March 24, 2011

Mesa's Eastern Canal

Lately, the smell of orange blossoms has been sending me into a tizzy. I've been driving around with the windows all down on the minivan, and taking strange out-of-the-way routes through orange groves on my way home from work just to inhale the delicious fragrance. Over the years, I've tried to grow my own citrus trees without any luck. The first tree was completely eaten by my new puppy -- chewed down to a nubbin, and then finished off by a good dig into the six-foot hole I dug with a pick axe in Arizona caliche. She really appreciated my work at softening up the dirt for her. Then I got wise and had my side yard walled and gated off so the dogs couldn't get in there, and I planted more citrus trees. After the first summer monsoon, the entire side yard flooded and the citrus grove became more reminiscent of a cranberry bog. Attempt number three: I planted in October, during Arizona's "second spring," only to have the trees wiped out by frost damage the following winter. I give up. I enjoy other people's trees now. It pains me to see established orange groves plowed to build new houses. Houses that will probably sit vacant as Arizona currently has a 15% housing vacancy rate. The 5 C's of Arizona (Climate, Copper, Cattle, Cotton, and Citrus) may be one C short at this pace. If you're in Mesa, explore the Brown Road and Val Vista Drive area to see what I mean.

This area of Mesa is at the crossroads of several SRP-manned canals. The 131 miles of canals deliver water throughout the Phoenix metro area, and they provided the irrigation that created many of these orange groves. The canals are a great place to walk, run, or bike to get away from cars and suburbia. The particular segment of the Eastern Canal that I like, has an asphalt walking surface, only one hairy street to jaywalk across (McKellips), ample parking at Mountain View High School, and the luscious smell of backyard orange trees if you walk the canal in March or April when they are blooming. After parking at Mountain View High's north lot, walk north along Lindsay Road, across Hope Street, and turn left at the asphalt canal path. I took this canal walk to Old Gilbert Road and turned around and walked back the same way, and the entire walk was just over 3 miles. You could turn around at McKellips and avoid crossing any streets, and you would cut about a mile off your total. Another benefit to this walk is that you have some afternoon shade from people's backyard trees as you walk northwest along the path. I only saw two other bikers during my walk on a late Thursday afternoon so apparently word hasn't gotten out yet that this is a great place to walk. Enjoy the smell!

Length: 3.2 miles
Elevation gain: none
Time it took us: 1.5 hours
Dogs okay: yes
Fees: none

on the return trip, looking southeast at the path & canal

March 22, 2011

Pass Mountain Loop

Desert wildflowers have been a little fickle this year. Apparently, the rain we had was too late in the season, and the snow didn't help matters either! We attempted the Pass Mountain Loop in search of wildflowers, especially on the north side of the mountain, but other than some desert marigolds and a lot of cactus buds, we really didn't see the Mexican gold poppies, lupines, and globe mallows like we have seen in prior years. I recommend trying this trail in a few more weeks, when the ocotillos look like they will be exploding. Even so, the Pass Mountain Loop has many colorful rocks, lichens, and views to make it enjoyable. We lucked out and did the trail the day after a storm, and low-lying fog hung over the mountain when we arrived at the trailhead, making it appear like something from the Scottish Highlands.

I recommend starting the trail at the Usery Pass Horse Staging trailhead area rather than the Wind Cave trailhead because the Wind Cave trailhead gets very congested. From the Horse Staging Area, you can go clockwise or counter-clockwise along the Pass Mountain Loop. My recommendation is to go counter-clockwise so you don't have the sun facing you as you try to descend the steep section of the mountain, and so you don't inadvertently slide down the loose rock on the steep section of the mountain. Yes, you will be hitting the incline going uphill, but if you start at the Horse Staging area, then you should still have a lot of life left in you at this point!

As soon as you get up over the steep section, you will be rewarded with great views looking south at the Easy Valley below, and looking north towards Four Peaks and the Mogollon Rim. There are also some nice large boulders to stop and have lunch here; you are just shy of the half-way point. A nice hiker we passed along the way told us to look out northwest from here on out, towards Fountain Hills, since he claims you should be able to see one of the world's largest fountains, at 560 feet, go off on the hour for about 15 minutes. We missed the fountain going off, but I did see the community of Fountain Hills in the distance. Don't be alarmed by the sound of gunfire as the Usery Mountain shooting range is at the northwest edge of the loop. On the western side of the loop, we did catch some blooming pink hedgehog cactus. As you pass the Wind Cave trailhead and bathrooms, you are just a short (downhill) walk to the Horse Staging lot where you started. ** Also note, if you don't want to pay the $6 Usery Mountain Park entrance fee, then you can also start the trail from the Meridian trailhead and add about 0.5 mile to your trip. Just be careful that you bear to the left at the Meridian trailhead (northwest) so you don't end up on the Bulldog Saddle trail.

