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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Verde Vista Loop


View from the Verde Vista Loop

It’s only a little over a 500-foot climb to the zenith of the Verde Vista Loop.  But getting there is trickier than it looks. 

The green corridor of the Verde River

The trail, which was completed in 2021, is tethered to the still under construction Camp Verde Sports Complex and crosses into Coconino National Forest east of the Verde River and Beaver Creek . 
Verde Vista Loop crosses into Coconino NF

The 5.5-mile non-motorized trail, in the hills southeast of Montezuma Castle National Monument, is a joint effort between the Town of Camp Verde Urban Upland Trail System and Coconino National Forest.  
Verde Vista Loop passes below limestone cliffs

The route departs from the easy-rated , Perimeter Loop that circles the Sports Complex with a level, gravel surface that’s welcoming to hikers, dog walkers and stroller-pushing families.
The route is well signed throughout

The Verde Vista Loop begins innocently enough with a walk-through open desert and grassy slopes.  The first mile makes an effortless ascent on a mix of two-track and singletrack dirt. Mountain views stand out all around as the path winds through clumpy forbs, yucca and a green sea of creosote shrubs.
Grasses and a sea of creosote on the lower leg

As the route moves toward the imposing crescent of buff-colored cliffs and a large mesa-like mound to the northeast, views of the emerald band of the Verde River glows in the valley to the west.  After passing into Coconino National Forest, the trail meets a sign warning equestrians that conditions ahead can be hazardous for horse travel. 
There are some steep and slippery sections

Bikers and hikers should take heed too, because beyond the sign, the trail goes full-tilt crazy.  Abrupt twists, loose rock and close-to-the-edge traverses on a base of crumbling limestone characterize the roughly mile-and-a-half ascent to the trail’s high point in the White Hills. 
The Perimeter Loop is level and easy

Narrow and slippery in places, it’s smart to pay attention to footing and not be distracted by the ever-expanding mountain and valley panoramas rolling out below.  
Yucca decorate the Verde Vista Loop

After huffing, puffing and scrambling over chalky ledges, the trail delivers a punch of in-your-face eye candy as a reward.  
Verde Vista Loop climbs to the top of the White Hills

While easier than the ascent, the return leg the loop still has its challenges. It clings to cliffs, sweeps over ridgetop flatlands and hits one last spiral of switchbacks before landing hikers back in the creosote sea.


Verde Vista Loop: 5.5 miles

Perimeter Loop: 1.6 miles


Verde Vista Loop: difficult

Perimeter Loop: easy


Verde Vista Loop: 3,136 – 3,688 feet (1,190 feet of accumulated elevation change)

Perimeter Loop: 3,100 – 3,160 feet


From Interstate 17 in Camp Verde, go 4 miles east (toward Payson) on State Route 260 to McCracken Lane on the left.  Follow McCracken 0.1-mile to the Camp Verde Sports Complex entrance on the right.  The gate may be locked during ongoing Sports Complex construction. To use the pedestrian walk-thru, park at the corner of SR260 and McCracken. The Verde Vista Loop trailhead is located 0.6-mile east from the gate on Champion Trail—the park main road.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

REI Let's Go All Out Event


Celebrate the beginning of  HIKING SEASON in the Valley at REI’s LET'S GO ALL OUT EVENT.

REI Chandler will be hosting an event to bring together community partners, brand partners, music, food, and fun engaging activities. We want to show off the ‘best of REI’ to our customers to better connect them to the local community of outdoor enthusiasts.

This exclusive after hours party will feature local community partners, outdoor brands, food, drink, music and more! We'll have a s'mores cookout, live music by Suzanne Panza (Harper), REI film screening, some product giveaways. Outdoor brands in attendance will be: Osprey, Gregory Backpacks, Good to Go Backpacking food, and Oboz. Local community partners in attendance: Nat'l Forest Foundation, Aravaipa Running, Black Men Run, Cities West Publishing (PHOENIX magazine), Arizona Parks and Rec, Front Runners/Front Walkers, Natural Restorations, Wild Women Running, Climbmax Rock Gym, Bouldering Project, Maricopa Trail + Parks Foundation, Mare Czinar local author. Enter for a chance to win a $100 REI Gift Card. RSVP at the link below!

