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Monday, October 15, 2018


Remnants of Hurricane Sergio over Kiwanis Trail 10-14-18.
Long before the craggy hills that comprise South Mountain where outfitted with hiking trails and picnic ramadas, the Akimel O’odham (Pima) people referred to them as Muhadag Du’ag or Greasy Mountain.
A hiker enters the mist on the National Trail near Mt. Suppoa.
The name comes from a Native American legend about how hot grease dripping from the mouth of Trickster Coyote as he consumed food stolen from a cremation fire gave the mountains their dark stains. 
October rains have greened-up the desert.
People have been carving their marks in the  "greasy" dark rock veneers of the mountain ranges south of Phoenix since prehistoric times. Archeologists have attributed artifacts and petroglyphs (rock art) found in the area to a wide scope of peoples who lived in and around what is now known as South Mountain Park.
Hohokam petroglyphs are plentiful along Kiwanis Trail.
Heritage sites in the park include a few rare incised symbols from hunter-gathers of the Archaic period (8000-2000 years ago), thousands of Hohokam (A.D. 400-1450) etchings and the scribblings of early European settlers.  Many of these artful and mysterious panels are visible from the more than 50 miles of hiking trails within the park.  In addition to several petroglyph sites with human forms, spiral patterns and animal designs tapped into stone by the park’s ancient inhabitants, Kiwanis Trail also exposes features of the park’s more recent history. 
Telegraph Pass Lookout Tower on the National Trail.
Established in 1924, the park was a major work center for the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1940. 
View of Downtown Phoenix from Telegraph Pass. 
During that time, roughly 4000 workers constructed many of the park’s trails and masonry/stone buildings.
Kiwanis Trail was constructed by CCC workers in the 1930s.
View of the Salt & Gila River Basins from National Trail.
The Kiwanis Trail is a classic example of CCC construction projects. Its hand-hewn cuts, native-stone steps and check dams built into drainages to slow the flow of water and minimize erosion are relics of the Depression-era program.
AZ Desert-thorn bloom year-round with ample moisture.
Over its 1-mile course, the trail climbs 480 feet through a furrowed canyon to Telegraph Pass Road. As the trail gains elevation, views of Downtown Phoenix expand from sliver-glimpses to full blown panoramas. Moisture dropped by the remnants of hurricanes Rosa and Sergio over the past weeks coaxed the green back into the landscape. The wettest October in recorded state history has enabled ocotillos to puff out, drought-starved brittle bush to sprout leaves and delicate Arizona Desert-thorn to bloom in fragrant clusters.
Post-drought brittle bush will soon produce yellow blooms.
Heavy rain can also cause Valley trails can become very muddy. Although it’s advisable to avoid hiking on saturated trails to prevent damaging them, you won’t encounter mucky quagmires on the Kiwanis Trail. The path is mostly hard-pack gravel and bare rock, and was built to drain quickly and withstand wet-weather use.
CCC-built check dams help prevent erosion.
At the top of the trail, the hike may be extended by crossing the road to the National Trail for a short but steep climb to the Telegraph Pass Lookout. Situated on a knoll overlooking the Salt and Gila River Basin, the rustic stone hut serves as a convenient turnaround point or stop off before continuing on the 15-mile National Trail that traces ridgeline crests for the entire length of the park.
Dark rock veneers on "Greasy Mountain".
Kiwanis Trails ends at Telegraph Pass Road

LENGTH: 2 miles round trip or 2.6 miles roundtrip to Telegraph Pass Lookout
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  1580- 2060 feet
South Mountain Park, Phoenix, 10919 S. Central Ave.
From the main park entrance at the end of Central Avenue, continue on Stephen Mather Dr. and go left at the first four-way intersection. Take another left onto Piedras Grandes Dr. and continue to the trailhead.

Landscape of the Spirits Hohokam Rock Art at South Mountain Park
Todd W. Bostwick and Peter Krocek
University of Arizona Press, Tucson

