Sunday, April 29, 2018

Browns Peak & Four Peaks

Weather:  82º, dry, sunny, windy

About this Hike:  Since joining Arizona Hiker's Facebook group I've seen more pictures of hiking to Brown's Peak in the iconic Four Peaks.  This hike is accessed via the Lone Pine Trailhead which is over miles of dirty, dusty Forest Service road.

My research indicated that above 7,000 feet Four Peaks turns into a sky island with cooler temps, pine trees, and phenomenal views of Roosevelt Lake just on the other side of the Matazal range.  I was sold.

A few years back a co-worker offered to let me borrow his Xterra so I could hike in Four Peaks Wilderness.  While I was humbled at his generous offer, I'm not one to take on such liability.  Fast forward to 2018 and I have an Xterra of my own...

Research indicated that Forest Road 143 to Lone Pine Trailhead may be a challenge for the Xterra, but my gut instinct said it wouldn't be too bad.  Let me preface by saying the Xterra survived unscathed.  FR 143 has it nerve racking moments.  The worst comes when you're about 3 miles from Lone Pine Trailhead the road turns very rocky.  Coming down from elevation is no picnic either, as there are no guard rails to protect from some steep drops.  Other than that, slow and steady is the key to navigating this packed, but sometimes rutted, dirt road safely.

Being the over-cautious driver that I am, I frequently pulled aside to let Jeeps, ATVs, and the like pass by.  Most obliged and passed with a wave (all five fingers extended).  People generally are friendly in nature I find....

An intense journey of two hours carried us 18 miles to the Lone Pine Trailhead.  For an additional 40 miles, you can bypass Four Peaks Road, continue north on AZ-87, and then head south on AZ-188 to El Oso Road.  El Oso is unpaved, but reports say it's in much better condition and is only 11 miles to the trailhead.  The fuchsia Mitsubishi Mirage parked at the trailhead was likely testament to this.  I venture to say that even with 40 extra miles on the odo, you'd probably do this trek in similar, or even better, time.

The hike along Lone Pine took us through high-desert scrub including manzanita, gamble oak, and ponderosa pine.  The vistas overlooking Roosevelt Lake were all that they promised to be.  We did see some interesting wildlife including a scrawny doe mule deer.  Not only was she not bothered by our presence, but she was stripping the foliage like there's no tomorrow—which may have been the case as she looked sickly.

Scree Chute on the left
When you approach the final stretch to the summit of Browns Peak the trail turns very steep and very rocky.  The final incline is infamously called 'the scree chute.'  An acute fear of heights has plauged me since I was a child.  The wind at this elevation was relentless.  These factors combined, I made the difficult—but necessary—call that I would not be going up the scree chute. 

From the photos I've seen, I didn't miss much by not officially touching the top of Browns Peak.  The vistas from near the top are already breathtaking.  Canyon, Apache, and Saguaro lakes come into view.  Superstition Mountain seems but a short jump away from atop Four Peaks.  And while the air quality was thick as soup yesterday, Camelback Mountain way down in The Valley could be seen poking through the mire.

Additionally, the Four Peaks appear to have little surface on their summit.  That would've done wonders for my fear of heights.  And that's another interesting point—as impressive as Four Peaks are from The Valley floor, up close they're surprisingly small.

I'm glad to check Browns Peak off my bucket list.  I'm not sure I'm in a rush to return to Four Peaks.  The drive is long and tiresome for relatively little hiking that you get to do.  If one day I do return it may very well be via El Oso Road.  I would like to explore the Amethyst Mine / Mother Lode trail one day.

Look close. From near the top of Browns you can see the lower Salt River lakes
One of many Roosevelt Lake vistas
Epilogue:  On the drive down we encountered the biggest diamondback I've ever seen.  He/she was sunning in the middle of the road.  I hate snakes, but resisted my urge to use said diamondback as a speed bump and in fact was glad to observe this creature from the safety of my vehicle.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bear Mountain Summit & Long Canyon via Deadman's Pass

Weather:  67º, cloudy, very windy

About this Hike:  Back in January of 2017 I climbed Bear Mountain for the first time.  It was a fun, steep, and challenging hike then, and it still is to this day. 

The waterfall near the beginning of Bear Mountain was dry and the San Francisco Peaks were barren of snow as well––testament to this year of drought.

Besides the challenge, I enjoy the sweeping vistas and views into the surrounding Secret Mountain Wilderness-area canyons.  There are also spectacular views all the way south to Bell Rock and north toward the San Francisco Peaks. 

