Why I don’t do New Years Resolutions…

I love Calvin and Hobbes...so awesome!

As the days slowly tick off the calendar and the hours creep towards the final conclusion to 2011, many of us partake in the seemingly obligatory tradition of resolving to better ourselves in some meaningful way.  The new year promises change, a clean slate, a new beginning and we all want to believe that there is some magic pixie dust sprinkled over the big “JAN 1″ on the shiny new desk calendar that will make all things possible.  It’s always to “lose weight”, “get in shape”, “quit smoking”, “eat healthier”, “spend more time with family”…basically a big list of fixes to regretful activity from the prior year.

From 2011Resolutions.org:

Top 10 New Years Resolutions of 2012:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Get Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Staying Fit and Healthy
  6. Learn Something Exciting
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Helping Others
  9. Fall in Love
  10. Spend More Time with Family

I don’t do resolutions.  I don’t do resolutions for the specific reason that New Years Resolutions are a response to regrets in our lives.  We blindly and thoughtlessly engage in activities throughout the year without considering the consequences of our actions.  The New Year rolls around and we feel obligated to spend time reflecting on our lives to date and try to focus on what we’ve been doing wrong and come up with how we’re going to fix it.  Then two, three, maybe 6 weeks in to the new year we lose steam and revert to our old behavior so we can resolve to change the exact same things again next year.

I have a better plan.  Don’t engage in activities or behavior you know you will later regret.  Simple, right?  Be present in your day-to-day life.  Think about the choices you are making when you make them.  Consider how these decisions will shape your life in the long-term, not just the next few minutes.  I have found that being mindful of your actions and being present in your life truly brings about a life with less regret.  To me, waiting for some magic day on the calendar to declare a change is pointless.  Change now, change always…don’t put off change when you see need for improvement.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Big Jim Trail


This hike was specifically chosen to satisfy two main desires I had in selecting a hike.  First, that there was a peak to summit.  I had been toying with the idea of focusing on peakbagging in the mountains around Phoenix, and this was the first hike I specifically chose based on that goal.  Second, it was a very obscure trail that has seen very little traffic.  I really wanted to hike a trail in an area new to me on a trail that was not heavily used nor established.  Big Jim Peak sits about 6 miles into a remote portion of desert called Hell’s Canyon Wilderness west of Lake Pleasant along Cottonwood Creek, north of the Phoenix Metro area.

Singer ‘Walkin’ Jim Stolz hiked more than 28,000 of trail before his death in 2010.  Walkin’ Jim Loop is named for this intrepid outdoorsman, adventurer, singer and author.  The trail was originally blazed by Bob Greg and named after Jim Stolz with the latter’s permission.  Jim later accepted Bob’s invitation to hike the trail with him in 2010 shortly before his death.

I was planning on doing this hike with a small group, but as often happens, people slowly began to back out.  When I finally accepted that I was going to be hiking alone, in an unknown wilderness area, I began to doubt the trip and almost backed out myself.  I collected information, maps and researched the trail and the area.  The morning of the hike, I came very close to cancelling.  Then, ridiculous as it may sound, I thought of my dad…and the idea of backing away from a challenge because of ‘the unknown’ suddenly seemed unreasonable.  So, I grabbed my gear and followed the directions to the trailhead.

There are old ranch roads that traverse this wilderness area.  The whole area used to be cattle land and there are still some wild cattle loose in the area, as well as wild burros and a variety of other wildlife.  The trail actually crosses some old homestead sites deep in the wilderness with partial fences, debris and artifacts littered about the clearings.  The trail is fairly well worn in the beginning and crosses Cottonwood Creek a couple of times.  As it takes you further into the desert, the signs of use diminish and the trail becomes more overgrown.  It became clear to me a couple of miles in the that main use of the trail was by the local wildlife, not humans, and I was forced to stoop below branches and push through overgrown brush.

My Trail Journal and topo map with route...

I had marked my route beforehand on a fairly detailed topo map, and was able to follow the trail easily despite it’s spotty and faint appearance.  In places, the trail can disappear completely but is marked relatively well with cairns for those with a careful enough eye to catch them.  There were portions of this trail where the only way to continue the route was to walk from cairn to cairn.  The topo map was invaluable at times, and allowed me to triangulate my position and reorient myself.

