Sunday, January 14, 2018

Horton Creek to Horton Springs

Weather: 62º, sunny

About this Hike:  I did this trail back in May 2013 and wrote a blog post about it back then.  Glad to say nearly five years later not much has changed.

A relatively flat four mile hike rewards you with views of Horton Spring gushing from the side of a mountain.  Evidence of scrub oak and maple carpeted the ground in places.  The shadowy spots near the spring had a dusting of snow.  Surely this was a more wintery view than the lush forest I enjoyed in May 2013.  Still, there were many old-growth evergreens along this trail.  Not all of them are ponderosa, and I want to research what types of pines these are.  Compared to Prescott, the forest surrounding Payson is more lush and diverse.  I dare say I appreciate this much more now than I did back in 2013 as a relative AZ newbie (two years in AZ at that point).

I need to make sure nearly another fives year period doesn't pass before my next hiking trip in Payson.

Horton Creek


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Barnhardt Trail

Weather: 65º, sunny

About this Hike:  I found this one using my recently-downloaded All Trails app.  The Barnhardt hike takes you to several seasonal waterfalls.

Last week we had (our first!) big winter storm that brought rain and snow about 5,000 feet.  It's a long weekend.  The waterfalls at Barnhardt might be flowing.  The stars were aligning it seemed.... I had to check this hike out.

Access to the Barnhardt trail is via a four-mile dirt road off AZ-87.  It is well signed from the highway.  The road condition is acceptable for a passenger car, although some portions are rocky and/or washboardy, so extra care needs to be used.

The geology is the real treat on Barnhardt.  I observed delicately zig-zagging veins of white quartz in the cliff sides.  The trail crosses multiple large rock slides composed of moss-covered purple stones.  It's like nature's landscaping rock quarry.

Barnhardt ascends gradually high above the canyon formed by Rye Creek.  The creek was flowing and the sound of water was evident even up on the ridge.  And it was the only sound.  Maybe it's just the winter season, but we heard no wildlife.  Not even any birds singing.  It was eerily quiet.

Approaching the top of the ridge, the gradual ascent becomes a little steeper.  We came to large, flat rock shelf where some other hikers were resting.  They advised us the waterfall was no more than a quarter mile ahead.  (I should interject—you pass a section of blackened cliff that I'm certain is a waterfall during heavy rain.  I'll call this the 'false waterfall' for purposes of this hike.)

We pressed on.  I expected to need to hunt for the waterfall a bit.  It actually bisects the trail and was flowing at a trickle.  It was the perfect amount of flow—enough to make some interesting pictures, but not so much that the trail was washed out.  In the utter quietness that surrounded, I noticed how the pitch and tone of the tricking water changed every few seconds.  It was fascinating.

As of today, there was a climbing rope tethered to the side in case you want to get up on top of the waterfall.  I'm not a trusting person by nature, and I sure didn't trust this rope.  I got plenty of great photos from ground level.

Pressing on further, the trail opens up into a manzanita forest.  And I mean a forest.  The surrounding peaks are covered in the red-barked shrub.  Snow was visible in the shadowed parts of the highest peaks.  The views around the Mazatzal Mountains are majestic.  To the east we observed what we believe (and sincerely hope) was the plume of a controlled burn.

From this high point just past the waterfall we headed back down.  Through each dry wash cold air billowed up like nature's air conditioning.  We also noted one lone pondeorsa pine among the forest of manzanita, white oak, and other various transitional scrub.  Overall a fantastic hike with fantastic views and a rewarding waterfall.

Zigzag Rock Veins

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Juniper

Weather: 65º, partly cloudy

About this Hike:  The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots (recently popularized in the film Only the Brave) runs very deep in the Prescott community.  Anyone who's seen the film, or is familiar with recent Prescott history, knows that days before the hotshots met their tragic end they saved an ancient alligator juniper tree on the outskirts of town.  This was in June 2013 when the Doce Fire was burning up the high-desert in the Prescott National Forest Wilderness.

Besides being featured in the movie, this 1800 year old (estimated) granddaddy of a tree has become a memorial to Prescott's fallen hotshot crew.  Naturally, we wanted to experience this hike.  Maybe this is intentional, but finding information on this hike via Google search is not easy.  The best directions I could find come from an unexpected source—a Prescott-based dental office.

