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.