised about Payson's Houston Loop is its unrelenting ups-and-downs that can catch the first-timer off guard. The quad burning workout pays off with
high point vistas of the Mogollon Rim hovering above the metal rooftops of woodland retreats. Where the trail dips into the canyons around Houston Creek, Ponderosa pine trees throw shade over moist drainages imprinted with elk tracks. Elk rarely venture more than a quarter mile from water sources, so keep an eye out for them where the trail hops over rivulets and puddles. The trail's bonus attraction is a Cold War Era curiosity known as a seismic bunker. The metal structure built into a hillside has been abandoned for years and is now under siege by local graffiti rebel forces. It's a dank, creepy place (mind the Bud Light cans underfoot) that you'll want to observe from the outside only. Beyond the den of debauchery, the trail redeems itself as it ascends an exposed ridgeline and heads into the woods. The route follows deeply rutted, dodgy 4x4 roads that are popular with bikers and ATV riders. In my experiences on this trail, the wheeled users have been responsible and courteous around hikers. With its carousel of changing scenery, history side show, challenging dips and climbs and close-to-town access, this trail makes for an entertaining Rim Country trek.
LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6 miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead
RATING: moderate
4,800’ – 4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)
Chaparral Ranch Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go right (east) onto 260 and continue 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive. Turn left (north) and go 1.2 miles to the Chaparral Ranch Trail access turnout. There's parking for about 3-4 vehicles. Do not block private driveways in the area. Large groups should access this trail via the Houston Mesa Trailhead. Houston Mesa Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go 1.7 miles north on 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right (east) and continue 0.8 mile to the trailhead on the right (past the “horse camp”). From here, follow Houston Trail 3 miles to the loop.
Cold War Era bunker

Monday, February 29, 2016


McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
Bootlegger Trail

Despite abundant winter rains and mild temperatures that raised our expectations for a banner wildflower season, this year's showing of desert blooms has turned out to be a more low-key event. The hype may have fizzled, but there are still plenty of flowering plants to enjoy along Valley trails.
One of the best places to observe a wide variety of specimens is in the far east side of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. In this area of desert, wildflowers thrive best among boulder outcroppings on the flanks of Granite Mountain
where precious bits of shade and trapped moisture nurse blooms to fruition. When the elements dole out perfect measures of rain, warmth and sunlight, poppies and lupines paint the desert floor in blazing shades of purple and orange. This spectacular but rare event is beautiful to behold but, there's also joy in spotting a lone poppy or colorful patch of brittlebush during less productive seasons.
On a recent hike along the Bootlegger Trail, I compiled a list of wildflowers we observed. There were many bloomers, but you'll have to stay alert to see them. Are you up for a scavenger hunt? Here's a partial list. Happy hunting!
1. Lacepod
2. Mexican Gold Poppy
3. Desert Chicory
4. Desert Wishbone
5. Desert Rock Pea
6. Scorpionweed
7. Filaree (Stork's Bill)
8. Desert Lavender
9. Popcorn Flower
10. Fiddleneck
From the Granite Mountain Trailhead, hike 1.3 miles on Bootlegger Trail. Head right on Granite Mountain Loop and continue 1.1 miles to Coyote Canyon Trail. Turn right and hike 1.3 miles (note the crested saguaro at the 0.8-mile point) to Dove Valley Trail. Veer right and go 1 mile to 136th St. Express and follow it 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 6-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,415' – 2,822'
Granite Mountain Trailhead, 31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale.
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 continue 5.9 miles to 136th St., turn left and go 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left. Trailhead is open sunrise to sunset. No facilities.
INFO & MAPS: McDowell Sonoran Preserve