The trail itself is a lot of fun.  The terrain changes repeatedly, the trail wanders through dense Mesquite forests, crosses dry and wet creeks and washes, climbs up and over various rock formations covered with a variety of lichen and drop in and out of several small canyons.  The trail is very remote, and one of the few places where I really noticed the silence.  Desert silence is a strange thing, and unique.  Occasionally, I could hear the motor of 4×4 vehicles in use on some of the old, abandoned ranch roads.

About 4 miles in, there is a sign marking the side trail to Big Jim Peak (peak 3465).  The Peak dominates the horizon for a couple of miles prior to this intersection.  The peak trail actually heads across the foothills of this small range and into a canyon just below the peak.  From here it snakes up the canyon to a saddle between the peak and the rest of the ridge.  The trail ends here.

Hiking to the peak is a trailblazing challenge, forcing you to make your own way through the scrub brush and grasses.  There are some cairns along the way to help remind you that you are going in the right direction.  I eventually crested the craggy rock that surrounds the peak, and was able to boulder hop to the highest point.  With a little searching, I was able to find the hidden glass jar with the peak ledger in it.  It had rained the previous week so the ledger was still slightly wet and I had trouble writing my name on the page.  The last entry was from October of 2008.  Though I’m sure there had been other visitors, the idea of being the first one on this summit in over 2 years was exciting.

I pulled off my pack and spent some time at the top watching eagles hunt along the cliffs below my position.  I dug my lunch out of the pack and found a relatively flat rock to sit and enjoy my lunch.  From the peak, I had a great view of Lake Pleasant to the East and the remaining desert wilderness to the west.  It’s a fantastic vantage point and I was disappointed I had decided not to bring my good camera.  I laid down on a boulder for a bit to enjoy the sun.  When I decided to start down, I sat up and grabbed my gear and felt a sharp sting on the back of my thigh.  The intricate, animated dance that followed had to have looked insane.  luckily, I was alone and by the time I had stripped out of my pants the only evidence left of my visitor was the barb and venom sack still pulsating from the scorpion that got me.  I had never been stung by a scorpion before, but living in Arizona, you know what the dangers are and I now had a sense of urgency to get back to civilization.  I had no idea if I was allergic, or if my body would react weird to the sting and I was 6.5 miles from my truck.

The return hike was a little of a blur.  Mostly just pushing hard to get back.  I was running low on water, it had gotten warm out since I had started my hike and I was feeling fuzzy.  I don’t know if it was lack of water, fatigue or the scorpion but the hike back was way harder than the hike in.  When I finally got back to my truck, I felt relieved.  I downed some Gatorade, loaded my gear and started the drive home.

I estimated the hike would be about 9.8 miles round-trip.  However,  when my GPS died at the peak it read close to 6.5 miles making the round-trip closer to 13 miles.  I really would love to do this hike again when I can spend the night on Big Jim Peak and get some sunrise shots over Lake Pleasant before hiking back.  Hopefully without a scorpion encounter…

Tips for the Yoga Beginner

As I start out with posting Yoga Practice for Hikers over the coming months, I want to filter in some advice and tips from the experts.  For beginners, the idea of starting a Yoga Practice can be intimidating.  The underlying tone in the advice given over and over again is to have a sense of humor, enjoy yourself and find your own reward in the act of doing.
 
Below is some great advice found at the Whole Living Blog.

Tips for the Yoga Beginner

Body+Soul, October 2007

New to yoga? Notable yoga experts offer these 5 tips.

1. “Along with your yoga mat and your towel, bring a sense of humor to class. Students who get hung up on doing everything ‘perfectly’ are less likely to come back.”
–Seane Corn, creator of the Vinyasa Flow Yoga DVD series and national yoga ambassador for YouthAIDS

2. “Don’t force your way into yoga. Adapt your movements to accommodate your level of strength and stamina, so that you avoid injury and feel comfortable in every pose.”
–Baron Baptiste, founder of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga

3. “Watch out for what I call ‘self mutilation’ — spending your time talking to yourself about what you can’t do. This will make your practice dismal. The more you stay connected to feeling the pose — to breathing into the pose — the better your experience will be.”
–Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga

4. “To jump-start your practice, go on a yoga retreat. By temporarily shelving all the distractions in your normal life, you’ll learn enough in just two or three days to make a big difference in your weekly yoga class experience.”
–Richard Faulds, former president of Kripalu

5. “When you get to class, keep an open mind. Tune in to your own infinite possibilities. And drink water.”
–Guruatma Singh Khalsa, co-owner of Franklin Yoga and yoga instructor for 32 years

Introduction to Yoga Practice for Hikers…

The outdoors is good for mind, body and soul...and so is Yoga...

