Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hot Camelback

Weather:  95º, very sunny

Time:  32 minutes

About this Hike:  According to my records the last time I visited Camelback Echo Canyon was Presidents Day.  As in, back in February. 

My phone record 34 minutes and 44 seconds today.  I am giving myself a handicap on the time due to a number of necessary quick hydration stops.

Admittedly my in-city mountain hikes of choice (Piestewa and Camelback) haven't been my highest Saturday priority anymore.  I have a little bit of PTSD from the nearly shattered knee at Piestewa May 6, 2016.  But I walked away from that fall relatively OK. 

Much as I love a good hike, the thought of falling, getting injured, and not hiking again haunts me.  Even after I meet my crappy insurance's high deductible, would an injury bankrupt me?  These thoughts race through my mind and suddenly a hike doesn't sound so appealing anymore.  Yeah, I've dealt with these feelings a lot lately.

But today I had a great opportunity to visit Camelback.  Summertime heat drives away the crowds by mid-morning.  I had it in my head that with The Valley's ever-growing population it was going to be crowded today.  I drove my old gas-guzzling Xterra up there, ready to snatch any available parking space (I'm very particular where my Mazda gets parked).  Good parking spots were abundant, and had I driven the Mazda I would've used about the half the gas.  Oh's only five miles each way. 

So about this hike....Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Echo Canyon again.  Honestly, the heat is a small price to pay for easy parking, less crowded trails, and a certain degree of solitude.  There was one regular hiker in front of me who said it was his sixth time up the mountain today.  I consider myself to be in decent shape, but after one summit and down at Camelback I feel like I accomplished a work and a half for the day.  This older dude put me to shame. 

Humming birds were abundant, and I nearly used a chuckwalla's crevice as a handhold.  Thankfully I saw him in time, or he might not have been too happy with me.  That was all the wildlife I saw today. 

Despite some haze over the East Valley and McDowell Mountains to the north, the rest of the Central Phoenix was pretty clear today.

All in all an enjoyable, hot summertime hike. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cathedral Rock & Little Falls – Mt. Charleston Nevada

Weather:  77º, sunny

About this Hike:  After spending the night at Mt. Charleston Resort, it was time for another day of exploring the abundance of trails in the area.  Cathedral Rock (not to be confused with the Sedona landmark I’ve hiked multiple times) is a striking granite escarpment in the Spring Mountains near Charleston Peak.

We parked at a large, paved lot and picked up the well-signed trail from there.  Before reaching Cathedral Rock a side excursion to Little Falls proved to be another waterfall bonus.  These falls were flowing at a trickle with ice-cold water from above.  Climbing up to one of the falls revealed a hand/foot hold with a perfect fossil shell entombed in the granite.

Getting higher toward Cathedral Rock the trail splits off.  A signpost indicates the junction, but the actual sign is missing.  At this point rooftops of the town below dot the landscape.  Cell reception is strong, and these trails are plotted on Google Maps.  We chose the left fork which led to some awesome views of the town.  Eventually it dead-ended and Google Maps said we were at Little Falls, which made no sense as we had visited the falls a ways back while we were still climbing.  There is a deep, narrow canyon wash below and a large sewer cap at the end of this trail.

We doubled back to the junction and went right.  A little more hill climbing and we were atop Cathedral Rock.  Majestic views of the surrounding Spring Mountains and the town below greeted us. 

While time only permitted two good hikes in Mt. Charleston, we plan to head back. There are so many more trails to explore in this desert oasis.

Cathedral Rock

Shell fossil

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mary Jane Falls – Mt. Charleston Nevada

Weather:  76º, sunny

About this Hike:  Far as I know, this trail’s name has nothing to do with Nevada’s recent legalization of recreational cannabis.  Regardless, it’s amazing this sanctuary exists in the hills just northwest of Las Vegas.  An easy, and relatively short, drive from casinos and parched desert leads you into old-growth forest with towering evergreens and majestic granite cliffs.

