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.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hike #45: Babe Haught Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 6 miles

Starting near the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery nent to the vastly popular Horton Creek Trail, the Babe Haught Trail provides a challenging hike, which is extremely exposed and can be quite warm in the August heat!

Beginning at the base of the Rim, the trail almost immediately begins a study climb upwards. The first ½-mile is a relatively easy walk through tall grass; however, be on the lookout for the numerous cattle that apparently graze along this path (and watch even more closely for the cow manure hidden among the grass!)

Eventually, the cool grass parts and the real climb begins. Switchbacking along the Rim, the trail makes a rather steep climb directly up the face of the Rim. Although the heat is quite intense along this segment, the beautiful panoramic views are almost enough to make one forget the discomfort. Fortunately, once reaching the top of the Rim, the temperature makes a sudden drop and the wind can be quite intense.

From the Rim top, the trail becomes much less developed; fortunately, numerous cairns and the occasional marked-tree make the path follow-able if watch carefully. For this final segment of the trail enters the forest, where due to the isolation of the path, there are great opportunities to view wildlife. Eventually, the trail exits onto FR300 and continues into the Coconino National Forest. Unfortunately, I did not continue on past the forest road; however, I have read that there is a nice lake at the trail's end.

To view more photos of the Babe Haught Trail, click here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hike #44: See Canyon Trail, Tonto National Forest

Length: 7 miles

Just below the Mogollon Rim east of Payson, the See Canyon Trail works it's way through the dense forest along the Christopher Creek and eventually climbs to the Rim's top.

Beginning alongside the creek, the first ½-mile follows a relatively open path surrounded by thick knee-high grass. Due to the proximity to the cool creek, this segment of the trail is immensely popular and likely to be quite crowded; however, the trail soon forks and most people will choose to follow the shorter path leading to the See Canyon Springs (in fact, after this intersection I didn't encounter anyone along the next 3-miles of trail!)

Eventually the trail leaves the main creek bed, following a much smaller stream, which eventually becomes nothing more than a dry riverbed. Along this portion of the trail, the forest becomes quite dense, and the trail can be difficult to follow in many spots; numerous fallen trees and large boulders don't make the passage much easier.

After a couple miles of gradual assent, the trail comes upon the Mogollon Rim and makes a more dramatic climb through slightly less-dense woodlands. Although one expects an amazing Rim view after the difficult climb, the only site to view is a well-traveled forest road. After a brief moment of disappointment at encountering nothing more than a forest road, it's time to turn and follow the same path back to the creek and trailhead.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hike #43: Kendricks Mountain Trail, Kendricks Mountain Wilderness, Kaibab National Forest

Length: 9 miles

Climbing to a height of almost 10,500 feet, the Kendrick Mountain towers over its remote flat surroundings just west of Flagstaff. Although the mountain is somewhat off the beaten path, the dirt roads leading to the trailhead are extremely well-maintained and make for easy access. (Be watchful, however, of the numerous cows if coming from the north on FR 144.)

Although there are three different trails leading to the mountain's peak, the Kendricks Mountain Trail is the most direct and easiest to follow path. Beginning at the trailhead, the trail follows what once was apparently a forest road; however, nearly all traces of a "road" have completely disappeared. Unfortunately, since this was once a road, it follows a gradual incline with practically no level segments.

After climbing along this road for a couple miles, the trail switches to a series of much more dramatic switchbacks, which continue steeply up the mountain. Fortunately, this segment of the trail does provide a great wealth of wildflowers (wild roses, columbine, Indian paintbrush, etc.) to enjoy along the way.

Eventually, after having climbed just over 4-miles, the trail opens to an open meadow which houses a historic forestry cabin built in 1912. From here, the trail continues for another ¼-miles to the current fire tower atop the actual peak. Atop the tower, one can see spectacular views of the San Francisco Peaks, Bill Williams Mountain, and the Grand Canyon. (Unfortunately, massive storm clouds blocked our views of many of the surrounding landmarks.)

After a quick break at the top, the trip downhill is a quick, easy re-tracing of the previous trail.

