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Monday, June 17, 2024

Headwaters Trail


A "beach" at West Clear Creek

Of all the hiking routes that descend into West Clear Creek Wilderness—Willow Crossing, Tramway, Maxwell, and the eponymous West Clear Creek Trail---the Headwaters Trail is the most challenging. The 13,600-acre wilderness spans the Red Rock and Mogollon Rim ranger districts of Coconino National Forest.
Sunrise in seen from West Clear Creek

Along its 20-mile length, which is defined by the steep-walled canyon carved by West Clear Creek, the terrain moves through high desert at its lower edge near Camp Verde where it spills into the Verde River to pine-oak woodlands at its headwaters on the Mogollon Rim near Clints Well.
Headwaters Trail is steep and slippery

Steep, scrappy and often obscured by pine needles, the half-mile Headwaters path makes an abrupt plunge into a canyon-bound stretch of the creek.

Dogwood and willows along West Clear Creek

Sometimes called the Point Trail, the short access path is favored by anglers and campers that hang out on the shady rim 600 feet above the perennial waterway. 
Hanging gardens on West Clear Creek

The climb down is convoluted and slippery, ducking among conifers, oaks and moss-encrusted boulders. The primitive trail drops onto a beach where red-osier dogwood and willows sink roots into the debris strewn water course. 
Anglers and hikes in West Clear Creek

Extending the hike beyond the butt-slide descent involves wading and using foot paths that wend around the creek’s edges in the shadow of towering cliffs.  Exploring may be done either up or downstream.
Wading is required to explore along the creek

From the point where the trail lands on the beach, head left to see the famous “hanging gardens”, limestone cliffs draped with drooping green plants that sway over shallow depressions in the rock walls. Or, go right and follow the waterway to a gallery of ancient rock art. 

Wilderness wonders of West Clear Creek

All told, the stunning scenery of this near the headwaters of West Clear Creek makes the difficulty of getting to it worth the effort.  

LENGTH: 1-mile roundtrip (from the rim to the creek)

ELEVATION: 6,600 – 5,950 feet

RATING: insane

GETTING THERE: From Payson, go north on State Route 87 (toward Pine-Strawberry) to State Route 260. Turn left (west) and continue 3.1 miles to Forest Road 144, near milepost 249. Turn right (east) and go 1.8 miles to Forest Road 149, turn left (north) and continue to a 3-way junction at Forest Road 142. Go right onto FR 142 and drive 0.9 miles to Forest Road 142E on the left---this is an easy-to-miss unmarked road—if you reach Forest Road 142F, you’ve gone too far. Follow FR 142E 2.7 miles to a large, unsigned parking area. Roads are rough dirt and gravel. High clearance vehicles required.

INFORMATION: refer to the Coconino National Forest map, USGS map, Calloway Butte



Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ridgeline Circuit


View from the Ridgeline Trail

Summer hiking is Arizona is an endeavor that takes extra effort.  While making long drives to the high country to escape the Valley heat is an ideal solution, road trips to pine-shaded hiking trails are not always feasible. 

View of Golden Cliffs Trail from MUP-A

But hikers got to hike.  By applying a large dose of common sense and doubling down on safety precautions, summer hiking in the desert is doable. 
Trails are well-marked in Paloma Regional Preserve

Of the many safeguards needed to stay alive in summer heat, three are of paramount importance:  timing,  sun protection and, water, water, water.  First, plan to hit the trails early and be done by 8 a.m. or before the dangerous heat kicks in.  
Ridgeline spur to overlook

Many local parks and preserve open at sunrise, so plan accordingly.  One of the most misunderstood elements of desert hiking involves proper attire. 
Knoll with spur trail overlooking the park

An investment in a brimmed hat, long sleeve shirts and long pants made of sun-protective technical fabrics will pay off big time.  These fabrics not only shield against sunburn and insects, but they also act like evaporative coolers to keep moisture on your skin. Yup, you’ll feel cooler in long sleeves than a tank top. Then there’s water.
Paloma Community Park from Ridgeline trail

Bring plenty, more than you think you’ll need. I personally carry nearly a gallon for a 3-hour desert hike.  This includes two 16-ounce bottles that I almost always end up giving away to heat stressed hikers. Dogs will get my extra water first.  
Speckled Rattler Trail junction

And, speaking of dogs—leave then at home. Heat is brutal on canines. Our furry friends suffer burnt paws, heat exhaustion and even death on local trails every year.
Saguaros on the Ridgeline Trail


With the objective of being up-and-out by 8 a.m., hikers can maximize the effort by choosing trails with easy access, some moderate challenge, bail out options and fantastic views.  The trails of the Paloma Regional Preserve in Peoria exceed these criteria.  A good early morning summer circuit uses the Multi-Use Path-A, Speckled Rattler, Crankset and Ridgeline trails. 

