Saturday, September 9, 2017

Piestewa Under Construction

Weather: 97º, partly cloudy, humid

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  Got a bit of a later start today, closer to 11am. The mountain and the parking lot were a ghosttown. Actually, I expected a bigger crowd today, what with temps just under the century mark and a constant nonsoon errr monsoon tease.

This blog is not for my political opinions, but today I may make an exception. Our wonderful liberal mayor of Phoenix has long crusaded that Squaw Peak Drive and other roads he deems offensive are going to be renamed.  Well, Squaw Peak Drive hasn't been renamed...yet. But the big, overhead sign at the traffic light just says 'Piestewa Peak' with an arrow toward the mountain. A small, unlit sign denotes the name of the street now. Way to go Mayor Stanton....  Granted, I think the story of Lori Piestewa is fascinating and a worthy person to name this iconic peak after.  

In addition to street renaming, there's some construction taking place on the main road. Despite warnings, it didn't seem to impact traffic too much.




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mt. Union & Fire Lookout Tower

Weather:  82º, sunny

About this Hike:  We've conquered another summit with a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout on top. This one was Mt. Union, just south of Prescott, AZ.

The hike up Mt. Union is not difficult. In fact, the 'trail' is actually a 4WD dirt road, and chances are you'll encounter ATVs and the like.  There's no designated parking area.  You drive in along one of two routes—Walker Rd. or Senator Highway, both of which eventually turn to packed dirt.  From the limited information I found online, it seemed both routes were the same in length and reported road conditions.  I can tell you this after going in one way and out the other—Senator Highway is in much better condition than Walker Rd.  Of course we didn't really have the right vehicle for this drive, but the old Honda Accord managed to make it over the bumpy dirt with just a few creaks and groans of dissatisfaction.

One other thing that was NOT mentioned anywhere online during my research.... I had carefully printed maps of the spaghetti-like mess of U.S. Forest Service fire roads that entangle this part of Prescott National Forest.  I never expected to have cell service and/or GPS out there.  On top of Mt. Union are multiple communications towers, and my Verizon phone had five bars and LTE service nearly the entire time.

We encountered a friendly Forest Ranger on the drive in, and he suggested parking just past a cattle guard at the confluence of Senator Highway and Poland Junction Rd. (Route 261). In this area there were barricades, signs, and police line tape reminiscent of this summer's Goodwin Fire closure area. However, the Mt. Union lookout tower has since re-opened.  The hike to the tower is an uphill, but not overly steep, 2.5 miles or so along Route 261.  This hike will take you through beautiful AZ High Country forestland.  

Speaking of the Goodwin Fire, from the lookout tower the fire scar is plainly visible.  At nearly 8000 feet, the Prescott Valley, Sedona, and even the San Francisco Peaks are also visible on a clear day.

We've visited a number of lookout towers throughout AZ, and each one is a unique and memorable experience. The U.S. Forest Rangers that man these towers are often interesting characters. The gentleman at the Mt. Union tower certainly did not disappoint....

Finally, there are alternate ways to access Mt. Union beyond the Senator Highway / Walker Rd. access points.  The Yankee Doodle trail will take you up and over Mt. Union, along with passing through the rest of the surrounding area.  To do Yankee Doodle in it's entirety you may want to plan on backpacking and camping for a night.

Blue spruce


Mt. Union's neighboring peak, Mt. Davis





Saturday, July 29, 2017

Insomniac on Camelback

Weather:  92º, sunny, humid

Time:  35 minutes

About this Hike:  I arrived to a nearly full parking lot and monsoon clouds hanging around the Valley. We may yet see a storm later today...  This morning; however, the sun was beginning to pierce through.  I was at the trailhead early due to the fifth night of insomnia.

I believe the high humidity and on-going lack of rest had a lot to do with my 35 minute time to the summit today. Still not all that bad when you factor in the need to stop and hydrate in these Sonoran summertime conditions.

There is an older lady who climbs Camelback every day. She was recently featured on Fox 10.  I saw her today as I was nearing the summit and she was beginning her decent.  I would have loved to stop for a photo opp with her (she's known to be very friendly), but she was busy giving life advice to a couple young ladies (something else she's known for).

As I neared the trailhead some heavy cloud cover moved in—where was this when I was doing my ascent?!  Upon my departure around 9:30am the crowds had died off and parking was wide open.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Piestewa and Humidity

Weather:  90º, sunny, humid

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  Monsoon 2017 has been a huge tease.  Every day a storm builds in from the north/east.  Then it falls apart and/or rains everywhere but at my home in Central Phoenix. Regardless, during today's hike I felt the high humidity that these monsoon storms bring.

The trail at Piestewa was fairly uncrowded early on this Sunday morning.  There were a few other hikers and interesting characters along the way, but I largely had the trail to myself.  That's the silver lining in these higher temps and monsoon humidity.  I could have parked in the main lot no problem. However, I chose the sure option and parked on the residential streets and hoofed it into the preserve.

All around an enjoyable summertime morning hike.  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park

Weather:  93º, sunny, breezy

Time:  4 hours

About this Hike:  I woke up early this morning to go for a hike.  I didn't want too late of a start, as I knew temps would be rising.  I was anxious about if I would be able to get a parking spot.... Sounds like a typical Saturday morning Camelback trek.  Only today I drove a bit further...up to Yarnell to be exact.

