Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hike #37: Mule Deer/Coyote Trails, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Length: 2 miles

Since there's been an inexcusably long lapse since my last hike, I decided it was about time to return to the trails. While researching new trails, I came across the website for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale. After reading the trail descriptions on the Preserve's website, I decided that the Quartz Trail would be the best offering for a return to the trails.

Unfortunately, after following the directions given on the website, I found myself in a large parking-lot in the heart of Scottsdale suburbia; however, since there was a large map of the Preserve and a trailhead, I decided to continue along.

Starting at the trailhead, I found myself following a wide sidewalk as wove its way behind various shops. Surprisingly, due to the lower elevation of the path and the surrounding vegetation, the trail was extremely quiet and actually felt somewhat remote. In fact, I found the under-street tunnels rather attractive (at least from the outside!)

As the sidewalk path continued, I was never able to come across the "Quartz Trail"; instead, I found myself along the Coyote Trail as it passed between backyards! Although it wasn't the ideal scenery, I was surprised at the abundance of wildlife; I saw more rabbits and quail on this path than any other trail.

To view more photos of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, click here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hike #36: Horton Creek Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 5 miles

Well, the thing I most feared finally happened...I got about 50 miles outside the Phoenix area when I suddenly realized that I hadn't brought my camera! Had I been by myself, I might have considered just turning around and forgetting the hike; however, since I was with a friend, I decided that it would probably be best just to continue onward. I did, however, decide to alter my hiking plans so that I repeated a previous hike rather than continue to a completely new trail without the ability to record my adventure photographically!

I had originally hoped to hike the Fossil Creek Trail just north of Payson near the town of Strawberry; instead, I chose to re-hike the Horton Creek Trail just 20 miles east of Payson. My last visit to Horton Creek was in the Fall, so the warmer Spring weather did provide a completely different perspective. The trail still provided the same dramatic views of the creek as is cascades down the mountain-side. However, on this trip, there was the added beauty from an abundance of wildflowers; I wish I could have identified more of them, but the only ones I could definitely identify were the numerous pink wild roses!

Although I did remember the fantastic views of Horton Creek, I somehow failed to remember the significant incline of the trail! The full length of this trail (to the spring) is approximately 8.5 miles roundtrip. Unfortunately, I decided against hiking the whole trail, instead choosing to turn around after 2.5 miles.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hike #35: Soldier Pass Trail, Red Rock Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Length: 4.5 miles

Popular with the local Jeep tours, the Soldier Pass Trail is a highly interesting trek with several delightful sights directly along the trail!

The trail begins to the right of the official Jeep path, working it's way through a quarter-mile of sparse forest. The trail then crosses the Jeep path at the first of the three sites along this trail. To the right of the trail is Devil's Kitchen, a 100-foot deep sinkhole (see picture below).

After Devil's Kitchen, the trail wraps its way between the Red Rock buttes for another mile until it arrives at the second site of interest - the Seven Sacred Pools. These deep puddles have slowly been carved from the soft slickrock and are generally filled with water. I've seen several beautiful pictures of these pools, with the sky and red cliffs reflected in their surfaces; unfortunately, during my visit, the pools where merely filled with a disgusting green water that was spawning numerous forms of life.

Continuing along, the trail again crosses the Jeep path and then descends into a dry creekbed. The trail then leaves the Jeep path and begins a rather steep climb into the surrounding cliffs. Eventually, the trail ends at Solder Pass Arch, a small natural arch with just inches between the arch and the adjacent cliff. In fact, the arch is much more cave-like than most of the arches one associates with arches of the Southwest! However, the arch does provide a welcome resting place that is both shaded and cool. After a well-deserved break, return along the same path or merely follow the established Jeep path back to the trailhead.

To view more photos of the Soldier Pass Trail, click here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hike #34: Boynton Canyon Trail, Red Rock Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Length: 5 miles

Boynton Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Sedona area. The red rock surroundings and lush forest setting are considered by many to be the best Sedona has to offer. Adding to the popularity is the New Age belief that along this trail is a spiritual vortex believed to be a concentration of electromagnetic energy.

The first half of this trail passes through a box canyon with red rock buttes and cliffs towering on both sides. Although the cliffs are extremely picturesque, the view is slightly marred by the presence of a large resort adjacent to the trail.

