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Hiking Adventures - EAZ Fall-Winter 2012

Top 5: Hiking Adventures (Fall-Winter 2012)

The Top 5 Hiking Adventures — as voted on by Experience AZ readers:


Aspen Nature Loop (Flagstaff)

Aspen Nature Loop, Photo: hikearizona.comAspen Nature Loop, near Flagstaff and the Arizona Snowbowl, is an easy, 1.5-mile hike with an elevation gain of 270 feet showcasing beautiful fall foliage and scenery.

“Situated on sloping meadows and open glades high on the western slope of the San Francisco Peaks, the Aspen Loop Trail affords unhindered views of the volcanic field to the west and the Grand Canyon to the north,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

The hike starts at the Humphreys Trailhead and ventures westward through “micro habitats where sun-loving wildflowers and grasses alternate with shade plants and ferns,” the U.S. Forest Service website states.

Alongside views of the San Francisco Peaks are the sights of Kendrick, Bill Williams and Sitgreave Mountains.

Aspen Nature Loop’s initial decline winds westward in and out of aspen, cork bark fir and pine for half a mile until the road forks. Upon reaching the fork, head left for 0.4 miles until reaching the Arizona trail junction. From the Arizona trail junction, travel right for about 0.25 miles to arrive at the Aspen Loop junction, at which point make another right at the junction for another 0.8 miles back to the trailhead.

“Completed in 2007 by the Forest Service in cooperation with the City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, Flagstaff Biking, Arizona Trail Association, Coconino Trail Riders, CREC, and Gore Corporation, the trail offers opportunities to learn about northern Arizona’s volcanoes, its habitat extremes,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

Council Rocks (Tucson)

Council Rocks, Photo: hikearizona.comThe Council Rocks hike near Tucson is an incredibly easy, 1.2-mile, round-trip hike showcasing pictographs thought to be painted nearly 1,000 years ago.

Located west of the Dragoon Mountains, the Council Rocks are a cluster of house-size boulders the have paintings reportedly by the Mogollon Indians.

“There is no official ‘trail’ to get there; rather, a few paths that lead straight up,” according to hikearizona.com.

“Beyond the immediate Council Rocks area, there is a well-worn path that continues north. It is worn for about 0.5 miles before petering out into a series of fainter paths and washes. There seems to be plenty of potential exploring in this area,” the website states.


Bear Mountain Trail #54 (Sedona)

Bear Mountain Trail #54, Photo: fs.usda.govBear Mountain Trail 54 is a well-traveled and moderately strenuous hike with rocky switchbacks that lead to panoramic views of the San Francisco Peaks at the Red Canyon overlook.

The ascent of Bear Mountain is mostly without shade, steep and difficult in places, but it has great views the whole way, according to the U.S. Forest Service website. “The trail begins at a broad path at the parking area, crosses two washes and then starts a gradual ascent a quarter of a mile to the wilderness boundary at the base of the mountain.

“The trail narrows and begins a 450-foot switchback that is steep and rocky in places,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website. “It levels out following narrow plateau area and then begins a steep rocky 500-foot climb in a narrow side canyon to a broad plateau. It [then] crosses the plateau gradually ascending, dips down, and then climbs another 400 feet to a false summit,” the website states.

From here the trail continues as a moderate climb to reach the actual summit. By continuing “over level ground another 200 yards to the Red Canyon overlook and a view of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the north,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website.


South Fork Trail #46 (Payson)

South Fork Trail #46, Photo: hikearizona.comSouth Fork Trail #46 is a rarely-hiked trail hidden away in Tonto National Forest and offers a unique experience traversing an interesting canyon. The hike has an elevation gain of 2,850 feet, and bears are known to be in the area.

“This twelve-and-a-half-mile hike starts at the Deer Creek trailhead and uses both the South Fork and Gold Ridge trails to form a loop through some of the Mazatzals lower elevations,” according to hikearizona.com. “It’s lush, shady, smooth and fast. Suffice it to say, it is a nonstop pleasure from start to finish,” the website states.

“It starts out typically as desert scrub for about the first mile then begins to hug the northern ridge of the South Fork of Deer Creek,” according to the website. “At about the two and a half mile point you will come across what looks to be the remains of an old, stone cabin. At about five miles round trip, turning around at this point would be ideal for kids.”

“But if you still have an appetite for more, you will not go disappointed,” hikearizona sates. “Although the beauty tends to masquerade it, this trail does have a definite vertical climb and there are certain wicked pitches that will quickly remind you of it.”

Moody Point 139 (Globe)

Moody Point 139 is one of the most challenging hikes in Tonto National Forest with a 4,200 elevation gain and faint trail. Downhill travel is recommended, and during times of flooding Cherry Creek is not traversable.

“Start your hike from the road closure barrier at FR487 near the ‘Falls’ camp ground,” according to hikearizona.com. “There will be a steady ascent of 400 feet over two-thirds of a mile along the closed Forest Road before you reach Workman Creek Waterfall. You will be surrounded by a thick Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine forest on all sides within Workman Creek Canyon.”