The INDOOR event will feature:

• Music

• Food

• Giveaways

• Info on trails, hiking and other outdoor activities

Date: 10/1/2023

Time: 6 pm – 8 pm

Location: Chandler REI - 870 N 54th Street Chandler, AZ 85226


Monday, September 18, 2023

Herkenham-Skywalker-Old Post Loop


Ocotillo frame views on the Herkenham Trail

In the exalted realm of Sedona hiking trails, Herkenham barely registers a blip. Maybe because it’s been around for so long, it has become invisible. Or perhaps its nexus is misunderstood.
 There’s no cave, no natural bridge and no babbling creek. While lacking in traditional hiker catnip, the trail’s list of don’t-haves includes one attribute that some hikers must have.

Courthouse Butte (L) and Bell Rock (C) from Skywalker Trail

There are no crowds.  And to the aforementioned some, swapping a look-at-me Instagram moment for solitude is a fair tradeoff.

The Herkenham Trail sits in the corrugated hills above Oak Creek on the west side of Sedona. It’s part of a network of looped trails that trace airy ledges and scoured gullies. 

Pyramid formation from Old Post Trail

The system that spins around the twisted course of Carroll Canyon has easy access points and lighter traffic than many other Red Rock Country hike destinations. But that doesn’t mean the trails lack appeal.  The singletrack paths trudge through gorgeous high desert ecozones with enough elevation change to guarantee good workouts and continually changing vistas. 
A rare shady spot on Herkenham Trail

The beauty of the Carroll Canyon area in Coconino National Forest is way trail expansion has evolved around a few stalwart heritage routes. Besides Herkenham, the Old Post and Carroll Canyon trails have been around for years, while the newer Skywalker, Scorpion and Pyramid trails add miles with respect for the original core routes. 
Tabletop Mesa (C) from Skywalker Trail

One way to sample old and new is to make a loop hike using the Old Post, Herkenham and Skywalker trails. The moderate-rated hike may be accessed from the Old Post Trailhead along Chavez Ranch Road by hiking 0.7-mile north on the Old Post Trail to the Herkenham junction.
The loop is well signed

The first leg is an easy-going stroll through cactus-dotted grassland. 
Skywalker Trail ducks around a gully

Sparce shade is courtesy of sporadic stands of pinion pines and junipers that pop up in groups large enough to block the sun for a water break but never dense enough the eclipse mountain vistas.  Most of the hike’s elevation gain happens on the 1.1-mile Herkenham Trail leg. While the loop’s overall high-to-low elevation difference is less than 600 feet, the route is deceptively more challenging. A constant string of rises, dips and turns keep things interesting and pleasantly paced.  Herkenham tops out at a small parking area across from the old Red Rock High School.
View of Oak Creek from Skywalker Trail

This site may be used as an alternative trailhead, but it fills up fast, especially on weekends.  At the parking area, the Skywalker Trail begins with a rocky descent outside the bounds of a residential area. 
Capitol Butte (center horizon) from Skywalker Trail

Beyond the homes, the trail begins its 1.5-mile southeast trek.  The first half of the trail rides high on a ridgeline with the best views of the loop.  
A little rain brings out the ocotillo on Skywalker

The green band of the Oak Creek corridor glows in the valley below with outstanding peeks at Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock,  and Capitol Butte.  Views to the northeast are more elusive, but quick looks at the Cockscomb formation and Bear Mountain are available to those who pay attention. 
Carroll Canyon trails are easy to loop up

After several dozen flowing bends, the “sky walking” portion of the trail ends where the long profile of Tabletop Mesa and the colorfully layered peaks of Munds Mountain Wilderness stand out on the horizon.  The trail then makes a steady descent back down to the Old Post trail for the 1.5-mile return segment where the call of scrub jays mingles with the rumble of cars headed toward Red Rock Crossing--the closest ooh-and-ahh catnip.

