February 24, 2011

Papago Park Loop

Most people have seen these red, holey buttes either driving or flying into Phoenix, or if you have ever visited the Phoenix Zoo or Desert Botanical Gardens. These cave-like holes are tafoni caused by salt weathering and water in the sandstone, and the red color caused from iron oxidation. When I first moved to Phoenix, I had various people try to convince me that these holes were carved out by the Hohokam who lived there. I was never satisfied with this answer as it seems like a lot of holes to carve. It is true that the Hohokam used these tafoni as shelter, and in the case of the one famous tafoni here at Papago Park, the "Hole-in-the-Rock," the Hohokam used the hole to record sunlight patterns and keep track of equinoxes and solstices. The "Hole-in-the-Rock" is on the opposite (east) side of Galvin Parkway from my hike. In my opinion, there just as many cool tafoni on the west side of Papago Park, and a lot less congestion and people.

I started my hike from the west parking lot off of Galvin Parkway, just north of Van Buren Street. From here, I walked due north along the Eliot Ramada Loop which is an asphalt path. At the Eliot Ramada, I turned right (east) to walk along the dirt path that is the Big Butte Loop. This trail hugs Big Butte where you can get some up-close views of the tafoni and even scramble around them. I caught several people sunbathing up on some high tafoni holes. Walking in a counter-clockwise direction will lead you to the amphitheater. On a clear day, you can see all of a Phoenix's prominent mountains from here; I could make out Camelback Mountain, the McDowell Mountains, and Red Mountain all from this spot. Before you make your way back to Eliot Ramada, turn right (now west) at the asphalt path again, and rejoin the Eliot Ramada Loop. The rest of this path takes you all the way around the circumference of Phoenix Municipal Golf Course. The asphalt will peter out at Moreland Street (the entrance to the golf course), but if you go straight across the street, the trail starts up again as a dirt path with the chain-link fence of the golf course on your left. There are many shrubs and trees along this portion of the trail, and lots of birds and rodents taking advantage of the nice green golf course. A really nice walk!

Length: 3.5 miles following these 2 loops to make 1 hike
Elevation gain: 50 feet
Time it took us: 1.5 hours
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none

February 22, 2011

San Tan Mountain Loop

San Tan Mountain Regional Park in Queen Creek, Arizona, officially opened  in September 2005. Since then, the park has steadily added more trails so that the eight named trails can wind you all over the park in an interconnected system. The hardest decision is choosing which trails to try. For our first visit here, we parked by the visitor center which houses an assortment of reptiles on display. From here, walking southwest will take you to the trailhead staging area. We started out on the Moonlight Trail for the first 1.3 miles of a gentle ascent at the base of a 2,362 foot butte which my trail route will encircle in a counter-clockwise direction. If you turn around and look to the north, near the end of the Moonlight Trail, you can see views of the far East Valley all the way to the Superstitions, and you will bear witness to the Pinal County housing boom. At the end of the Moonlight Trail, we turned left (south) on the San Tan Trail for the next 1.1 miles. Looking west from this portion of the trail, the rugged peaks of the San Tans are in front of you, and you can get a feel for the solitude of this park as you lose sight of the urban sprawl just a few miles away. For this introductory San Tan hike, we crossed over on the Hedgehog trail for the last 2 miles to head back to the trailhead staging area. However, I have decided that on my next trip out here, I will bear to the right at the San Tan - Malpais junction to explore the southwestern portion of the park in greater detail next time. All in all, the trails are well marked and in good condition for walking, and they are well worth the $6 entrance fee.

