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?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Los Burros Trail - Pinetop

Weather:  82º, sunny

About this Hike:  I had difficulty finding the details I wanted about Los Burros online, so I'm going to try to share them here. Hopefully this helps another aspiring Los Burros explorer.

Los Burros is an easy drive from downtown Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ.  It does require about seven miles over a dirt road. Websites say it's a gravel road which to me means hard packed gravel and oil.  Oh no...this road is dirt.  It is well-maintained, graded dirt.  I didn't encounter any major potholes or washboard sections.  However, it's dirt and your car will get filthy.  I was driving in my brand new Mazda CX-3 and was not happy. But, give the road plenty of respect, especially if you're in a car, and you'll be OK.

The Los Burros trailhead originates from a campground with the same name.  It's a peaceful respite in the woods with some preserved historical U.S. Forest Service structures onsite.  The higher elevation lends to cooler temperatures.

The trail forms a giant loop said to be ~10 miles.  I chose to hike up to the fire lookout tower which was probably around eight miles round trip.  Numbered markers dot the trees along the trail and maps are available at the trailhead.  While fairly well-signed, staying on course does get tricky in places.

Hiking up to the fire tower takes you through green, flower-filled meadows; ponderosa pine forest; and even some stands of aspen.  When I reached the summit of Lake Mountain and the fire tower, a ranger was manning it and invited me up.

He was a very interesting older gentleman who had spent many a summer in what I learned is called the Lake Mountain Lookout.  This particular ranger had gone back to school for graphic design.  His artwork and photography decorates the 7x7 interior of the tower ('the cab' as they call it).  Upon my departure, he let me pick a postcard he had designed with artwork depicting Lake Mountain Lookout. Such an amazing souvenir of this hike.

Lake Mountain wasn't my first Arizona fire tower hike, and I hope it's not my last.  These towers require me to force one foot in front of the other.  With metal mesh staircases and a ladder for the final six-foot climb, these do no favors for my fear of heights.  However, the experience you have visiting these historic U.S. Forest Service structures makes the discomfort more than worth it.

So what is Lake Mountain anyway?  Well it turns out just below the fire tower there's a large, open meadow.  This has been known to fill during heavy rains, hence the name Lake Mountain Lake.  It was a marshy grassland during my visit in early June.  I noted some bones—possibly elk—strewn about the meadow.

Overall, an awesome hike worth the hassle of getting to in the White Mountains.



Lake Mountain Lake

My poor new car!



Friday, May 26, 2017

Tour Guide on Echo...

Weather:  92º, sunny

About this Hike:  I was with some good company and chose not to do a time trial.  With warm-ish temps (although very nice for late May), I didn't want any of my visitors to croak from heat exhaustion.  No Cholla trail here though—my visitors are required to do Echo Canyon :)

The trail wasn't too crowded this Friday morning.  We saw some wildlife including several big orange lizards and a unique bird.  Maybe a roadrunner?


Routine and enjoyable late-spring hike before the real heat sets in.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Back to Piestewa

Weather:  84º, sunny

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  Warmer weather may have skimmed off the weakest of Saturday hikers... While crowded, I've seen much worse at Piestewa.

Despite the heat I still posted a reputable time.  At the summit there were large wasps (possibly male velvet ants?) that seemed to like buzzing around me.  Concerned for my safety, I descended from the summit after only a short stay.

Overall a nice, uneventful hike as we quickly say goodbye to tolerable temps in The Valley.