Even with these directions, finding this hike is not easy.  There's a Google Maps pin dropped marking 'Hotshots Juniper Tree'.  We based our hike plan on the Google Maps pin location.  All was well at the start of the hike.  We followed Iron Springs Road out of town and turned right on Contreras  Rd.  This is a dirt road, and while washboardy, it doesn't have massive ruts.  Go up the road about one mile and there's a parking area on the right.  Trailheads branch from there.

So here we were, two roads diverged in the wilderness.  Some careful Google Earth plotting showed that Trail 620 would take us to the pin dropped for the juniper tree.  After nearly 4 miles hiked our GPS showed we were at the pin.  The trail makes a hairpin turn here and is bisected by a dry wash.  The tree is up the wash according to Google Maps.  In fact, there are plenty of big, old alligator junipers up this wash.  The hotshots memorial tree is not there.  I'm going to jump ahead of myself here.  I take no liability if you try this, but surely GPS coordinates 34.628723, -112.597122 are more accurate.  UPDATE 1/3/18 - someone has marked this with a pin denoting 'Hotshots Juniper Tree' in Google Maps. It wasn't me...

Exhausted but not defeated, we trekked back to the parking area.  The dentist's somewhat confusing directions began to make more sense after some careful surveying.  Word of advice:  listen to the dentist.  Besides Trail 620, Jeep Road 9261U also branches from this parking area.  Follow 9261U along an old fence and reach another parking area.  If you have a high-clearance vehicle you can actually use this parking area instead of the one along Contreras Rd.  Pro tip:  another Jeep road veers off immediately to your right.  Ignore it.  You'll need to climb the very steep hill directly in front of you.

At the top of the hill you'll reach a gate and a sign indicating the beginning of Upper Pasture Trail #38.  This trail lives up to its name with signs warning about cows.  Watch your steps, as cow evidence is everywhere.  Follow 38 to the junction with Trail 39 and bear left onto 39.  You'll know you're getting close when you see white quartz in the soil.  Descend through a creek bed (tree roots form a natural step here) and look for a cairin on the left.

That's all there is to finding the hotsthots memorial tree.  It's not a terribly long hike.  However, we weren't the only hikers fooled by Google Maps' erroneous pin drop.  Two other guys we ran into mentioned that they had done the same hike along 620 the previous day.  And these two were the only other hikers we saw.  It was nice to take in this ancient piece of history, and memorial to recent history, in relative solitude.

Finally as a sidenote, I will say that Trail 620 is an interesting hike unto itself. The well-groomed trail appears to be frequented by dirt bikers (it's too narrow for ATVs), and it leads you along some cool granite boulder formations.  The dirt is loose in places, so step carefully.

See just how close the Doce Fire came to obliterating this 1800 yr. piece of history.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Wolf Creek Falls

Weather:  71º, sunny

About this Hike:  The inspiration for this hike came shortly after visiting the Groom Creek area at the beginning of fall 2017.  Back then we hiked the entire Trail 384 loop, which was a much longer hike than the ~6 miles that maps indicated it would be (see old posts for more).  On that particular hike we went down to the Hassayampa River and sat on a granite waterfall.  Pools around the waterfall were full of clear water. 

After that hike I researched Groom Creek more and discovered Wolf Creek Falls.  This set of two falls is dry most of the time.  However, it comes to life during the winter when there's snowpack in the Bradshaws and at other times of year after heavy rain (i.e. Monsoon). 

Winter 2017 has ushered in dangerously dry conditions, so the falls were not flowing when we visited.  Regardless, they are impressive granite formations, almost like nature-made dams.  The first set is smaller, while the second set of falls is larger.  A resilient alligator juniper—much of its root system exposed—stands atop the larger set of falls.

We made getting to the falls a lot more difficult than it should have been.  We parked at the main Groom Creek trailhead, crossed the street, and started on Trail 383 to the 384 loop.  This trail network is like spaghetti strands with ATV roads bisecting—and often running along—the hiking trails.  It starts at an equestrian camp, so step carefully... Bonus tip:  If you go into the horse camp there's usually brochure maps available at the bulletin boards.  It's one of the better (albeit not perfect) maps of the entire Groom Creek network of trails.