I also believe I saw the Robbers Den cave trailhead.  This was on my list of spots to explore when I have my Xterra in Sedona (due to the dirt road), but I've heard it's a heavily trafficked tourist trap.  The view from above sufficed.

After completing Bear, I wanted to do something more in the Dry Creek area and opted for Long Canyon via Deadman's Pass.  The trail is accessed at Boynton Canyon Trailhead.  I should also mention that these popular, crowded parking areas do require a Red Rocks Pass and kiosks are available at most parking lots. 

Long Canyon was an especially awesome hike as it was unexplored territory for me.  Once you're into the actual canyon it follows a dry creekbed.  The foliage gets thicker and you're in shaded forest largely comprised of juniper, AZ Cypress, and some pines.  Dramatic red and buff-colored cliff walls surround.  You have to just simply pause and take in all the unique lines, spires, temples, and shapes that time and erosion have carved into the sandstone. 

I explored Long Canyon for about 1.5 miles and then returned the way I came.  It's far too long (no pun intended!) of a trail for one day, especially after an intense climb up Bear Mountain.  While the temps were great today and the cloud cover kept the scorching sun off, the wind was a force to contend with.  By the end of my hike the gusts were whipping up dust devils everywhere, and I was glad to be finished. 

Secret Mountain and the Dry Creek Basin intrigue me every time I visit Sedona and leave me with future hiking plans in this area.  There are so many canyons to be explored here.

Canyon view from atop Bear Mountain

Like puzzle pieces....

Sweeping Long Canyon vista

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Vultee Arch, Sterling Canyon, Secret Canyon

Weather:  67º, sunny, breezy

About this Hike:  Back in October of 2016 I attempted Vultee Arch via the Sterling Pass trailhead but failed to reach the red sandstone bridge.  Sterling Pass is accessible from 89A just heading north out of downtown Sedona.  The trailhead is not easy to find as it originates directly off this narrow, busy mountain pass.  There is a wide soft shoulder for parking and a bigger parking area just south of the Manzanita Campground.  The latter option––which I opted for––requires some careful walking on the narrow shoulders of 89A. 

Sterling Pass goes up and over the mountain.  It's a steep ascent and a equally steep descent.  It was during this switch-backy descent that I chickened out in 2016.  After consulting with some fellow hikers, I felt confident that I had been on the correct path and this year I was going to complete this hike.  The temperatures were a lot better than in October.  The underbrush wasn't as thick. 

I made it down Sterling Pass and lo and behold, there was the Vultee Arch sign.  Be careful here.  I misinterpreted the sign as pointing me down Sterling Canyon trail further.  In fact, there is a side trail up to the arch.  I continued (mistakenly) down Sterling Canyon and ran into an older gentleman.  I could tell he was frustrated when he asked me where the arch is.  I said I believed it was down the trail further and he told me it was not and that if I wanted to see I should follow him.  Put off by his attitude I didn't respond but instead consulted GPS.  While a cell signal is non-existent out here, GPS still works, and these trails are mapped on Google Maps.  Indeed, GPS revealed a side trail.  I returned to the signed junction.

Getting up to the arch is no easy task.  A lot of steep scrambling is involved.  I've seen photos of people in the middle of the arch, but this is not Devil's Bridge.  Vultee is suspended over a steep wash that drains into Sterling Canyon.  You have to walk along a very narrow rock shelf in order to get onto the equally narrow arch/bridge.  I was satisfied getting close to the arch and snapping plenty of photos.  I ran into the older gentleman on the way down and wished him well as he too had found the correct trail now.

The arch completed, Sterling Canyon continued intriguing me.  The arch isn't more than a two-and-a-half-mile hike from Sterling Pass, and it was still early in the day.  I continued on.  Sterling Canyon is ensconced by magnificent Sedona red rock cliffs.  The canyon floor has a diversity of pines, scrub maple, gamble oak, and Arizona Cypress.  Blue-gray and red rock-lined arroyos cross the trail. 

Caught up in all this beauty, I ended up at the Vultee Arch Trailhead. This is only accessible via an old forest road.  Further intrigued, I followed the forest road a ways down to Secret Canyon Trailhead.  The name of this place has always enchanted me.  Today I only hiked a brief way on Secret Canyon, so I can't give it a fair review. 