Hiking trails abound up here, with well-signed and groomed trailheads branching from all over the main highway.

While Arizona has been in unprecedented drought since the conclusion of 2017’s lackluster monsoon, Nevada has enjoyed considerably more rain.  And of course, the sky island of Mt. Charleston gets considerably more rain than the Vegas valley below.

A steep hike over graded switchback trails eventually gives way to Mary Jane Falls.  Speaking of all the rain, these falls were flowing which was a nice bonus.  The flow wasn’t incredible, but I’d say it was above a trickle.  Likely fed by fast-melting snowfields in the highest reaches near Charleston Peak, I’m not sure how much longer till these falls go dry.  The water was clean and cold, and it fed a rich carpet of wildflowers and grasses in the wash below.

During this out-and-back hike we also enjoyed many old growth trees including Rocky Mountain douglas fir and aspen. There wasn’t much wildlife to speak of, but this is a fairly busy trail.  I can just imagine the crowds beating Vegas heat up here on a summer weekend.

Aspen and pine forest

Flowing falls

Saturday, May 26, 2018

West Spruce Trail 264 - Prescott National Forest

Weather:  73º, dry, sunny, windy

About this Hike:  This is not to be confused with Spruce Mountain near the Groom Creek area of Prescott.  Spruce Mountain Lookout was the first hike I ever did in Prescott National Forest.  But trail 264 is actually two separate trails.  One branches off near town from Thumbe Butte Rd. and the other begins on Doce Mine Rd. just off of Iron Springs Rd. 

We opted for the latter trailhead.  Doce Mine Rd. isn't hard to find—and if you keep your eyes open for it—a sunburned sign indicates Trail 264 turnoff is ahead while you're still on Iron Springs Rd.  You can try these GPS coordinates for the trailhead (I take no responsibility but these coordinates worked for me:  34°34'12.4"N 112°37'22.4"W).  Also note that Google Maps incorrectly spells it 'Dosie.'

The road to the trailhead is bumpy but in OK condition.  My Xterra handled it well.  A Subaru Crosstrek was also eating up this road.  From the turnoff, it's 2.7 miles down Doce to the parking area.  There's a large campfire ring and turnoff on the right, and this is where I'd suggest parking.  I chose to park a little further up on an area of fine black, lava-like rock. 

Trail #264 starts toward the south and is noted by a brown sign.  The trail goes through transitional areas of high-desert scrub, gamble oak, and some pine.  These pines were mistaken for spruce—hence the trail's namesake. 

Shortly into the trail, you'll come to a dry creekbed.  Lined with grey-blue rocks, and towering cottonwoods, this is a great spot to stop and enjoy the scenery.  Look carefully upstream for a granite formation with a perfect cross in it. 

As you leave the creekbed watch for a few cairns, as the trail can be hard to follow.  From here it's a steady ascent into the Sierra Prieta mountains.  I would suggest pants, as there is some bushwhacking, although mercifully it's not long until you're on well-blazed trail again. 

My hope for this hike was to be among ponderosa forest.  As the summit comes into view, deep green veins in the rock indicate pines ahead.  Trail 264 merges with a well-signed old Jeep road.  Follow the road into the forest.  Beyond this, I'm not certain how much further the trail goes.  We were reaching out mandated turnaround time.  We walked through the forest for a bit, and it eventually gave way to clearing again.  Admittedly, this hike seemed a bit disappointing.

However, as we descended along 264, the late-afternoon light brought out more granite formations and old pine trees.  Skull Valley was in clear view.  The bushwhacking didn't seem as bad.  Somehow I managed to find more zen and enjoyment on the downslope side of this trail.  But the workout climbing up was worth it too.  Someday I might go back and try the other end of 264 and see if it puts me into more ponderosa forest.

As an epilogue to this post:  If you want to hydrate and add in some calories, I might  suggest checking out Barnstar Brewing in this area.  Beer tasting at this cool, family-run brewery might have been the highlight of my day.

Ponderosa forest ahead!

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.