To view more photos of the Kendricks Mountain Trail, click here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hike #42: Fossil Springs Trail, Fossil Springs Wilderness

Length: 8 miles

Located just north of Payson near the small town of Strawberry, the Fossil Springs Trail is commonly listed among Arizona’s best summer hikes. However, with higher July temperatures (85+) and little shade along the way, the Fossil Springs Trail can be a brutal experience better saved for late spring or fall…

The trail begins with a study descent, which grows more and more steep as the trail progresses. Although the distant views of the Mogollon Rim are somewhat impressive, the immediate trail surroundings leave a lot to be desired. The first three miles of this trail offers little more than scrawny trees and cactus. The one interesting aspect was the numerous plants in bloom; excellent examples of both agave and prickly-pears were standing in full bloom!

However, after the first three-miles, the trail reaches the basin's floor, and the true beauty begins. Following along the dry stream bed, the trail continues west for about a ½-mile before one actually encounters the spring water. Beginning with a series of shallow pools, the water-level gradually grows the further one continues along. (When the "river" first begins, the trail crosses the stream and continues along the right bank. While you can continue scrambling along the stream bed, the official trail leads away from the water and continues for the final ½-mile.)

Eventually, the trail will lead to a magnificent waterfall, which marks the end of the trail. Climbing down the rather steep riverbanks, allows one an excellent resting place beside an interesting grotto just downstream from the falls. Although views of the waterfall are blocked from the grotto, one can scramble along the north bank for an amazing view at the foot of the falls.

After a well-earned break/swim, you must now retrace your steps for the difficult climb back to the trailhead. While the original descent made the trail seem extremely easy, the return can prove quite difficult due to the trail's steepness; general fatigue from the trip down; and the afternoon heat, which can be quite oppressive.

To view more photos of the Fossil Springs Trail, click here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hike #41: Bill Williams Mountain Trail, Kaibab National Forest

Length: 6 miles

Although most people think of Williams as little more than a pit-stop on the way to the Grand Canyon, the beautiful Bill Williams Mountain Trail, just west of town, is well worth the time and effort (and trust me, the 2200 ft incline will take some effort.)

Built in 1902, the trail was originally used as a toll-road for horse riders passing through the area. Today, the trail leads to a collection of cell towers and a fire tower atop the mountain. From the extremely nice trailhead, the trail begins with a pleasant walk along the base of the mountain; however, don't be fooled - the trail quickly begins its ascent and continues climbing towards the mountain's peak! For the first mile, the trail passes through some fairly thin forest, which does little to cool and block the sun. However, within the second mile, the trail levels for awhile, and eventually leads to a much denser forest.

As you continue to the higher elevations, the forest continues to grow thicker and more lush - at points it almost feels as though the trail is going to be swallowed by the surrounding plant life! The final mile of the hike is an exhausting series of switchbacks, which can be quite challenging at times. Fortunately, this segment of the trail provides an abundance of wildflowers; in fact, I believe I saw more varieties of wildflowers along this mile, and along any other hike I've ever taken!

Finally, the trail joins a rather nice forest road which leads the final ¼ mile to the mountain's peak. At the top is a rather smelly pit latrine, a collection of utility buildings, and a lone fire tower. Visitors are welcome to climb the tower's rickety steps for an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding area. If you're lucky, a fire watcher will be manning the tower and can point out the surrounding landmarks (the San Francisco Peaks, the Grand Canyon, and Mingus Mountain.) After a rest at the top, the descent back the the trailhead is a quick and easy re-tracing of your original path.

To view more photos of the Bill Williams Mountain Trail, click here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hike #40: Inner Basin Trail, Coconino National Forest

Length: 4 miles

With the return of warmer summer temperatures in the Valley, I decided that it was time to return to the north country for some much needed relief from the heat (and judging by the number of cars on the road, I wasn't the only one with this idea!)

The Inner Basin Trail, which is 12 miles north of Flagstaff, begins at the campgrounds around the beautiful Lockett Meadow. From here the trail begins a study, but uneventful, climb through a rather thick aspen forest. Although the trees are beautiful and often accompanied by scatterings of colorful wildflowers, the denseness of the forest denies views of the surrounding landscape.

After 1.5 miles, the trail approaches a small cabin owned by the Forestry Department; the trail then turns sharply and begins a much more dramatic ascent. Almost immediately, you'll encounter the first of several pump station still used to provide water to the town of Flagstaff; after passing this, the forest finally begins to open up so that the first glimpses of the majestic San Francisco Peaks become visible.

As the four tallest mountains in Arizona appear around you, the trail flattens and opens to a wide meadow, the Inner Basin. The ancient remains of massive volcano, the Inner Basin is now a peaceful, wind-swept meadow. Although I chose to turn around at the western edge of the Basin, the trail does apparently continue for another mile to the Doyle Springs at the base of the mountains. From the Basin, it's an easy downhill trip back along the original path to Lockett Meadow.