Tight bend on Ridgeline Trail

From the trailhead, the route follows MUP-A for 0.4-mile to Speckled Rattler and then connects to Crankset. This first 1.57-mile leg is flat, tracing the base of West Wing Mountain with the cut of the Golden Cliffs trail visible on the slopes. 
Valley vistas from Ridgeline Trail

A large map kiosk marks the junction with the Ridgeline trail, where the route begins its climb.  At the top of the first of several sets of switchbacks, the trail splits.  The left arm heads up a craggy knoll for a short trek to an overlook above Paloma Community Park, a nice little diversion.
Green corridor of New River below Ridgeline

View from Ridgeline overlook spur

The route then traverses a saguaro dotted ridge, swooping uphill in flowing curves and tight turns engineered to make the going almost effortless.  Views grow larger and more varied as the trail ascends to its highest point.  The green swath of New River fills the valley below while a ring of mountain ranges surrounds the horizon.
Long switchbacks mitigate the climb

The trail then spirals down to its end point at marker 90,the turnaround point for this trip.  To build a loop or shorten the hike, download the preserve trail map and keep an eye on the time, your water supply and how you feel.  The goal is always to get back to the trailhead alive.


LENGTH: 5.7 miles (out-and-back, as described here)

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 1,393 – 1,850 feet


297799 N. Lake Pleasant Parkway, Peoria.

From Interstate 17 in Phoenix, take the Loop 303 exit 221 and continue west to Lake Pleasant Parkway.  Turn left and go 1 mile to the Paloma Community Park entrance on the left.  Follow the signs to the trailhead parking area.  There are restrooms near the trailhead. No Fees.

HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily

City of Peoria

Monday, May 13, 2024

Arizona Cypress Trail: An Old Favorite


Scaled AZ cypress cones

Hitting a never hiked trail for the first time is always a thrill.  New views, unfamiliar terrain, and the fun of navigating an untested route are big draws for those who crave fresh outdoor experiences.  And then there are the familiar “go-to” routes. 

Trail crosses Dry Creek several times

Like polar opposites, one serves up a rush of adventure while the other is like the comfort food of hiking.  While untried adventures will always woo us, many of us hikers spend more time in the comfort zone.
Blackfoot daisies bloom March - December

Whether hiked to train for a big trek or for long-term conditioning, comfort trails are those that are a combination of convenience, familiarity, and reliable experience.

Doe Mtn. (L) and Bear Mtn. from AZ Cypress trail

 Most hikers have a favorite—the one they return to time and again, with or without a salient explanation.
Upper Dry Creek Area Trails

The Arizona Cypress Trail in Sedona checks all the boxes for a no hassle go-to trail.

The classic Sedona trail can be access by way of a large parking area with emptiness probably perpetrated by the adjacent target shooting area.  The repellant trailhead noise is a tolerant hiker’s gain leading to light traffic and easy parking—a rare treat in Sedona.

Featherplume bloom March - June

The route immediately ducks into the forest where canyon walls absorb the intermittent pop-pop of gunfire.

AZ cypress trees along the trail

This trail’s sticking power is magical elixir of solitude (unusual for a trail located down the road from Devils Bridge) and sweet scenery wrapped around a desert waterway in the Upper Dry Creek Area Trails Coconino National Forest.  

