Hiking Yavapai

September 2021
Risky Summer Conditions

Heat. Fire. Flooding. Lightning. When these conditions don’t cause us to cancel our hikes, hikers have to be prepared whenever they're even possible.

Taking along a cell phone, not hiking alone, and letting someone know where you’re going become even more important under inclement conditions.

During the summer this hiker heads for higher elevations to avoid the heat. Flagstaff is among my most popular places for hikes during most of the summer, with many great trails, including Kachina Trail, San Francisco Peaks Trail, Humphreys Peak and Griffith Springs. This summer started off well, but it wasn’t long before fires hit and you had to be careful to pick a trail that was far away from fire activity.

Stan Bindell

Just as the fires ended — and we knew it was coming — the flooding began, affecting areas in the Flagstaff region that had not flooded previously. Many trails became risky.

Other great prospects for summer hiking are the Mogollon Rim trails, including Houston Brothers and Barbershop. But we had to cancel a planned trip to Houston Brothers due to rain. It’s about 17 miles down an unpaved road, not a place you want to get stuck in when it’s raining.

To beat the summer heat and rain, you want to be sure to take extra water, a raincoat and proper footwear.

Flooding can hit rapidly in unexpected places, so you have to be aware of your surroundings and prepared to get to higher ground quickly.

For anyone with a little common sense, lightning is a real concern in the mountains. I am not advising that you undertake hikes during this time, but I have to say that I’ve often experienced terrific lightning shows on the trail.

My favorite lightning story happened about ten years ago on the San Francisco Peaks. Hiking with five other members of the Prescott Hiking Club, we came within about a mile of the top of Humphreys when suddenly lightning and booming thunder were all around us. The four with more common sense announced that they were turning around and heading down.

The hike leader said he was determined to forge ahead to the top if anyone else wanted to join him. Being somewhat less sensible, I did, of course. We were within about a half mile of the top when lightning struck a large flat boulder about 50 feet in front of us. I don’t know how the leader knew to do this, but he went up the rock and rubbed his hand across it. You could hear it sizzle.

It was funny and scary at the same time. Okay, it was funny to us, standing there laughing our butts off. Another hiker who was not with us had watched the event unfold, and it freaked him out. He started running down the mountain as fast as he could.

Back in the ‘80s I knew a Vietnam veteran with a peculiar habit. During thunderstorms he would make a point of dancing in a puddle in the road. I must have watched him do this about 50 times without anything happening. Maybe that’s why lightning is more fascinating than scary to me. But again, I don’t advise this, it’s risky and certainly not for everyone.

So for the past three weeks most of my 7.5 daily miles have been done close to home. It’s a good thing I live in the county rather than the city, because I still get to see hawks, owls, quail and toads. After it rains the sounds of the toads are loud and enticing.

My fellow hikers often thank me for bringing my raincoat, because that means it won’t rain while we’re out.

Soon the monsoons will clear and those trails will be lush and inviting, the streams and waterfalls will be flowing. Enjoy!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

August 2022
Odell Lake

Odell Lake is a great find in Munds Park. Those who live or work in the area know about it, but most who live in Flagstaff and elsewhere drive close to it on I-17 without knowing anything about it.

Osprey nest

Our hike accessed Odell Lake via the Crystal Point Trail, part of the Munds Park Trail system, which offers more than 100 miles of trails, so you can do as little or as much as you like.

Munds Park is 21 miles south of Flagstaff,  just over the Yavapai County border in Coconino. I want to thank Marilyn Koch from the North Mountain Visitors Center hiking group for leading this hike, which started at the Iron Springs trailhead. The route took us from there, north of the town, around out to the east and back to the southeast corner of town again, where we’d left a vehicle.

We hiked one mile to the junction where we hooked into Munds Canyon Trail 240. This first mile was muddy from the recent rain, but the rest of the trail was dry and we were able to get the clumps of mud off our boots. Cloud cover helped keep it cool, but there was no rain on this day.

Since we were virtually the only hikers on the trail, the trek through the pine forest was very peaceful as we enjoyed the shade. Indian paintbrush and penstemons dotted the trail, as well as white and yellow wildflowers.

Showy Goldeneye

About 2.5 miles on we entered the next phase of the hike, on the Pinewood Trail. After 1.3 miles on that we reached the final stretch on the Crystal Point Trail. There was a short climb up on Crystal Point, about 400 feet up in elevation, just enough to offer some good views of Sedona, before dropping back down to Odell Lake.

At one point we crossed a dry stream bed, thinking how nice it would have been if the rains had come and the water was running.

Just before the lake we spotted two points of interest, one an empty osprey nest, the other a makeshift timber fort or lean-to.

The lake was the highlight of this trek, emerald green with a few kayakers and a multitude of bird life. After seeing the empty nest I didn’t expect to see one, but there the osprey was, flying over the lake in all its glory. There were also geese, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds and a great blue heron (see Bird of the Month – ed.). Bald eagles are also known to visit this reservoir, but they weren’t apparent this time.

Odell Lake attracts geese and other birds

Fishing is another attraction of the lake, which holds crappie, northern pike and bullheads.

The only irritation were the fenced-off shoreline areas related to homes that prevented us from walking around the lake. In the public area you can go walk right up to the water’s edge, and there are shady trees and big rocks and a bench to sit on.

AllTrails.com lists twelve scenic trails in the Munds Park system, and thanks to the Munds Park Trail Stewards they are well maintained. Rocky Road and Little Horse are a two trails not yet listed in this reference.