Hiking  and backpacking is fantastic exercise.  For many, though, it’s also an opportunity for injury.  Hiking over the rugged, uneven terrain we love puts specific strain on the tendons and joints in our legs, causes muscle fatigue and forces a forward leaning posture that is very hard on the long muscles of the back.  The additional challenge of carrying weight in a backpack magnifies our potential for injury.  Creating an even bigger problem, many of us have day jobs that keep us bound to an office chair staring at a computer screen.  This combination of sedentary work mixed with active outdoor pursuits can lead to torn muscles, strained tendons, and pinched nerves.  With a little off-trail conditioning and post-hike stretching using basic Yoga movements, we can reduce our risk of an injury that can force us off the trail for good.

Yoga has, in one form or another, been around for over 5,000 years.  Believed to have been introduced to the West in the 1800′s, it’s gained popularity in recent decades as a way to improve overall health, sharpen mental focus and reduce stress.  Of the 8 steps attributed to Classical Yoga typically physical exercise (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (pratyahara) are the general focus of Modern Western Yoga.  Yoga has been proven to increase physical strength, build stamina and improve cardio-vascular health.  The combination of slow, focused movements and controlled breathing allows us to exercise systems in the body that don’t otherwise see much action.  For all active people, but hikers and backpackers specifically, Yoga offers a great way to maintain the strength we need for the climb, while also improving balance, flexibility and recovery time.

Starting in January, I will make Yoga Practice for Hiking a regular part of my Blog.  I will be introducing new forms and movements with step by step instructions, explanations and some tips and tricks.  I’d also like to include some pictures and video for reference but that part may have to wait.  For those of you who are new to Yoga, I will go over some of the basics here to get us started.

Where to Practice…

Anyplace where it is quiet and without distraction.  I like to have my morning stretch in the backyard on the patio.  I get up early and start my morning coffee, while it’s brewing I take a few minutes to go outside and stretch.  Warming up my muscles, soaking up the morning sun, breathing in the crisp morning air while I wait for my coffee is the perfect way to wake up.  For post-hike stretching, a quiet trailhead or parking lot or even an open picnic area is all you need.

When to Practice…

As I mentioned, I like to stretch in the morning when I get up.  I also try to stretch a few times throughout the say because I spend my days working behind a desk.  So, for me, whenever I start to feel my muscles stiffen up or my back or neck start to ache, it’s a good time to stretch.  It’s also recommended a good stretch after any extensive exercise.

What do I need…

You really don’t need anything special.  I have a very basic Yoga Mat, I make sure I have loose comfortable clothes that won’t restrict movement and a towel.  Other than that, all you really need is a distraction free location, time to complete the routine and a plan.

Why are we doing this…

Very simply put, Yoga will improve performance and reduce the potential for injury.  Athletes at all levels of competition have experienced increased performance with the addition of Yoga to their training regiment.

How do I know if I’m doing it right…

I’m really going to try to make sure I explain the process clearly.  The rest is practice.  The important thing is being aware of your body and paying attention to how you feel.  If something hurts, or doesn’t feel right…stop.  Focus on breathing through the movements and transition slowly from one position to another.  Practicing slow, deliberate movements while keeping your core tight and your breathing controlled will allow us to get the most out of every exercise.

If you follow along with me, we are learning together.  I have some experience with Yoga and have taken several classes, followed a few video workouts and have done a fair amount of research on the subject.  I am, by no means, an expert.  I plan to pursue this subject as a learning process and will be consulting with experienced Yogi’s, Yoga instructors and instructional books to determine which movements and combinations will have the greatest advantage to hikers and backpackers.  I want to try to provide suggestions for basic everyday routines, post-hike routines as well as therapeutic exercises for when injuries do happen.

If you have any specific problem areas or post-hike discomfort, let me know so we can look for a way to work through it.