Tufted Evening Primrose bloom Apr-Sep

It’s an easy 3.8-mile out-and-back hike on AZ Cypress. But there are plenty of ways to extend the trek. The trail links up with a looped maze of eight routes that use the old standard Girdner Trail as a backbone that runs south to connect with the Western Gateway trails.  
False toadflax blooms April - August

Several crossings of Dry Creek, traipses through wildflower meadows, manzanita thickets, and highpoint vistas showcasing familiar landmarks like Cockscomb, Capitol Butte, Doe Mountain, and Bear Mountain keep things interesting but the eponymous cypress trees alone are enough to keep this trail on auto rewind.
View of Cockscomb formation from AZ Cypress

Cupressus arizonica can grow up to 90 feet tall, but most are around 40-60 feet and it’s the only cypress native to the Southwest. The deep emerald conical-shaped trees thrive at elevations between 3,000- 6,000 feet, with a preference to drop roots along intermittent streams.  The attractive evergreen has a distinctive shedding shaggy bark and scaly blue-green leaves that emit a pleasant piney fragrance.  The tree’s most distinctive feature is the woody, walnut-sized scaled cones that look as if they might encapsulate some alien lifeform.

Ash trees in Dry Creek

Even when spent, the cones can cling to branches in eerie black clumps.  It’s not just the seeds that are tenacious--scientists studying pollen trapped in ancient packrat middens say the species has been around since prehistoric times, at least since the icy Pleistocene Epoch---a testament to its namesake trail’s steadfastness.

LENGTH: 3.8 miles round trip

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 4,309 – 4,416 feet


Arizona Cypress Trailhead: From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Uptown Sedona, go 3.2 miles west (toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road. Follow Dry Creek Road 2.7 miles to the turnoff for Forest Road 9589 (not signed) on the left. This easy-to-miss turnoff is located a few yards south of the Boynton Pass Road/Long Canyon Road “T” intersection.Continue 0.2-mile on FR 9589 (good dirt with a few potholes) to the end and the parking circle at the AZ Cypress trailhead.  NOTE: there is a target shooting pit near the trailhead, which might frighten dogs and horses. There are no fees or facilities at this trailhead.



Monday, April 29, 2024

Granite Mountain Hot Shots Juniper Hike


Granite Mountain Hot Shots juniper

On the Department of Forestry and Fire Management Magnificent Trees Program and the Arizona Magnificent Tree Registry, it’s listed simply as “Tree 4126.”  But the enormous Alligator Juniper has a history that transcends its drab catalog callout.

Riparian trees near Division Well on FR9162U

Located in

Prescott National Forest west of Granite Mountain Wilderness, the gnarled old tree is best known as the Granite Mountain Hot Shots Tree.

Mountain vista on Upper Pasture Trail

 It’s named in honor of the 20 wildland firefighters who saved it during the June 2013 Doce Fire that burned about 7,000 acres 10 miles northwest of downtown Prescott.  Tragically, 19 members of the team perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013.
Gate on FR 9162U

The iconic Yavapai County Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) stands 52 feet high and has a circumference of 324 inches.  It’s crown spreads to an average of 70 feet. 

The Hot Shots Juniper is over 50 feet tall

There are over 200 Arizona trees on the Arizona Magnificent Tree Registry that includes myriad species sorted into three categories.  

Signs of the 2013 Doce Fire on White Rock Springs

Champion Trees are those that are the largest in the state or nation.  Heritage Trees hold cultural significance such as for a commemoration, and Witness Trees are those that have been growing in the same spot since before Arizona Statehood (1912).
Agaves on the Upper Pasture Trail

The Hot Shots Juniper is recognized as both a state and national Champion Tree.  While its exact age is impossible to pinpoint, the tree is easily over 1,000 years old--some sources estimate it may be more than 2,500 years old--which means it is also an undisputed Arizona Witness Tree.

Upper Pasture Trail junction

Hikers interested in botany, state history or making a pilgrimage to remember the Hot Shots can visit the tree by using roads and trails in Prescott National Forest.

Spring on White Rock Springs Trail

There are several ways to make the trek, but the shortest route begins at the Contreras Trailhead off Iron Springs Road. From the north corner of the parking area, the hike follows Forest Road 9162U for 0.8-mile. The rough, rocky two-track descends to the site of Division Well, crosses a leafy drainage and heads steeply uphill to a gate that marks the beginning of Upper Pasture Trail No.38. 

