Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hike #52: Goat Canyon/Mesquite Canyon Loop, White Tank Mountain Regional Park

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Length: 12 miles

Although not the most exciting park in the state, White Tank Mountain Regional Park makes up in convenience what it lacks in excitement. Located in the far West Valley, the park is operated by Maricopa County, so it enjoys all the ease of access as one would expect. In the past, I hiked the Ford Canyon/Mesquite Canyon Loop, but the Goat Canyon/Mesquite Trail was also listed in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Phoenix (which has always been a favorite source of good hikes.)

The Goat Canyon Trail starts immediately after entering the park (right after the ticket booth). The first mile of the trail is a very level walk along the desert floor at the foot of the White Tanks. After this easy stroll, the trail starts slowly climbing up the mountain, for two-miles of continuous, gradual incline! Throughout this portion, the real star of the trail was the view of the Valley and distant Superstition and Four Peaks in the distance behind you. Just after the three-mile mark (the trail is conveniently marked at every mile), the trail levels out and passes just below the mountain peaks - though it also turns and loses the Valley vistas. This is pretty much how the trail continues until the terminus after 6.5 miles.

At the end of the Goat Canyon Trail, the trail intersects with two other trails: the Ford Canyon Trail and the Mesquite Canyon Trail. Although the this trail was listed as the Goat Canyon Trail/Mesquite Canyon Trail, the guidebook suggested continuing along the Ford Canyon Trail for one-mile until it intersected with the Willow Canyon Trail. (Yes, the White Tanks have a lot of "______ Canyon Trails"!) The Willow Canyon Trail is actually a fairly enjoyable descent back down mountain; in fact, there are actually small pools of water in the very green canyon between the mountain peaks.

After about 1.5 miles of the Willow Canyon Trail, the trail ends at the Mesquite Trail, which leads uneventfully back to the parking lots - only on the other side of the mountains! What the guidebook failed to stress (though in fairness, I just looked at the map without actually reading the trail description) is the fact that the trailhead for the Mesquite Trail is a couple miles down the road from the starting point at the Goat Canyon Trailhead! I attempted to shortcut this by passing along the Waterfall Trail (where there were some petroglyphs) and the Black Rock Loop. Unfortunately, this still required a lot of walking along pavement - so much, I almost considered hitching a ride! Eventually, I arrived back at my car for the short ride back to the Valley.

To view more photos of the Goat Canyon/Mesquite Canyon Loop, click here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hike #51: Hunter Trail, Picacho Peak State Park

Length: 4 mile

Located directly on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, Picacho Peak is impossible to miss and amazingly easy to access (it's just feet from the interstate!) Picacho Peak is run by the state park department, which means there is an entrance fee - though it also means paved parking, restrooms, and well-marked trails.) Although the park had two trails leading to the top of the peak, the most popular (by far) is the short, but very challenging Hunter Trail.

The trail immediately begins as an upward climb (which is hardly surprising since the trail covers so much elevation in such a short length!) Fortunately, the first mile of the trail is little more than a set of stairs leading up the northeast face of the mountain (which also meant much welcome shade.) Just before the mile point, you reach a saddle, which feels likes it should be near the top - though in a cruel twist the trail descends nearly 250 feet straight down (with a guide wire to assist) before continuing around the southern face of the mountain.

Once you've rounded the mountain, you are exposed to full sun (which wasn't exactly a horrible thing in early February.) Unfortunately, this segment requires you to regain those 250 feet - plus many, many more! This segment also proved to be one of the most challenging since it required several near vertical climbs up rocky ridges, with nothing to assist except wire railings. (Bring gloves!) At least the views from this side of the mountain were quite spectacular!

Eventually, you arrive at the top of Picacho Peak for panoramic views of the desert below (and it was a view well-worth the climb.) From here, it is a difficult trek back down the mountain along the same trail. (Those cliffs were even harder to descend!) The good thing was that I was able to complete the hike far quicker than expected; all the books stated 4 hours, but I was down in less than 3 hours. Since I was done so quickly, I decided to add the short (1.4 miles) Calloway Trail that starts at the same points he Hunter Trail. Although this trail might have been impressive had I begun here, it was a little less impressive after having the better view from the peak's top.