Tips to Improve your Airport Experience…

For the past year and a half or so, flying has been a major part of my life.  It seems, these days, my schedule revolves around when I fly next, how long I’ll be gone, how long I will be home between flights, etc.  I’ve flown on several airlines including United, Alaska, Frontier, Us Airways and Southwest.  My Airline of choice has been US Airways, mainly because they are the most consistent and predictable…and those are the qualities I look for to ensure a smooth travel experience.

Traveling as much as I have recently, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate the airport experience as painlessly as possible.  I also see a lot of frustration from people who don’t travel much.  As I see it, much of this frustration could be avoided by following a few simple pieces of advice and arming yourself with a little knowledge about the process.

 

Buying your ticket

Buy early!  The earlier you can buy your ticket, the cheaper your ticket will be and the more likely you will get the seating you want.  Make sure to factor in baggage fees when budgeting the cost of your trip.

Packing

Pack what you need for your trip, no more, no less.

Know your airline’s baggage policies, don’t guess.  Make sure your bag is the appropriate size, whether checking a bag or carrying it on the plane.  Check on your size, weight and quantity limits.

Plan ahead for going through security.  Liquids and gels are limited to 4oz. containers and must go through the scanner separate from your luggage.  It’s also required for these to be in a see through bag, zip-locks work great.  So store that shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste in a zip-lock and make sure it’s easy to get to.

Checking in

Check-in early!  If your airline will allow an early check-in online, take advantage of it.  It will save you time, money and headaches at the airport (especially if you are not checking a bag – you can skip the lines and head straight to security!).

The Boarding Pass

If you check-in early, print your boarding pass at home.  Some airports are equipped with a special scanner that allows you to have your boarding pass sent to your phone.  Either way, make sure you have it on you AND accessible for when you need it (checking bags, security and boarding at the gate).

Security

Everything off!  The new scanners require that you remove everything from your pockets, remove shoes, belts, jewelry, hats, jackets/sweaters, etc. – Plan accordingly.  Use as many bins as you need (for me it’s 3 bins).  If you are carrying a laptop or other portable electronic device (DVD player, iPad, etc.), it must also go through the scanner in it’s own bin.

So, remember: Belts, shoes, jackets in the bin – Liquids and gels in the bins – Laptop in the bin – bags go through by themselves.

Getting to the Gate

Always check the monitors for your gate assignment.  Don’t rely on your boarding pass, gates change all the time.  If you are there early enough to hang out at the bar (or restaurant) before your flight, don’t wait until the last second to go to your gate to board…it might not be the same gate and you may find yourself running through the airport to catch your flight.

Boarding

Most airlines board by zone, or seat number.  Know ahead of time which zone you’re in and wait your turn patiently while staying out of the way for those who board before you.  If you are impatient and crowd the gate, you are doing nothing but delaying the boarding process and adding to your own frustration.  Relax…we’ll all make it on the plane.

The Flight

I would rather be hiking down there...

Know that flights rarely leave exactly when scheduled to leave.  Once on board, just relax and have faith you’ll get there.  If you have a connecting flight, watch your time but understand that throwing a fit mid-flight because you are running late won’t make the plane move any faster.  And you’re not going anywhere if you get worked up about it and get arrested or have a heart attack!

Flights these days don’t have a lot of in-flight perks.  Short flights no longer have snacks and unlimited beverages and most don’t have any form of entertainment.  Know how long your flight is and plan accordingly with books, movies, puzzles or whatever will keep you relaxed and occupied for your flight.  There’s nothing worse than being bored, frustrated and uncomfortable.

Touching Down

Wheels touching the ground does not mean the trip is over.  Stay in your seat with your seatbelt on.  Getting up prematurely can cause further delays as the crew tries to get everyone back in their seats before they can taxi to the gate.  This process can take some time, especially if your flight arrives early.  Once again, getting impatient and throwing a fit will not get the plane to the gate faster…I promise.

A note about Electronic Devices from the airlines…

Whether you agree with the policy or not (thanks to MythBusters), it is a requirement to turn off your electronics when taking off and landing.  Don’t be the douchebag that refuses to turn off his phone and delays everyone’s trip because you are playing “Words With Friends”.