After about one-mile, the trail descends deeper into the canyon, and a forest of pines, oaks, and sycamores obscure the red cliffs from view. The rest of the trail passes through a cool, shaded forest with numerous wildflowers and wildlife. Once you begin to think the trail is never going to end, the path begins a steep quarter-mile incline that ends at a wooden sign announcing the official end of the trail. Although the view from the end is somewhat impressive, one has to question whether it was really worth all that climbing!

Fortunately, the steep climb in makes for a quick descent back to the forest below. Now, it's merely a level return past the resort and back to the trailhead.

To view more photos of the Boynton Canyon Trail, click here.

Hike #33: Devil's Bridge Trail, Red Rock Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Length: 2 miles

Although this short trail is just miles outside Sedona, due to the extremely rough condition of the dirt road leading to the trailhead, Devil's Bridge is relatively secluded by Sedona standards.

The trail wraps its way among some of the best Red Cliffs Sedona has to offer! Although this trail does provide magnificent views, the true highlight is the Devil's Bridge arch at the finale.

Standing at over 50 feet high, Devil's Bridge is the largest natural arch in the Sedona area. With a series of natural stone steps leading to the top, Devil's Bridge Arch is easily enjoyed from both above and below.

After a well-deserved break at the arch, merely retrace your steps and return to the trailhead along the same path.

To view more photos of the Devil's Bridge Trail, click here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hike #32: Butcher Jones Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 5 miles

On my last visit to the Butcher Jones Trail, I had considerable trouble locating the correct path. I believe the lake's level was significantly raised due to the draining of a dam upstream, resulting in a crudual segment of the trail being submerged below the lake and reeds. Fortunately, on this trip, the lake was again at a normal level, and the trail was easily followed.

The first half-mile of the Butcher Jones Trail merely traces the western shoreline of Saguaro Lake, which is extremely popular with anglers on most weekends. Fortunately, the trail soon leaves the shore and begins working its way into the more secluded surrounding hills.

I was completely amazed at the number and variety of wildflowers growing along these hills. With the wildflower season beginning at the end of February when the Valley is still cool and relatively wet, the presence of so many flowers took me by completely surprise; in fact, I would say there is an even large abundance of flowers now than existed a month ago! I'm glad to see the warmer, drier weather hasn't effected everything in nature the way it's knocked me out the past couple weeks (darn these allergy/sinus issues!!!)

Once the trail enters the hills above the lake, the surroundings become more and more like those one would expect to see in the Phoenix Valley; however, the lake is never far from sight, and the trail eventually leads down to the shoreline once again. After enjoying the beautiful flowers and scenic views, return to the trailhead along the same path you've been following. (However, be forewarned that if you descend from the first set of hills to the second area of shoreline, it will be a fairly steep hike on your way out!)

To view more photos of the Butcher Jones Trail, click here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hike #31: Jacob Crosscut Trail, Superstition Wilderness

Length: 2.5 miles

When I set out this morning, I intended to re-visit the Massacre Grounds Trail; however, on the way to the trailhead, I spotted the smooth parking area for the Crosscut Trail and quickly altered my plans to avoid the miles of rough dirt road!

The Crosscut Trail starts runs along the north-side of the Superstition Mountain, with the trail starting near the First Water Trailhead and ending in Apache Junction. If hiked in its entirety, the Crosscut Trail runs just over 6-miles (most of it passing through the Lost Dutchman State Park). I, however, followed the trail for approximately 1-mile until it intersects with a segment of the Treasure Loop Trail inside the Lost Dutchman State Park; this made for a relaxing, relatively flat balloon trail through beautiful spring wildflowers and scenic mountain views.

To view more pictures of the Crosscut Trail, click here.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hike #30: Go John Trail, Cave Creek Regional Park

Length: 5 miles

Listed in almost all the Arizona hiking guides, the Go John Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Phoenix area. Although the trail provides a rather stereotypical desert experience, it is the annual burst of spring flowers that truly draws the crowds!

The trail itself is a simple loop hike around the Go John Mountain. Whichever way you hike the trail, it will be a good mixture of gradual inclines and relaxing declines. I, personally, chose to complete the trail clockwise, since the trailhead was much more pronounced on the north end of the parking lot. Proceeding this way, the trail begins with a series of switchback up the side of the mountain; although the scenery is a little dull, a multitude of blue lupine along the trail adds a little spice to the the trail.

After reaching the trail's peak near the top of the mountain, the trail turns and slowly desends down the northern face of the mountain. Protected from the harsh desert sun, the north face of the moutain is completely carpeted with golden poppies. With panoramic views of the surrounding mountains in the background, this is where the true beauty of the Go John Trail comes to live! The trail continues around the mountain with a variety of wildflowers to view before eventually returning to the parking lot.