Length: 7.1 miles
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Time it took us: 5 hours with a lunch stop
Dogs okay: yes
Fees: $6 Usery Mountain Park entrance (if hike is started from inside the park)

March 10, 2011

Camp Creek Falls

Here's a really cool hike to a waterfall that is a little out of my neck of the woods, but it allowed me to begin expanding my hikes out of East Phoenix since this hike is close to the town of Carefree. I assume the falls are created from Camp Creek which appears to be a tributary of the Verde River, but it is hard to tell on a map since the creek is also close to Bartlett Lake. I'm really hoping it wasn't actually a sewage run-off since my hiking group all had a good time splashing around in the water. Although the waterfall looked sparklingly clear!

To get to the hike, take 101 north through Scottsdale and exit at Pima Road. Head north on Pima Road for approximately 13 miles and turn right (east) at the intersection of Pima Road and Cave Creek Road. Follow Cave Creek Road approximately 6.5 miles past the Bartlett Lake turn-off, and on the right side of the road is a brown wooden Tonto Forest sign and a gravel parking lot with a gate heading south to the trail. The trail dips down following a path obviously well-used by horses, and you can spot views of Four Peaks and Weaver's Needle to the east. Just before the path begins a slight dip upwards again, where you can still see Four Peaks in the distance, is where you will make a right turn onto another, smaller dirt path. There are GPS coordinates for this turn, but being consistently the low-tech hiking blog destination, I am providing physical landmarks! You will know that you are on the right path, as the vegetation begins to thicken and you enter into a boulder-lined canyon. If you pass a deserted car, you are definitely on the right path. Continuing along the well-worn trail, a little further down, you will see a large grouping of rocks shaped distinctly like a pyramid. When you get to a very large wash of grey rocks, turn left and follow the wash as it bends around. You are now heading into the canyon, and beginning to follow what I believe to be Camp Creek. At various times of the year, there are probably different amounts of water in this creek. As I am doing this hike in March, we began to see water about 100 feet beyond where we turned into the wash, with the water level growing the further we walked upstream. Trees begin to line the creek providing shade, and the sheer canyons walls narrow before we reach the oasis and the waterfall at the end. Plan to spend some time hanging out at the waterfall and climbing the rocks around it, before heading back the same way you came in.

Length: 3 miles
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Time it took us: 2.5 hours with a long stop at the falls
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none at this particular gravel lot