Conclusion

Travel can be stressful and confusing if you are not accustomed to it.  The stories about bad flights, rude gate attendants and inappropriate TSA agents are all based on real experiences but it’s not the norm.  Most of the time, people are just trying to do their job.  The best thing you can do is plan ahead, give yourself plenty of time, be respectful and, most of all, RELAX.  Being friendly, respectful and easy-going throughout the entire process will insure a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Mund’s Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is a magical place. It is a world famous tourist destination known for it’s signature red rock cliffs, new-age vibe and artist community.  People from all over the world have made a visit to Sedona’s “Red Rock Country” part of their travel bucket-list.

Sedona was originally homesteaded back in 1876 by JJ Thompson when he claimed squatters rights to land across from today’s Indian Gardens Store.  Just a year prior, scouts from Fort Verde (Camp Verde) were still chasing Tonto Apache through this rugged wilderness.  As people began to move in to the valley, the need arose for a Post Office.  Many of the original names for the Post Office were turned down because they were deemed too long by the government, and so the area was named after TC Schnebly’s wife….Sedona…because it was short enough to fit on a stamp.

I wasn’t originally planning a trip up north, but when I got a call that I was needed on a job site in Sedona for a mid-week meeting I immediately seized the opportunity to get some hiking in.  It’s pretty rough being contractually obligated to visit one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth.  The call was for an early morning meeting that would last until about noon.  So the plan was to do the meeting, grab some lunch and then hike part of the Secret Canyon area.  Unfortunately, FR 152 (which in best conditions is still a rugged 4×4 dirt road) was closed and I would either face a long hike in, before I could even get to the trailhead or find another hike.

On a suggestion from some Twitter friends, I stopped by the The Hike House for a map ($15), my Red Rock Pass ($5) and some trail advice (free).  They were very knowledgeable and helpful and were able to point to a handful of trail options that were open, accessible and would fit into my time frame.  I chose to hike Mund’s Wagon Trail which crawls along Schnebly Hill Road (which was also closed).  Looking at the map, I could access Marg’s Draw from a trailhead just blocks away from The Hike House and hike that trail to Mund’s Wagon.

The parking lot for the trailhead was a small gravel patch located a block or so behind a Circle K close to the main road.  I parked, organized my gear, strapped on my new Osprey Mutant 38 (thanks Phil!) and headed out.  Roads were closed and trail conditions were questionable because Sedona had recently seen a decent amount of snow.  However, this day was bright, clear and reasonably warm and there was no snow on the ground where I started.  By the time I got to Marg’s Draw, I started to get glimpses of what I would run in to.  The soil in Sedona is loose, sandy and has enough clay content that it gets very slippery and muddy when wet.  With the previous week’s snow melting, parts of the trail were very slick.  Marg’s Draw is a pretty flat, easy trail that meanders through the short, sparse Juniper and Pine forest and offers some very nice views of Mund’s Mountain.  It’s a pretty low trail, so the views are limited but that allows you to focus on the immediate scenery.  High desert landscape can be very beautiful, especially if you haven’t had much experience with it.  Blooming Agave plants, prickly pear and yucca are sprinkled in to the landscape along with Manzanita and sage brush.

Marg’s Draw Trail passes over Schnebly Hill Road where it connects to the Huckaby Trail.  Taking a left would head you up Huckaby and along Oak Creek.  Mund’s Wagon Trail is to the right and takes you to the main trailhead with parking, picnic tables and an automated kiosk for purchasing your requisite Red Rock Pass.  From here, Mund’s Wagon Trail twists through Bear Wallow Canyon along a small creek in an area called Mund’s Mountain Wilderness.  The creek was mostly frozen but there was still some moving water under the ice.  This trail never really strays too far from Schnebly Hill Road and, in fact, crosses the road several times.  The main rock formation along this trail is Mitten Ridge on the north side of the trail which rises above a lower formation called the Cow Pies. Mitten Ridge is a sliver of Red Rock that towers high above the trail and, this time of year, is in the perfect position to catch the light of the setting sun and I was hoping to time my return to catch a shot of sunset light splashing against the red rock.

