December 20, 2011

Lost Dog Wash Trail

Hiking, for our family, has become just as much about the dog's socialization, exercise, and adventure, as the human's. When I learned of the Lost Dog Wash Trail, I had just "lost" my dog to illness/old age, and the catchy trail name, plus the fact that I haven't hiked in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve yet, were the motivating factors for going here. Then we adopted this little bundle of energy (photo at right) from the pound, and we have begun the quest to right his misfortunes in life, starting with showing him the local scenery.

Some of the highlights of the Lost Dog Wash Trail include a beautiful trailhead building with "recycling" toilets, benches, and an amphitheater, gorgeous views of the McDowell Mountains, and a fairly gentle hike that can be made into a loop that includes an overlook of Taliesin West. Here is a nice map detailing how to make a loop out of the trails by beginning along the Lost Dog Wash Trail then turning right on the Ringtail Trail to begin a counter-clockwise loop after turning left at the Old Jeep Trail, and then returning along the Lost Dog Wash Trail. 

The only addition to this loop that we did was add 0.4 miles each way to hike to the Taliesin Overlook. You can see Taliesin in the distance from a much different perspective than those views that are normally photographed. This hike makes a nice complement to the exhibit currently going on at Phoenix Art Museum: Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century. If you take the docent-led tour, she mentions two things that are visible from this overlook. The first is that Wright designed his structures to complement the existing surrounding natural environment. Even the name "Taliesin" is a Welsh word meaning "shining brow," and you can see how he placed his building in the "brow of the hill." The second thing apparent from the overlook is that Wright was a visionary in terms of placement of Taliesin West. He started building Taliesin West in 1937, long before the City of Phoenix easily merged into the City of Scottsdale and it's expanding suburbia which is so apparent from the Taliesin Overlook. There are some great views here, and you can even see parts of the Central Arizona Project Canal which supplies all of us desert-dwellers with what we so direly need: water.

Length: 5.5 miles
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Time it took us: 3 hours
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none
Directions: Take Shea Blvd. (go east from Loop 101 or west from the 87 Beeline Highway through Fountain Hills) and then head north on 124th Street to where it ends at the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead.

November 23, 2011

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I have a Thanksgiving confession to make. All year long I have been revisiting one hike consistently, and I have never written about it. I intentionally saved this place until THIS WEEK so I could lure my readers here between now and December 15th for the fabulous fall color. If I were to pick one place in the state of Arizona that is my absolute favorite, it would be Boyce Thompson Arboretum. I have so many happy memories of coming here since my first visit in 1998 pushing a baby stroller along the main trail: the fragrant Eucalyptus trees, the Chinese Pistachios, the demonstration gardens, the succulent house, the rose garden, the kid's area, Ayer Lake, Queen Creek, views of Picket Post Mountain and Picket Post house, the Clevenger House and windmill, and the countless wildlife I've seen here from foxes to snakes to all sorts of birds. Since then, I have kept up my membership and taken many groups of cub scouts, girl scouts, homeschoolers, nature lovers, and out-of-town visitors to this oasis that is just west of the town of Superior. I can get to Boyce Thompson in 30 minutes from my house in the East Valley of metro Phoenix, but I am constantly explaining to people where Boyce Thompson is located. I think people know that US60 goes out to Apache Junction, but then, them's dragons beyond there. It is a gorgeous drive, especially in spring when the wildflowers flank the hillsides, and it's all freeway driving. Unlike another not-to-be-named garden in Phoenix, at Boyce Thompson you can bring your dog, you can picnic, you can barbecue, and no one is going to scream at you if you come too close to a luminaria. And at $9 per adult and $4.50 for kids, it is less than half the cost of the competing garden. Poor Boyce Thompson barely survived the 2010 state park closures due to budget cuts largely because of help from the University of Arizona and private donations. I really hope I can convince people to support this arboretum. It is an amazing place, and they need every penny. Their plant sales are out of this world. I recommend the 1.5 mile Main Loop Trail AND the 0.5 mile High Trail, and if you do both of these trails together, then you get a 2.5 mile hike and get to go through the prettiest section of the Main Trail twice (the section between the Clevenger House and the Pumphouse.) So walk off your turkey dinner and just go! Here are photos from my visit today:

November 8, 2011

Paseo Trail

I stumbled upon the Paseo Trail in Chandler after searching for a good place to play Frisbee golf for my son's 14th birthday. We came to the idea of Frisbee golf after considering all the usual birthday party venues. I quickly eliminated anything indoors -- November is far too nice of a month in the deserts of Arizona to do any indoor birthday parties. We are stuck indoors from May to October so, in my mind, that is the time to do bowling, arcades, and movies. We considered miniature golf, but I am too cheap to pay for 6 people to hit balls on AstroTurf at moving windmills. Then I suggested Frisbee golf, also called disc golf, or "frolfing." I googled places to play in the Phoenix East Valley, and I found that we have a new course in Chandler that opened last year and is getting high marks from From there, I learned that the Paseo Vista Recreation Area was built on a former dump site where a landfill was in operation from 1979 to 2005.

A dump transformed into a park is my kind of place. We all did research into how the city accomplished this feat, and we found that the initial money came from $12 million dollars in bond sales. Nice work, Chandler. Not surprisingly, strategic planning like this maneuver also led the city to court semi-conductor company Intel, which now employs nearly 10,000 workers in Chandler, and keeps us coast-loving people working here in the desert. The 2.2 million tons of trash was packed down with another 200,000 tons of additional soil from a nearby flood retention basin, creating a 40-foot deep "mountain" that is now the second highest point in Chandler. There are great views of the Superstitions, Santans, and all the other nearby mountain ranges from the scenic overlook. It's also a great place to watch airplanes take-off from Chandler Airport which is just to the north. To prevent erosion, there are granite rock walls encased in wire throughout the park holding back the soil while allowing water run-off. These walls, called gabion walls, are actually quite nice-looking. The park was created with recycled materials: the playground and the archery range makes use of old tires, the disc golf course uses old concrete for the tee-off pads, and the roads are lined with crushed asphalt from former city streets. The only grass at the 64 acre park, is in the two 1-acre dog park enclosures. The rest of the landscaping plant choices are all low water-users. The trash underneath the park continues to decompose, and the released methane gas is diverted to an incinerator on the McQueen-side of the park where there is a visible chimney. The EPA will continue to monitor the park through 2035. It feels clean and safe to me.

After our Frisbee golf game, I decided to walk the one-mile loop around the park to check out all the views. When I got near the canal-side of the park, I noticed two long ramps going down to a path along the canal. The signage stated that the concrete path is the "Paseo Trail," and it follows the Consolidated Canal manned by SRP. The trail is 10 feet wide so it would be suitable for biking as well as walking. I went a ways down the path, but I then realized it is much longer than I originally thought. I came home and printed a map before venturing out again a few days later. The section that I like travels south from the Paseo Vista Recreation Area across Ocotillo Road (be careful) to the bridge that links Pinelake Park and Crossbow Park; that section is one mile total. If you make the return trip, plus the one-mile park loop, then you are at a 3-mile walk. For a longer walk, keep heading south past the Pinelake/Crossbow bridge, cross Chandler Heights Road, and follow the path along the Bear Creek Golf Course to Riggs Road. One way, from the Paseo Vista Recreation Area to Riggs Road is 2.75 miles, or 5.5 miles round-trip, and it's a beautiful walk along the canal with the adjacent golf course.

Length: 3 miles or 5.5 miles for the round-trips described
Elevation gain: 50 feet
Time it took us: 1 hour for the 3 mile trip or 3 hours for the 5.5 mile trip, with a stop
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: None

Bridge linking Pinelake and Crossbow Parks

October 25, 2011

Icehouse Canyon Trail

Pinal Peak, 7850 feet, in the Pinal Mountains is a mysterious little hideaway made more covert by the fact that it isn't actually in Pinal County. Shhhh . . . it's in Gila County along the southern tip of the Tonto National Forest. The large population center of Phoenix East Valley seems not to have noticed that you can get to Globe in a little more than an hour versus the 2+ hours it takes to get to hiking destinations in Flagstaff, Sedona, and the Rim. I'm torn to even write about this place because I really like that I DID NOT SEE EVEN ONE OTHER SOUL once I was off on the forest service roads leaving Globe and heading into the Pinal Mountain Recreation Area. However, what good is a hiking blog if you can't leave a trail of beans pointing the next person there?