To view more photos of Hunter Trail, click here.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hike #50: Vineyard Trail #131, Tonto National Forest

Length: 7 miles (12 miles to terminus)

A drive to the Vineyard trail reminds one just how vast the Tonto National Forest really is! The Vineyard Trail starts at the edge of Roosevelt Lake, just north of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Although not geographically that far from the East Valley, the dam and trailhead are a bit of a trek due to the lack of a (good) direct route. To reach the trailhead, there are three possible driving routes. The most direct it to take the Apache Trail from Apache Junction as it traces its way along Canyon Lake and Apache Lake. Although beautiful, the majority of this road is curvy, unpaved mountain passes - which make for extremely slow travel! The fastest (though longer) options are the take either the Beeline Highway north to SR 188 or the 60 east to Globe and connect to the SR 188 there. Either of these routes provide an easy (fully-paved) route that will take you directly to the trailhead!

Once you arrive at Roosevelt Lake, the trail parking lot is a small lot along the lakeshore directly north of the fairly-new Roosevelt Bridge. From here, you must cross over the highway, and walk back towards the bridge. Passing along the roadway between the bridge's guardrails and the mountainside, there is a small sign marking the trailhead and an obvious trail that ascends the mountain.

Surprisingly, the trail up Vineyard Mountain was a fairly easy ascent that rarely seems all that challenging - though that might have been helped with plenty of breaks to enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of Roosevelt Lake. The gravel trail continues upward through a desert thick with small cactus (especially prickly pears!) After reaching the top (where there is an abandoned reflector tower), you are rewarded with views of Roosevelt Dam before continuing along a much more level segment of the trail. As the trail gradually passes along the upper plateau, you begin to round the mountain away from Roosevelt Lake and instead enjoy glimpses of Apache Lake gleaming in the distances. Several larger boulders along this portion of the trail provide the perfect resting spot for a well-deserved break and a good view!

From here, the trail make a gradual descent and again turns so that you're facing Four Peaks in the north. Passing through a large grouping of saguaro cactus, the trail continues a level for at least a mile with little else to note. This was our turning point (since it was growing late in the afternoon), though the trail does continue for at least two miles (encountering a couple forest roads and a ridgeline walk.) Sadly, since the Vineyard trail is an out-and-back trail, we had no other option but retracing our steps back towards the trailhead; we had no problem with this, though we witnessed several people slipping on the loose gravel along the declines!)

To view more photos of Vineyard Trail, click here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hike #49: East Webber Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 12 miles

Located north of Payson just below the Mogollon Rim, the East Webber Trail provides a refreshingly cool, enjoyable walk through some extremely secluded woods. (Perhaps the main reason for the isolation is the fact that the only access to the East Webber Trail is via the Geronimo Trail, which when added to the East Webber Trail makes for a full 12-mile hike.)

Beginning at the trailhead for the Geronimo Trail, the trail briefly passes along the famous Highland Trail before connecting to an old jeep trail that has now become Geronimo Trail. Following this path, the trail slowing climbs through the surrounding forest for approximately 3-miles before connect with the remote East Webber Trail.

Following along East Webber Creek, the East Webber Trail is remarkably well-marked for a trail that seemingly sees so little traffic (the Boy Scout Camp located nearby is likely responsible for this.) The East Webber Trail is a pleasant little trail that works its way through some remarkably lush forest (the number of ferns and wildflowers along this trail was quite amazing); however the true star of this trail is the East Webber Creek itself. The trail repeatedly meanders back and forth across the creek, allowing for a perfect mixture of forest hike and water play. Unfortunately, the final segment of the East Webber Trail is overgrown and extremely difficult to navigate, so we were unable to complete the full trail. However, after a long rest along the creek banks, we did not feel too bad about returning to the trailhead - and I doubt our poor feet could have handled much more walking.

I will advise extra attention be paid at the initial segments of trails; after a long day of hiking, we had extreme difficulty remember where exactly we turned onto the Geronimo Trail (though had we just kept walking we would have realized all our worry was unnecessary - the trail could not have been more clearly marked.) Also make sure you return on the LEFT segment of the Highland Trail - we passed a good 20 minutes of rigorous climbing before we realized we'd headed the wrong direction. Still, the cool temperates, lush forests, and scenic creek made for an enjoyable day.

To view more photos of the East Webber Trail, click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hike #48: Humphrey's Peak Trail, Kachina Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Length: 8 miles (10 to the summit)

Towering above the city of Flagstaff, Humphrey's Peak is the highest point in Arizona and an extremely popular destination for local hikers.

