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Monday, December 10, 2018



Fountain Hills McDowell Mountain Preserve
Ocotillo frame Superstition Wilderness peaks.
Sonoran Trail dips and climbs through rugged foothills.
A Red-tailed hawk glides above the Verde River basin.
Adero Canyon Trailhead officially opened on 11-17-2018.
Stop and smell the desert lavender while hiking.
With the restroom plumbing and water lines nearly complete and the access road mostly paved, the new Adero Canyon Trailhead in the Fountain Hills McDowell Mountain Preserve was officially opened on November 17, 2018. 
The Promenade Trail follows a wide dirt road.
After decades of planning and construction, the roughly 1000-acre preserve now occupies a mountainous sliver of space between manicured golf communities and the hiking hubs of Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve and McDowell Mountain Regional Park. 
Four Peaks seen from the Promenade Trail
The mini-but-mighty preserve located in the far northwest corner of town really packs a punch in terms of varied hiking opportunities. The preserve has more than 11 miles of non-motorized trails that range in difficulty from very easy to extremely challenging.
Excellent signage keeps hikers on track.
Perhaps the most tantalizing hiker-gravy of the trail complex is its connectivity. Although most of the preserve’s routes are contained within its borders, the Sonoran, Andrew-Kinsey and Dixie Mine trails cross into the adjacent park and preserve.  These property-spanning paths offer seamless foot travel among the popular northeast Valley hiking hubs. 
Brittlebush are prolific bloomers along the trails.
Although each of the preserve’s trails has its own character, they all capitalize on their advantageous location overlooking the Salt and Verde River basin. Here, scenic vistas come in the form of both low hanging fruit and hard-won jewels. Ostensibly, the big jewels are gained by clambering up and over the extreme course of the Western Loop Trail, but a walkabout on the less-arduous Promenade and Sonoran Trails unpacks similar dramatic scenery.  
Wolfberry shrubs bear bright orange fruits.
Lacy Tansy-Aster bloom along the trails.
From the trailhead, the Promenade Trail follows a wide, edge-hugging road on the preserve’s eastern foothills. Trails within the preserve are well-signed and outfitted with location markers that correspond with maps available online and at the trailhead, so getting around is simple as long as you pay attention.
Arching ocotillos shade the Sonoran Trail.
As it swings around chunky bluffs, unobstructed views of the iconic Four Peaks and Superstition Wilderness soar above green valleys and sprawling suburbs. As the route swings northwest, distant silhouettes of Sierra Ancha Mountains back the rugged expanse of the Tonto National Forest. At the 0.8-mile point, take either the Sonoran or Lower Sonoran Trail at location marker ST1/LST1.  
Junction for the loop portion of the hike.
Both legs of the difficult-rated loop have some steep sections and loose rock where the path descends and rises through a craggy notch. Continue less than a mile to the crossover link at marker LST5 and swing back on the opposite leg. 
Sonoran Trail spills into McDowell Mtn Regional Park
While hiking the loop, don’t let the big mountain and valley panoramas dominate your experience.
Desert lavender shrubs frame views of Tonto NF mountains.
A veritable botanical garden of flowering plants tickle the fringes of the trails.  Wolfberry shrubs, cholla cacti, brittlebush and desert lavender drape over the route adding pops of color to the heady hike.  
LENGTH: 3.3 miles
RATING: moderate-difficult
ELEVATION: 2460 – 2170 feet
Adero Canyon Trailhead: 14800 N. Eagle Ridge Dr. Fountain Hills.
From State Route 87 in Fountain Hills, go 3.2 miles west on Shea Blvd to N. Palisades Blvd. Turn right (north) and continue 1mile to Eagle Ridge Drive, turn left and go 2.3 miles to the trailhead.
HOURS: Sunrise to sunset daily
FEE: no fees unless you cross into MMRP ($2 per person).

