Monday, October 16, 2017

Water, Water Everywhere – Wet Beaver Creek

Weather: 85º, sunny

About this Hike:  It's too hot for October! So a hike to a swimming hole seemed like a good idea. 

After a week in Sedona, driving south on 179 back to I-17, the landscape quickly changes from beautiful Red Rock Country to high-desert wasteland–a reminder I'm heading back to Phoenix.  Today's the first day of my vacation in Sedona, and going down 179 S is a dismal reminder that my vacation will end in a few days.  However, the Bell Trail lies just southeast of I-17.  It's decent paved Forest Service Road the whole way there.  Needless to say I wasn't expecting much from this area.  Was I ever wrong.  This hike on relatively flat, graded trail runs parallel to the lush riparian environment around Wet Beaver Creek.  Even though we've been in a post-monsoon dry/hot spell, the waters of this creek were flowing strong. 

It was my goal to reach the Wet Beaver Crack Swimming Hole (awful name, I know).  After over an hour hike and some side-trail detours down to the creek, we came to a junction.  Go left to stay on Bell Trail.  Go right to take the Weir Trail.  There's a map posted at the junction, and it looked to me like Weir crossed the creek.  We reached a shaded oasis area with red rock cliffs and even a small waterfall.  There's a USGS monitoring station there, and the small dam creates a bit of a luge.  I sat on the smooth red sandstone and dipped my hot feet in the icy water.  I thought that maybe this was the Beaver Crack Swimming Hole, but my instincts told me it was not. 

Upon returning to the junction, I studied the map more carefully.  It did in fact appear Bell Trail crossed the creek up ahead.  Another hiker came by and I confirmed with him that Beaver Crack was still ahead.  At this point the trail does require a semi-steep climb high above the creek.  It eventually drops down to the swimming hole.  The red rock cliffs and black edges of the Mogollon Rim grew more and more stunning.

Once at the swimming hole I realized why 'crack' is in the name.  There is a fissure in the red sandstone-encompassed pool that is almost Lake Powell-esque.  There were other hikers sunbathing and enjoying the swimming hole.  I regretted not having a swimsuit on.

An even deeper regret?  I slightly underestimated the mileage and time on this hike.  With all the side detours, this took approximately 2.5 hours to hike in.  Water was running low for both myself and my hiking mate.  As a seasoned hiker this failure of planning hurt my pride, but I asked some generous hikers if they could spare a bottle of water.  They kindly obliged.  I was humbled.

The hike back out to the trailhead parking lot took just over an hour.  Next time, I'm planning to bring a lot more water.  And my swimsuit so I can get in the water.

Beaver Crack

Quiet oasis near the USGS site on Weir Trail

Like Fossil Creek....

Saturday, October 14, 2017

(Not) a Twisted Ankle at Camelback

Weather: 78º, sunny

Time: 30 minutes

About this Hike:  Echo Canyon parking was full this morning.  I got into the lot, circled, and decided to leave.  As I headed out the park rangers had just closed the gate.  I was headed to Piestewa.  But first, I thought to check my secret spot.  Last time, they had put gates up at this secret parking garage.  Today the gates weren't just open...they were gone!  Nervously, I parked at my secret spot and made the 10-minute trek back to the trailhead.  Plenty of parking spots were now open.  Seems it always goes this way....

I seriously question the time I posted this morning.  My S-Health app that I use for tracking workouts was acting up.  One of the settings flipped itself and the phone was talking to me all through my hike.  "Workout paused," followed by, "Workout resumed" accompanied me all the way up the mountain.  I know I had turned this setting off once before... It's embarassing when you're on the trail and your phone starts to speak.  I wanted to pitch my ancient Galaxy S5 off the mountain a few times (insurance claim and a new phone!?).

So anyway, when I reached the summit my phone actually said 29 minutes and change.  I don't believe it.  Usually I round down for a handicap (slow hikers, bottlenecks, etc.).  This time I rounded up.  If nothing else, I'm an honorary 30 & Under Club member....

Tomorrow I'm supposed to leave for my annual fall trip to Sedona.  The year 2017 has been fraught with challenges, sickness, injury, and disappointment—Both in my life and on a national scale (just watch the news:  shootings, mass fires, hurricanes).  So my vacation is already in jeopardy due to some difficult people who were supposed to accompany me.  And I thought to myself this morning, "If ever there's a day where I could get injured doing a big hike like C-Back, today's it..." 

