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Monday, October 21, 2019


GO JOHN TRAIL:Cave Creek Regional Park
View of the Cave Creek Mountains from Go John Trail

Situated in a hilly slice of desert just a few miles east of Interstate 17, Cave Creek Regional Park is bordered by an eclectic brew of subdivisions, strip malls, nature preserves and national forest. 
West leg of the Go John loop is part of the Maricopa Trail
Somehow, the seemingly miss-matched adjacencies blend into a sort of extended back yard for North Valley outdoor recreation. Replete with the standard amenities of suburban patio life, the family-friendly park has a nature center, frequent workshops and events, picnic ramadas, restrooms, water, playground, horse staging area and camping. 
Flaky metamorphic rock outcroppings line the route
But beyond the grills and easy interpretive trails, there are also plenty of ways to escape into the wild end of the 2,922-acre site.
Of the eight trails in Cave Creek Regional Park, Go John is the deep-cut classic. As the core loop in the Maricopa County park’s 14-plus-mile trail system, the moderate-rated hike explores some of the most remote and scenic corners of the property.

Elephant Mountain in distance
Downtown Phoenix visible on the distant horizon
Scaly rock formations at Gunsight Pass
The beautiful thing about loop hikes like this one are the continually-changing views and Go John delivers the goods in far-reaching vistas, cloistered passages, a variety of geological features and rich plant communities. To get the major climbing done first, begin the loop at the north trail sign where the route dives right into the zig-zagging western leg of the loop that’s also part of the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail that connects all 10 county parks.
Long switchbacks mitigate the climb on Go John Trail
Quartz deposits appears along the route
The ascent is mitigated by long switchbacks cut from foothills that swing around desert trees and saguaro-cluttered bends. The first big views are revealed after less than a mile of uphill trudging. Sloping canyon walls frame hazy patterns of Downtown Phoenix and the jagged silhouettes of the Hieroglyphic Mountains west of the Valley.  The west leg tops out at a saddle where the first of several benches offers a place to enjoy glimpses of the Cave Creek Mountains and the distinctive pachyderm profile of Elephant Mountain appear to the north.
Continually-changing vistas are key features on Go John Trl
A large clearing on the saddle makes for a good spot to regroup and take a breather before continuing on the less steep segments that complete the loop.  The route dips and climbs through shaded drainage areas, washes and ridges lined with outcroppings of vertically-tilted metamorphic rocks that shed in thin sheets, coating the ground in glinting tile-like scales. 
Palo verde and mesquite trees thrive in drainage areas
Creosote is a common shrub along the trail
Adding to the park’s interesting geology are deposits of white quartz that show up as scattered pebbles and artfully-veined boulders near defunct mining operations.  About halfway through the hike, Gunsight Pass, a high point with bizarre blade-like rock pinnacles on the loop’s east leg, hovers above golf communities and ranches backed by the commanding form of Black Mountain and the distant Superstition Mountains. 
Part of theeast leg of the hike traces a drainage gorge
A final swing on cliffs above a deep gorge leads hikers through sunny rangeland where the Quartz and Jasper Trail spin off for optional geology-themed side trips or a shorter loop for young kids.
Cholla cacti frame views of the Cave Creek Mountains
LENGTH:  5.8-mile loop
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION:  2,088 - 2,520 feet
FEE: $7 daily fee per vehicle
37900 E. Cave Creek Parkway Cave Creek.
From Carefree Highway in Cave Creek, go 1.5 miles north on 32nd Street to the park entry gate.  Follow the main park road to the Go John trailhead.

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