I have wanted to do the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial State Park for a while now.  Yarnell had a forecasted high in the low 90's, which sounded downright cool after the hot summer Phoenix has experienced.

The roads to get up to Yarnell from the Phoenix Valley are all in great condition, making this 90 mile drive a breeze.  The only thing to watch for is the final link in the journey, Highway 89 (White Spar Highway).  It is a winding mountain pass that quickly ascends some ~2000 feet or so.  It splits with southbound lanes high above the northbound lanes.  You head up northbound and there's a connector road to flip to the southbound side.  This is critical because the park and trailhead are southbound.  The junctions leading to the park are all very well signed.

I chose to stay northbound and first visit downtown Yarnell.  Not that there's much to see there, but I wanted to make a quick stop at The Shrine of St. Joseph.  Read up on this interesting religious site if you'd like to know more.

From Yarnell I simply headed back down 89 south (it runs together in town).  Despite only 15 parking spaces, 2 of which are 10-minute-only parking, I found a slot for my vehicle.  Being that this trailhead is off a busy, one-way highway, I could see people in the queue for parking becoming a real issue.  Another reason I braved summer temps.

An AZ Park Ranger greeted me and warned me about going the entire 3.5 miles.  He said if I was successful I could ring a bell at the trailhead.  I informed him that I climb Camelback in Phoenix heat, so I suspected this wouldn't be a problem, but he warned me it's steeper than Camelback....My take:  longer maybe, but not steeper.

The trail takes you ~3 miles to a lookout site.  Along the way are placards with a photo and short memoir dedicated to each of the fallen 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.  A number of them were decorated with trinkets or the hotshot's favorite beer (PBR seemed to be a winner among this crew).

The lookout gives you a view down into the canyon Fatality Site.  Another 3/4 of a mile down some switchbacks, and you can stand at the site yourself.  A ring of cages filled with rocks (think trail cairns in Sedona) stand in a circle. These cages are actually called gabions I learned.  In the middle of the circle are 19 crosses with the name of each fallen hotshot.  Some people left notes on the gabions.  Some left tins of the hotshot's favorite dip.  Some mistook them as trash cans...  Old Glory is also flying at the Fatality Site, and a solar-powered LED light ensures she's illuminated through the night.

On my way back up and over the mountain, I ran into a group of firefighters paying tribute to their fallen comrades.  For how few vehicles were at the trailhead, I was surprised at the number of people I saw on the trails.  It was fairly desolate, but I definitely wasn't alone.

This informative and moving hike gives you a great workout and some fantastic views of Yarnell and the Weaver Mountains.  Thankfully the only wildlife I encountered were lots of little geckos running around.  The vegetation is nothing but some high-desert scrub.  In the 4 years since the hotshots perished here, the area shows only a little fire scaring.  As you go up and over the mountain, the vegetation changes to grassland.  I noted a few scrub oak near the Fatality Site.  There's no big cactus or trees, and you really are in a transitional zone (~5000 feet) as the lower deserts are giving way to the pine forests in not-so-distant Prescott (~40 miles by car).

And speaking of Prescott...my original plans for this weekend called for me to be there hiking.  My original itinerary called for stopping at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial on the way home by taking the back way toward Wickenburg.  I'll admit, this hike was a little tiring.  I probably enjoyed it more by doing it as a day trip from Phoenix than I would have after a weekend of hiking in Prescott.

This is an out-and-back, and the downhill return didn't seem nearly as long or strenuous.  Upon reaching the trailhead, I rang that bell... Overall, such a great and moving experience.


Seating at the Fatality Site. The lookout is high above on the ridge.

The Fatality Site gabions

Monday, July 3, 2017

Pre 'Merica Hike at Echo Canyon

Weather:  97º, sunny, light breeze

Time:  35 minutes

About this Hike:  It felt a lot warmer than 97º today and the occasional breeze was a welcome respite. High pollution, heat, and humidity be damned—I have this rare pre-July 4th day off and I was going to enjoy a hike!

Honestly, my 35-minute trek to the top wasn't too bad. I did have to pause a lot to ensure I was hydrated. Like I've said before, you gotta respect the mountain. I also didn't have Powerade, Smartwater, etc. for this hike, so no electrolytes—just good ol' bottled/tap water.

I've decided that while the heat is intense, it sure beats fighting a full parking lot and crowded trails. You can condition and plan for the heat; not so much when the mountain is bumper-to-bumper traffic.  That said, you need to work up to hiking in these conditions. There are far too many stories of tourists being rescued from Echo Canyon and other Phoenix-area trails each year.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hot Sandstone @ Echo Canyon

Weather:  92º, sunny

Time:  33 minutes

About this Hike:  Been a while since I've had a weekend where I'm able to squeeze in a timed Camelback climb.  Considering that it was fairly hot out, I guess 33 minutes wasn't terrible. I took just a few short pauses on the way up, usually for a quick drink of water.  And, those pauses primarily came in the home stretch in that final, steep area of scrambling.

Neither the trails nor the parking area were very busy this morning. It's a great conundrum—cooler temps and busy trails, or challenging heat and quieter trails?