Saturday, December 8, 2018


Agua Fria National Monument
Confluence of Badger Springs Wash & Agua Fria River
Petroglyphs along Badger Springs Wash Trail
Anybody who has travelled  Interstate 17  between Phoenix and Prescott has inevitably sped past the Agua Fria National Monument. The placid rolling hills and boulder fields that are visible from the freeway belie a wilderness of wind-swept grasslands, deep canyons, extinct volcanic features and hundreds of historical resources.
Hikers on the Badger Springs Wash Trail
Proclaimed a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the 70,900-acre, Bureau of Land Management supervised tract is rich in Native American cultural sites that date to between 1250 and 1450. A.D. 
Steep cliffs flank the Agua Fria River
The remains of more than 400 structures and petroglyph (rock art) panels dot the area. Although most of these delicate and irreplaceable sites reside off-the-radar far from even the worst of the rough roads that criss-cross the monument’s remote mesas and tree-lined drainages, two official trails offer short hikes to some of the area’s most impressive sights.  For those with a high-clearance vehicle and the fortitude to get through a white-knuckle section of edge-clinging dirt road, the massive footprint of Pueblo La Plata on the rim of Perry Mesa above Silver Creek offers walkable exploring. But for a longer, tougher hiking experience, take the Badger Springs Wash Trail.
Willows and cottonwoods thrive in the moist sandy soil.
Trees on Badger Springs Wash Trail turn gold in early winter
Located just over a mile from the freeway, the mile-long trail follows a sandy drainage corridor that empties into the Agua Fria River.  Just before trail’s end, petroglyph panels on crags flanking the wash’s east side bear dozens of etchings of animals, humans and artful designs.  As with all archeological resources, please to not touch, alter or remove anything.  The river’s edge marks both the end of the official route and the beginning of a memorable backcountry adventure into a steep-walled gorge with numerous obstacles. Hiking beyond the confluence of the wash and the river is safe to do only when water levels are low.  Do not attempt this hike during rain storms as there is a high potential for deadly flooding. Also, during very wet periods, the route may be impassible.
Perry Tank Canyon seen from Richinbar Mine
Petroglyphs date to between 1250 and 1450 A.D.
High water levels foiled our canyon exploration on 12-8-18.

From the river-wash confluence, it's possible follow the waterway  in either direction, but the most dramatic scenery can be found when you head right (south).  This bend in the river is flanked by the inky black basalt spewed by 4042-foot Joe’s Hill—a dormant shield volcano.  (Joe’s Hill is visible as a low mound directly to the east across from the Black Canyon Rest Area on I-17.)  The twisting course is a mix of soft sand, parched mud fields, acres of boulders, drop pools, rivulets and islands of cottonwoods.  Running water continually changes the landscape, so you’ll need to hunt-and-peck your way through the quagmire. Be alert around puddles and sandbars because groundwater can create invisible sinkholes and spots of quicksand. Use a hiking stick to test ground stability. Throughout the trek, rusty relics of area mine operations rest crumpled in crevasses. Roughly 2 miles from the confluence, Perry Tank Canyon flows in from the east and, although not visible from the canyon floor, the ruins of Richinbar Mine sit on the lip of the canyon 700 feet above.  Even though the hike to this point hasn’t been very long, the irregular route and constant scrambling will tax your stamina more than you think.
When accessible, the canyon hike is rocky and challenging

Highly-skilled, properly outfitted trekkers can opt to continue slogging through either canyon, but for a day hike, this makes for a good turn around point. 
Running water scribbles lacy rivulets in Badger Springs Wash
LENGTH: 1-mile to the river
RATING: easy, then difficult
ELEVATION: 3100-2900 feet
From Phoenix, travel 40 miles north on Interstate 17 to the Badger Springs Road exit 256.
Continue 1 mile east to the trailhead.  A high-clearance vehicle is recommended on the rough dirt and gravel road. 
Bureau of Land Management
Friends of the Agua Fria National Moument