LENGTH: 5.1-mile loop

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION:  3,979 – 4,569 feet (1,037 feet of elevation change)


Old Post Trailhead:

From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 4 miles west (toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Upper Red Rock Loop. Turn left and continue 1.8 miles to Chavez Ranch Road (Forest Road 216A), turn left and go 0.1 mile to the Old Post trailhead on the left. There are no fees or facilities at the trailhead.


Coconino National Forest

Monday, August 28, 2023

Dipper-Apollo-Pluto-Spacewalk Circuit


Impressive monolith on the Pluto Trail

Flagstaff has a long and colorful association with astronomy and space exploration. Notable mentions include the discovery of Pluto from the Lowell Observatory by Percival Lowell in 1894. And in the 1960s, the Apollo astronauts trained in the Cinder Hills area to test procedures in volcanic craters that resembled the lunar landscape prior to landing on the real thing in 1969.

Apollo Trail winds through volcanic boulders


Additionally, Flagstaff has the distinction of being named the first International Dark Sky City in 2001.

A hairpin curve on the Dipper Trail

That’s a big deal because the city’s policies on limiting nighttime light pollution have many benefits including improving human health, protecting sensitive wildlife and ecosystems and maintaining clear skies for stargazing and studying the universe.
Mountain vistas on the Spacewalk Trail

 (Learn more at

In homage to the Northern Arizona city’s outer space heritage, a new maze of trails in the Mount Elden-Dry Lake Hills (MEDL) area was opened to the public in August.

Wildlife browse sand sage August - November

New MEDL trails connect with Rocky Ridge Trail

 Part of the Schultz stacked loop system, located just a few miles north of downtown, the new Dipper, Apollo, Pluto and Spacewalk trails tie into the previously unveiled Big Bang Trail.
Pluto Trail passes a recovering burn scar

They also add toned muscle to Old Standard backbone routes like Rocky Ridge, Sunset, Brookbank and Upper Oldham Trails.
Mt. Elden seen from the Apollo Trail

Built by Coconino National Forest and Arizona Conservation Corps with the assistance of local volunteers, the trail names slap a celestial sugar coating on a decidedly terrestrial domain.
Wildflower meadow on Spacewalk Trail

While the area’s high elevation and slightly lower O2 levels might give lowlanders (if you’re from Phoenix, you’re a lowlander) a mini case of the woozies, the trail designs minimize the impact. These new routes are not of the old school straight-up-and-down ilk that seem engineered to make you feel like a looser.
Ancient alligator juniper on the Dipper Trail

These scenic paths capitalize on natural landscape contours, using sweeping switchbacks to ease climbs and tight hairpin turns to propel trail users around ravines and gullies.
Paintbrush color sunny spots March - September

The looped trails are easy to customize


To explore this new hub, begin at the Schultz Creek Trailhead, which was relocated away from the course of Schultz Creek this summer,  with a short walk on the Chimney Trail to connect with the Rocky Ridge Trail.

San Francisco Mountain seen from Dipper Trail

The route follows Rocky Ridge for 0.7 miles to where the Apollo Trail heads left.  The 0.3-mile connector path twists among lichen-encrusted volcanic boulders and sporadic tree cover, serving up appetizer views of what’s to come.
Sunflower meadows below the Dipper Trail

At the 1-mile point, Apollo intersects the Dipper Trail. For this trip, the route heads right taking on an edgy segment where enormous alligator junipers frame mountain vistas and glimpses of downtown Flagstaff before exposing first peeks at the sky-scraping silhouette of 12,633-foot San Francisco Mountain.
Mixed conifer woodlands on Pluto Trail

Immediately beyond the mountain preview, Dipper meets the Pluto trail at the 1.8-mile point.  Pluto is another capillary-type route of about a third of a mile that runs between the Dipper and Spacewalk trails.  The tightly coiled path jogs around a recovering burn scar and a prominent monolithic stone outcropping, then connects with the Spacewalk Trail. Great views of the peaks can be had by heading left at the junction.
Purple locoweed bloom June - September

Narrowleaf tick clover bloom July - September

The easy singletrack meanders for a half-mile through wildflower meadows and mixed conifer woodlands before bumping into the Big Bang Trail, the turnaround point for this exploratory trip. However, a quick map consult will show a full menu of loop options for longer or shorter hikes.

