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 Canyon...you 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...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Alternate Piestewa Hike & Thanks-Guilt

Weather: 69º, sunny

Time:  26.5 minutes

About this Hike:  Admittedly I expected big crowds at Piestewa today as people hike off their Thanks-guilt.  There were plenty of out-of-towners and I overheard conversations such as, "I can't wait to get back to the hotel hot tub!"  The crowds ebbed and flowed, with bottlenecks alternating with empty trail. 

Reaching the summit became another issue as the backup was significant.  I decided to turn around without quite reaching the summit rather than fight the crowd. 

On the descent I noted the trail marker for the alternate summit trail.  Alternate is a spur that splits from the main trail and goes down the north/west slope of the mountain. I've looked for this on past hikes but had looked in the wrong area.  The alternate trail was a lot less crowded and heavily shaded early in the morning.  It was quiet and wonderful.  However, there are a lot of large, loose rocks and it's definitely steeper, so an abundance of caution is needed.  The alternate trail deposits you right on Squaw Peak Drive near the residential areas that I like to park in, so that was also a plus. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Phoenix Summit Challenge - Crowding Piestewa

Weather: 79º, sunny

Time:  25.5 minutes

About this Hike:  Due to the on-going construction, I parked in the usual residential neighborhood outside the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  Upon arriving at the trailhead, there were signs advising that today is Phoenix Summit Challenge and apologizing for crowds—and of course—any inconvenience.

Hikers everywhere we wearing PSC t-shirts.  The gist of this event is to hit a set number of major summits around Phoenix within a limited time frame.  I guess Phoenix needs to compete with Tempe's ongoing Ironman this weekend...

Due to the PSC crowd, my feet never touched the summit. I got to the final 'staircase' and the bottleneck was so severe I just paused, enjoyed the views, and headed back down.

PSC hikers seemed a little amateur-ish/out of their element.  Some were a bit entitled and didn't observe the best trail etiquette—I imagine because they consider today their event.  A Phoenix PD chopper began to hover at one point.  "Return to the trail; you will fall!," boomed the voice over the loud speaker.  It was quite amusing.  I'm guessing some PSC hikers either got lost or felt the need to blaze a new trail.

Regardless, I enjoyed a nice hike overall. I wish we had the same heavy cloud cover of yesterday, but today was brilliant sunshine. It was warm, but not overly so.  Just like those off-kilter summers where highs seldom reached 70º when I was growing up in the northeast, so is this winter to Phoenix.  I'm fearful it's going to be warm all winter with little relief from the heat.  Here's hoping I'm wrong and this will be a winter filled with low-desert Arizona hikes.

 


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fall-Like on Piestewa

Weather: 76º, overcast, breezy, spotty showers

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  It only has taken until November to finally see some fall-like weather in Phoenix.  I don't recall rain being in the forecast, but for a brief time on my drive up to Piestewa it was coming down pretty good.  By the time I reached the trailhead everything was dry.

The views were spectacular today.... The clouds cast shadows and made for a unique lighting effect on the mountains and buildings around the Valley.  Rain shafts could be seen coming from the surrounding clouds. 

As I was descending, showers set in.  They didn't last long, but it was cool and refreshing.  While I'd love a good downpour, I'd rather NOT be on a trail when it occurs.  Those rocks become awful slick making an already tricky hike even more dangerous. 

Four Peaks framed by rain shafts

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Much Nicer Piestewa Hike

Weather: 82º, sunny

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  What an improvement over last Saturday!  A little haze on the mountains around Phoenix is not unusual.  From Uptown to Downtown and beyond, the Valley was clearly visible today. I also left my mask (respiratory, not to be confused with Halloween) home today.

Despite a full parking lot there were gaps on the trail where I was mostly alone. It was wonderful and all the things a hike should be—relaxation, challenging yourself, getting alone with your thoughts for a while.

The parking area is getting increasingly gross due to construction.  A sign with the world 'Dust' slashed out is posted on the main road.  The roadways themselves (or what's left of them) are covered in slurry mud which I can only think is being pumped in to honor that 'No Dust' sign.  The main lots are open, but I avoid driving my car thru this disgusting mess and just favor the residential streets outside the preserve.

Otherwise a great hike and big improvement over last Saturday. Now if we could only get those temps down a bit lower...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Masked Hike - Piestewa

Weather: 78º, sunny, high pollution

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  I'm not sure how I did this in 26 minutes.  I planned on giving myself a handicap of at least two minutes once I stopped the timer at the summit.