Monday, November 26, 2018


Chunks of lichen-encrusted basalt litter the Basalt Ridge Trl.
Whether you’ve only skimmed its core trails or are a seasoned traveler of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, it’s easy to see that the 30,500-acre site is a wonderland of geological features.
Distinctive Cone Mtn. flanks the trails.
Brittlebush is plentiful along the route.
Upper Ranch Trail traverses the saddle of Brown's Mtn.
Invasive mistletoe attracts Phainopela birds.
In the preserve’s north sector, several popular routes wind among the impossible-to-miss mounds of Granite and Cholla Mountains that anchor a landscape of crystalized megaliths, nature-sculpted “mushroom rocks” and stony passages, while other trails wander off into areas with quieter dynamics.  As trail build-out progresses with in the North Valley preserve, more and more subdued places are being revealed.
Wolfberry shrubs thrive in moist areas.
Take for instance, the Basalt Ridge Trail.  Like most trails with the preserve, the short singletrack can be accessed via numerous connecting trails.  One scenic option is to start at the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead and take the Upper Ranch Trail. The beauty of this circuit is that it departs the heavily-travelled main corridor almost immediately.  The Upper Ranch Trail glides northward over the saddle between the pointed form of Cone Mountain and flat-topped Brown’s Mountain before descending into a sunny stretch of desert cut with sandy washes, arroyos and impressive vistas of the Cave Creek Mountains.  Where water settles in the drainage areas, fragrant patches of Triangle-leaf bursage, fruit-laden wolfberry shrubs, colorful masses of in-your-face brittlebush flowers and creamy Desert wishbone blooms put on lavish botanical displays.  Roughly 1.6 miles from the start, fist-sized globs of rust-and-ash-colored rock begin to appear scattered along the route. 
Brown's Mtn. framed by blooming creosote.
Look closely and you’ll see the characteristic vesicular texture (holes formed by escaping gasses) of volcanic basalt. Unlike the showy, igneous granites that formed underground millions of years ago, this basalt is the result of surface lava flows or explosive events that also contributed to the site’s geological structure.  At the 1.8-mile point, the Basalt Ridge Trail veers off the Upper Ranch Trail tracing the crest of a low-slung rim.
Desert wishbone bush.
A half-mile and two junctions later, the Basalt Ridge Overlook spur leads to the nose of the rim perched above desert lowlands criss-crossed with dry washes and acres of mesquite. 
Mountain views on Upper Ranch Trail
Triangle-leaf bursage grows near washes.
From this tiny vantage point, views of the Four Peaks in Tonto National Forest to the east peek over Granite Mountain while the closer forms of Pinnacle Peak and Tom’s Thumb are visible to the south. Closer still are glimpses of the acres of preserve land set for future trail development that will undoubtedly add more surprises and deeper perspectives into this complex and beautiful terrain.
Cave Creek Mountains seen from the Basalt Ridge Trail
View from Basalt Ridge Overlook
LENGTH: 4.8 miles out-and-back
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  2632 – 2741 feet
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead,  
30301 N. Alma School Rd., Scottsdale, 85262.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, travel 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Road.  Turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School, turn left and drive 1 mile to the trailhead. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset daily.