Along the northern side of Pinal Peak exists a little micro-climate of aspens, bigtooth maples, and smooth sumac that creates just CRAZY colors this time of year. You need to act fast, though, because the peak is nearly over. Here is a sampling from the trail:

There are various long and difficult trails that climb Pinal Peak, but if you are wanting a hike in this dense and gorgeous fall color, then I recommend the Icehouse Canyon Trail, named for when they used to trek up here to bring ice down to the community of Globe below. You can start at the top of the trail, and within minutes you'll be surrounded in this color. Then, just hike down as far as you want to go, leaving ample time for the STEEP hike back up. Since we stopped so many times along the way . . .

First, to photograph manzanita:

Then, to take in views of the Dripping Springs range all the way to the Santa Catalinas:

Don't forget the wildlife -- we saw an Abert's tassel-eared squirrel, so cute with his fuzzy ears, but he got into the tree before we could photograph him. However, we were like the paparazzi surrounding this little guy with our cameras:

We stopped to collect rock samples and pondered the difference between shale and slate -- doing the "thud" test to determine the difference. We found some cool shale samples that contained a fossilized plant which we believe to be Annularia from the Calamites plant. Then, we collected leaf samples:

So when all this business was done, it left little time for the actual hike. I'd say we barely hiked a mile down the trail, but we were still surrounded in all of this color. We will definitely go back. The drive was a little hairy. It is 12 miles on a dirt road with some steep "barrier-free" portions. However, we were still able to do the drive without 4-wheel drive with no problems, just don't plan to go very fast. It took us nearly an hour from the Globe turn-off to the top of Pinal Peak with my white-knuckles and all the photography. Down was amazingly fast with storm clouds looming!

Length: 9 miles round trip if you do the whole trail
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Time it took us: varies depending on how far down you go
Dogs: yes
Fees: none

Directions: From metro Phoenix go east on US 60 to Globe. Just past the Safeway/Starbucks/Walmart plaza, you will turn right on Russell Road. It gets a little confusing in here, but you want to stay on Russell Road as it winds around. If, at any point, you find yourself not on Russell Road, back-track to figure out where you went wrong :) Eventually, the road turns to dirt which signifies the beginning of Forest Road #55. Stay on Forest Road #55 until the intersection with Forest Road #651 where you will turn right to continue up the mountain. After you pass the Sulfide del Rey campground, you will bear to the left to continue on Forest Road #651. Keep bearing to the left to stay on Forest Road #651, you will know you're heading the correct way when you pass the Kellner Canyon trailhead. The Icehouse Canyon trailhead will be on the left side of the road from this approach:

October 5, 2011

Flagstaff Fall Color Hike

After a hailed failed attempt at hiking the Bear Jaw and Abineau Trail where the hike was abandoned due to a thunderstorm that included hail being pelted upon us, I devised a new fall color hike the next day that originated right at the Flagstaff Nordic Center where we were already staying in yurts and small cabins. These cross-country ski trails, located in Coconino National Forest land, are open off-season for hikers, and they are free, well-maintained and even include port-a-potties. There are over 30 miles of trails with a well-marked trail map (distances in kilometers) available next to the bulletin board at the lodge or at the Flagstaff Nordic Center website. Be sure to check out their upcoming Volunteer Weekend, October 21-23, 2011, where one of the tasks will be to repair the Aspen Grove Elk Fencing. The Nordic Center has enough aspens to satiate most fall-color lovers, but like many forested areas nearby, the aspens are undergoing SAD or "Sudden Aspen Decline." Nevertheless, taking the Abineau Trail to the Aspen Yurt, and then the Skirt Trail to the Snowslide Trail, will take you past young aspens and the site of last year's tornado damage. Completing the Snowslide Loop by returning to the Aspen Yurt and the gorgeous meadow around it, and then taking the Weatherford Trail back towards the lodge will bring your hike to about 4.4 miles. To finish off your fall color appetite, turn left off of Highway 180 onto Forest Road 794 and drive through the Hart Prairie Aspen Regeneration area, and then right on Forest Road 151 past the Nature Conservancy aspens to loop back to Highway 180. Be sure to act quickly, though, because the aspens peak around the middle of October.