In just over six years in the Phoenix area, I've never seen air quality like today.  The local news says a dust storm from California blew into our area and lingered for two days.  Unlike the massive haboob dust walls we see in Monsoon Season, this was just two days of fine grit creating haze in the atmosphere around The Valley.  From Piestewa's summit the skyscrapers of uptown Phoenix barely pierced the haze.  Views of downtown, much less Sky Harbor Airport, were a loss.

Today is my first day home after nearly a week hiking in the Arizona High Country.  I should be unpacking and doing other after-vacation tasks.  But a cool front had blown in, and I selfishly wanted to take advantage of the temps. 

I donned a respiratory mask and made the hike up Piestewa.  Other hikers shot curious and judgmental stares.  This made water breaks a challenge, hence why I planned to give myself a generous a handicap.  When I arrived near the summit and stopped the S Health timer, I couldn't believe I was only at 26 minutes.  Imagine if this had been a normal day and my nose and mouth weren't covered...

I never actually touched the summit but stopped at the final push where you have to scramble a bit onto the summit.  I was done with this hike—Disgusted by air quality.  Disgusted with the fact I had bruised my forearm on a rock facing.  Disgusted with a mom who was carrying her coughing child while he spewed germs all over other hikers (or was sickened by the air). 

Upon descent, I met a friendly guy from Oregon.  He saw my mask, but he totally got it....  We talked about the poor air quality, and how this bad of air isn't normal, even for Phoenix.   

This is one hike I regret going on.  Upon return to my car, I was grateful to have survived this dusty, smoggy Saturday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kachina Trail & Flagstaff Fall Color

Weather: 70º, sunny

About this Hike:  This hike was partially inspired by a segment I saw on 3TV in Phoenix.  Their drone crew had caught some majestic photos of the amber and yellow aspen tree tops around Flagstaff as the area approaches fall-color peak.

Being as I'm traveling with a drone operator, I thought a fall foliage day in Flag might be the perfect day trip from our base in Sedona.

Kachina Trail is accessed via Arizona Snow Bowl.  From US-180 it's a fun drive up the ~7 mile winding mountain pass. The large parking area is well-signed pointing hikers to both Kachina and Humphrey's trailheads.  Of course in the winter this is AZ skier's heaven.

As we approached Snow Bowl, I became nervous like a skier in January staring at bare ground. Stands of aspen stood bare, as if a fall wind storm had stripped their foliage.  Throughout the hike this was the theme:  Bare stands of aspen alternated with rich yellow (and occasional red) beauties.  In the end I was satisfied, having gotten the fill of fall color I drove so far to enjoy.

Kachina Trail takes hikers through thick spruce and aspen forest, opening into meadows occasionally.  Old volcanic boulders shroud the landscape.  There are some side trails that can easily throw you off.  We discovered this the hard way after enjoying phenomenal views from atop some dark granite cliffs.  No big deal though, and soon we were back on the correct path.

Per the trailhead map, Kachina eventually intersects with Weatherford Trail. It appeared this would give us good views of the just-under 12K Fremont Peak.  I suspect at some point we joined Weatherford, because we hiked much farther than Kachina's stated 2.5-mile distance. We did see a lot of Fremont Peak, whose peak is distinctly above timberline.  Signage along these trails is not the best, surprising for heavily hiked U.S. Forest Service pathways.

Warm temps began to give way to high-country coolness as the sun was sinking low.  We decided to turn back.  As often is the case, the hike out was a lot shorter than the hike in.  A drive down a mountain pass, and it was on to Flagstaff for some much-deserved after-hike brews.



A meadow of aspens


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.




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?

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.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Quick Piestewa Visit

Weather:  68º, heavy clouds, windy

Time:  24 minutes

About this Hike:  Cloudy skies, breezy conditions, and a not-too-hot air temp all spurred me to the summit quicker than my most recent hikes. Although the mountain was crowded, I managed to find moments of respite from the crowds.

Overall a quick, routine hike on a beautiful late winter day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Presidental Piestewa

Weather:  62º, sunny

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  This has been a rainy, cool weekend.  The past few years February's arrival has brought with it highs in the 90's. The fact our short Phoenix winter is hanging on in 2017 is nothing I'll complain about.

Despite some lingering clouds, this morning the sun was shining through. Lower temps were all but cancelled out by the notable higher humidity.  I believe this is the reason for a 26 minute time to the summit.