To view more pictures of the Go John Trail, click here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hike #29: Wind Cave Trail, Usery Mountain Park, Tonto National Forest

Length: 4 miles

Although I greatly enjoyed my last visit to Pass Mountain, I was fully prepared for a great disappointment with the Wind Cave Trail. One of the things I enjoyed most about my Pass Mountain Trail was the amazing views of the Superstition Wilderness on the east side of the mountain; since the Wind Cave Trail is entirely on the west side of the mountain, I was fully prepared for a mundane hike. Fortunately, with the help of some beautiful spring flora, the Wind Cave Trail proved an enjoyable and unexpected desert adventure.

The Wind Cave Trail begins in the the Usery Mountain Park, one of the county-controlled parks. Although this area is normally your stereotypical desert with little more than sand and prickly cactus, with the recent winter rains, the desert floor had been transformed into a sea of green with scattered bursts of wildflowers! Working your way towards the mountain, you gradually begin climbing along a series of switchbacks leading to the easily-recognizable strip of yellowish exposed rock 2/3 the way up Pass Mountain. Wind erosion has slowly cut away this rock to form Wind Cave, a small cavern on the south side of the mountain.

Although Wind Cave is the official end of the trail, those more adventurous might choose to continue another half-mile towards the peak of Pass Mountain. Although the trail is slightly more difficult after the cave, numerous spray-paint arrows and a rather well-worn path make the assent relatively painless. Once at the peak, there is a commanding view of both the Superstition Wilderness to the east and the entire Phoenix Valley to the west. (Unfortunately, the sky was completely overcast during my visit, so the view was considerably diminished.) From here, merely retrace the trail back to the park entrance.

To view more photos of the Wind Cave Trail, click here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hike #28: Siphon Draw Trail to Flatiron, Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest

Length: 6 miles

Starting at the Lost Dutchman State Park, the Siphon Draw Trail provides an extremely strenuous climb up the Superstition Mountain. Although the Siphon Draw Trail is quite difficult, the convenient start point and trail's beauty make it very popular (and often quite crowded.)

The first mile of the trail passes through the Lost Dutchman State Park and is extremely well-maintained; this segment of the trail is a luxurious dirt path with well-defined rock borders. However, the trail soon leaves the state park and enters the Superstition Wilderness. While the trail continues with a well-marked route, the path is no long the smooth dirt but instead a series of small loose rocks. The trail climbs higher and higher getting ever more narrow and rough.

Eventually, the trail arrives at a large smooth stone basin, which after a heavy rain will have small streams of water cascading down its sides. To the left of the basin is a large waterfall which marks the official end of the Siphon Draw Trail. Although most people choose this as the turn-around point, a good many continue climbing along the unofficial "trail" towards Flatiron, a large, flat plateau on the top of the Superstition Mountain.

The unofficial trail is quite easy to follow thanks to heavy travel and a series of white spray-painted arrows and dots. Although few route finding skills are required, the difficulty of climbing makes this one of the most challanging trails in the Superstitions. The mile between the waterfall and the top of the mountain gains over 1,500 feet in elevation and is nothing more than a continuous climb up jagged rocks. Although this part is challanging and will get the heart pounding, the rocks do provided a nice climbing surface with plenty of places to clutch as you drag yourself up the mountain.

Finally, after climbing until you think you can go no further, you arrive at a 12-foot rock wall that proves to be the most difficult obstacle yet! Although not impossible this rock wall is by far the most vertical challenge encountered on this trail. Fortunately, immediately on the other side of this wall is the top of the Superstition Mountain and a large flat plateau (and trust me, after climbing for what seems like forever, the flat land will be something to rejoice over!)

The large plateau area to the right of the trail is known as Flatiron, and provides thrilling views of the entire Superstition Wilderness and Phoenix Valley. Flatiron makes a perfect resting point, although I'd advice those with vertigo to stay away from the plateau's steep cliffs! After a well-deserved rest, it is time to retrace your steps down the mountain. Although not as physically exhausting, the route down requires careful footwork and can take considerable time. However, once arriving back at the waterfall and stone basin, the smooth, well-developed trail returns for a speedy exit.