I will say that I was evaluating the forest road as I walked along.  My previous research indicated this road may be so rutted and bad that even my Xterra may not be suited for it.  While I realize I didn't see all the road, the portion I did see makes me think that with careful driving my Xterra could handle this.  I am already planning a Secret Canyon return trip when I cover the entire five miles into the canyon.  On the way back along the forest road I ran into the older gentleman again, this time driving out in his Jeep.

This made for a long day of hiking––far longer than I anticipated for.  Thankfully the weather was perfect and I was well-equipped with food and water.  Looking forward to exploring this area more in the future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Soilders Pass Arch/Cave

Weather:  67º, overcast, breezy

About this Hike:  Thanks to joining the Arizona Hiking Facebook group I discovered the Soilders Arch and cave along the Soilders Pass trail in Sedona.  As I read up on the hike, I realized it's not a very long or difficult hike. Good thing, because I was on time constraints today. I had strict orders to be back at my parent's hotel for a timeshare presentation this afternoon...some non-sense about me attending would get an additional free gift.  I'd much rather have been hiking.

I've traversed Soilders Pass trail several times, visiting the obligatory sinkhole and the Seven Sacred Pools of Sedona.  Each time parking at the tiny Soilders Pass trailhead has been very difficult.  On-street parking in the tony neighborhood that surrounds the trailhead is forbidden, as numerous signs point out. 

Angry and frustrated, I worked my way over to the Jordan Road trailhead.  This ended up being a blessing in disguise.  About one mile over dirt road is required, but it's in very good shape and passable with a passenger car.  Just exercise care on the smooth, flat rock portion that mimics pavement––toward the end are some nasty ruts. 

Jordan Road is a much bigger parking area than Soilders Pass.  An additional 20 - 30 minutes of hiking through relatively level, Arizona Cypress-dotted Sedona landscape is all that is required to reach Soilders Pass.  If you want some elevation gain, a shorter, steeper alternate trail deviates from Jordan and goes over Cibola Pass.

So on to the arches... If you use, be warned––it says the turn off for the arch/cave is 1/8 of a mile from the Seven Pools.  In reality it's at least a mile from there. does get it right regarding the wilderness boundary sign.  It's small and on a tree, but it marks the well-defined fork in the trail.  At this point bear right and begin the steep ascent to the arch. 

I covered the majority of the ~1/4 mile climb to the arch in five minutes.  I have my Piestewa and Camelback climbs to thank for that, I suppose.  Toward the end it gets a bit treacherous and more care is required. 

Rock pile I wasn't climbing...
At the actual cave you have to step on a rickety pile of rocks and then hoist yourself up.  There are OK hand/foot holds cut into the rock, but standing on that quaking rock pile just didn't work for me.  Much as I wanted to go into the cave, I only poked my head in.  There is a tin box where you can sign the visitor log, and I actually saw another hiker doing just that.  While he admonished me to go into the cave because, "It's not that bad," I couldn't do it.  That rock pile took me back to the scene from Home Alone 2 when the burglars attempted to build a ladder of sorts out of household junk...
Regardless, the area around the cave is magnificent.  The centuries-old sandstone under the arches is laced with huge fissures.  Sunlight streams thru in places.  Gigantic boulders are caught in the fissures, dangling precariously.  Under the arches the sandstone has become so brittle as to peel like old wallpaper.

I've explored a lot in this area in recent years.  Discovering Jordan Trailhead was a silver lining in a frustrating situation early on.  I look forward to continued exploration along Soilders Pass, Jordan Trail, and Brins Mesa.

One of the smaller cave arches

Striated sandstone

Monday, March 19, 2018

Second Water, Boulder Canyon, Dutchman Loop—Superstitions First Water Trailhead

Weather:  70º, sunny, breezy

About this Hike:  My hike a few weeks ago on Boulder Canyon #103 via Canyon Lake Trailhead gave me a newfound appreciation for the Superstitions.  Flatiron via Lost Dutchman State Park has given me an eerie, uncomfortable feeling in the past.  I still wonder if it has anything to do with the Nov. 2011 plane crash—not to mention all the folklore surrounding Superstition Mountains...

However, I feel quite the opposite as I've been discovering the canyons and other-worldly rock formations that make up the rest of the Superstition Wilderness.  It's like a cross between The Valley's low desert climate and the rocks of Sedona. 

This 10+ mile loop took me through Garden Valley which would be a-bloom with Mexican poppies and other desert wildflowers in a normal year.  In this dry year I just noted a lot of saguaros.  And black rocks...piles upon piles of black rocks.  At the end of Garden Valley as descent into Boulder Canyon begins, the trail parallels a black creek bed.  The rocks look like fresh lava flows from Hawaii.  Near the canyon floor there was some standing water in a semi-riparian area. The water was stagnant, but that didn't stop some frogs from jumping in as I approached.