As the hike took me deeper in to the canyon, the ascent was gradual but obvious.  The ice in the creek became thicker, the snow on the ground was deeper, the muddy red soil became frozen and hard.  Being in a canyon, and the afternoon getting late, most of the hike was in shade and the cold was creeping in.  As I looked at the map I decided on-the-fly that a good stopping point would be a feature named the Merry-Go-Round.  This is a prominent Red Rock formation sitting on top of a shelf of a harder, lighter sandstone layer that erodes much slower creating  a narrow ledge that completely surrounds the main formation in a rough circle, thus – The Merry-Go-Round.

The Merry-Go-Round

 

This ledge offers some of the best, unobstructed views down the valley and would have been a beautiful place to wait for sunset and get some amazing photos.  I hiked around the Merry-Go-Round for a while and climbed to the top of the main formation where countless people have carved their initials and/or date of their visit into the soft sandstone at the top.  I climbed back down and unpacked my NIKON D70 to get some good shots of the view.  I also took this opportunity to pull out my handy JetBoil and make some hot coco.  Sometimes it’s the simple things, like sitting on a cliff overlooking a scenic canyon with a cup of hot coco at the end of a snow-covered trail.  Priceless!

I didn’t stay long.  The winter sun was setting quickly and I knew I’d be hiking in the dark before I got back to my truck.  I decided, in the interest of time and safety, I would hike back using Schnebly Hill Road instead of the icy trail.  There were still portions of the icy, snow-covered road where footing was questionable.  As the sun disappeared behind the cliffs to the southwest, the temperature dropped significantly and I stopped to unload the cold weather gear so I could finish out the hike comfortably.  The moon was offering enough light to cast a shadow once the sun had dropped below the horizon and I didn’t need to fire up the flashlight until I was close enough to the original trailhead to start double checking the map so I didn’t miss my turn.  I returned to the truck after dark, changed into some warm dry clothes and began the long drive home.

Even though I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly two decades, this was only my second hike in Sedona.  Now that I have an appropriate trail map and a job that will require me to visit, I imagine I’ll be logging a lot more miles in Red Rock Country.

Total Hike: 9.5 miles RT (roughly)

Pueblo Canyon Hike and Ruins

Pueblo Canyon Ruins cliff dewlling

Pueblo Canyon Ruins - Photo by Jabon Eagar

One of the main attributes of back country hiking that intrigues me the most is visiting places that very few people will ever see with their own eyes.  There is something special about being one of just a handful of people to have personally witnessed some of the more magical parts of this planet.  I had originally set out to do this hike on my own, but considering how remote the area is I had second thoughts.  I invited some friends to come along and also found another group (led by photographer Jabon Eagar) planning the exact same hike and contacted them to see if we could hike together.  I began planning my trip and convinced several people to come along, but that fell through as, one-by-one, they all cancelled.  The same thing happened with Jabon’s group and we both decided to push the trip off.  I wouldn’t let this one go, so earlier this year my fiance and I joined up with Jabon to hike Pueblo Canyon.

Pueblo Canyon Cherry Creek Valley

Cherry Creek Valley - Photo by David Creech

Pueblo Canyon is a very remote, obscure, rarely used trail on the east side of the Sierra Anchas (Spanish, “Broad Range”).  The Sierra Ancha Wilderness lies about 100 miles east of the Phoenix Metro area and north of Globe.  It’s 32 square miles are some of the most rugged and inaccessible wilderness in Arizona.  Established in 1933 as a “primitive area” and later absorbed into Tonto National Forest, it was originally shared by several Native American Tribes but was last occupied by the Salado Culture over 700 years ago.  It’s said that the remains of Salado cliff dwellings and other signs of habitation can be found in nearly every south facing canyon wall in this area.  Pueblo Canyon itself has 3 main sites and rumors of more further along the cliff.  Many of the main Ruins in this area, including Pueblo Canyon were documented in 1934 by Dr. Emil W. Haury.  As part of the Gila Pueblo Project Expeditions, Dr. Huary explored the area from 1930 to 1934 led by local Rancher Dewey Peterson.  Peterson owned and operated a ranch at Aztec Peak, just above the canyons where the ruins were found.