To view more pictures of the Siphon Draw Trail, click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hike #27: Ford Canyon/Mesquite Canyon Loop Trail, White Tanks Mountain Regional Park

Length: 10 miles

Although the Superstition Mountains to the east of the Phoenix Valley are generally considered to be the busiest and best source of hiking trails in central Arizona, the White Tank Mountains to the west of town, though smaller, offer many unique trails that rival the Superstitions in terms of both difficulty and beauty. Located about 20 miles west of downtown Phoenix, the White Tank Mountains provide a wonderful desert environment, that seemed far richer in both vegetation and wildlife than any area of the Superstitions I've yet explored.

My adventure in the White Tank Moutains began with a leisurely walk through the desert surroundings of Ford Canyon Trail. The first 3-miles of this trail are an easy stroll along a very well-developed path, with little to no incline; this segment of the Ford Canyon Trail is quite popular and likely to be somewhat crowded with both hikers and mountain bikers. However, just after the 3-mile point, the trail narrows and begins working it's way into the mountain's white granite cliffs; the increased difficulty discourages most other hikers and almost all bikers, so the trail will now pretty much clears out and provides long-awaited solitude.

Actually entering Ford Canyon, the trail quickly climbs the canyon's wall - above brilliant pools of water in the white granite of the canyon floor. While walking this, one can't help up wish the trail were just a hundred feet lower so that that crystal clear water would be within reach; forunately, the trail soon dips and returns back to the canyon bottom, winding its way around the many deep pools and large boulders. For the next couple miles, the trail continues along the semi-dry wash of the Ford Canyon floor. This segment of the trail can be somewhat difficult to follow due to the lack of developed path; however, the trail generally continues through the wash and can be found by merely following the numerous footprints in the wash's sand.

Eventually, the trail leaves the wash and returns to an establish path (that leads straight up!) The majority of this trail's elevation is gained in the miles immediately after the wash. Climbing through a series of steep switchbacks, the trail slowly leads up one peak and then quickly desends again. From this first desent, a spectacular view of the Phoenix Valley (with the Superstitions Mountains and Four Peaks Mountain) can be seen between the rugged peaks before you. Unfortunately, the decent is short-lived, and the trail soon begins another steep climb towards the trails highest point.

From here, the Ford Canyon Trail ends, and the Mesquite Canyon Trail begins. Working it's way down the mountain's eastern cliff, the Mesquite Canyon Trail has an odd pattern of steep, rocky desents followed by amazingly smooth (and level) plateaux. Eventually, the Mesquite Canyon Trail returns to the parking area and a welcome end to a long hike.

To see more pictures of the Ford Canyon/Mesquite Canyon Loop Trail, click here.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hike #26: Pine Creek Loop to Ballantine Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 8.8 miles

Although the Ballantine Trail is located less than 40 miles from the Phoenix area, this trail seems to be one of Arizona's best kept secrets. A relatively easy climb, the Ballantine Trail passes through the rocky transition region between the Superstition Mountains in central Arizona and the Mongollon Rim in the north. While the boulders and mountains are beautiful in and of themselves, it is a heavy winter rain that brings the true beauty of this trail into bloom! With three creeks surrounding the trail (Pine Creek, Camp Creek, and Rock Creek), a heavy rain will fill the normally dry valleys and provide a welcome soundtrack of rushing water!

The trail begins with the short Pine Creek Loop, which loops 1.5 miles either way to intersect with the start of the Ballantine Trail. My guidebook recommended starting with the southern segment of the loop; however, this segment was quite a steep climb and probably would be better saved for a downhill finish!

Whichever route you've chosen, the clearly-marked intersection for the Ballantine Trail is soon approached and the trail leaves the original loop - curving east with the Camp Creek sparkling far below. The Ballantine trail continues along the creek's path, slowly working it's way down toward the valley floor. Almost immediately after meeting the Ballantine Trail, the path becomes surrounded by large formations of boulders - some in quite interesting shapes (perhaps a woman playing hide-n-seek, as my friend pointed out.)

After a couple miles, a large mountain of crumbling rocks, known as "The Boulders", looms to the right. Near the eastern base of The Boulders is a fork in the trail, with a faint, but well-marked trail heading toward to the right. Following the numerous rock cairns, the trail soon crosses the creek, and continues around The Boulders. With breathtaking views of the Superstitions in the distance, the trail soon turns and the third and final creek comes into view. The end of this trail is a small waterfall that tumbles over a series of boulders, making the perfect location for a well-deserved break. From this point, it's merely a matter of turning and retracing your way back to the Pine Creek Loop and the original trailhead.