“FR487 is bracketed by a sea of yellow flowers as you continue 2.7 miles from the West to reach the Ranger’s Cabin near the Moody Point trailhead sign,” the website states. “At mile 5.5 there will be a rapid change in vegetation as you leave the pine forests behind and enter the high desert scrub lands. Route finding is most difficult in this section as it is a labyrinth of rocks and tall grass obscuring any cairns marking the trail.”

“At mile 8.2 you will encounter the first set of ruins [that have] been reduced to a pile of rubble with only small section of wall still standing. The middle set of ruins has about six adjoining rooms, each at a different state of deterioration. Some of the mud plaster walls have discernable fingerprints from the ancient architects. “

Experience AZ Fall-Winter 2012


West Fork Trail

An Adventure on the West Fork Trail, Sedona

The rising sun illuminated the vibrant reds, greens and purples that paint the canyon. The crisp morning air carried the fresh aroma of Arizona Cypress. I, along with my companions, took our first step onto the West Fork Trail and began our adventure through Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona.

Start of the hike at West Fork Trail in Sedona. With me were my great friends Alyssa, Lance, Mike and Si’on. As full-time students at ASU, it is not often that we can indulge in our love of the outdoors and our desire to explore. We could not, however, surpass the opportunity to hike in the Coconino National Forest; and so, we embarked from Tempe on an early Saturday morning in September.

The two-hour drive up Interstate 17 passed quickly as we surveyed the morning desert transform into a red-rock mountain wilderness. A few miles up State Route 179 North stood Sedona’s awe-inspiring Bell Rock — a triumphant red-rock formation, home to twisted Juniper trees, and vivid green and yellow agave plants.

Numerous turns up the mountainous road of highway 89A disoriented the group. Considering the possibility that we had already passed the trail, we stopped at a convenience store for directions. When asked where the West Fork Trail was located, the clerk’s smile alluded to the commonality of the question. “It’s actually just a half-mile up the road,” he replied. Sure enough, in a half-mile we arrived at the trailhead lot. Parking cost $9 in the lot, which is guarded and maintained by park rangers. The lot was littered with walking sticks used by past travelers. We each selected our respective walking stick, grabbed our gear (lunches, water and a camera) and began our journey through the canyon.

A small bridge guided the group over the creek and onto the West Fork Trail. My curiosity was sparked at a peculiar site on the outskirts of the canyon. An old, brick structure lay in shambles next to a small cave carved into the red rock. The site was once home to the Mayhew Lodge, home to tourists and travelers in the early 1920s. As we sprinted toward the ruins, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia. My childhood dreams of being an adventurer in the wild were being fulfilled.

As we journeyed further along the trail, the tranquil sounds of the creek grew nearer. We had reached our first, true creek crossing. A trail marker sat across the water, but this time there was not a bridge to leisurely stroll across. Being accustomed to such circumstances, due to his years spent backpacking, Lance guided the group across one by one, jumping from one stone to the next. Our first crossing was a success; our hike would consist of over 10 more.

West Fork Trail streamAt every chance possible, we climbed the massive, fallen rocks, which, for many years, have rained down the mountains to the bottom of the canyon. Each rock surmounted grew larger and increasingly difficult to climb until we finally met our match. “Let’s eat lunch up there,” Alyssa said as she pointed to the top of a 40-foot, rock cliff.

After contemplating the possibilities, Lance disappeared behind the cliff, determined to find a way up. Minutes later, he appeared atop the rock, triumphant, and again guided the group to the summit. I couldn’t help but smile as we enjoyed our cliff-top picnic.

Descending the rock was quite easy for everyone, except me. As I scaled down, I lost my footing and quickly grabbed onto a protruding branch. Knowing it wouldn’t hold for long I signaled Mike who stood on the ground below. The branch finally gave way, and I slid down; Mike braced for impact and broke my fall. We couldn’t help but laugh as we dramatically retold the story to the rest of the group of my treacherous five-foot fall.

Soon after, we arrived at what many would have considered the end of the trail. A pool of water filled the middle of the smooth canyon walls. Before I even had the chance to take off my shoes, Mike and Si’on ran straight into the creek bed; Alyssa, Lance and I followed. With the sun beating on our back, we waded through the cool, waste-deep water. I paused for a moment and gazed into the air; I sighed in contentment.

Surrounded by nature’s green giants and enclosed by the canyon’s massive red walls, I couldn’t help but feel at peace. Just for a day, I hadUpward gaze escaped the stresses of day-to-day life. For a day, I had escaped into the wild, carefree, with four of my greatest friends. It was now time to make the journey back.

After wading our way out of the creek, we grabbed our gear and returned to the trail. Passing by the familiar sights of the trail, we recalled the events of the day as if they were distant memories.

At last, we emerged from the canyon. We signed our names in the trail log, returned our walking sticks to the ground, and began the drive home. As we drove away, I turned and watched my walking stick disappear. I smiled at the thought of the next adventurer beginning his or her journey, choosing the same walking stick I had chosen.

For more information about the West Fork Trail go to sedonahikingtrails.com