Stump fort

The Munds Park Stewards say their goals are to establish “and maintain multi-use trails in the Coconino National Forest surrounding Munds Park, provide for the safety and enjoyment of those using the forest, promote healthy forest ecology, and act as a liaison between the Munds Park community and the National Forest. They have removed truckloads of old barbed wire and an abandoned car from the forest, conducted group hikes, and partnered with Willow Bend Environmental Education Center for children’s activities.

Directions: From I-17 in Munds Park take the Pinewood Boulevard exit 322 (Forest Road 240) and continue 0.8 mile to Crestline Road. Turn left and go 0.8 mile (becomes Oak Drive) to Iron Springs Road, turn right and go 0.2 mile to the trailhead gate. Park along the road, pass through the gate and hike 0.3 mile to the big kiosk, and you’ve arrived at the Iron Springs trailhead.

Photos by Stan Bindell.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

July 2022
Mescal Trail

Mescal Trail #517 may be the least-known trail on Mingus Mountain, but it’s worth the trek because of the moderate workout, the flowers and the views. With usually very few people on it, this could also be a great choice for those who like a little solitude.

About half the trail is exposed to sun, so during these hot days you either want to go down early in the day or in the evening.

This 6.3-mile trail is rated moderate as it climbs from 6,200 to 7,000 feet. It tops out at the rest-stop picnic area at the top of Mingus, and this is a great place for lunch, a snack or just time to enjoy the cool air. There are ramadas with benches and restrooms here. Wild turkeys have come right up to me during my stops here. Elk, deer and bear are also nearby.

Larkspur, blue flax, Indian paintbrush and mariposa lilies are among the flowers you’ll find on Mingus. Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and maple provide the hiker with shade in many spots along the Mescal Trail. Views of Sedona and the mountains are plentiful.

While Mescal Trail does have some scree on it, most of it is easy walking. Sedona resident Mark Purcell recently led this hike for the North Mountain Visitors Center hiking club.

Grave, or art installation?

Mescal Trail has some history to it. The bottom half follows the route of an old wagon road into Jerome, and some old rock walls are left from this historical use of Mescal Gulch.

On the final leg out of the hike we passed a cross on a spot that could be a grave, but there is no historical account of anyone being buried here that I’ve been able to find. Mescal Trail also puts you close to Jerome and its restaurants.

Directions: From Fain Road turn onto 89A and go 12 miles to the summit rest area, then another 2.8 miles to the parking area on the left near the Prescott National Forest sign. The trailhead itself is at the far end of the guardrail on the other side of the highway.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

June 2022
Mt. Wrightson

If you’re looking to get out of the heat or smoke in the Prescott area, you might head to the Old Baldy Trail on Mt. Wrightson, near Tucson.

You don’t usually hear ‘Tucson’ and ‘avoid the heat’ in the same sentence, but Mt. Wrightson begins at 5,400 feet, about the same elevation as Prescott, and rises to over 9,450 feet. This 11.7-mile hike is considered strenuous.

Memorial

You may not want to tell your wife or mother about the history of this trail, as it could make them nervous. In 1958, a group of Boy Scouts went for a hike on Mt. Wrightson. When they set out the weather was perfect, with blue skies, but a storm came up suddenly. Three of the scouts became disoriented and froze to death on the mountain. You’ll find a sign memorializing the boys at Josephine Saddle, the first plateau rest stop, about 2.5 miles from the parking lot. Since that fateful day, thousands have hiked this trail without a similar occurrence.

This is also the first great spot for a snack and a human-friendly squirrel. Several other trails start from this junction. Josephine Saddle is at 7,080 feet, so you’ve already hiked up more than 1,500 feet.

During a recent trip with grandson Scott Johnson, the parking lot was full, but we were lucky to find one open spot. Two things happened as soon as we parked. First, the view of the beautiful surrounding mountains; second, an overzealous ranger ticketed our vehicle before we could get to the self-pay station.

That was after we'd asked him where to pay. When we brought this to his attention, he canceled the ticket, saying that there was  half and hour to pay, and we were able to laugh about it, a nice memory with my grandson. It’s always great to get out with grandkids, especially when Scott thanked me for taking him on another adventure.

This part of the hike begins in Madera Canyon, and just a short way up the trail, those ahead of us had spotted an elegant trogon, one of the most colorful birds to be found anywhere, though it had moved on before we got there. Birders come here from around the world to spot as many as 250 species, including an assortment of hummingbirds and owls.

Above 7,000 feet we began seeing patches of snow. Oak, alligator juniper, sycamore, Arizona walnut and pine trees provide periodic shade cover during the trek. White-tailed deer and even black bear are often spotted on Mt. Wrightson.

The scenic views are plentiful, and the farther up you go, the better they get. About 3.7 miles up you come to slow but flowing Bellow Springs, a good spot for those who carry water filters.

Wild Arizona, a group that helps preserve wilderness areas, was helping to clear the trail. Mt. Wrightson is one of 90 wilderness areas that the group helps protect. Congress designated this as a wilderness area in 1984, and the US Forest Service manages its 25,141 acres. The many hiking trails in the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness area range from well used to primitive.

Two trails lead to the top, the other being the Super Trail. Mt. Wrightson is the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Directions: From Tucson, go south on I-19 for 24 miles to Continental Road (Exit 63). Turn left onto Continental Road and continue 1.1 miles to turn right onto Whitehouse Canyon Road, which merges into Madera Canyon Road, and follow the signs another 5.6 miles to the Madera Canyon Recreation Area. The trailhead is at the far end of the recreation area, near the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area.

Special Consideration: An $8 parking pass is required — just make sure you pay it quickly!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

May 2022
Watson Lake Loop

Watson Lake Loop Trail, which might be called the below-and-above-the-dam trail, is one of the more popular in the Prescott area.

This easy five-mile hike goes up and down some steep, rocky terrain as you scamper over the Granite Dells boulders, with white dots to show you the way. Hikers get to marvel about the rock formations, sometimes as they climb up on them.

The birds and the wildlife add to the allure of this trail. We were treated to an eagle sighting, along with an egret, herons and ducks. Deer and javelina are not uncommon on these trails.

Those who live here may take the spectacular Granite Dells for granted because we can see it every day. Lin Chao, one of the hikers on this day, said Watson Lake is her favorite lake in the state. That’s saying something considering she is president of the Arizona Trailblazers and hikes throughout the state.

I took this hike with the North Mountain Visitors Center hiking group out of Phoenix. Many among them had hiked this before, and loved coming back.

This trail includes parts of four other trails that all have access points to the Watson Lake Loop Trail, but the most common starting point is the North Shore Trail, not far from the park entrance. There is a $3 parking 

fee, offset by plenty of bathrooms and ramadas to relax or eat lunch in.

The elevation change is minimal, starting at 5,075 feet and topping out at 5,237,  though that can be deceptive because there are several small ups and downs.

Starting from the North Shore you quickly view the boulders, including Balancing Rock, where many practice their bouldering skills. In about a half mile you’ll come to a small overlook, and you can see the top of the dam, built in 1900, when the Chino Valley Irrigation District formed.

Soon after you begin the descent. Once you get to the bottom you’re looking up at the dam, among some wonderful streams with cattails and a nice riparian area. A small footbridge helps you get across. A side trail leads from the bridge to just under the dam. Sometimes a lot of water will be gushing from the dam’s spillpipe, but on this trip in late March it was just a small waterfall.

We went downstream just a bit before taking a prolonged snack break, then began the ascent. The Over the Hill Trail takes you back to the Dells, passing spectacular trails along the way.  One side trail leads down to Secret Cove for those who want to add just a little more mileage. You can see Granite Mountain in the distance.

Lakeshore Trail, Peavine Trail, Discovery Trail and Watson Lake Trail all come together to help the hiker complete this loop.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

April 2022
West Clear Creek

Tantalizing, cascading, flowing water is the highlight of the West Clear Creek Trail and the West Clear Creek Wilderness.

West Clear Creek Trail near Camp Verde is an eleven-mile round-trip for those who can make it over the four creek crossings. Sometimes the water is too high to pass, and at other times you can just rock-hop across the stream.

The creek winds 40 miles from the Mogollon Rim through the West Clear Creek Wilderness, making it the largest drainage from the Rim. There are nine trails in the wilderness area, but West Clear Creek Trail is the most popular.

Surrounded by soaring cliffs, sycamores, cottonwoods, Arizona walnut, willow and ash trees, the creek entices hikers into occasional shade, although there are portions of this trail that are mostly open. Some of the canyon is 2,000 feet deep.

The water also brings out bear, deer, mountain lion, badger, javelinas and ringtail cats. Birders also like this area for its kingbirds, orioles, tanagers, warblers, wrens, yellow-billed cuckoos, eagles and red-tailed hawks. The hiker will also want to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, scorpions and centipedes.

Less than a mile in you’ll come upon the remnants of an old rock ranch house. Mesquite and prickly pear dot the lower parts of the trail, and you’ll want to be careful on some of the tight parts of the trail to avoid scratches. You may find poison ivy near the creek as well. The drive in requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the trek is well worth it.

Established in 1984 and covering 13,600 acres, the West Clear Creek Wilderness, is a narrow but lengthy expanse that follows the contours of West Clear Creek from its western terminus at Bull Pen Ranch to the headwaters of Willow Creek and Clover Creek to the north and east. It ranges in elevation from 3,700 to 6,800 feet.

Due to the stark variance in elevation and sunlight across canyon walls, the area offers a wide range of vegetation, geology and recreational opportunities, and supports a broad range of wildlife. The three main geologic layers within the canyon are the Supai Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and volcanic deposits. The upper levels of West Clear Creek include Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The middle level has piñon pines and juniper.

Fishing is another pastime at West Clear Creek, which is stocked with trout by Arizona Game and Fish. The water is deep enough that it attracts swimmers when it’s warm enough.

Evidence of Sinagua-culture people, their dwellings and tools from their daily lives can still be found in the West Clear Creek drainage. The Forest Service website warns that hikers should not disturb those areas, allowing for scientific inquiry and so others can also feel and enjoy the presence of history.

Unlike national parks, wildlife refuges, or monuments, wilderness designation from Congress provides the highest level of natural-resource protection available in the world.

Directions: From Camp Verde, drive southeast on State Rt 260 for six miles to Forest Rd 618. Turn left and drive 2.2 miles to Forest Rd 215, and continue three miles to the Bull Pen Ranch Trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

February 2022
Castle Creek Wilderness

The Algonquin Trail to Big Dipper in the Castle Creek Wilderness is a hidden gem, but a challenging 4.4-mile hike.

It’s a hidden gem because there are running creeks, frogs, granite boulders with pools of water, mica, panoramic views, and not many folks on the trail, and because this hike isn’t found in any hiking book I could find. The Algonquin Trail had the most mica I’ve seen on any trail, glistening in the sunlight everywhere.

The hike is challenging as it drops 1,300 feet, with plenty of loose rock and catclaw, which can cut up your legs and make you sorry you wore shorts. Definitely wear pants for this one.

That comes before you get to the creek, where you’re walking on, over and around granite boulders.

Most of the Algonquin Trail is exposed to the sun, so dress appropriately. After the 1,300-foot drop you come to the junction with the Poland Creek bed, and the rock-hopping begins down the creek. After a while it turns into Horsethief Creek.

If you continue along the Algonquin Trail it’s a 10.1-mile round trip, but our party, as many do, decided to follow the creek to Big Dipper, which some refer to as Hell’s Hole.

At this point you have to turn around unless you brought ropes, because that's the only way to get down. The waterfall was dry when we went, but the pond below was substantial, enough for a swim if you’ve come from the other end.

Most online guides rate this trail as moderate; many in our group considered it difficult, and one called it easy. It's is named after a mine.

The drive into Algonquin Trail is entertaining. The trailhead is 22 miles from I-17, mostly on gravel, passing by the old Cordes Station and the bar at Cleator. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle — we saw no sedans on the road.

Algonquin Creek is part of the 25,817-acre Castle Creek Wilderness, established in 1984 at the southern end of the Bradshaw Mountains and managed by the US Forest Service.

The wilderness area ranges from 2,800 to 7,000 feet in altitude. The lower range is home to saguaro, palo verde and mesquite. The higher ranges include chaparral, Ponderosa pine, Arizona white oak and alligator juniper.

The Forest Service names eight trails in the wilderness area, including Castle Creek Trail and Willow Creek Trail.

There is parking, but no restroom, at the Algonquin trailhead. The sign pointing out the trail is on the right, with the trailhead on the left as you come from I-17 at Bloody Basin Road.

Photos by Stan.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

January 2022
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

A coati walked five feet in front of us. Unbelievable. Awesome. Inspiring. Moments like these are why some of us hike.

The animal was coming up the banks of the stream. It saw me and hid behind a tree. I thought that was the last I would see of it, but after a moment it passed on the trail right in front of us, stopped for a moment to eat from a plant, posing long enough for photos, then disappeared into the woods.


Bright red and blue-green dragonflies landed on leaves over the creek. Butterflies were plentiful, one landing on a dragonfly. The beauty of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and experiences like this made for a great day.

Three things are most likely for those visiting this area. First, your feet will get wet. Second, you’re likely to see more wildlife than people. Third, if you don’t have hiking sticks, you’ll probably fall in the stream.

Established in 1984, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness covers 19,410 acres, surrounded by private and public lands, including several bed-and-breakfast operations, notably Aravaipa Farm and Orchard Inn.

The canyon is also known for its towering cliffs and multiple side canyons. A 2006 flood devastated the creek, but it has since recuperated. Aravaipa Canyon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which limits visits into the canyon to 50 people a day,30 from the western side and 20 from the east. You’ll need a permit to enter the wilderness area.

Aravaipa also has some history, as prehistoric Salado Indians came through here and Apaches lived in the canyon until white settlers established small farms during the Civil War. In 1871 dozens of Apaches were killed in the Aravaipa Canyon massacre, a tragic story related in the book 100Hikes in Arizona.

We hiked the western side of Aravaipa, between Winkelman and Mammoth. The more remote eastern side is closer to Safford, a four-hour shuttle away. We made it a day hike, but camping is allowed, again with a permit, and no pets.

Flowing year-round, Aravaipa Creek entices plenty of wildlife, including mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, bobcats, deer, desert bighorn sheep, fish, toads, frogs, a hundred types of reptiles and 200species of birds. There are no designated trails in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, so you’ll be spending about half the time walking in the stream, which is usually three to six inches deep. Sometimes you can see a trail next to it where people have walked, but more often than not it quickly ends. It’s more fun walking in the stream anyway.

Most of the creek flows slowly, but there are faster parts that can pulldown a hiker with no hiking sticks. Everyone in our pack of ten Arizona Trailblazers had sticks, and no one regretted it. While nobody fell, we were happy to have dry bags for our cameras and other electronics, because a spill is always a possibility.

At the right time of year you can catch the fall colors in the sycamore, ash, cottonwood and willow trees, but since the elevation is 2,630to 3,060 feet, those colors come a lot later than they do in the mountains.

My thanks to Michael Humphrey of Arizona Trailblazers for leading this hike. For more information and directions, phone 520-357-6185.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

December 2021
Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls has been howling at me to visit for years, but I didn’t make it until recently. Now it’s my favorite Prescott hike when the water is running.

Lower Wolf Creek Falls

Under decades of drought conditions, usually the 90-foot cataract isn’t running. But right after snow or rainfall you may catch it if you time it just right. We did. With three other Prescott Hiking Club members I was able to see this spectacular waterfall.

The main fall was actually three waterfalls as the water shoots down from one to the others. It’s so big that you can barely see the top of it, and it’s tough to get it all in a photo because the water course curves around rather than coming straight down.  Hikers can follow a short stream to the top of the fall before reaching it from below. From the top you cannot see the bottom.

A short way from this main waterfall you come to another, then after descending a short, steep path you reach the creek-sized Hassayampa River. This water was also flowing like crazy, creating some small cascades. Frogs the size of a quarter splashed into the water while butterflies flitted about.

There is no named trail going directly to the falls. The hike begins on Senator Highway a short way from where the pavement ends. You can park off to the right, and the hike begins on Trail 384. Just over a mile in you start to find the unnamed side paths that take you down to the falls.

Hassayampa River grotto

The side paths are short but steep in some areas. You have to watch both your footing, to keep from falling, and your hands. There are beautiful flowers here, but the thorns can cut you if you’re not careful. You want to be careful, but this hike is well worth it.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

November 2021
Sycamore Rim Loop

Following up on my hike in last month’s column about the upper Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, this month I’ll cover the Sycamore Rim Loop, just east of Williams. I’d last hiked it just before the big Rafael Fire hit the area, so I went back to inspect the fire impact.

The best news is that on this trip the often dry Sycamore Falls was gushing with water, making for great photos, and everyone who saw it was in awe. “Awesome!” “great,” “wonderful,” were just some of the superlatives I heard people saying as they turned the corner and saw the falls.

The trail leads to Sycamore Creek at the top of the waterfall, where many people were posing for photos; the bottom of the falls is harder to access. The waterfall feeds the creek below.

With the recent rains moving water at a quick pace, a couple other smaller waterfalls appeared short distances from this big one.

Fire damage

Most of the trail was not impacted by the Raphael Fire, but some are as were. The worst burn area I saw was about a quarter mile from the Pomeroy Tanks trailhead. A couple trees were down on the trail, so you had to either go below them, literally over them, or climb up slope above them and down. I chose to go carefully down the lower part before coming back to the trail. You can still smell the burn in this area.

Some smaller burned areas on other portions made it hard to find the trail in spots.

There are five trailheads to the Sycamore Canyon Loop, which is in the upper Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Signs at each trailhead warn hikers that there is a burn area ahead with hazardous conditions, including flooding, unstable soils, falling rocks and trees.

Spectacular beauty

The loop is just over 11 miles. The Pomeroy Tanks are clear natural water, filled with water lilies, frogs and fish. Unlike Aztec Peak there is not much climbing on this hike for those who stay on the trail, which rises from 6,700 to only 7,287 feet. However, the huge cliffs by the waterfall make this an even more popular area for rock climbers. I saw one of the climbers gripping the middle of a sheer cliff, evoking a scene out of the movie Cliffhanger.

Like at Aztec Peak, pines dominate the terrain. Alligator juniper and gambel oak are found at the upper reaches of Sycamore Canyon Loop. In the upper reaches, known as KA Hill, you can see the San Francisco Peaks and Garland Prairie.

Directions: From Flagstaff, exit I-40 at Garland Prairie Road (Exit 167), drive nine miles southeast on Forest Road 141, turn right on Forest Road 56 at the sign for the Rim Trail, and drive 1.9 miles to the trailhead.

[caption]
Sycamore Falls

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

October 2021
Aztec Peak

Aspen glades and great views add to the allure of hiking Aztec Peak, at the high end of the20,850-acre Sierra Ancha Wilderness,  north of Globe and south of Young on the east side of the state. As with all our wilderness areas, it’s subject to our dynamic weather conditions, and things can change quickly, as we found on a recent hike.

Scarlet cinquefoil

I should mention that “we” are the Arizona Trailblazers, an adventurous group that hikes all over the state, sometimes into other states.

A lush summer walk

Aztec Peak, the highest peak in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, ranking 41sthighest in Arizona, offers a beautiful waterfall, running creeks, and abundant flowers, lizards and butterflies.

The area is just east of Roosevelt Lake, which you’ll pass on the drive in and see among the great views of Four Peaks and the surrounding mountains from the trail. You’ll also drive over an old bridge where the Salt River feeds into the lake, where people often sun and swim on the south side. Just north of the bridge we noticed a saguaro with a top that looks like a water dragon.

This trail is 9.2 miles round-trip to the top, and All Trails rates it as moderate. There was a good amount of shade, for some great resting spots along the way.

About a half-mile into the trek you come to Workman Falls, which on this day was  coming down hard and fast enough to create a spectacular scene, feeding into serene Workman Creek. We saw rock-climbers here, dropping ropes to scale the cliff.

The book Streamside Trails notes that Henry Wertman homesteaded a ranch here, and a mapmaker changed the spelling in naming the creek for him.

The section of the creek above the waterfall is lovely, making the hike even more inviting. About a quarter-mile up from the fall sits a USGS water-monitoring station, offering a close view of the stream and its flowers.

Aztec Peak waterfall

At points sunflowers towered over us. The more than a dozen types of flowers just off the trail include penstemons, daisies, dandelions and my favorite, the scarlet cinquefoil. Aztec Peak is mostly a pine forest, but toward the top there are a decent amounts of aspens and ferns.

Adverse conditions

The bad news is that Abbey’s Way Trail (151) was not practical to hike; the good news is that the Flintstones area is preserved.

Abbey’s Way, named after naturalist Edward Abbey, who worked at the fire tower years ago, is a great trail, but fire and flooding have downed trees and built up overgrown brush, making it virtually impassible, although it is not officially closed.

With the trail in such bad condition we chose to hike up the Forest Service road to the peak, which while closed to vehicles was well maintained, making for an easy trail.

About a mile from the top sits an old cabin, in pretty good shape on the outside, and the door isn’t locked, so you can walk in to see the kitchen and a ladder to a loft above. This is right by the Moody Point trailhead, a good choice for those who want more mileage.

Toward the top there is a section known as the Flintstones Picnic area, because the natural rocks there look like they are right out of the cartoon. The Flintsone furniture is beautiful,  with flat stones and one formation that looks like a perfect table. This area has thankfully been untouched by floods and fire.

Westarted at 6,200 feet. Aztec Peak tops out at about 7,700 feet, withthe fire tower at the top and the Flintstone area not far below.

Much to see

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is known for its box canyons and high cliffs. Other better known sections of the wilderness are Devils Chasm and Coon Creek, both known for their ruins. The Reynolds Creek trail is also popular for running streams.

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the trip to Aztec Peak.

Directions: From Prescott, you’ll have need to go east through Camp Verde and Payson or south through Mesa. From Mesa, take US60 east. Just before Globe, turn left at the light onto Highway 188, to Roosevelt Lake.

Drive14.5 miles and turn right onto Highway 288 to Young. The road is paved for the first 22 miles before becoming gravel and dirt, but it’s usually well graded. About 25.3 miles past the 188/288junction watch for Workman Creek Road (FR 487). First you’ll seethe Workman Creek Recreation Area sign on the right, then a smaller sign for Elks Youth Camp. Turn right here. Continue past the Creekside, Cascade and Workman Creek Falls campgrounds to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

September 2021
Dripping Spring Trail

Only about two hours from Prescott, the Grand Canyon National Park gets millions of visitors each year, but sadly some in Arizona never get there, not realizing how close it is to them.

The Grand Canyon has something for every body. For those who don’t want to go below the rim there are paved rim trails, accessible by wheelchair. At the other end of the scale some hardcore hikers do the rim-to-rim trails.

Our hike this time was the Dripping Spring Trail. The book 100 Hikes in Arizona rates as this moderately difficult, but I found the six-mile hike to be strenuous and much harder than many 10-15mile trails.

The hike begins at 6,700 feet and drops to 5,200 feet before you have to climb back out, but with ups and downs we actually climbed a total of 2,700 feet. That’s not the difficult part.

There are three reasons this trail can be hard. First, many of the steps on the trail drop at least a foot, so those with short legs (like me) can find this hard on the knees and feet. This is not as popular a trail as some of the others, so it is not as well maintained. We went on a Saturday and there were only a dozen other hikers on the trail, most of them saying it was tough.

Second, in early August it was hot in the lower reaches of the trail, pushing 90°F.

Third, there is not much shade when you’re climbing out, although we were lucky to get some rolling clouds.

The cool part of the hike was that Prescott resident Nick Huige, 79 years young, kept going at a steady pace to make the hike fun. Some of the younger hikers remarked that they hope they are able to hike what we’re doing at our age.

Between May and September day hikers must park at Grand Canyon Village and take the free shuttle to the trailhead. Buses run at 15-minute intervals from 7:30am to sunset. The shuttle ride takes about40 minutes, because it makes nine stops at the various overlooks, all with great views of the Canyon and a couple with views of the mighty Colorado River. If you like you can get off at each stop, enjoy the sights at the overlook, then pick up the next bus to go on.

Masks are currently required on the shuttle buses, and well as in all the buildings in the National Park, but not on the trails.

The final stop is Hermit’s Rest, and we get to Dripping Springs from there, about a quarter-mile down, past a gift shop with unique architecture. There are also restrooms and a water station here so you can fill up your canteens.

All along the trail there are beautiful views of the Canyon. Yellow flowers in the pinyon juniper forest greet us as we start to descend. The trail goes down quickly and steeply. A sign warns hikers that getting to the bottom is optional, but getting to the top is mandatory. I almost slipped on some loose rocks while laughing at this sign, but it also gives good advice about resting in shade when you need it and drinking plenty of fluids.

After about a mile Hermit Trail connects with Waldon Trail, which goes back up the rim, but you want to keep to the right at this junction. About a mile and a half farther down, take the left-hand turn at the sign for Dripping Springs, with a climb of a few hundred feet to get there.

We came within a half-mile of the springs, but ran into fallen boulders blocking the trail from recent storms. We took a short break on the boulders, but with little shade there we started back, eventually finding a sunny spot for a longer break.

Nick Haige takes a break on the trail

100 Hikes in Arizona notes that Dripping Springs is a small flow that drops from a rock above, and the Park Service recommends treating the water before drinking it. Within a mile of the Dripping Spring-Hermit Trail junction you’ll find the start of Boucher Trail, a much longer hike.

This hike demands plenty of water, and we went through most of our liquids. Camping is not allowed in the area because of its fragile plant life. Neither horses nor dogs are allowed on this trail.

Bonus Hike

Kachina Trail in Flagstaff remains one of this hiker’s favorites because of the large stands of aspen, a dozen different types of summer wildflowers, and marvelous views of the San Francisco Peaks.

Police-carmoth

This has been an annual hike for me for 20 years, and this time I found one more reason to go. Right by the Kachina Wilderness sign I found a unique moth, called the police-car moth, in black and white. It also has reddish orange eyes, which some might consider its flashers. Next to the sign is a stand of yellow flowers where the Police Car Moths were having fun in the sun with these flowers.

You’ll find Kachina Trail via Snowbowl Road. Take US180 to Snowbowl Road, and the parking lot for Kachina Trail is 7.5 miles up on the right. Dogs are allowed on this trail, and plenty of folks had their dogs with them.

When we hit the trail at 9am it was 65 degrees. The trail takes you up to 9,200feet, so it remains cool.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

August 2021
Mazatzal-Barnhardt 15
The Mazatzal Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in Arizona

The Mazatzal Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in Arizona, with 205,500 acres spanning parts ofYavapai and Gila County with a low elevation of 2,100 feet to a high of 7,903 feet at Mazatzal Peak.

There are 240 miles of trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness, including among 40 trails the 28-mile Verde River Trail and the 29-mile Mazatzal Divide Trail. The Verde River sits on the west side of the Mazatzal Wilderness, and Barnhardt Trail south of Payson is on the east side of this wilderness.

The Barnhardt Trail offers a great glimpse of part of the Mazatzal Wilderness, rising from 4,200 feet to 6,200 feet. Hikers can go as far as they like on this trail, but it’s common to do the 6.6-mile trek to the intermittent waterfall.

It is best to hike Barnhardt Trail in March or April, because the lower parts can be too hot during summer and the higher stretches too cold in winter, but the absolute best time to hike Barnhardt is after a rainfall, when the waterfall is running.

During a recent trip the waterfall was dry, but big yellow cactus flowers were blooming and lizards were plentiful. Regardless of the time of year, there are great scenic views of the surrounding mountains and Oak Creek Canyon below. Further up, the Mogollon Rim comes into view.

The Barnhardt Trail sign is just five-tenths of a mile from the parking lot; this is important because three trails start from that lot. One of the other trails here is Y Bar Basin, also part of the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Hikers will find the Mazatzal Wilderness sign three-fourths of a mile in. Not far from here, the deep canyon with a stream can be seen below. Sycamores and cottonwoods guard this creek.

At the 1.6-mile mark, the switchbacks begin. You have climbed about 200 feet to this point, but the trek tuns steeper here. Once you reach a natural overlook, you have climbed 1,920 feet, reaching views of the western Mazatzals.

If you’re going to Mazatzal Peak you will walk 17 miles round-trip, and I recommend you take at least two days to do it. The lower Barnhardt Trail includes white and Emory oaks, junipers and century plants. After the 1.5-mile mark you’ll spot velvet ash, Arizona walnuts, sycamores and Ponderosa pines.

After five miles you come to Sandy Saddle Trail. Barnhardt Saddle and Mazatzal Divide are at 6.2 miles. In another mile you’ll find Chilson Springs, one of a few places along the trail that usually has water. Windsor Spring Saddle comes up at 8.5 miles.

Mazatzal is an ancient native culture in Mexico, the word meaning “land of the deer.” The road in is a bit rough. Sedans can make it and many do, but you’ll prefer to have a high-clearance vehicle. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but should be leashed. Horses are prohibited here.

The Mazatzal Wilderness is part of the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. Barnhardt Trail is managed by the Payson RangerDistrict. For more information call 928-474-9000.

Directions: From Payson go south on State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) for twelve miles to Forest Road419 (look for the trailhead sign on the right). Turn right onto FR419 and continue 5.1 miles to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

July 2021
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness
Lush greenery and soaring cliffs make a spectacular hike

Sycamore Canyon is the second-largest canyon in Arizona, next to the Grand Canyon. That’s saying something. Sycamore Canyon is 21 miles long and seven wide. Hikers go frequently from North to South Rim of the Grand Canyon and vice versa, but I've never met anyone who hiked the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness from one end to the other. That’s because some of it is dense with trees and brush, and there are no trails in parts of it.

From the scenic overlook of the Sycamore Rim Trail there is a beautiful view of the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. It appears to go on forever. To get away from society, this is a good place to get lost.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is also among the oldest designated wilderness areas in Arizona. Congress gave it that designation in 1972, covering 58,441 acres. It is best known for its colorful cliffs and a unique desert riparian area among the 15 trails that hikers can choose from.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is managed by four ranger districts in three National Forests — Prescott, Kaibab and Coconino. Elevation in the wilderness area ranges from 3,580 feet in the Sedona area to over 7,000 feet near Williams.

Black bears, mountain lions, ringtail cats, javelina, elk, deer and rattlesnakes roam the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Canyon wrens, hermit thrushes, turkey vultures, bluebirds and hummingbirds are among the many birds resident here.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, the highest trail in this wilderness, is near Williams, offering secluded pools and a pine forest. Parsons Trail, on the lower end of Sycamore Canyon, has a riparian area with sycamores and cottonwoods.

The natural Pomeroy water tanks make the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail one of the most beautiful trips in the Arizona wilderness. The water is filled with lily pads and beautiful yellow flowers. Cattails and lush green grass also surround the ponds. The views along the rim are outstanding, the canyon below and the soaring cliffs making this a spectacular hike.

Sycamore Falls come later in the hike, and are known to be great when running, but due to drought they are rarely flowing. Some aspens grow by the waterfall.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is popular, as it has made the Arizona Highways 52 Best Day Hikes guide. It also appears in most Arizona hiking books, yet during a recent weekend only about 20 people were on the trail.

The Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is an 11.1-mile loop. There are five entrances to this trail, but we took the one at Dow Spring. In just .25 of a mile we reached the loop sign and went to the left. At just .15 mile more you see the incline going up about a hundred feet, but as soon as you go up it drops back down and you're at the first lily pond.

Big frogs and several kinds of colorful dragonflies enjoy the ponds. You follow the ponds for about .75 mile before you climb back up a small hill and enter the forest area full of Ponderosa pines and some oaks.

At the 3.5-mile mark there’s a small wilderness sign letting hikers know that no motorized vehicles are allowed past that spot. At the 3.8-mile mark the Rim Trail sign appears, then at 3.9 is the Sycamore Canyon Vista sign. This is where hikers can get a great view of the Sycamore Canyon Trail Wilderness.

Rock-climbers love these cliffs. There are some small fish in the Pomeroy Tanks, and a couple of hikers were preparing to fish there as we were on our way out.

The elevation change on this trail is minimal, going from 6,721 feet to 7,287 feet. Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed. For more information, phone the Williams Ranger District at 928-635-5600.

Directions: From Williams, drive east on I-40 about four miles and take the Garland Prairie Road exit. Drive 8.1 miles on Garland Prairie Road, also known as Forest Road 141, but it's not marked as a forest road. Then take Forest Road131, whichis marked, straight for 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.

NOTE: As we go to press the Rafael Fire continues to burn the area and the Kaibab National Forest is closed. Trails featured here may be inaccessible for some time, or sadly burned over.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

June 2021
Verde River and Kendrick Wilderness

The Verde River-Lagoon Loop and Kendrick Wilderness Trail illustrate the wide variety of trails our state has to offer the hiker. The first offers abundant water, the second has none.

Verde River lagoon

The Lagoon Loop is like a walk in the park. Well, it is a walk in the park, namely Deadhorse State Park in Cottonwood. The elevation is about 3,200 feet and hardly changes, making an easy 4.1-mile walk.

Kendrick, on the other hand is in a wilderness area, a high-elevation trail starting at 7,800 feet and topping out at 10,400 for those who make it to the top. This 9.2-mile hike is considered strenuous by the editors of Flagstaff Hikes. Kendrick Mountain is the eighth-highest peak in Arizona, and this trail is a great hike for cooling off in the summer. In winter you’ll probably want to take a pass. These trails have one important aspect in common, and that is little shade.

The water draws plenty of birds and wildlife for viewing from the Lagoon Loop. Aside from a ton of ducks, during our recent outing I saw a number of herons, an egret, grackles and red-wing blackbirds. One time I saw a bright scarlet tanager. This particular circuit revealed lizards most everywhere. I have seen beavers at the lagoons, though not this time, and in winter eagles are common in the park.

Kendrick is better known for its views of surrounding mountains, offering a great view of the San Francisco Peaks, and on this trip hikers could still see snow near the top of the Peaks. Kendrick Wilderness is home to many elk, and some years ago an elk came within ten feet of our hiking party. Kendrick Mountain Wilderness trail is well defined, mostly by switchbacks.

Verde River in Deadhorse Park

The Verde River Lagoon loop is built of several trails with no apparent names. This hiker usually lets readers find their own trail directions, but I came up with this loop to cover the most water in the park.

From the Deadhorse Park entrance, drive about five miles and turn right onto Kingfisher Road. Go the half-mile to the parking lot. Steps down to the Verde River are on the right, but don’t go that way because you’ll be getting there soon enough. 

Go to the left and you will come to the first lagoon and go halfway around it, about half a mile, and you’ll find a trail going directly down to the river. It’s about a tenth of a mile, a great place to stop to take your first photos of the river and soak it in. From there, go left about seven tenths of a mile, where you have an even better view of the flowing Verde. Large branches cross the river at this point and people are usually on the other side, sunning themselves or fishing.

Turn around at this point, go past that first river overlook and continue straight for about a quarter mile. Turn right and walk about 100 feet to a bench and a short walking bridge. This bench is an awesome place to stop, and the bridge overlooks a running creek, offering great photo opportunities in both directions.

Turn right on the other side of the bridge and follow that trail for four-tenths of a mile, climb about ten stairsteps and follow the creek, which at this point is on the left, to your first sighting of beautiful yellow monkey flowers. Turn around again, and when you reach the bottom of the stairs go to the right and straight up. You’ll pass a park road with cabins on it. Continue straight for about two-tenths of a mile. Here the creek is on the right and the monkey flowers are more plentiful. The trail appears to end at a park road, so turn around here.

View of the SF Peaks from Kendrick Mountain


When you get back to the cabins, which have picnic tables, and if no one’s using them, this is a great place to stop for a snack.

Continue back the way you came, but instead of recrossing the walk bridge go straight, and you’re soon back down to the river. Follow this route for about two-tenths of a mile, with the river to your left. There are several nice places to stop and view the river.

Next go back to the bridge and bench, continue to where you entered from the first lagoon, and walk around the other half of the lagoon. From the restrooms at the first lagoon, walk straight up and you will come to the second lagoon. On reaching the second lagoon, you’ll have gone 2.65 miles. The second lagoon leads right to the third, making an obvious loop at this point, and then returning to your vehicle to complete the 4.1 miles.

Before leaving Deadhorse Park behind, visit nearby Tavasci Marsh. From the parking lot on Kingfisher Road make a left as if to leave the park, but keep your eyes peeled on the right for a short road that will take you to the marsh. I’ve argued in the past that Griffith Springs in Flagstaff is the best short hike in the state when the water is running, but Tavasci Marsh has to be considered as well because of the marsh, the wildlife and frogs. Like Griffith Springs, the Tavasci Marsh walk is about two miles round-trip.

Blue Tail Skink


Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.