There are restrooms, water and a map kiosk at the trailhead.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Browns Mountain Trail surprises with sweet vistas.
When compared to the soaring peaks and jagged ridges that surround it, Brown Mountain reads more like a molehill. But don’t be too quick to shrug off hiking the hill that anchors the west end of Tucson Mountain Park in Pinal County. Its wallflower appearance belies a memorable hike replete with rich Sonoran Desert vegetation and far-reaching vistas.
Ascending the flanks of Browns Mountain.
Although a hike on the moderate-rated Brown Mountain Trail is a less intimidating trek than say, adjacent King Canyon Trail to Wasson Peak, the little adventure still packs a respectable punch with some edgy exposure and steep slopes.
Overlooking the Tohono O'Odham reservation.
Seeds of a Slender Janusia vine cling to a shrub.
C.B. Brown is considered the founder of Tucson Mtn. Park.
Accessible by way of several picnic areas within the park, the hike begins with an initial descent and wash crossing before taking on the switchbacks that climb to the mountain’s crest.
Except for a few places where the trail clings to cliffs with vertical drop offs and some areas of loose rock, the climb requires only moderate effort. 
Fruits on Anderson's Thornbush.
Twisting skyward among impressive stands of saguaros, cholla, mesquite and blooming shrubs entwined with wild vines, the trail dodges stony crags stained in the colors of wine and rust.  It doesn’t take long for the ascent sweat to start paying dividends. As the trail loops up and over the mountain, it delivers a carousel-like experience of ever-changing scenery.
A rugged wash cuts into the base of the mountain.
Distant peaks on horizon.
The lower leg of the loop features views of the Tuscon Mtns.
Colorful rock outcroppings line the route.
Atop the mountain’s hogback ridgeline, an unobscured panorama of sprawling valleys and layers of mountain ranges takes center stage. To the north and east, the Tucson Mountains form a ragged wall of imposing pinnacles. To the south and west, expansive flatlands of the Tohono O’Odham reservation and the Aguirre Valley melt into the hazy silhouettes of Kitt Peak, the Santa Rosa Mountains, Mount Wrightson and the singular form of Baboquivari Peak. 
Directly north, the muted green scrub and grasslands of Saguaro National Park remind that this is one of most dense and diverse desert plant and wildlife environments in Arizona.  The return leg of the hike traces the mountain’s lower north flank capping off a short but rewarding outing.  Because this hike won’t take very long to complete, plan on extending your visit by exploring nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios or the many attractions at Saguaro National Park.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum seen from the trail.
LENGTH: 3.7-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2650- 3100 feet
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway Blvd. exit 257, head west and continue 9.4 miles on Speedway (turns into Gates Pass Road at 4.6 miles) to Kinney Road. Turn right on Kinney Road and continue to either of the two main access points along the road. It’s 0.8-mile to the Brown Mountain picnic area or 2.2 miles to the Juan Santa Cruz picnic area.  At the Brown Mountain site, the trail begins at the picnic area near the C.B. Brown sign. At the Juan Santa Cruz site, the trail begins just past the fenced-off ramada near a grill and picnic table.
Tucson Mountain Park