March 8, 2011

Hieroglyphics Trail

Many times on my hikes in Arizona, I have been amazed at how close we are able to get to archaeological sites. You may recall the old dwelling and pottery shards on the Hackberry Springs Loop, the old fireplace-looking brick-thing on the Broadway Cave trail, and now we have the Hieroglyphics Trail, which allows you and everyone else to come up close and personal with rock art that possibly dates back 2,000 years. While I do enjoy the opportunity to get so close to these petroglyphs, and I, myself, have taken several groups of eager cub scout and girl scout groups out to decipher them, I fear that eventually the petroglyphs will be covered in graffiti and manipulated to the point of destruction. I tell everyone I bring here, and now everyone reading this post, to please remember that these petroglyphs are on public land, and all archaeological sites found on any public land in Arizona are protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and failure to obey these laws will lead to fines, jail time, and felony charges. Although it does seem like no one is paying attention or policing people up there on the rocks, we can all make a difference by educating others about the need to protect these sites. Please help me do so!
To get to the Hieroglyphics Trailhead from metro Phoenix, go east on US 60 to Kings Ranch Road in Gold Canyon, and turn left (north) onto Kings Ranch Road. Turn right (east) on Baseline and then left (north) on Mohican. Once you get to Mohican, you will begin to see some brown hiker's signage that you can also follow to the trailhead. Then, turn left (west) on Valley View and follow it as it bends and turns into White Tail Road. Turn right (east) onto Cloudview Road and follow it to the trailhead. Surprise, surprise . . . there is also a port-a-potty at this trailhead!
To get to the petroglyphs up in the canyon above the trailhead, you will start your hike on the Lost Goldmine Trail. As a side note, the Lost Goldmine Trail now links the Hieroglyphic Trailhead with the Peralta Trailhead to the east. I have also seen the Lost Goldmine Trail sign on the far western flanks of the Superstitions, at the Broadway Trailhead, but I have conflicting information about whether this section has been completed yet so I will try it out soon to find out. But for the Hieroglyphics Trail, you will only be on the Lost Goldmine Trail for a short time, about the first quarter mile, before coming to the stone marker for the Hieroglyphics Trail where you will bear to the left. It should be noted that at this time, the stone marker only has a picture of a petroglyph on it, and not the written words "Hieroglyphics Trail." I find this sort of amusing, as you must begin your decoding early on in this hike. The trail is very easy to follow from this point on. You will go through a gate that says "Superstition Wilderness Tonto National Forest;" in my humble opinion, you are about one-third of the way up to the petroglyphs at this point. About two-thirds of the way up, you will begin to get some shade trees along the trail and large boulders. When the boulders clear away, you are struck with large pools of water. I have been on this trail at various times of the year, but spring is my favorite because you will get running waterfalls cascading down these pools. Even without the petroglyphs, this trail is amazing for its water and views. Bring sun some snacks and some sunscreen as there are plenty of large, smooth rocks to lay out on for an enjoyable afternoon.
Length: 3 miles
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Time it took us: 2.5 hours with a half-hour stop up top
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none

March 1, 2011

Black Mesa Loop

March is a really beautiful month in Arizona. It's the time of year that makes Arizonans so blissfully happy that they forget it'll be over 100 degrees in just a couple of months. Late February to early March is also the time of year when we occasionally have a dusting of snow on the Superstition Mountains above my house. That was the case last Sunday with this first gorgeous photo taken in the afternoon after the storms passed through. Unfortunately, the snow didn't check my work schedule first, and I had to wait for two days after the storm until I could get out to hike. So two days later, here's what was left of the snow, and this photo is of the north-facing slope. The good news is that the snow melt creates beautiful running creeks and washes so I could think of no better place to hike then out at the First Water Trailhead. This trailhead is accessed from metro Phoenix by US 60 east to Idaho Road and head north. At the intersection of Idaho Road and Highway 88, turn right and head northeast on Highway 88 towards Canyon Lake. After Lost Dutchman State Park, the First Water Trailhead, also known as Forest Road 78, will be on your right after milepost 201. The actual trailhead is about 2 miles down the dirt road, which is completely passable without 4-wheel drive, even after a rain/snow storm. As a plus, the usual dust factor along the road was minimal due to the recent storm.

The Black Mesa Loop is LONG. It is not a difficult hike, but it is a cross-country trek with lots of sights to see so you'll want to leave ample time to complete the hike, and also make sure you bring enough water, snacks, and bathroom supplies to see you out there for a while. The route is simple: First Water Trail to Second Water Trail then right on the Black Mesa Trail. You'll know that you're on the Black Mesa Trail because . . . drum roll . . . the mesa is lined with black rocks. You'll pass saguaros and a cholla forest as you descend into Boulder Canyon with views of Weaver's Needle and then Geronimo Head directly in front of you. We stopped for lunch at the intersection of the Black Mesa Trail and the Lost Dutchman Trail which is roughly the half-way mark. I'd say that it was equal numbers of horses and hikers that passed us on the trail, but the trail is in good condition, and it never felt crowded out there. After lunch, turn right at Lost Dutchman's Trail and follow it all the way back to the First Water Trailhead. My route does the loop in a clockwise direction; I have seen various descriptions with different ideas on whether to do this clockwise or counter-clockwise, but I feel that clockwise is the way to go because there is a steep section along the Black Mesa Trail as you descend into Boulder Canyon. The hike back along the Lost Dutchman Trail was my favorite part because we crossed pool after pool of water from the storm. There are some really great views looking out northward from this portion of the trail, too, and some interesting rock formations.

Length: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Time it took us: 6 hours with a lunch stop and photos
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: none

Weaver's Needle
Geronimo Head

First Water Creek