Length: 4.4 miles for the loop described at Flagstaff Nordic Center
Elevation gain: 400 feet
Time it took us: 2.5 hours
Dogs: Yes
Fees: None

September 27, 2011

West Fork Trail

Fall is bursting through in Arizona, making way for my favorite hiking season. September is typically the worst weather month in the desert lowlands (see: Our Tripping Mystery), but fall comes earlier in the higher elevations with temperatures in the 70s to 80s Fahrenheit. Sedona is a beautiful fall hiking destination with fall foliage colors reflected in the prominent red rocks. Oak Creek Canyon is a gorgeous place to put you in a fall mood, especially with the apple orchards near Slide Rock State Park and homemade cider sold at roadside stops. Every fall, typically the first weekend in October, the state park has an Apple Festival at the site of the Pendley homestead and apple orchard. Unfortunately, due to state budget cuts, the Slide Rock Apple Festival was cancelled in 2010 and is again cancelled for 2011. The good news is that there are still apple trees in the canyon, and you can pretty much help yourself to the apples at various locations along Highway 89 including the apple trees at the Call of the Canyon Day-Use Area where the West Fork Trail begins. These Sedona apples aren't the best quality apples I've seen grown in Arizona, so if it's apple-picking you really want to do, then I would go down to Apple Annie's in Willcox where they have acres of luscious U-Pick apples. However, if you want a beautiful Sedona hike with fall color, creek crossings AND apple picking, then the West Fork Trail would be a great destination at this time of year. Just a word of warning: this is a popular hike so arrive early at the day-use area since the parking lot fills up. We arrived at 12:00PM on a Tuesday, and we had to wait a few minutes for a space to open up in the parking lot. It was well worth it, though!

Length: 6 miles total (3 miles in, and 3 miles out)
Elevation gain: 400 feet
Time it took us: 3.5 hours with a lunch stop
Dogs: yes
Fees: $9 payable at the Call of the Canyon Day-Use Area entrance
Directions: from metro Phoenix, take I-17 north to Hwy 179 north (exit 298) to Sedona, then 89A northwest 10 miles up through Oak Creek Canyon, to the Call of the Canyon Day-Use Area on the left between milepost 384 and 385.

July 16, 2011

Telegraph Hill Hike

Arizona's high summer temperatures continue to cause the Our Hiking Mystery writers to seek hikes in cooler terrain. The lapses in posts are due to the long distances we must travel to hike. Do not despair because fall will be right around the corner, and beautiful hiking weather will return. In the meantime, here's a hike we did in San Francisco as part of a San Francisco City Guides walking tour. The photo at left is of Coit Tower, as seen from the Filberts Steps. Our "Telegraph Hill Hike" includes the places that the fabulous guide David Peterson took us to, but it has extended sections at the beginning and end, rounding out the hike to 2 miles. This is my first post of an urban hike along city streets so I think the easiest way to describe the hike is through MapMyWalk.  Another way to increase the intensity of this hike, would be to go all the way up and down both the Greenwich Steps and the Filbert Steps, rather than just part of the way like we did. These steps are really beautiful and are situated in an area somewhat protected from the fog and wind that are characteristic of the climate on the other side of the hill. There are thriving gardens along the steps making them desirable to the famous Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Some highlights of the  hike are Coit Tower, the Greenwich Steps, the Filbert Steps, Art Deco architecture, and Carpenter's Gothic architecture.

Length: 2 miles
Elevation gain: 350 feet (without the entire length of the steps)
Time it took us: 2 hours
Dogs: yes
Fees: none
Greenwich Steps
Filbert Steps
Fuchsias and Bougainvillea thriving on Telegraph Hill

Art Deco along Montgomery Street
Carpenter's Gothic purple house along Alta Street behind an old Jeep Overland with the old California license plate

June 1, 2011

Boynton Canyon Trail

Can a smell be bottled and transported? Because this photo shows the point along the trail when I was contemplating how I could get the Sedona smell home to the Phoenix desert. It's a mixture of pine, juniper and manzanita in dry air that gives a crisp, fresh scent. And I could swear that red rocks smell different from brown rocks. They smell more musty and earthen. Is it the iron oxide in the red rocks that causes them to smell different? Like the childhood smell of a rusting Radio Flyer red-wagon. I'm not finding any convincing evidence on the internet, but I do believe that red rocks are both scenic and fragrant. Sedona is just a rock lovers paradise. A little tidbit for my fellow geology friends: Sedona's red rocks are part of the Schnebly Hill Formation, if you want to delve further. And if you tire of red rocks, even the manzanita shrubs have red bark. The sky looks so blue against these red colors, and the green foliage pops out of the trees. Sedona just seems magical.