I got to experience another end of Boulder Canyon than what I did a few weeks ago.  Battleship Mountain was directly in front and I met a few hikers coming back / heading up the trail.  Battleship Summit is said to be a primitive, largely unblazed trail.  The reviews I have read make me nervous, but someday in the near future I expect I'll be trying this one out—after it gets a little more wear and tear. 

While cairns are a debatable point among hikers, I was grateful for many well-placed rock stacks along Boulder Canyon Trail.   The trail crosses the creek bed many times, and finding it on the other side is not always easy. 

Nearing the end of Boulder Canyon brought spectacular views of Weaver's Needle from multiple angles and Palomino Mountain.  From the well-signed junction I opted to take Dutchman Trail back to the First Water parking area.  Black Mesa Trail was another option and one I may want to experience in the near future.

All these hikes have left me 'hangry' for more.  But I'm quickly exhausting the limits of what I can do with my little Mazda in terms of trailhead access.  I'm seriously considering a second 'beater' SUV that can do some off-roading.  Think, Nissan Xterra.  There's still so much of Arizona to explore.

Not your typical angle for Weaver's Needle pix
Like Hawaii lava flows...

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Attitude Adjustment on Piestewa

Weather:  77º, overcast, some humidity

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  I went into today almost loathing this hike.  Like, let's check this one off the to-do list.  That's never a very good hike-a-tude.  The crowds of people are really starting to get to me as Phoenix trails become America's best-kept secret.

Parking was anything but abundant today.  I was lucky to catch a guy leaving and parallel park in his space. It was tight, and I don't know how I did park jobs like this in the days before back up cams.

I utilized the Alternate Summit Trail, which is pretty much standard procedure for me now.  The crowds were heavy, but manageable.  There weren't any bottlenecks on the ascent. 

Phoenix PD gave us a show in the chopper, and then a vintage airplane was doing dives and scary maneuvers around the mountain.

Otherwise this was an enjoyable, uneventful hike. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Boulder Canyon #103 - Superstitions

Weather:  72º, sunny, breezy

About this Hike:   I've spent many weekends kayaking on Canyon Lake.  However, this is the first time in six years that my feet have touched the Boulder Canyon Trail which begins across the street from Canyon Lake Marina. 

Six years ago I took pictures of the captivating vistas high above Canyon Lake.  I took many a photo of Battleship Mountain and Weaver's Needle in the distance.  Last time I believe I began hiking up the boulder-strewn creek bed toward the hull of the battleship.  And then I must have turned back. 

This time we kept pressing on down Boulder Canyon Trail.  The elevation varies widely on this hike, and we enjoyed some good uphill workouts followed by careful descents on both the out and the back portions. The first descent is into La Barge Creek.  Next up on the trail is the canyon's namesake Boulder Creek.  Being in the canyons near these seasonal creeks lends to some interesting vegetation.  The area has a semi-riparian feel to it.

Large vegetation - Indian Paint Mine sinkhole
Prior to getting to Boulder Creek we came into an area of red rock.  And do I mean red—like Sedona red.  An old foundation, walls, and a sinkhole greeted us in the red rock area.  It appeared Jack's Beanstalk was shooting up out of the sinkhole.  Around this area are some narrow but very explorable canyons in the red rock.  I learned this is known as Indian Paint Mine , and apparently the sinkhole is where natives extracted red rock to create paint and pottery.  Very cool stuff. 

By continuing on #103 the Paint Mine's red rocks quickly fade back to the orange, yellow, and black lichen-covered escarpments that are so prevalent in this area of the Superstitions. 

The well-signed junction with Second Water Trail was the next waypoint and then another creek  came into view.  This creek actually had some water in it, reminiscent of rains The Valley experienced earlier in the week.  The water was trickling but looked stagnant. 

Kayaking at Canyon Lake has afforded me considerable knowledge about the topography of the Superstitions; the Salt River watershed; and this eerie, magnificent portion of the Tonto National Forest.  I greatly enjoyed visiting Boulder Canyon again. 

And now my curiosity is piqued.  I hope it won't be another six years until my next visit.  Before the weather gets too hot, I plan to explore First and Second Water Trails in this area. 

Battleship Mtn. & Weavers Needle in the background

Looking down the canyon as it drains into Canyon Lake