I grazed the knobby bone on my right ankle against a rock.  Literally a light graze.  But it tore the thin skin in that area and cause some minor swelling.  Guys are huge wimps when it comes to injury/illness, and I'm far from an exception to this.  I'm walking on it fine, and the pain is intermittent now.  Hopefully this is just a scrape and I'll be posting on here about numerous Sedona hikes that I have planned for next week....

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Camelback Echo Canyon

Weather: 90º, sunny

Time: 32 minutes

About this Hike:  I'm pleased with 32 minutes to the summit considering I haven't hiked Camelback in a while. It was hot today, too. The parking lot had plenty of spaces open, but the mountain was still very crowded. It was one of those days where I kept encountering rude hikers and/or getting in other hiker's way it seemed. I didn't remain long at the summit due to one of those rude hikers hacking up a lung all over everyone.

During my brief stint on the summit I did meet a friendly hiker and we talked in general about the Echo Trail, time up it, etc.  On the way down I encountered another friendly hiker that saw my tattered, faded old hiking hat with the Diamondbacks logo on it. He wanted to talk all things baseball considering the D-Back's recent playoff successes and failures. After nodding and agreeing, I wished him well and went on my way...I guess I should reconsider wearing that hat since I don't really follow baseball (or any pro sport for that matter).

Regardless, it was a pleasant late-morning/early-afternoon hike today. Looking forward to more of these as the weather cools down.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hassayampa River via Wolf Creek

Weather: 79º, sunny, breezy

About this Hike:  On the last visit to Prescott earlier in September, we visited ever-popular Groom Creek again.  We did a different part of the main loop, this time not going up to the fire lookout.  It was utterly boring.  But the trailhead sign intrigued me.  Another trail in the area appeared to lead down to the Hassayampa River.  In the interim month, I did more research...

What I discovered is Wolf Creek Trail #384.  It's a loop trail that begins across the street from the main Groom Creek parking area.  You actually use Trail #383 to access #384.  Both are loops and the entire hike can be thought of as a rough figure-8 loop.  Pro tip:  Trail #383 intersects the driveway to the equestrian campground right across the street.  Don't be like me and walk all over the campground looking for a trailhead...

One other pro tip:  grab one of the brochure maps from the trailhead.  The box was actually empty at the main Groom Creek parking area, but the boxes were stocked in the campground.  I guess my wandering did have a bit of a silver lining...  The brochure map is much better than the big one posted at the main trailhead.

From the map's scale Loop #384 looks to be just a few miles.  Some reports say 6 miles.  I'm saying 8-9 miles.  It's a bit tricky to stay on this trail as a number of 4x4 roads traverse it, and in many spots the roads and trail run together.  The trail signage is good though, and it goes without saying to watch for 4x4 traffic.

The whole reason I wanted to do this hike was to see the Hassayampa River.  Pro tip:  hike #383 clockwise from the campground.  You'll get to the river MUCH faster...unless you want to do the entire loop.  The section of river we found had beautiful granite formations.  The river wasn't flowing, but water was pooled abundantly.  The pools were remarkably clear and deep.  Sitting on the granite made a great picnic spot.  I imagine these same granite formations are waterfalls when the Hassayampa has flow. 

In addition to the Hassayampa, you can use this trail access Wolf Creek Falls. This is a seasonal waterfall that's said to be quite impressive.  In the middle of Loop #384 is the Wolf Creek campground, and the falls are located in that area.  We didn't hike in there, but maybe a future hike in early spring when the falls are roaring?   I feel like what we saw along the Hassayampa was a mini-Wolf Creek Falls, and it did not disappoint.

One final thought...according to the trail signage there's something a couple miles out from this trail called Payoff Spring.  I couldn't find any information online.  Anyone know what this is?

Blue butterflies everywhere!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mingus Mountain

Weather: 75º, sunny, breezy

About this Hike:  Earlier in September I blogged about my experiences in the Mt. Union Fire Lookout.  While the U.S. Forest Service Ranger in the tower rambled about his libertarian views (I mentioned he was quiet a character), I heard 'Mingus Mountain reporting' crackle over the two-way radio.  'What's Mingus Mountain?' I wondered.  Upon returning home I did some research.  Another Prescott trip was inspired.