Saturday, October 6, 2018


"Hikernators" Find Inspiration on Scottsdale's Tom's Thumb Trail
Iconic Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
For Valley hikers, autumn’s balmy temperatures are at the center of a triple conjunction of will, weather and wherewithal that rekindles desert hiking envy.
Tom's Thumb seen from the Prairie Falcon Overlook.
The inertia is palpable as swarms of “hikernators” emerge from air-conditioned gyms, the darkness of night or mountain climes to once again walk in desert sunlight.
It’s a heady time of year for hikers who are anxious to shake off the smell of pine and ditch the 4 a.m. start times.
The Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily.
What better way to inaugurate a new season than to climb to one of the Valley’s iconic geological features for tantalizing views and a chance to build your checklist of places to hike over the coming cooler months.
Granite boulders line the upper parts of Tom's Thumb Trail.
With its challenging grade and Valleywide panoramas, Tom’s Thumb Trail is one of the most popular routes in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The 5-mile-long trail makes a constant but manageable ascent on the north flanks of the McDowell Mountains with scenic viewpoints that frame dozens of hiking hubs.
From the Tom’s Thumb trailhead, the path begins with a moderate “warm up” section before taking on the switchbacks that ascend among massive granite outcroppings and classic desert vegetation.
After roughly 300 feet of climbing, mountain vistas to the north and east begin to shine.
Directly below, a maze of dirt trails can be seen winding through McDowell Mountain Regional Park. As the trail ascends, the familiar profiles of the Superstition Mountains jut from the eastern horizon.
Tom's Thumb
Hikes in the “Supes” are perennial bucket-listers for locals and winter visitors alike. Located at the cusp of suburbia and the mineral-rich Copper Corridor, the wilderness has trails that range from groomed, easy access favorites to feral and remote backcountry treks.
View of Tom's Thumb from near the trailhead.
At the 2-mile point, the major climbing ends where a short spur path leads to the base Tom’s Thumb. Visible from many spots around town, the soaring lump of craggy granite is even more impressive up close. The 0.3-mile spur entails some minor scrambling to reach the goal.  Wander around Tom's Thumb perimeter to see shallow caves and a cathedral-like corridor with a breezeway that opens to views of Elephant Mountain in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and peaks of the Cave Creek Mountains and Tonto National Forest. The mountains may seem beyond reach, but you can get to them from the McDowells by hiking the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail that connects 10 county parks, suburbs, cities and open space over its 300+-mile, non-motorized course.
The trail ascends over 1300' on a gravely surface.
Many hikers are satisfied to call the Tom’s Thumb formation their turnaround point for a 4.6-mile trip.
Hikers take a break at Vulture View Scenic Point.
However, the trail bends to the southwest and continues on a deceptively easy-looking descent to its terminus at Windgate Pass Trail. Once you commit to following the trail to this point, you’ll need to decide if you want to complete the hike with a tough long loop, car-shuttle one-way or an out-and-back hike.
Metro Phoenix sprawls out below Tom's Thumb Trail.
Use the preserve’s free downloadable maps to navigate its over 200 miles of pristine desert trails.
Looking northwest from the trail.
Although trails within the preserve alone could fill an entire hiking season, vistas from its airy high points provide inspiration for years of desert roaming.
Many mountain hike destinations can be seen from the trail.
View from the base of Tom's Thumb.
LENGTH: 2.3 miles one-way to Tom’s Thumb, or 5 miles one way for entire trail
RATING: difficult                                                                             
To Tom’s Thumb: 2813- 3925 feet
Entire trail: 2438 - 3925 feet
Tom's Thumb Trailhead: 23015 N. 128th St. Scottsdale, AZ 85255.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and continue 5 miles north on Pima to Happy Valley Road.  Turn right (east) and go 4.1 miles on Happy Valley to Ranch Gate. Turn right on Ranch Gate, follow it 1.2 miles then turn right onto 128th St. and continue 1 mile on 128th to the signed trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.  The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily.

Monday, September 24, 2018


The Rector Connector opened in January 2018.
Silverleaf nightshade grows in sunny spots on the trail.
Scenic spot on Rector Connector.
A new trail has debuted in a hub of Red Rock Country old standards.  Lodged in the middle of the Big Park Trails system just north of the Village of Oak Creek, the Rector Connector fills a void in the loop-centric routes that orbit iconic Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. 
Rector Connector spins off Courthouse Butte Loop.
For years, trail users who were unhappy that the Coconino National Forest trails went around, but not between the massive rock formations along State Route 179 had been blazing their own routes creating unsustainable, dangerous paths that damaged the sensitive environment. 
View of Bell Rock from Rector Connector.
In January 2018, Friends of the Forest—a non-profit Sedona organization that promotes stewardship of area public lands through financial and volunteer labor support --under the tutelage of the Forest Service, remedied the dilemma by wrangling a former social trail into a system-sanctioned route.
Rector Connector passes below Courthouse Butte.
Named for Gene and Darl Rector who have logged thousands of volunteer trail-work hours over more than 20 years, the mile-long path follows a gorge and slick rock passages in the space between the sedimentary stone behemoths. 
A slick rock passage on Rector Connector.
To find the new connector from the Bell Rock Vista trailhead, hike 0.6-mile north to the Courthouse Butte Loop junction. Turn right and go 0.2-mile to the junction.  The trail spins away from airy high-desert savannas and dives into a cypress-and-pine-shaded corridor with steep drop offs on the west and the hulking form of Courthouse Butte to the east. Roughly halfway through, the trail enters Munds Mountain Wilderness and begins a steady ascent on bare rock to an exposed saddle. 
The trail passes between Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.
A wide landing of rounded sandstone at this highpoint gap provides a perfect platform to enjoy views of Horse Mesa to the south and the familiar forms of Thunder Mountain (Capitol Butte) Cathedral Rock and the flat-topped profiles of Wilson Mountain and Brins Mesa in the north. 
Use Bell Rock Pathway to make a loop hike.
From this point, the route winds down the smooth north flanks of Bell Rock where basket carins (rock wired into drum-shaped posts) mark the way among sparse vegetation and stony bends.
Watch for lizards sunning themselves on sandstone ledges.
Where the trail exits the wilderness area, pick up Bell Rock Pathway heading south for a 3-mile loop. Otherwise, consult the forest service map for dozens of add-on opportunities. 
Stay on designated trails to protect the wilderness.
Looking south from Rector Connector.
Part of the trail is in Munds Mountain Wilderness.
LENGTH: 3-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 4130 - 4411 feet
Bell Rock Vista Trailhead, Oak Creek.
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to exit 298 (Sedona/Oak Creek). Veer left (west) and follow State Route 179 to just past milepost 307 and turn right into the parking area.
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest
Friends of the Forest:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