This is the first year I've had President's Day as a paid company holiday—as did the rest of the Valley, it seems.  The crowding on the mountain was bad at times today.. On the ascent there were periods of peace and respite. However, on the descent I couldn't get into a good cadence. I had other hikers constantly nipping at my heels, while less experienced hikers on their way up would stop and block the trail in front of me.  Needless to say, I was grouchy by the time this one was finished.

BUT, I had to put on a happy face... Walking back to my car I ran into one of my neighbors who happened to be searching for a parking spot to do her own hike.  She graciously drove me back to the residential area where I was parked.  I suggested she park there as well, considering the number of cars circling the main lots....

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Open House at Piestewa

Weather:  68º, partly cloudy

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  Not a bad time posted considering the mountain was very crowded.  Pretty typical for a Saturday morning in February.  This was a rough week filled with mass layoffs at work (I'm spared, for now) and some other unsettling job-related news.  To say I had some anger and frustration spurring me on would be an understatement...

Otherwise the hike was very uneventful.  A bottleneck always forms right as the trail gives way to the summit.  This is due to some light scrambling that's required onto the summit.  Rather than fight through this, I chose to just pivot and head back down.  

After the hike I returned to my car which was parked on one of the surrounding residential streets.  I've had my eye on a home that for sale in that neighborhood.  Imagine city views and hike-out access to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  While the $619k asking price may be just a bit out of my price range (by about half-a-million—plus I may be out of a job soon), I noticed an 'Open House' sign.  Right after the hike I was far from presentable compared to the suit-and-tie clad Realtor, but I invited myself in.  So anyway, peeping at an open house, and daring to dream, were definitely the highlights of this hike.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Supra Piestewa Hike

Weather:  71º, sunny

Time:  25 minutes

About this Hike:  With the WM PHX Open in town the trails were as expected:  crowded.  I didn't even bother visiting the main parking lots first; I just parked off site.

Despite the crowds I powered through and made good time to the summit. Despite low air temperatures, the sun was intense during this late-morning hike.

Upon returning to the trailhead there was a final-generation Toyota Supra and an early-2000's Acura Integra in the queue for a parking spot. While I took pictures of their ricey cars, the driver of the Supra looked expectantly at me...I realized he was hoping to nab my parking spot.  Since I was parked off-site no luck for him...

Otherwise an enjoyable, routine hike—a great opportunity to burn some calories before tonight. Word is there's a big game on TV....

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chilly Start & Flag Runners - Piestewa

Weather:  47º, sunny

Time:  25.5 minutes

About this Hike:  A cold night in the mid-thirties led to a chilly start today.  But with clear skies and sunshine, plus my choice of wearing a thermal, I was plenty warm on this hike.

Piestewa had it's typical Saturday crowding, albeit not the worst I've ever seen.

Two guys that call themselves "Flag Runners" were at the summit. Older, yet extremely fit gentlemen, they carry Old Glory up the mountain and proudly display her.  A number of people were taking pictures with them.  I just chose to take a picture of them.  I'm wondering if these aren't the guys who were in the news recently posting flags on other mountains in Glendale and running into issues with Glendale's Parks & Rec Dept...

Otherwise an enjoyable, uneventful hike.

Flag Runners

Friday, January 13, 2017

Soilders Pass & The Seven Sacred Pools

Weather:  47º, overcast, misty

About this Hike:  I first experienced the Soilders Pass trail in September of 2016. This was during my weeklong hiatus in Red Rock Country. During that visit I made it a theme of the trip to explore the Dry Creek / West Sedona trails in depth.

Soilders Pass is a hike with early rewards. Starting off is Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole. Shortly thereafter are the Seven Sacred Pools of Sedona. In September when I visited they were filled with stagnant water and at least one had scary mutant-looking tadpoles swimming about.

Anyway, on this particular Friday parking was a nightmare. The small trailhead is in a ritzy residential neighborhood where you best not even think of parking on the street.  At the back of the trailhead is a turnaround area and a Jeep road.  I waited in this area for at least 30 minutes for a parking spot. Jeepers and ATVs were whizzing by dangerously close to my car.  Of course others were waiting too.  As the first batch of hikers came off the trail, I (politely) informed other waiters I had been there first. Surprisingly nobody gave me a hard time. As the previous hikers backed out I enacted the universal sign of a claimed parking spot—I sat their anxiously, turn signal flashing...