Length: 4.4 miles following this loop route
Elevation gain: 150 feet
Time it took us: 2 hours
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: $6

February 15, 2011

Peralta Canyon

The hike up from the Peralta Trailhead to Fremont Saddle along the Peralta Trail (listed as trail #102 in many Superstition Mountains guidebooks) is one of those spectacular hikes that make you feel like you are being enveloped in the canyon walls. This hike always takes longer than I anticipate, probably because I'm making so many photo stops along the way. This photo above here is looking mostly eastward (and a little northward), stopping midway up the trail and capturing where we just hiked up from; I think it gives you an idea of how dramatic the canyon is along this trail. Peralta Trail can be very crowded. So as a tip, I recommend starting out in the early afternoon; that way, you will be passing people coming down the hill rather than going up with them, and more than likely, the hikers coming down the hill will give you the right of way since you will be huffing and puffing up the hill. If you are forced to be the one to stop and let them pass, then consider it a welcome break from the 1400 foot ascent! Although the elevation gain may seem steep, there are a series of switchbacks making the hike more manageable. The other benefit to getting a late start on this hike is that you are hiking in a northwest direction with high cliffs to your left on the way up. If you time this hike correctly, then the sun will be behind the high cliffs giving you a break from the blinding Arizona rays. The above photo also shows some of that afternoon shade (keep in mind that I am turning around and photographing where I just came up from so the shaded high cliffs are displayed on the right in this photo.) Just be careful with this afternoon hiking technique because you will undoubtedly spend lots of time photographing Weaver's Needle from Fremont Saddle, especially if you capture the Needle in the late afternoon with the sun setting and the colorful sky around this massive butte, and you could wind up hiking back down the trail in the dark! This has also happened to me so remember to carry a headlamp or flashlight in your pack. As another tip, don't be put off by the dirt section of the road to the trailhead; it is quite passable without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. From metro Phoenix, take US 60 east through Gold Canyon and turn left (north) on Peralta Road. Follow the road 7 miles to the trailhead parking lot. There are a few other parking lots prior to the Peralta Trailhead lot, but you are looking for the one that is clearly marked with the Tonto Forest signage and at the end of the road.

Length: 5 miles total, up and back
Elevation gain: 1400 feet
Time it took us: 4 hours with a long meal break at the top and lots of photo stops
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none

February 8, 2011

Broadway Cave

Here's a hike to do if you're in the mood for a rocky trail with lots of scrambling through bushes primitive-style. The view is amazing from the top, and you will satisfy your burning desire to know, "What's that hole up there on the side of the mountain?" It's actually a cave with an old mineshaft in the back of it. The cave is visible from various locations in Apache Junction, and when traveling east on US 60. The cave itself has obviously been used for parties and general bathrooming, and there's a lot of graffiti and bees swarming around, but once up there, you can say you've been there. The trail is a little tricky. You start out at the Broadway Trailhead which is a block wall fence with parking for about 6 vehicles near a subdivision of pricey homes. The Broadway Trailhead can be accessed from metro Phoenix by going east on US 60 and turning left (north) on Mountain View Road. Carry on down Mountain View and turn right (east) on Broadway Road until the end. The trailhead and parking will be on the left side of the road. The first half-mile of the trail is along the Jacob's Crosscut Trail. Make sure you stay on the Jacob's Crosscut Trail at the intersection of Jacob's Crosscut and Lost Goldmine (you will bear to the left.) Here's a picture of this junction:

The next major landmark you are looking for is a sign that simply says, "Trail" as shown here:

If you look behind the sign and to the right of it, there is a small red path . . . that is the trail that you follow to get to the cave. You are leaving the Jacob's Crosscut Trail at this point. 

The next landmark you are looking for is a small pile of red rocks. "Ha," you say! Yes, there are many piles of red rocks, but here's a picture of the particular pile that you're looking for:

I marked with a black arrow the way you want to go. You want to bear to the right. Above the arrow is the pile of rocks. If you miss this pile of rocks and accidentally go straight, you will actually have made a cool side trip to an old rock ruin that we believe to be an old fireplace of some sort. I haven't been able to find any information about it so if you know something then please let me know. Here's the fireplace and how you will know that you went too far. Make sure you turn around and go back the way you came after checking out the fireplace and don't forget to look for the pile of rocks this time (which will now be on your left!)

Once back on the trail, you start climbing steadily up. Here are some glimpses of the cave and the trail up:

 And here's the cave in all its enormity:

Trail Length: 4 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Time it took us: 3 hours
Dog okay: Yes
Fees: none