To view more photos of the Inner Basin Trail, click here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hike #39: Main Trail, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Length: 2 miles

Just outside Superior in the shadows of the Picketpost Mountain, lies the beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. The Arboretum's Main Trail is a relatively easy 2-mile stretch with several optional side trails that can add another mile to the total loop.

Beginning at the Parks gift shop and visitor center, the start of the trail is by far the most developed. The first ¼-mile contains a butterfly/hummingbird garden, a children's exploration area, and greenhouse/education center. (I highly recommend adults takes some time to explore the children's area; the exhibits were both extremely fun and interesting!)

Immediately after these smaller exhibits is the much larger Cactus Garden. Spanning both sides of the trail, the Cactus Garden contains an extensive collection of cacti from both the Southwest and around the world. This area also includes numerous side trails that provide excellent opportunities to enjoy a little seclusion from the somewhat-crowded Main Trail. Eventually, however, the garden gives way to the man-made Ayers Lake, which provides an amazing desert oasis.

After the lake, the trail does become slightly more challenging (but by no means difficult) as it works its way down the cliffs to to the banks of Queen Creek. Following the small Queen Creek, the trail then passes between the steep canyon wall and the lush riparian shores of the creek. After a short distance, a picturesque wooden foot-bridge spans the creek, leading to the High Trail, which apparently leads back up the opposite cliff and provides an alternative path back to the visitor's center. (Unfortunately, this trail was flooded during my visit, so I was unable to explore this segment; however, since my guidebook didn't speak too highly of the High Trail, I was less than disappointed.)

The final ½-mile segment of the Main Trail provides yet another unique portion completely unlike the previous hike! Perhaps the most interesting feature is the Clevenger House, a late-19th century ranch home built directly against the cliffside. The small, vine-covered house, which is open for exploration, provides a fascinating glimpse into Pioneer life. After the Clevenger House, the trail loops back towards the park's entrance passing through a lush forest of palm and date trees; although not native to the Sonoran Desert, these trees look completely at home beside the fast-moving creek.

Finally, the trail ends with a brief excursion into an Australian Outback exhibit (I'm not really sure how the whole Australian theme fits with Southern Arizona, but I guess the climates are somewhat similar.) The main attraction for this exhibit is a sheep-shearing shed, which is perhaps designed to be too stereotypically Australian (heck, they have didgeridoo music playing in the shed!) Unfortunately, the Outback exhibit completes the loop and from here it's merely a short trip back to the visitor center/gift shop.

To view more photos of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, click here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hike #38: Rainbow/Toothaker Trails, Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Length: 4 miles

Located on the extreme western edge of the Phoenix Metro Area, the Estrella Mountain Regional Park offers a unique hiking experience in that it's conveniently located to the city yet still relatively secluded. The park is perhaps one of the most unique county parks in that it offers large stretches of grass for picnics, a rodeo arena, and several interconnected trails, which allows visitors to customize their hike to practically any length and ability level.

I chose to start with the popular Rainbow Trail, which starts at the rodeo arena and skirts its way along the western edge of the Estrella Mountains. The park map lists the first segment of the trail as being 2.2 miles; however, the rather steep incline of this segment makes it seem much, much longer! The first two miles is little more than a continuous climb from one peak to the next. Fortunately, there are some excellent views of the White Tank Mountains and the West Valley. Eventually, the trail reaches its summit then abruptly quickly descends back to the valley below. (Due to the steepness of the trail as it descends the southside of the mountain, I would highly recommend only following the Rainbow Trail in a counter-clockwise direction!)

After descending down the mountain, the trail continues through the sandy desert valley until intersecting with the Dysart Trail. From this intersection one can either continue deeper into the mountains on the Rainbow Trail or begin looping back towards the trailhead along the Dysart Trail. I chose the easier route of the Dysart Trail and continued through the flat desert valley for another half-mile to the Toothaker Trail.

The Toothtaker Trail is the final mile stretch that continues back to the trailhead. The trail merely continues through the desert lowland around the mountain originally climbed on the Rainbow Trail. The trail itself does provide an easy finish with plenty of desert vegetation and beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding mountain peaks to enjoy.

To view more pictures of the Rainbow/Toothaker Trails, click here.