Anyway, I'm going to give you the easiest way to get to Wolf Creek Falls:  Use County Road 101 (also called Wolf Creek Road; see map).  It's a fairly well maintained-dirt road.  Follow the road past Wolf Creek Campground.  Don't be like us and go into the campground (closed for the winter) thinking the falls were somewhere around there.  Pick up Trail 384 which runs parallel with FR-9406C) down toward the falls.  Side trails run parallel to both the upper (smaller) and lower falls.  The bank can be steep and getting down into the creek bed requires an abundance of caution.  Prescottonians frequent this area, and if the falls are flowing, chances are you won't have a problem finding the trailhead.  I have read that parking on C.R. 101 becomes an issue during times of high flow. 

I am glad we discovered the right location of Wolf Creek Falls. I'm also glad we realized that half the fun is a longer hike to get there.  Perhaps one day when these falls are flowing we'll get to enjoy them while parking away from the busy trailhead...

Looking down from atop Wolf Creek Falls.  Approximately a 90 foot drop.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Camelback Santa & Tree 2017

Weather: 74º, clouds & sun, gusty winds

Time:  31 minutes

About this Hike:  It's Camelback Santa season!  Hikers have defied City of Phoenix Parks & Rec's 'suggestion' that a Christmas tree not be placed atop Camelback Mountain.  Since early last week the evergreen has adorned the summit, although this year there's no special use permit issued by the city.  And to think, prior to last year, this tradition went on without the city interferring at all...

Anyway, before this post becomes political I'll digress.  I knew parking would be a beast this weekend, hence why I waited for Sunday.  I expected with the Cards playing at home and multiple other NFL games on this may serve to clear out the parking lot.  No such luck.

When I arrived the gate wasn't down.  Hikers in vehicles were circling like vultures.  Whenever a parking space appeared they rushed toward it turn signal aflash (the official way to stake your claim on a not-yet-occupied parking space). 

This just stresses me out.  So I went to my 'secret spot.'  A year ago I had to pretend I was interested in getting literature on the secret spot's spa in order to get my parking validated.  This year the massive gates have gone missing from their parking garage.  While I feel very uneasy doing this, I was able to park deep in the basement of the garage.  All's well that ends well.

I honestly was surprised I posted 31 minutes to the top.  There were a lot of other hikers on the trail and some bottlenecks. 

After hanging the ornament I made (with earthy, biodegradable materials of course) I took a few pictures and began my descent.  A fellow hiker commented on what 'good lines' I take noting that I appeared to be experienced on Echo might say that.  We chatted for most of the trip down.  He was from out of town, and I fully expected him to say he's from my hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He was actually a Californian visiting Phoenix, but his wife's from Buffalo.  I've said it many times before: There's always a Buffalo connection...

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sunny at Piestewa

Weather: 74º, clouds giving way to sunny

Time:  26.5 minutes

About this Hike:  This day started out gorgeously overcast. We live in the Valley of the Sun for a reason. However, a change of scenery is nice.  I've enjoyed this week's clouds, even if we aren't going to get cooler temperatures this winter.  A cool down is always in the forecast, but it keeps getting pushed back another day, every day.  I'll believe it when I see it at this point.

I used the alternate summit trail ascending and descending today.  Shortly after beginning my hike the sun started to pierce through.  There was some humidity in the air.  It actually left me feeling a little fatigued for some reason.  Regardless, I reached the summit in an average amount of time.  It was nice being able to get to the summit again.  Last week's bottlenecks were more than I could take and I usually turned back just before the final push to the top. 

By the time I was descending the sun was in full force and I deeply regretted not bringing a hat with me.  Thankfully I don't think I've burned my scalp (my head is freshly buzzed). 

Overall, a routine, enjoyable Piestewa workout.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Piestewa Alternate Ascent

Weather: 69º, sunny

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  Another day, same weather, same hike...

Today I tried going up the alternate summit trail now that I'm confident in where it starts and ends.  I'm convinced this trail shaves quite a bit of distance off versus starting at the main trailhead. The difference is that the alternate seems steeper, so elevation gains happen quicker.

Regardless, I posted a 27 minute time to the summit today.  That was with a handicap, albeit not a generous one.  Maybe I was closer to my usual 26 minutes—I had to make a lot of stops for bottlenecks in the trail.  However, there were periods where I sprinted along like a mountain goat. 

I didn't quite touch the summit again today because the congestion at that narrow final push was just too much.  The summit is beautiful, but also something I've seen many times before.

On the descent I used the alternate trail again.  I think I'm really going to like the alternate trail...