Gary Beverly is from Planet Science with an emphasis on hydrology, so when you take an Upper Verde River hike with him, you’re getting an education.
Beverly leads the drive to have the Upper Verde declared a Wild and Scenic River so that it has more protection. He believes the best way to achieve that goal is to show everyone the beauty and importance of the river.
This hike began at Del Rio Springs. The Verde headwaters begin a bit north of here, but some of that area has dried up. This was just a quick look at the water at the spring, but the river flow attracts lots of birds. An eagle winters at Del Rio Springs, just north of Chino Valley, and shows up every October 1 like clockwork.
We heard a loud beeping that sounded like either a burglar alarm or a vehicle backing up, but there was nothing else out there at the time, so we looked up at the tree it seemed to be coming from, and to our amazement we could see it was coming from a bird. Thanks to Eric Moore at Jay’s Bird Barn we learned it was a loggerhead shrike.
The next stop was Sullivan Dam, just a bit further north in Paulden. Sullivan Lake is often dry, but thanks to recent rains it was full and the dam had been overflowing for the previous couple of days. The bulk of the Upper Verde River hike began out Upper Verde Ranch Road in Paulden, leading to the 1,100-acre Upper Verde Recreational Area. This is a great place for birding, with herons, golden eagles, belted kingfishers, yellow-billed cuckoos, black phoebes and summer tanagers.
Beverly talks about geology, wildlife ecology and biology along with hydrology on these walks. He chairs the Sierra Club’s Yavapai Group and serves on the executive committee of the Citizens Water Advisory Group (CWAG).
Arizona Game and Fish manages this recreational area, which it purchased using Arizona Heritage program funds for the fish and wildlife habitat. There is plenty of that here: fish include desert sucker, Sonoran sucker, roundtail chub and longfin dace. The wildlife include river otters, elk, mule deer and javelinas.
You start by walking down a hill with great views of Little Thumb Butte, the Mogollon Rim and Casner Mountain. Much of the geology here is basalt. The Upper Verde flows from the Big Chino aquifer, which spreads under a broad area stretching all the way to Seligman.
Many Native cultures have lived and received sustenance from here, going back at least 1,100 years, leaving at least 72 archaeological sites up and down the Verde, most on National Forest land, but about 22 on Arizona Game and Fish land.
Game and Fish built a gate to keep vehicles from driving down to the river, and it also helps reduce vandalism. A storage shed was built at the site some years ago, but that had been shot up. Fencing also helps keep cattle out, as in years past when cattle found gaps in fences and made their way down to the river, causing a lot of destruction.
This Upper Verde River Recreation Area now offers restrooms and picnic tables where families can enjoy a meal while watching the river and wildlife. This riparian area is also known as a gallery forest, home to hackberry, Arizona ash, willow and cottonwood trees.
The recent rains knocked down some unusually tall cattails. Not long ago this area was known for its beavers, and gnaw marks on the trees are still evident. In the mid 2000s there were 35 beavers in the area, one almost every mile along the river, but today they are gone and no one knows why. Beavers are susceptible to disease and predators because they often return to the same spots to rebuild their dams.
Deer and mountain lion are among our friends here. One time Beverly says he was at Stillman Lake when he got “the willies” because he knew something was watching him, and soon he ran across some mountain lion tracks. He never saw the cat, but he knew it was there.
Salt River Project has a low-flow water gauge at the recreational site where water bubbles up from the Big Chino aquifer. Once the water enters the watercourse, state law assigns it to SRP management.
When it’s cold in Prescott, one nice alternative is the trail at Lake Pleasant, because you can get there in less than 90 minutes for trails ranging from a half-mile to more than 300 miles. My hike group recently choose something in between, as most hikers do.
This hiker was one of four Arizona Trailblazers who experienced a glorious exploratory hike on the Beardsley Maricopa Trail in December, where the weather was cloudy but without a drop of rain, and we considered the temperature perfect.
Lisa, Sue and David joined me in finding a beautiful riparian area shortly into the hike on Beardsley Trail. The Beardsley and part of the Maricopa Trail start before Lake Pleasant Park, so they are closer to the freeway.
The three best known trails inside the park are the half-mile Discovery Center Trail, the 1.5-mile Roadrunner Trail, and the four-mile Pipeline Canyon Trail.
As we negotiated a short descent there were already a few puddles of water in the trail, just a glimpse of what was around the bend.
The Agua Fria River and Morgan City Wash merge at this point, and the stream forks off in two directions, one pointing to Beardsley Trail.
Two small foot bridges among the cottonwood, mesquite and salt-cedar trees made this a perfect spot for photos. We had to carefully cross along a small, muddy and slick part of stream bank. Sure enough, on the way out I slipped and fell in the mud, but realized after a few seconds that the only thing I hurt was my pride.
After a few turns the trail moves away from the stream into desert brush. After three-quarters of a mile we could no longer detect the trail, so we decided to switch to the Maricopa Trail, which parallels the Central Arizona Project canals in a scrub-desert setting.
This section of the trail was a continuous series of up- and downhills, changing only 500 feet in elevation over 8.2 miles. It’s part of the Lake Pleasant hiking-trail system, so there was a $7 parking fee.
The Maricopa Trail is more than 300 miles and circles the county. We consistently had great views of the surrounding terrain, including the Bradshaw and Cave Creek mountains. All was pretty quiet except for the odd gunshot from nearby shooting ranges.
Losing the trail means we’ll just have to go back another day to find where the Beardsley Trail continues.
Directions: Go south on I-17 to Exit 223 and turn right (west) on Carefree Highway (State Route 74), then 8.8 miles to the marked Beardsley CSR access road. Turn right and it’s a short distance to the parking area. For directions and more information about the park, telephone 602-506-2930.
Living in the county just outside Chino Valley it’s not unusual to see pronghorn, but a week ago I had the most amazing experience.
I was walking up Road Three South by Reed Road when I noticed four pronghorns at the entrance to a driveway; then I looked into the field across the street to see 26 more. The four joined the 26 and then they all decided they wanted to cross Reed Road to get to the State Trust Land, where they usually live. The vehicles on Reed Road all stopped to let them cross. Three times they came to the edge of their side of the road ready to cross, only to decide against it and run a circle around the open field just to stop at the edge of the street again. Finally, on the fourth stop, with the vehicles still stopped, they decided to cross the road. The pronghorns ran across the road as quickly as possible. Then, one by one, they went under the fence to return home. There were already 20 on the other side, making about 50 in the herd. Quite impressive! The only disappointment was that I didn’t have my camera with me.
Photos by Stan.
The Copper Mountain segment of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail and Bell Trail in Sedona are two Yavapai County hikes that provide a beautiful contrast in style.
The Copper Mountain segment, which begins at the Big Bug Trailhead in Mayer, goes up in elevation from 4,020 feet to 4,014 feet, but while it has no big hills, it goes through many ups and downs.
The Bell Trail, east of Sedona, climbs from 3,849 feet to 4,115 feet, but has some much larger inclines as you go through the red rocks.
The Copper Mountain segment is open range, so there’s no chance of falling off a ledge. On some parts of the Bell Trail you’re right near the edge. Bell Trail also has more scree, so you have to pay more attention to your footing.
Copper Mountain has virtually no shade, so it’s a great winter hike on a sunny day. Bell Trail doesn’t have much shade, but there are good spots to discover.
These hikes have three things in common. First, great mountain views: from Copper Mountain you can see Pine Mountain, the Bradshaw range and other peaks, while Bell Trail is surrounded by red-rock cliffs.
Second, during recent hikes on both we found a plethora of birds. From the Big Bug Trailhead you soon enter a tunnel. This hike was led by Mare Czinar, who writes a hiking column for The Arizona Republic, who pointed out that cliff swallows love these tunnels.
On the Bell Trail there were more birds than usual, with robins, some types of bluebirds and other birds flittering and singing. Aside from the birds, the only wildlife we saw on the Copper Mountain segment were cattle. The Bell Trail is known for great wildlife, including elk, deer, brown bear, mountain lion, bobcat, skunk, coyote, javelina, bullfrog, reptiles and rattlesnakes.
Third, as Robin Sewell would say, both hikes are right off an Arizona Highway. To get to the Big Bug Trailhead from Prescott, drive 30 miles south on Highway 69 and turn right four-tenths of a mile after milepost 267. You’ll see the trailhead sign right after that turn. To get to the Bell Trailhead, go to I-17 and get off at the Sedona exit (298). Go two miles, turn left and it’s just another quarter mile to the parking lot.
Copper Mountain is popular among mountain bikers, while Bell Trail is more popular for hikers, but many bring their dogs.
The biggest difference is that Bell Trail is part of the Wet Beaver Wilderness and has plenty of streamside views, making it popular for swimmers and divers in summer. Copper Mountain offers no water.
The Black Canyon National Recreation Trail is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This is what the agency’s website says about the trail:
“The 80-mile Black Canyon Trail provides mountain bikers with a long-range backcountry trail-riding opportunity. This historic National Recreation Trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of prehistoric Native American travelers and traders. This trail provides a challenging ride experience, characterized by rough, unstable soils and rocks, with various trail grades and numerous elevation changes within a harsh desert climate. The trail meanders through the Sonoran Desert landscape, including saguaro forests and rugged canyons. The trail is recommended for use from November through April. At other times of the year, the trail is seldom used. The difficulty level is intermediate.”
Of course, the trail is open to hikers too. Just don’t plan on doing the 80 miles in one day!
As summer turns to winter, hikers have to consider where to go, when to go and what to wear.
I have hiked in hundred-degree weather and in temperatures so cold that my mustache was growing icicles. I haven’t done that often, and I don’t recommend either except for the most foolhardy and experienced hikers. Hikers have been known to die under either of those conditions.
During summer high-elevation hikes are best, such as the San Francisco Peaks and Kendrick Peak in Flagstaff or Escudilla Mountain near Alpine. For hikes closer to home during the summer, consider Granite Mountain, Groom Creek Loop or the Woodchute Wilderness on Mingus Mountain. Those hikes are also good in the fall. Another good fall choice is most of the hikes in Sedona, including one of my favorites, the Bell Trail, for its flowing stream.
Now that winter is upon us we need to look south for warmer winter trails. Spur Cross Conservation Area in Cave Creek is among my favorites, again because it often offers running streams, although with the changing climate the water doesn’t flow as much as it used to do so.
South Mountain Park, North Mountain Park and the other Maricopa County parks offer endless trails. But again, many hikers want to stay local because work and other schedules don’t allow time for those drives. The trails by Watson Lake and Willow Lake are just a couple of the many good local alternatives.
In summer you want to pick trails that have plenty of trees for shade; in winter you want more open trails, where the sun will warm you up. The lakes will have wintering birds, a big plus.
During summer you want to hike in the early morning, near dusk or even after dark, as your main goal is to avoid the heat.
I like walking at night, because if you are away from the lights you get great views of the stars. I usually carry my flashlight, but then turn it off to get the best view. This can be risky, too, though. One time in Watson Woods when I was walking after dark I came within a couple feet of a javelina. It let out a squeal, causing me to jump backward while turning on my flashlight at the same time. The javelina meandered off into the woods. My heart sped up, but no harm, no foul.
During winter, hiking during the heat of day is best, but at least hike during sunlit hours. During summer you just have to worry about hiking boots, proper socks, shorts, tee shirt and hat, along with sunglasses, of course.
In winter you have to gauge the temperature. Wearing layers is good practice, but if you’re planning a long hike you have to be careful about how many layers you wear. With too many layers you have to make sure your pack is large enough if you have to shed a lot of layers, and you have more to carry. That weight can add up.
In summer, the hotter and longer the hike, the more water you have to bring. You don’t need as much during the cooler winter, but you still need enough keep hydrated. Two liters is minimum for a day-long hike.
You always want to carry more water and food than you expect, because you never know when you might get lost or the hike takes longer than expected.
Hiking is a fun endeavor, but the adventure can present some dangers. Every hiker has to calculate how much food and water they should pack, depending on the length and difficulty of the hike and their own metabolism and physical needs.
Don’t let the winter keep you from hiking! There are abundant natural winter wonders out there. Just watch out for ice!
As the temperature was climbing on the trail, I started thinking about two people who died recently on trails that I’ve hiked. One was on the Thunder River hike from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The other was on the Spur Cross Trail in Cave Creek. It gave me a little shiver.
The Thunder River Trail is a somewhat desolate one, while Spur Cross is almost an urban trail because it’s so close to Cave Creek. Both of those who died were hiking in over 100-degree weather, something I just won’t do. I only hike these trails when it’s cooler. Hiking in anything above the mid-80s is something I stay away from.
On September 8 I was on the Sycamore Rim trail, and the temperature rose, but ultimately didn’t go above the mid-80s. The clouds were coming and going, so we were able to cool off intermittently, and we even got some rain during the final mile of the eight-mile trek.
The Raphael Fire touched some of this trail a bit more than a year ago, and signs entering the trail warn hikers that due to the fire there could be flooding or unstable soil. There are still some downed and burned-out trees, but the area has rebounded nicely. Fields of yellow flowers, with a scattering of others, made this one of the most colorful hikes of the summer.
Not far from the trailhead a sign pops up about a historic sawmill that was going here in the 1910s, and the remnants of a building testify to it. Just a little farther on a small tree grows inside what’s left of a huge tree stump.
A bit past that you descend a small hill, and the Pomeroy Tanks begin. These are beautiful natural pools of water lilies, including frogs and flowers, making a worthwhile, even mesmerizing stop.
Walking on, the fields of yellow flowers become more numerous and taller, a beautiful blur of yellow. Many of these flowers were shoulder high as they sandwiched us hikers on the trail.
A lizard scampered up on a rock and it wasn’t until after I shot the photo that I realized it included another, smaller lizard as well. Double the pleasure!
A couple of miles farther on and we were on top of the rim, looking down into Sycamore Canyon, the second-largest canyon in Arizona, behind the Grand Canyon. Looking across to another part of the rim we could see the abundance of yellow flowers reaching right up to the rim’s edge.
Just after this, a rock buried in the ground looks a little too much like a face. I watched it to see whether it was staring back at me.
Some parts of the hike offer nice stands of white flowers to contrast with the yellow. Indian paintbrush, globe mallow, blue and purple flowers continue to invite the hiker to stop for photos and inspection.
As we were nearing the trail’s end, more streams sprang up adding another layer of beauty to this wonderful hike.
There is not much climbing for those who stay on the trail, ranging from 6,700 feet only up to 7,287 feet. It’s a popular area for rock climbers. Pines dominate the terrain. You’ll find alligator juniper and gambel oak in the upper reaches of Sycamore Canyon Loop. From the trail’s upper reaches, known as KA Hill, you can view the San Francisco Peaks and Garland Prairie.
Kudos to Dave French of the North Mountain Visitors Center, who led this party of nine.
The Sycamore Rim is just east of Williams, and the lower end of Sycamore Canyon comes out at Clarkdale. You can hike down into the canyon, or up from the south, but I don’t know of anyone who’s hiked it end-to-end because of the dense forest and brush in between.
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 signed for the Rim Trail, and drive another 1.9 miles to the trailhead.
The Trekabout Hiking Club, a City of Prescott recreational program, offers a group hiking experience for fun, exercise and camaraderie.
Overseeing the Trekabout program is Samara Rice, who’s worked City of Prescott Recreation Services for eight years and was recently promoted to recreation coordinator. “I’m delighted to collaborate with such an inspiring group each month in selecting the hikes as well as leading one or two a month myself. Exploring the diverse trails with our Trekabout members has been one of the best parts of my new role,” she said, adding that she sees how outdoor activity benefits people mentally, emotionally and physically.
“Coming together with like-minded individuals, exploring the beautiful natural environment we live in, has bountiful benefits,” she said. “You are given the opportunity to learn the trail system surrounding Prescott.” She adds that the club brings together people who prefer hiking in groups rather than as individuals. “We hike together and care for each other while on the trail,” she said.
Trekabout hikes take place in the Prescott area, year-round on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. During the summer hikes begin at 7 and 8am. “In winter the hikes vary in length and difficulty. Trekabout’s roughly 100 members decreased a little during the pandemic, but bounced back afterward, since the trails offer one of the safer activities, beneficial to personal wellbeing,” says Rice.
“Next year the goal is to make each hike part of the Circle Trail, with a completed Circle Trail accomplished by the end of the year,” she said.
The club is a collaboration between the City of Prescott Recreation Services Department and the Yavapai Community Health Department, and has been going on for over 20 years.
Staff and volunteers from those organizations lead the hikes. The eight hike leaders meet monthly to select which trails will make up the coming month’s schedule. Tuesday hikes are meant to be less strenuous; Thursday hikes last two hours and may be more complex. Hikes are graded on a scale of one to four, four being the most difficult. Summer hikes avoid trails with full sun exposure and focus more on the forest trails.
“We have so many trails to choose from, and hope to get a great variety of hikes completed throughout the year,” she said.
Hike leader Sharmel Jordan, who has worked for YCCHS in health education for 15 years and participated in the Trekabout Hiking group for about ten, says, “Trekabout is an excellent group of people, and an amazing way to get out and experience all the beautiful trails Prescott has to offer. Getting out in nature and hiking is such a great way for people to stay active, stay social and benefits our mental health. One of my favorite things about living in Prescott is the access to nature,” Jordan said. “I love being able to get in the car and be out of town in ten minutes enjoying the great outdoors.”
Carl Gossard began hiking with Trekabout in 2014 and volunteered to become a hike leader in 2019. He retired to Prescott after 35 years with the Bureau of Land Management serving in wildlife management. “I started hiking with Trekabout to learn the trails in the Prescott area. I keep hiking with the Trekabouts because they are great people,” he said. “I wanted to give back a little, so I offered to be a hike leader. It’s very rewarding to take new hikers on the many trails in the Prescott area.”
Rice said they are working on developing more trails each year. “We always pursue safety as a priority. Improvements are made as we see the need, and as times change we adjust to the needs of the group,” she said.
Rice said the best aspect of Trekabout is bringing people and nature together. “What a great way to learn about the trails in our beautiful community. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and I know others do as well, but getting lost or hiking alone on unfamiliar trails is less than desirable and unsafe,” she said. Trekabout members have formed lasting friendships. Some have been doing the Trekabout hikes for more than 20 years.
Each hike starts in a different location, usually near the trailhead parking lot. Trekabout memberships are $18 per year. For more information and hike schedules, visit the website. Hikers are welcome to attend a hike to see whether Trekabout is a good fit before joining. For more information, search for Trekabout Hiking Club on the City website, prescott-az.gov.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.