LENGTH:  4.66 miles out-and-back

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 7,160 – 7,765 feet (964 feet of elevation change)

GETTING THERE: Schultz Pass Trailhead: In Flagstaff, go 3 miles north on U.S. 180 (Humphreys Street) and turn right on to Schultz Pass Road (Forest Road 420). Continue 0.5-mile on FR 420 and make a hard left at the Elden Look Road (Forest Road 577) and go another half-mile to the  parking area on the left. There are no fees or facilities at the trailhead. 

INFO:  Coconino National Forest

Monday, August 21, 2023

Noodle Loop


Spence Basin Trail System.

Wiggly course of Noodle Loop

Wiggly, woodsy, route. Say that three time fast and you’ll get the vibe of the Noodle Loop Trail No. 360. 

There's lots of shade on Noodle Loop

Living up to this tongue-twister summary and moniker, the short loop in the Spence Basin Trail System in Prescott National Forest, delivers a quick trip marked by lots of shade, abrupt bends and flowing curves.
Spence Basin trails are well signed

 The trek debarks from the Spence Springs trailhead located just a few miles northwest of Downtown Prescott.
Shrub oaks are common along the loop

While the loop is well-signed and synced with a phone app, many intersecting roads and trails including the 50+-mile Prescott Circle Trail can be tempting distractions.
The loop is slick and clear of obstacles

The hub, which sits between majestic 7,626-foot Granite Mountain and iconic 6,440-foot Thumb Butte is beloved for its maze of short, coiled paths that glide through hilly terrain with endless ways to customize day hikes.
Noodle Loop is a perfect choice for warmer days as it stays mostly in a pocket of pines, oaks and junipers. 
Mountain gromwell bloom July -September

Views are sparce but the loop’s string of bumps, bends, and hairpin turns that slingshot hikers over cottonwood-cluttered drainages, ledges and through boulder outcroppings provide plenty of entertainment.  
The loop stays in a shady, wooded basin

The maintained single-track path feels as it was engineered for speed. There are no major obstacles to work around and clear lines-of-sight make it easy to see oncoming bikes and horses that share the trail.
Cottonwoods thrive in a moist drainage

Following the natural contours of the terrain, the trail’s smooth, linguine-like dips and climbs add up to over 700 feet of accumulated elevation change. But the loop’s slick design acts as a silent propellant, whisking hikers through in painless, speedy style.
Mushrooms bloom after monsoon rains

LENGTH: 2.3-mile loop

RATING: easy

ELEVATION: 5,514 – 5,676 feet (703 feet of accumulated elevation change)


Spence Springs Trailhead:

From Courthouse Square in downtown Prescott, go 4.8 miles north on Montezuma Street which will turn into Whipple Street then Iron Springs Road (County Road 10) to Spence Springs Road on the left.  This is located just past the turnoff for Granite Basin Recreation Area.  There’s a portable restroom at the trailhead.


Prescott National Forest

City of Prescott

Monday, July 31, 2023

Arizona Trail Passage 34: FR418 to Kelly Tank


Forest Road 418 to Kelly Tank

Aspens and pines on the Arizona Trail Passage 34

An Arizona “alpine start”-the pre-dawn trailhead call for a mountain hike- can be timed by the stars. Basically, if Orion has faded into the dawn, it’s already too late.

Hip-high ferns near Forest Road 418

The iconic winter constellation with its prominent three-star belt arcs over the night sky from December to late April.
Storm builds over the White Horse Hills

It then disappears for a few months before making its summer debut in the early morning hours of August. Visible low on the eastern horizon around 4 a.m., Orion the Hunter signals the hour Phoenix area day hikers must leave the Valley to beat high country monsoon storms. 
When thunder roars, go indoors.