AZT in a Day Event: October 6, 2018.

Two Events Will Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Arizona National Trail System Act
AZT Passage 15, near Kearny.
Help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Arizona Trail System Act and the 25th anniversary of the trail, by participating in one or both of two commemorative events.
AZT Passage 28, Blue Ridge, Mogollon Rim
AZT Passage 27, Highline near Pine
On Saturday, October 8, 2018, hundreds of trail users across the state will join to collectively complete the entire 800-mile Arizona Trail in a single day.  Be part of history--sign up to hike, bike, run or ride a segment on this epic occasion.
AZT Passage 32, Flagstaff, Picture Canyon
50 FOR 50
AZT Passage 1, Mexico border
AZT Passage 9 Hope Camp, Rincon Mountains, Tucson
Sign up to complete at least 50 miles of the Arizona Trail on your own during 2018 and you’ll receive a cool 50th Anniversary patch!


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Autumn Comes Early on Flagstaff's Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop

Aspens line Waterline Road on Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop.
With fall foliage season right around the corner, I’m already feeling the tug of the Abineau-Bear Jaw Trail.  Its location high on the north flanks of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Mountain means it’s one of the first places to show Autumn color.  Anxious hikers who can manage the rugged, 1,870-foot, thin-air climb in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness can get a jump start on aspen overload.
San Francisco Peaks seen from Abineau Canyon.
Aspens abound on the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop
A short access path leads to a junction where the loop begins. You can go either way, but using the Abineau Canyon leg for the uphill climb affords the best views of the peaks without having to stop and turn around all the time.
Aspen color peaks early in Abineau Canyon
Abineau Canyon's deep woods.
View from the top of Abineau Canyon.
Damp and chilly, the moss-laced mixed conifer woodlands of Abineau Canyon is reminiscent of the alpine forests of Colorado—dense and claustrophobic in its immensity. Canyon winds rattle leaves from the aspens that sway among the dominant Ponderosa and limber pines, corkbark fir, spruce and Douglas firs creating golden cascades and crunchy drifts of spent foliage.
Aspen leaves collect on conifers.

Colorful Bear Jaw Canyon.
The 2-mile Abineau segment tops out on an exposed ridge beneath 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, which is often snow-capped by early October.  Below, the cinder-cone dotted flatlands of the San Francisco Volcanic Field and the pastel wilds of the Painted Desert stretch out to the horizon. Next, you’ll catch a breather on the 2.1-mile walk along Waterline Road.  Wrapped in towering aspens, the wide dirt route and its easy tread is a real treat to hike. Without having to huff-an-puff, it’s easier to enjoy the surreal beauty of the white-barked forest, lemony canopies and mountain vistas. This is also prime habitat for blue grouse and the vociferous Clark's nutcracker. If you’re lucky, you might spot them swooping among the trees. Keep an eye out for a wooden sign for Bear Jaw Canyon on the left. This easy-to-miss turn off marks the start of the loop’s 2.3-mile descent.  A bit more open and less steep than Abineau, this twisting downhill passage is an enchanting trip through a ravine-riddled gorge. Near the bottom of the trail, sweet meadows harbor acres of fading ferns and the frazzled remains of summer wildflowers.  This is a hike I do almost every year and it never gets old.

Meadow near the trailhead. 
LENGTH: 7.2-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 8,530-10,400 feet
BEST TIME FOR FAL COLOR: Late September-Early October
From Flagstaff, go north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd.) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access). Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to Forest Road 418. Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to Forest Road 9123J (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. Dirt/cinder roads are rutted but passable by carefully driven sedans.