The Humphrey's Peak Trail begins at the the Snowbowl Ski Resort and immediately passes into some of the thickest forest in Arizona. Although the trail isn't extremely difficult, the high altitude (the trail begins at 9,300 ft. and climbs to 12,000+) can make it seem much, much harder!

Sadly, due to the thickness of the forest, the remaining trail offers little to view besides tree trunks. The only welcome change is the occasional views of scampering squirrels.

However, after a great deal of climbing, one climbs above the treeline and views of the surrounding mountains suddenly come to light. Unfortunately, Humphrey's Peak sees an afternoon thunderstorm almost every afternoon during the summer months - and today was no exception. By the time we approached the saddle (1 mile from the actual peak), there was violent lightning on both sides, which prevented anyone from reaching the actual summit.

To view more photos of the Humphrey's Peak Trail, click here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hike #47: Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Length: 9.5 miles

By far the most popular trail along the South Rim, the Bright Angel Trail provides the most gradual slope of any of the trails in the Grand Canyon. For this reason, it makes for the perfect trail for ascending from the Canyon floor.

Beginning at the Bright Angel Campground, the trail immediately crosses the Colorado River over the Silver Bridge. Although similar to the older Black Bridge (which is just upstream), the Silver Bridge has a mesh wire bottom that allows for some rather scary views of the fast-moving water directly below. From the bridge, the trail turns west and continues running along the shoreline with little incline.

After approximately 2 miles, one encounters the River Resthouse (a set of restrooms and emergency phone), and the trail makes a sharp left turn and begins its incline. From here the climbs along a small creek, which actually passes over the trail in several spots. The trail and creek eventually lead to the first major rest-stop along the trail - Indian Gardens Campground. Located at the halfway point of the trail (about 4.5 miles each way), this is the first stop with potable water. The campgrounds also mark the end of the "easy" portion of the trail; from here, the trail becomes much, much more steep.

The upper four-miles of the Bright Angel Trail can be described as nothing more than an exhausting climb straight up! The trail continues in this manner with an endless series of switchbacks, which even the mule-trains seemed to have difficulties climbing! Fortunately, this top half of this trail is divided into 3 segments with well-established resthouses at both the 3-miles point and the 1.5 miles point. Both houses provided much need shade, potable water, and restrooms.

Upon reaching the upper region of the Canyon, one again encounters countless hordes of tourists enjoying a brief walk along the top. The final stretch of the trail has two short tunnels before the first welcome sight of the El Tovar Lodge. One can finally emerge into the crowded parking lot know that you were one of the small percentage of people who actually make it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

To view more photos of the Bright Angel Trail, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hike #46: South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Length: 7.5 miles

Although the South Kaibab Trail is accessible only by bus, the trail still receives a considerable amount of foot traffic; however, the vast majority of these people tend to make to no further than a mile or so down the trail.

The trail begins with an immediate descent through a series of sharp switchbacks. Although this first segment can be extremely busy, the magnificent panoramic views make one completely forget the crowds. After 1.5 miles of continuous descent, one reaches the Cedar Ridge Resthouse. Cedar Ridge is little more than a restroom and lone shade tree; however, it does serve as the turning point for most the casual visitors. (Note: There is no source of water at Cedar Ridge or anywhere along the South Kaibab Trail.)

From Cedar Ridge, the trail passes over O'Neill Butte, one of the only level areas of this trail. Unfortunately, the flatness is short-lived, and the trail soon passes through the most dramatic drop yet! With another set of dramatic switchbacks, the trail falls steadily with a series of rough stairs made from old railway ties. Look carefully to the left, and one can see the first glimpse of the Colorado River below.

After finally completely the steep limestone stairs, the trail pass the second set of restrooms and emergency phone. From here, the trail becomes gradually less steep as it passes through an intensely "red" portion of the Canyon. Eventually, views of the river become increasing common, and the historic Black Bridge becomes visible. Built in 1921, the Black Bridge serves as the main passage over the Colorado for both hikers of the South Kaibab Trail and the mule trains coming down the Bright Angel Trail (the mules are apparently afraid to pass over the bridge build along the Bright Angel Trail.)

After passing through a rather long tunnel and across the bridge, the South Kaibab Trail continues west, on the opposite site of the river, and enters the Bright Angel Campgrounds and Phantom Ranch after about a ¼-mile.

To view more photos of the South Kaibab Trail, click here.