Monday, November 19, 2018

Celebrate & Support the Maricopa Trail

Celebrate & Support the Maricopa Trail
Full Circle.
On Saturday, November 17, 2018, the sweet aroma of singed wood at Cave Creek Regional Park marked the completion of Phase 1 of the Maricopa Trail.  Using a hot branding iron, Former Maricopa County Board Supervisor Andy Kunasek and current Maricopa County Board Supervisor, Steve Chucri brought the nearly two-decade-long effort of building the Valley-circumnavigation route full circle by burning the initials “MT” into a wood panel, exactly as was done at the trail’s 2004 groundbreaking.
Ceremonial final shovelfuls.
American Conservation Experience.
The branding followed a ceremonial tossing of the final shovelfuls of dirt onto the trail and the unveiling of a new informational kiosk at the Overton trailhead where the Maricopa Trail departs the park on its 315-mile journey. Speakers, information booths, guided hikes and the release of two Harris's Hawks rehabilitated by Wild at Heart, a rescue organization for birds of prey, made for a full morning of festivities.
Brian Derrick
Initial plans for the trail were rolled out in 2000. What followed was years of cooperative planning and elbow grease across multiple governmental agencies, businesses, communities and volunteer organizations.
The primary driver was Andy Kunasek, an outdoor enthusiast and former public servant who saw the value in creating a non-motorized  trail that would connect ten county parks to provide recreational opportunities while protecting natural and cultural resources along its route.  
Andy Kunasek
Often referred to as “The Father of the Maricopa Trail”, Kunasek pushed for the financial support, alliances, easements and ongoing partnerships that made the route possible. He is also the founder of the Prickly Pedal mountain bike race which supports the Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation (MT+PF), a nonprofit organization that provides sustainable financial support and volunteer trail maintenance.
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation
The annual event will take place on January 19, 2019 and will include a grueling 40-mile race on the trail between Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek and Lake Pleasant Regional Park, a 13-mile Fun Ride tailored to more casual riders and the ever-popular Kids Race where young riders ages 6 to 11 vie for medals and glory.  New this year—for non-bikers-- is an 8k trail run that will feature a rumble through the trail’s rugged beauty and diverse terrain.  But you don’t have to be a rider or runner to show your support for the trail. Spectators can enjoy a day of fun and activities followed by an awards ceremony and post-ride party by the lake with live music, food and beer garden.
Desert beauty on the Maricopa Trail.
Hiking the Maricopa Trail
Hawk release
Although the main big loop is now complete, the Maricopa Trail will continue to evolve and grow with added connectivity to municipal parks, communities and urban centers.  With dozens of trailheads and access points along its route, it’s easy to step out on the trail from just about anywhere in the Valley.  A good place to start is at Cave Creek Regional Park with a moderate
Dedication ceremony
Prickly Pedal Bike Race 2018
trek to the Andy Kunasek at Spear S Ranch Trailhead. 
Scorpion demonstration
This stretch of the trail wanders through a lush and diverse desert landscape in the shadow of Apache Peak. 
Harris's hawks take flight
Running through washes, mesquite forests and foothills lodged between the Tonto National Forest and north Phoenix suburbs, the segment has a remote feel and outstanding vistas.  Hike this section as a 13.2-mile out-and-back or a 6.6-mile one way car shuttle.  As Brian Derrick, MT+PF President said at the dedication ceremony, “One of the best ways you can show support for the trail is to get out and hike on it.”

Full Circle: RJ Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Director displays the ceremonial brand denoting the completion of Phase 1 of the Maricopa Trail.
Ceremonial Final Shovelfuls: Dignitaries place the final touches on the trail.
American Conservation Experience:
The Flagstaff-based volunteer organization began assisting with Maricopa Trail building and maintenance in 2016.
Brian Derrick: Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation President spoke about the importance of trail maintenance and volunteerism.
Andy Kunasek: The Father of the Maricopa Trail spoke about the history of the trail.
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation:
Board members, Larry Sneed and Jan Hancock, invite visitors to check out the volunteer trail maintenance trailer provide by REI.
Desert beauty on the Maricopa Trail: View from the trail that runs between Cave Creek Regional Park and Spear S Ranch.
Hiking the Maricopa Trail:
View from the trail that runs between Cave Creek Regional Park and Spear S Ranch.
Hawk release:  Steve Chucri, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman and former Chairman, Andy Kunasek get ready to release rehabilitated Harris's hawks into the park.
Dedication ceremony: RJ Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Director emceed the event.
Prickly Pedal: Finish line scene from the 2018 race.
Scorpion: An Arizona Game and Fish representative displays a scorpion at the event.
Harris's hawks take flight: Two raptors rehabilitated by Wild at Heart fly into their new home. A silhouette of a Harris's hawk appears in the Maricopa Trail logo.

Maricopa Trail Anthem-Cave Creek-Spur Cross Segment Sampler:
LENGTH: 6.6 miles one-way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2050' - 2295'
Cave Creek Regional Park Overton Trailhead:
37900 N. Cave Creek Parkway, Cave Creek.
From Carefree Highway in Cave Creek, go north on 32nd Street to the park entry gate.  Follow the main park road to the Overton trailhead at the nature center.  There’s a $7 daily fee per vehicle.
Andy Kunasek at Spear S Ranch Trailhead:
41799 N. New River Road.
From Carefree Highway in Cave Creek, go north 4.5 miles north on 7th Street, (turns into New River Road) to the trailhead on the right just before Linda Lane.

INFO & MAPS: Maricopa Trail

Prickly Pedal Bike Race: January 19, 2019.

Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation