Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vulture Peak Trail, Bureau of Land Management, Wickenburg, AZ

Distance: 4.2 miles (6.8 km) mround trip

Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous

Elevation: 2400 - 3480 feet (730 - 1060 m)

Season: October - May

Located about 7 miles south of Wickenburg, AZ on the Vulture Mine Road is 3680 foot Vulture Peak. This ancient volcanic plug stands like a sentinel above the Sonoran landscape. The trail to the top is relatively short, but very steep.

The trail begins at the Vulture Peak trailhead. There is a 4x4 road that will take you 1.4 miles further, but it is a very rough road and not really recommended for most. However, this first 1.4 miles of the trail is a very pleasant and relatively easy stroll through the Sonoran vegetation and across several nice washes.

When we were there, a green carpet of sprouts following the recent rains covered the ground and many xeric plants, such as the ocotillo and brittle brush has begun to sprout new leaves.

Upon reaching the 4x4 road trailhead, the trail immediately begins its nearly vertical ascent to the saddle on Vulture Peak above. In just 0.7 miles, the trail climbs over 800 feet in elevation. As it switches back and forth up the rocky slopes, the 5,000+ foot Harquahala Mountains appear as a broad dome on the western horizon.

The steepest and roughest section is right before the saddle, where the white strains of raptor droppings are left on the rocks and a large next is visible. At the saddle, you now have views east toward the Valley of the Sun and all the way across to the distant Four Peaks and the White Tanks Mountains. The large white domed football stadium in Glendale is even visible.

For those who are adventurous, another 200 foot vertical ascent will take you to the summit of the mountain for even more expansive views. However, given the difficulty of hauling a 2-year old on my back, we chose not to try it out, especially watching the other hikers butt-scooting down the chute.

Retrace your steps on the way back. Remember, that will be a tricky 0.7 mile descent, especially on the knees. But, the last 1.4 miles will be much more enjoyable.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hieroglyphic Canyon Trail, Superstition Wilderness, Tonto NF, Arizona

Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) round trip

Elevation: 1800 - 2600 feet (550 - 790 m)

Difficulty: Moderately Easy (strenuous behind petroglyphs)

Season: Anytime, except mid-day in summer

Located just outside of Apache Junction, in the Superstition Wilderness, this is a relatively easy, easily accessible trail that offers year-round water and some ancient petroglyphs. So, as you can imagine, it is also heavily visited, particularly by those who don't often go on long backcountry adventures.

But, despite the crowds, a visit to the Hieroglyphic Canyon petroglyphs is worth it. The trail begins in the sprawling community of Gold Canyon just off Hwy 60 heading toward Globe. The suburban developments go literally up to the Tonto National Forest boundary.  Turn left on Kings Ranch Road and go 2.8 miles until turning right on Mohican road. Then, look for the brown hiker sign and follow it at several more turns until arriving at the huge parking lot.

The trail heads up the hill to an intersection, where you will stay left. Then, it heads out across the bajada straight toward the Hieroglyphic Canyon ahead. The canyon cuts deep into the sheer cliffs of the Superstition Mountains which makes for a might site. Behind you, you can see Mount Lemmon near Tucson and Mount Graham far off in the distance.

The trail is wife, but rocky, but as it approaches the mouth of the canyon, get much more rugged. You will soon begin to hear the sound of the stream as it tumbles over several waterfalls. Make sure you look out for the boulder filled with ancient grinding mortars. At the middle falls are the densest set of petroglyphs. You will also know you are there when you see the hoards mulling about.

If you are adventurous, consider continuing up the canyon, boulder-hopping your way up to the sharp right turn the canyon makes. From up there, there is a spectacular view of very high cliffs and rugged speaks of the Superstitions. It isn't easy to get up there, but it is fun.

Boulder-hopping up the canyon

Around the bend, looking up to the headwall of the canyon

Retrace your steps to return to the trailhead

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hikemaster's New Format

Oweing to the time limitations I have. I have not put the effort into the Hikemaster's Trail Descriptions that I had hoped. As such, I have decided on a new format for this blog. Instead of randomly skipping around to different regions, I will simply do detailed write ups of the hikes I do NOW, as we travel around in our travel trailer. Pass Mountain Loop is an example of that. Perhaps I'll throw in a few other descriptions as bonuses when I have the time. But, I think this new format will better flow with the other blog The Adventures of the Hikemasters at and will allow me to have the time and motivation to provide the hiking descriptions to the public I wish to do.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pass Mountain Loop, Usery Mountain Recreation Area-Tonto NF, AZ

Distance: 7.3 miles (11.8 km)

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Season: October through May

Elevation: 1900 - 2600 feet (580 - 793 m)

The Pass Mountain Loop located in the Usery Mountain Recreation Area and adjacent Tonto National Forest in northeast Mesa, is a wonderful introductory hike of the Sonoran Desert ecosystems for those visiting the Phoenix area or for snowbirds looking for a place to camp for a while.

The loop provides opportunities to look for the subtle changes in the desert vegetation as you hike through several different microclimates. The loop also provides spectacular views of the Superstition Mountains, the Four Peaks, McDowell Mountains, as well as, sweeping views across the Valley of the Sun.

In addition, if you pay close attention, you can also see Quartz Peak in the Sierra Estrella mountains and Table Top mountain far off in the distance, on the other side of "The Valley". Both of these will be featured in later editions of the Hikemasters.

The trail starts at the Wind Cave trailhead in Usery Mountain Recreation Area. You may choose to go in either direction. If it is winter and the temperatures cool, I would recommend starting counter-clockwise (heading south) to get the morning sun. This direction will also provide you with shade on the north slopes of Pass Mountain once you have exerted your energy climbing to the saddle. If it is a warmer season, you may want to start clockwise to be in the shade while you ascend the slopes of the mountain and be in the sun as you descend the otherside. I have done both, but I will describe the hike going counter-clockwise, as that is the direction I did most recently.

The trail follows the fenceline boundary of the Tonto National Forest along the southern bajada, before passing the horse staging area. Then, it passes the fence, enters the "forest" and heads off across a mostly level bajada landscape with spectacular views of the Superstition Mountains ahead.

The trail then approaches a housing development before turning north and heading up into the amphitheater above. As the trail slowly climbs, the terrain becomes more rocky. The trail slowly switchbacks up the slopes of the mountain before reaching the saddle.

At the saddle, a whole new world opens up. In addition to panoramic views to the north and east, you can finally leave behind the views of the Phoenix valley and the never-ending suburbs. Instead, you get a view across the Tonto National Forest, which if there are any trees, they must all be saguaros. In addition, you can see the spendid Four Peaks rising in the distance.

Crossing the saddle to the shady northern slopes also changes the vegetation. Gone are the saguaros and instead you see grasses and lots of jojoba shrubs. In the darkest ravines and rocky overhangs, mosses and ferns can even be seen clinging to the rocks. The reason the saguaros because less numerous is that saguaros are damaged by frost and these northern slopes get less sun and stay cooler in the winter.

The trail will soon offer nice views to the north of the McDowell Mountains, Fountain Hills, and Red Mountain. As the trail eventually works its way back to the western side of the mountain, the shooting range becomes visible. The trail descends onto the bajada once more, but this time it undulates up and down the eroded slopes.

The western slopes have an enormous profusion of saguaros. It has the largest number of tiny and young saguaros I have ever seen. There is a real regeneration occuring on that slope. I suspect this virtual forest of cacti has to do with getting the hot late afternoon sun on those slopes, as well as, collecting more rainfall when the storms approach from the west.

Just Giving Back For All To Enjoy

Why pay money to buy hiking books? Why pay fees to view trail websites? By searching my archives and checking back often to see new posts, we are sure you will be able to find the hike that is right for you ... and for free!

In addition, we provide fascinating ecological and geological information to make the hikes informative and fun. As former National Park Rangers, we know how to find the right hike for you. So, if you are on vacation, we will provide you with the hike you absolutely MUST do while in an area. Do not go on vacation without checking out this site!