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