There are three things to know about summer hiking on Arizona’s mountain trails. First, temperatures will be cooler, but fickle. Second, mountains make their own weather, often churning out thunder, lightning, high winds, and rain after 11 a.m. And finally, being caught on a mountain or in the open during a monsoon storm is a potentially deadly situation.  That’s why it’s smart to follow The Hunter’s lead and head out super early to be off peaks and into safety before noon.
Silverstem lupine bloom June - October

Per the National Weather Service, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” For more lightning safety education, visit:

In addition to staying alive, early morning hiking has many benefits.  

Alpenglow on the Walker Lake cinder cone

The crack of dawn is the best time to observe wildlife and witness the syrupy amber “alpenglow” the sun paints on mountain slopes.
Kendrick Peak viewed from the Arizona Trail

The San Francisco Peaks Passage 34 of the Arizona National Scenic Trail is one worth setting the alarm to experience.  The Flagstaff area favorite runs for 35.3 miles between the Weatherford Trailhead at the south edge of the peaks to Babbitt Ranch in Coconino National Forest.
Monsoon clouds over the Arizona Trail

Along its mostly easy course, the trail cuts through aspen glens, dense coniferous forests, meadows, and juniper-studded rangelands.  The entire passage is hemmed in by mounds and craters of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, an 1,800 square mile swath of the Colorado Plateau with over 600 volcanic features.
A hiker photographs a scenic moment on the AZT

Arizona Trail gate at FR 514

Passage 34 rounds the slopes of 12,633-foot San Francisco Mountain ( the Humphreys Peak Trail goes to its summit), a dormant stratovolcano, and heads north through a maze of cinder cones and lava flows.  For a volcano-centric day hike, the segment of the passage that runs between Forest Roads 418 and 514 is a beauty.

The 6.8-mile out-and-back trek begins in a thicket of aspens on the northwest edge of San Francisco Mountain.  An understory of ferns, lupines, and tall grasses lap at the legs as hikers take on the gentle inclines. Within a half-mile, the trail parallels the Walker Lake cinder cone.

San Francisco Mountain viewed from AZ Trail

A hikeable road leads to the summit of Saddle Mountain

Standing at over 8,400 feet, its pine-fleeced crater contains a shallow pond. The swampy pool is not visible from the trail, but a nearby dirt road leads to its innards. To the east, the weathered peaks of the White Horse Hills rise over Deadman Wash.
Western yarrow blooms June - September

The mostly treeless, isolated volcanic landforms top out at 9,065 feet with a choppy fringe of Ponderosa pines huddled at their bases. 
Elk leave "antler rub" scars on aspen trees

As this hike approaches its turnaround point at Forest Road 514, the tree cover thins out opening views of  10,418-foot Kendrick Peak to the west and 8,864-foot Saddle Mountain straight ahead. Both have trails to their summits. At hike’s end across from Kelly Tank, an Arizona Trail gate  marks the route’s transition into more arid terrain where junipers, brush and wide-open spaces commandeer the viewscape. Still, the mountain-borne lightning storms that happen on a near daily basis in summer are something to monitor and avoid.  An alpine start helps.

Gathering storm over the White Horse Hills

LENGTH: 6.8 miles out-and-back

RATING: easy

ELEVATION: 8,300 – 7,721 feet



From Flagstaff, go 19.5 miles north on U.S.180 to the northern entrance  for FR151 (Hart Prairie Road) just past milepost 235.  Turn right and continue 1.6 miles to FR418. 

Continue 1.1 miles on FR418 to a dirt parking apron on the right. Hike begins on the north side of the road. Forest roads are maintained dirt suitable for most vehicles.


From Flagstaff, go 21 miles north on U.S. 180 to Forest Road 514 (Kendrick Park Road) at milepost 236.6. Turn right and continue to just past the 3-mile marker at Kelly Tank and park in the dirt lot on the right at the beginning of Forest Road 9006R. This is directly across from an Arizona Trail gate.

Forest roads are maintained dirt suitable for most vehicles.