To view more photos of the Pine Creek Loop and Ballantine Trail, click here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hike #25: Antelope Hill Trail

Length: 2 miles

Located just 30 miles east of the California border (near Yuma, Arizona), Antelope Hill towers over the lush green farmland and citrus orchards that are common in Southwest Arizona. The popular sandstone of Antelope Hill has been quarried in both modern and ancient times; the telltale sign of a modern quarry exists along the northwest face of the hill, while numerous petroglyphs along the north side speak of the importance of Antelope Hill to the ancient peoples of Arizona.

Unfortunately, there isn't a developed trail to the summit of Antelope Hill. Along the north face of the hill (near the truss railroad bridge), is a sign-broad explaining the history of the site and a steel-cable protecting the numerous petroglyph-covered boulders at the hill's base. Although this seems like the most logical place of the "trail" to start, there is actually little more than a rough path wrapping between the petroglyphs and abruptly ends after about 1/4 mile. From here, I began working my way uphill without a trail - climbing up the steep, rock-covered hillside. Unfortunately, the sandstone rock did not make the best climbing surface; the sloop was covered with small, highly unstable stones that made for a difficult accent and extremely dangerous descent!

Sadly, I was unable to actually reach the hill's summit by scaling the rocky north face. If I was to attempt this hill a second time, I would ignore the trail description I found online and attempt to either climb over the modern quarry on the northwest side or climb the opposite face near the large "A" on the southern face of the mountain. Fortunately, the beautiful farmland and interesting bridges over the Gila River more than made up for the disappointment of being unable to reach the hill's top.

To view more pictures of the Antelope Trail, click here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hike #24: Palo Verde Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 7 miles

Bartlett Lake, formed by the damming of the Verde River, is the second largest lake developed by the Salt River Project and a major recreation area in the Phoenix area. The Palo Verde Trail, which runs along the lake's shore, provides an enjoyable, yet relatively isolated, hike among lush riparian land.

Beginning at Rattlesnake Cove (a large recreation area along the lake), the Palo Verde Trail turns left at the large dock and works its way along a well-worn path. The trail weaves it's way through some thick growth until it comes to a series of rugged cliffs. Continuing along the coastline past many wood-littered beaches and through multiple washes, the trail passes through the surrounding hills with the lake resting immediately to the right.

Eventually, the trail comes to a major wash and forks. The trail to the left heads away from the shore and provides a shortcut to the turn-around point; the trail to the right is much lengthier and continues tracing the shoreline much as the trail had done for the previous miles. At this point, I was ready to travel the shortest path possible to end this journey. Unfortunately, the shortcut was not so easily followed (even with multiple trail markers), and I merely decided to turn around and end the hike a mile early.

To view more photos of the Palo Verde Trail, click here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hike #23: Massacre Grounds Trail, Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest

Length: 4 miles

Located immediately east of the Phoenix Metro Area and just miles from the Black Mesa Loop Trail, the Massacre Grounds Trail provides a short, moderately-challenging hike through the Superstition Wilderness. Unfortunately, this trail is not the easiest to access; the rough road leading to the trailhead is extremely primitive and requires either a high-clearance vehicle or some slow, careful driving. However, upon reaching the trailhead, it quickly becomes evident by the breath-taking view that the drive was well worth it!

The Massacre Grounds Trail begins along a relatively flat plain with the Superstition Mountains rising in the foreground and the massive Four Peaks Mountain towering in the distance. The trail soon works its way away from this plain and enters a series of valleys with dramatic peaks on each side. Although the peaks are each impressive, it is a solitary needle formation that commands the scene. After about a half mile, the trail passes the side of this needle and continues deeper and steeper into the Superstitions.

After passing the striking needle formation, the trail quickly begins following a boulder-filled wash, which if there's been a recent rain will be filled with water. After skipping among the shallow pools for another half-mile, the trail approaches a small waterfall (again, provided that there's has been significant rain.) Up until this point, the trail has been really well-defined; however, after the waterfall the trail makes a sharp turn left and all but disappears.

Carefully following the rock cairns through shrub-covered desert, the trail climbs for the next mile until it reaches a large rocky cliff. From here, there is yet another panoramic view of the surrounding desert. After a brief break at the top, it's time to turn around and retrace your steps back to the parking lot. Sounds easy, right? Guess again! I somehow lost the trail on the way down. I worked my way across open desert - through several washes - until the original needle came into view again. (Too bad I was way too far to the west!) Fortunately, once I could see the needle again, I had a point of reference and merely had to work my way towards its base.

To view more pictures of the Massacre Grounds Trail, click here.