White Rock Springs Trail junction

Trail 38 is a repurposed horse road constructed in the 1800s. The wide, gently undulating track is largely unshaded, passing through chaparral punctuated with agaves, cacti and spots of pinyon pine and junipers.  Excellent views Big Chino Valley and the distant Santa Maria Mountains dominate the northern horizon, but it’s the hulking presence of Granite Mountain and Little Granite Mountain to the east that really commands attention.  Rising to 7,626 and 7,089 feet respectively, the massifs appear as enormous boulder piles with weather-worn stones spilling down their flanks. 
Boulders line White Rock Springs Trail

On the high ridges, chockstones balance in tenuous poses pierced by scrub oak and manzanita.  At the 1.8-mile point, the route heads north (left) at the White Rock Springs Trail No. 39 junction.  
Upper Pasture Trail is an old horse road

Now a dirt singletrack, the trail passes remnants of the 2013 Doce Fire. Eleven years on, charred snags and burnt brush are ceding space to new growth.  A lush spring area at the end of a rough-cut drainage sits at the base of a granite wall, surrounded by willows, cottonwoods, buffalo-bur and wildflowers.  A half-mile in on Trail 39, the route crosses a major sandy drainage.  A few yards past the waterway, chunks of white quartz placed in the sand point the way to an unsigned trail that leads to the Hot Shot Juniper.  

The short spur path ends at the tree and a memorial erected under its massive canopy.  

Memorial at the Hot Shots Juniper

Words,  photos, and statistics are inadequate tools for describing the twisted giant.  Hints of its unknowable origins and secrets of its resilience are best expressed in the resinous, ash-tinged mountain breezes that rattle its branches. 
AZ Black rattlesnake on Upper Pasture Trail

Hike starts at the Contreras Trailhead

LENGTH: 4.8 miles round trip (out-and-back hike)

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 5,294 – 5,548 feet


Contreras Trailhead:

From historic downtown Prescott, go north on Montezuma Street (which will turn into Whipple Street and then Iron Springs Road) and continue 10 miles to Contreras Road (County Road 122) on the right.  Follow CR122 for 0.7-mile to the trailhead on the right. Low clearance vehicles park here. Hike begins by walking FR9162U at the north end of the parking lot.  OPTION: High clearance (4x4 recommended) vehicles may be driven 0.8-mile on FR9162U to the Trail 38 trailhead.  Contreras Road is maintained dirt suitable for most vehicles up to the lower trailhead.


Prescott National Forest

Arizona’s Magnificent Trees

American Forests Champion Tree Registry

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Arizona Trails Plan Survey 2025



Arizona State Parks and Trails is currently seeking input 

from thepublic for the 2025 Trails Plan.

The statewide plan aims to enhance trail systems and 

improve access to outdoor recreation in Arizona. 

Your input is valuable in shaping the future of Arizona's 

trail system.

What’s in it for you? 

Not only the opportunity to influence the future of Arizona’s 

trails but also a chance to win awesome Arizona experiences 

and prizes! 

Oracle State Park

Arizona State Parks has awesome incentives you enter a 

drawing for, just by taking the survey. Prizes include 

staycations in scenic Pinetop-Lakeside and Flagstaff, 

a two-night camping trip in a comfortable micro-camper, 

Arizona State Parks annual passes and gift cards, 

and more, thanks to generous partners like the 

Arizona Office of Tourism, Pin Drop Travel Trailers,

and the Southern Arizona Hiking Club! 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Trails are an essential part of Arizona's outdoor recreation 

culture,providing access to some of the state's most 

beautiful and unique landscapes. 

More than 4.3 million Arizonans used trails in 2020, and 

we expect that number to continue increasing in the

coming years. 

Trails are not only a source of fun, health, and adventure 

but also an important contributor to the state's economy.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

The 2025 Trails Plan is a collaborative effort of our 

organization, Arizona State Parks and Trails, other 

land managers, nonprofits, and the public...that’s YOU! 

We’re seeking input from all trail users, including hikers,

equestrians, mountain bikers, and off-highway 

vehicle riders. 

The survey aims to identify the most pressing trail 

needs and help guide future federal and state 

funding priorities.

The survey covers a wide range of topics related to 

Arizona's trail systems, including:

  • Acquisition of land and new trail development

  • Trail maintenance and improvements

  • Trailhead facilities like restrooms and parking

  • Trail signage and wayfinding

  • Trail safety and education

Your input can help shape the future of Arizona's trail system. 

Whether you're an avid trail user or just getting started, 

your opinion matters.


The survey takes only a few minutes to complete and can be accessed on the Arizona State Parks and Trails website at