Mingus lies between Prescott Valley and Jerome.  It's an easy drive up from Phoenix on paved, two-lane highway nearly the entire trip.  As you approach Mingus you traverse some ugly golden grassland that I can imagine one careless cigarette-butt-out-the-car-window may set ablaze.  As you wind your way up the Mingus Mountain Scenic Byway grassland rapidly gives way to ponderosa pine forest.  And on a side note, the mountain passes were a blast, pushing the handling prowress of my recently acquired Mazda CX-3.  But I'll digress...this blog is for reviewing my hikes, not cars.

Mingus Mountain is a well-defined recreation area.  At the base is what's known as the picnic area,  with a vast paved surface lot, two picnic tables, and a latrine... A well-graded dirt and gravel road leads to the top of Mingus.  We opted to park on pavement and hike up the road.  Note if you choose to do this:  bring a bandana to cover your nose and mouth with.  The road can be dusty whenever a vehicle passes by, so use caution. 

While driving to the top is an option, you'll miss some beautiful scenery doing so.  There was ridge of firey fall color (and pretty much the only fall color we got on this hike).  You pass through several meadows and then by Mingus Lake (basically a fishing pond).  At Mingus Lake there was a meadow full of cattle grazing.  Only they were bulls.  And there was no fence/pen.  I nervously walked to the other side of the road.  Up the embankment was a wire (not razor nor electric) fence.  I seriously considered getting on the other side.  How is it legal to allow bulls to graze without a pen?! Regardless, there were people fishing in the lake, including some children that were running around.  The bulls seemed far more interested in the grassy meadow...

We reached the Mingus Fire Lookout only to discover it was closed for the season.  I've been up enough of these now that it wasn't a total crusher that this was closed.  Mingus is a very tall, narrow fire tower with a ladder up to the hatch.  My fear of heights would've kept me in check.

There are a number of side trails to explore from the Mingus Summit.  There's also a scenic vista and hang glider launch ramp.  The vista affords fantastic views of Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff.  Cathedral Rock and a few other Sedona landmarks are visible to the naked eye.  It's time for me to get new binoculars.

A few additional things about this hike:

  • Parking at the summit is $5. It's free at the base
  • With radio warning signs everywhere, plenty of communications towers greet you at the summit.  I had great cell service, although it was spotty on the side trails
  • Maps on U.S. Forest Service's website are OK, but I noted a few confusing points

Free-range bulls...literally

Sedona in the distance

Saturday, September 23, 2017

End of the World at Piestewa

Weather: 80º, sunny, breezy

Time:  27 minutes

About this Hike:  Enroute to Piestewa I passed the Circle K at E. McDowell & 24th St.  The sign read $4.44 for regular unleaded.  What happened that gas nearly doubled overnight!?  Did conflict with N. Korea escalate?  Did another hurricane or earthquake severe vital pipelines?

I hadn't watched the morning news or checked Facebook prior to leaving for my hike. Was I out of the loop on some major occurrence?  We live in scary times, after all.

The main road to Piestewa is tore up with construction, but parking was abundant at the trailhead upon my 11 AM arrival.  I whipped out my phone and tried to get news feeds.  My phone wasn't connecting to a Verizon tower.  Instead I received a 'No Service' warning. 'Great...whatever happened last night severed telecommunications too,' I thought.  

So I began my hike.  I used the Samsung Fitness app to record my time to the top, as I always do.  It argued and protested since there wasn't a reliable cellular/data connection, but it still allowed me to record my time—a run-of-the-mill 27 minutes.

The empty parking lot did not betray how crowded the summit was today.  Up at ~2600 feet, my ancient Galaxy S5 had regained service.  I checked news feeds.  I checked Google for current gas prices.  All seemed stable.  While some were predicting the world was going to end today, it apparently hadn't.  My nerves were beginning to calm down.

As I headed back to the trailhead, everyone else at the summit decided to depart at the same time.  It made for a difficult bottleneck getting down.  One ascending hiker comment, 'Was there a fire drill at the top?'  Eventually I broke free of the crowd.  I reset my fitness tracker app not because I'm trying to break any records in the descent, but simply so it records my activity and calorie burn more accurately.  It said I descended in 27 minutes...surprising since this descent usually takes me closer to 40 minutes.  I don't run like some people...I've seen too much fresh blood on our Phoenix Mountains.

So the world didn't end today. I enjoyed cooler fall temps (finally!) and easy parking.  Gas at the Chevron near Piestewa was $2.49.  I can only think Circle K had a glitch or error in their sign...

Cheers to another day and another hike!

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.