I'm not really sure why I've only visited Sedona a couple of times before in my 13 years in Arizona. I tend to avoid touristy places. The one experience I had was at Red Rock Fantasy in the winter to see Christmas lights at a condo complex. The pictures are all of me pushing a heavily blanketed stroller, baby unrecognizable, around a maze of walkways in the dark. After that, we went to someplace called Tlaquepaque where my obsession became saying the name over and over while we window-shopped. I'm pretty sure the entire experience could have been reproduced in a Scottsdale mall. Another visit was in the late summer when we tried to go to Oak Creek and Slide Rock on a weekend -- a.k.a. "Red Rock Sunsplash" for it's waterpark-like crowds. So I hadn't really seen the "good" of Sedona.

However, now that I'm unable to hike around the Phoenix area without dying of heat stroke, we are branching out to higher ground in Sedona. I decided to try the Boynton Canyon hike earlier in the summer, rather than later, and save the shaded Oak Creek water-hikes for later in the summer when it's hotter. Unfortunately, about half of the Boynton Canyon trail winds around the Enchantment Resort with the trail right up against the red cliffs that heat up immensely in the sun. So it was pretty hot for a good part of the trail, even during the first week of June. But then the trail enters into a forested area as you go deeper into a box canyon, and it cools off a bit. A lot of the trail looks like this photo, and it gets even more densely forested:

The red rocks are really something all along the trail. A few notes of caution: the trail seems much longer than 5 miles round trip. I had read other people reviewing the trail the same way so I think the mileage is wrong on this one. Also, the last 150 feet of the trail is very steep, and due to a knee injury earlier in the week, I didn't even attempt the steep end-part. Yet, even without the very last part of the trail, which supposedly goes to an observation lookout, I can still say that the trail had a lot going for it with views, smell, and shade. The parking lot is very small so get to the trailhead early. You can buy a Red Rock pass along Highway 179 on the way into town at the Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, or in the lobby of the Enchantment Resort next door. To get to the trailhead, take Highway 179 to Sedona, and then 89A southwest out of town. Turn north after a short 3 miles onto Dry Creek Road and follow the signs to Boynton Canyon.

Length: 5+ miles round trip
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Time it took us: 3.5 hours
Dogs: Yes
Fees: $5 for a Red Rock Pass
Mare's Tail (Cirrus) clouds above the buttes indicate an impending change in the weather.

May 14, 2011

Estero Bluffs State Park

By the time we got around to hiking Estero Bluffs State Park, we had hiked Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos Oaks Reserve, AND kayaked Morro Bay so we really didn't think anything could WOW us at this point in our Morro Bay trip. I pretty much had to drag my family out for more exercise by this 4th day, late afternoon on a very busy trip. I told them, "Let's just drive up to Cayucos, we don't have to get out of the car." I always say that, and we always get out of the car :)

So we drove just north of Cayucos along the Highway 1 to a turnout on the west side of the road across from San Geronimo Road. There is a large windmill and thick grasses identifying this as the state park. Here's what you're looking for: 

This hike turned out to be their favorite of the four we went on, and from the different answers that I'm getting, I guess they liked it best based on the large number of animals that we saw. For me, I liked the combination of the soft grassy walking surface coupled with some beach walking on our return loop. Just make sure you check your tide chart ahead of time or it may be entirely bluff walking for you. We were there about halfway between low and high tide, and we still had a little bit of wet walking down on the beach. Not bad though. You start the trail heading straight through the grasses towards the ocean, and down some short stairs to the beach. On the far right side of the beach is where the creek enters the ocean and there continues the trail up the hill. Here's what you're looking for:

From here, you're following a narrow trail along the bluff, rather close or eroded away at some points, with tall grasses on either side of the trail and meadows of wildflowers so pretty, especially in springtime. A gopher snake slithered by into the grass in front of us and numerous lizards scattered around. You can faintly see Highway 1 to the east from the trail, with people cruising along to Pismo Beach and Hearst Castle and other resort areas along this stretch of the central coast. To me there is such peacefulness along these bluffs, with a break from houses against the beach and just fields of grass, rocks, and ocean. You can keep going for 3.5 miles on this trail, but to do a loop, we found a little area where the bluff had eroded and followed it down to the beach, and then turned left to walk along the beach back to the trailhead. Here, we encountered sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea gulls, a line of pelicans, and even a haul of harbor seals on the rocks right off the coast. It was a beautiful walk.

Length: 2 miles for the loop described
Elevation gain: 50 feet
Time it took us: 2 hours
Dogs: No
Fees: None