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.