I hoped with all the recent rain the pools would be a little fuller/cleaner. They were better, and no tadpoles this time.  After the pools Soilers Pass gives way to red rock scenery and small arroyos. This opens up to magnificent cliffs as you start to ascend Brins Mesa.  Near the top of Brins Mesa U.S. Forest Service Rangers were trimming manzanita bushes. A misty rain was falling off and on. I didn't go far on Brins Mesa. Someday under better conditions I'd like to go further on Brins and see where it leads to.

Despite the parking wait time and somewhat soggy conditions, this hike was totally worth it. Soilders Pass is a great winter-day (or any time!) hike in West Sedona.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cold Nordic Center

Weather:  29º, windy, overcast, cold. Some light flurries

About this Hike:  I love snowshoeing the Flagstaff Nordic Center (FNC). In past years I've experienced a range of conditions from so warm that we're trying to snowshoe on the waning white stuff, to fresh powder transforming the ponderosa forest into a winter wonderland.

FNC Adventure 2017 was sort of a mix between the two above-mentioned conditions.  It was the coldest, gloomiest day I've ever snowshoed here. There was a biting wind. While I warmed up once I got going, I was also grateful to be bundled up and have hand warmers. However, Flagstaff had been warm in the days leading up to today.  In fact, downtown Flag had no snow, just bare ground.  On the drive up US 180 I began to get very nervous we were wasting a trip, despite checking the daily trail conditions and the webcam prior to leaving Sedona.

It wasn't until right before the FNC (~8000 feet) that the ground began to snow a solid base of white.
All trails branch from the FNC Lodge, and at this starting point the snow was icy and crusty.  In fact, these were the conditions on most of the lower trails, although the trails were well groomed as usual by FNC staff.  As we ascended on Lava Trail (several hundred feet of elevation gain) the snow became significantly deeper and turned to powder. It was snowshoe heaven up there. A light, misty snow began to fall and the ponderosas were covered in white. Heavy clouds masked the usual spectacular views of Humphrey's and the San Francisco Peaks.

I love the FNC. I feel safe snowshoeing there. With ample parking, a lodge, international Nordic symbols decorating the trees, cell reception, and well-mapped trails, it's convenient.  However, I've covered most every snowshoe trail in that place. The ponderosas and aspens, while magnificent, are repetitive scenery.  I'd like to branch out and snowshoe (not to mention hike in the summertime) in the White Mountains next.  Or perhaps I need to learn to cross-country ski...there's still a lot of FNC I haven't seen from the ski trails...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bear Mountain - A Not-So-Secret Part of West Sedona

Weather:  52º, clouds

About this Hike:  I'm an avid Sedona hiker, and I made exploring the Dry Creek Basin trails in West Sedona a priority last fall when I spent a week up there.  However, I somehow missed Bear Mountain, this in spite of climbing Bear's little sister Doe Mountain.  The two even share a (paid parking) trailhead.

To get to Bear Mountain you cross the street and walk through a trail on high desert grassland.  Once your ascent begins it's a strenuous but worthwhile climb to the top.  Hiking guides state it's a 2.4 mile hike with 1800 feet of elevation gain.  I seriously challenge the 2.4 mile distance; I think it's more.

Red rock canyon walls give way to white strata as you approach the summit.  There are at least two false summits, and when the main summit comes into view it appears far off—disheartening at times. However, it ends up not being as far away as initial appearances may suggest.

You've reached the main summit when you reach a 'Trail End' sign. The summit is relatively flat, and the terrain is filled with scrubby pines. There is a curious rock pile with a lot of red rocks up there too.  I wonder how it got there; doesn't seem natural.

We got off the mountain and back to the grassland portion right at sunset—cutting it way too close by my standards.  A sunset through the grasslands would've been beautiful; however, despite the clouds the sunset tonight was lackluster.  Bear Mountain is a tough but rewarding hike.  I hope to be back.

Monday, January 2, 2017

First Hike of 2017 - Piestewa

Weather:  58º, partly cloudy

Time:  26 minutes

About this Hike:  It was a busy New Year's holiday at Piestewa Peak.  Despite this, I found moments of solidarity on the otherwise crowded trail.

This past weekend's rain cleared out the air and the mountain views were spectacular today.  Puddles adorned the trail in spots.

I posted a good time to the summit, beating last Tuesday's time by one minute.  Overall this was an enjoyable, routine hike.