Due to how remote this hike is, we had to set out very early in the morning to be able to hit the trail before too late in the day.  We met up with Jabon and his group around 6am in Mesa and then set out on the 3+ hour drive to the trail head.  The drive takes you through some of the most scenic territory in Eastern Arizona.  Beautiful rock formations, canyons and cliffs line the road north of Globe.  The trailhead is a little over 23 miles down Cherry Creek Road.  A dirt road the whole way, Cherry Creek Road is partially maintained and well traveled, but soon becomes a very primitive jeep trail requiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  It also crosses Cherry Creek at times and can be hazardous if the creek is up.  We made it to the trailhead without incident only to find that we now had a flat tire, but decided to deal with that upon our return and headed up the trail.

The hike starts where an old mining road intersects Cherry Creek Road.  The road was built in 1954 to service the Big Buck Uranium Mine found near the first set of ruins.  Hiking this first section gets your blood pumping early as it steadily climbs toward the canyon interior and into the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area.  About a half mile or so in, the trail splits.  It was a little tricky to figure out exactly where this split was, continuing to the south would take you to Cold Spring Canyon (there are ruins there also) and taking the trail west would lead you to Pueblo Canyon.  We continued heading toward Pueblo Canyon reaching a landing of sorts that opens up to the Cherry Creek Valley and offers some amazing views to the east.

Pueblo Canyon Ruins cliff dwelling

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling - Photo by Jabon Eagar

The trail is very overgrown from here until reaching the ledge at the base of the cliffs.  We found ourselves trudging through overgrown Manzanita and Scrub Oak making route finding difficult at times.  We ascended above the slope and leveled out at a prominent ledge that sits at the base of the massive sheer cliffs that rise above the canyon.  This is where all the action is!  From this point we were at the base of the south canyon wall and could look across the narrow canyon to the north wall and make out the cliff dwellings we were after.  Hiking was easier here, though the vegetation had changed and we were now climbing around Prickly Pear, Yucca and Desert Spoon.

The first set of ruins is very close to the mine site and, therefore, the most disturbed.  Tailings from the mine were dumped in the ruin site and eventually the ruin itself was damaged beyond recognition.  The mine is fairly nondescript and is not very deep.  It was still a good place to stop, set up some photographs and have a snack.  The trail heads further west from here in to the heart of the canyon where a thin, graceful waterfall plunges some 200ft into a small pool.  The ledge trail leads you behind the ribbon falls along some slick, algae covered rock.  We took some time here for photos and carefully navigated the slippery path behind the waterfall to the north wall of the canyon.  After a short walk, building with anticipation, you stumble across the first major set of ruins.

Pueblo Canyon Ruins stone walls

Pueblo Canyon Ruins - Photo by Jabon Eagar

Pueblo Canyon Ruins pictographs

Mud Plaster Art - Photo by David Creech

It is a wonder to see each one of the cliff dwellings still left standing on this side of the canyon.  Some the wood and mud roof structures are still partially intact.  Wood beams still rest in place, lodged in the stacked stone walls.  Many of the mud and stone walls still have a primitive stucco finish (mud plaster).  In some places, you can still see the coloring and pictographs that originally decorated the stucco walls.  The back wall of the structures is the cliff face itself.  Parts of the dwellings are multi-story and rock art high on the cliff is still visible, if only slightly.  Some of the rock art on the walls is unlike any I’ve seen in Arizona.  Vibrant pictographs and hand prints in bold reds and whites decorate the cliff.

Pueblo Canyon Ruins collapsed roof structure

Interior of Cliff Dwelling - Photo by David Creech

Climbing in and around the ruins, careful not to disturb or damage any part of them, we explored the structures for quite some time.  We ate our lunch sitting among the stone walls, looking out over the canyon floor 1,000 feet below us and discussing the history of the Salado Culture.

Pueblo Canyon Ruins paint hand prints pictographs

Photo by David Creech

The return hike seemed to pass quickly.  We ran into one section where we seemed to lose the trail, but a little bush-whacking put us on course and we were soon back at the truck and Jabon quickly went to work switching out the flat.  The ride home seemed very, very long and I found myself wishing we had planned an overnight so that we had ample time to explore the adjacent canyons and see more of what the area had to offer.

I will go back some day, there is so much more to see.  I just need to find a few adventurous volunteers brave enough to venture into the wilderness with me.

 

Pueblo Canyon Ruins cliff dwelling in good shape

Pueblo Canyon Ruins - Photo by Jabon Eagar

Click here for more of Jabon’s photos from this hike.  To check out more of Jabon’s beautiful photographs visit his website.

The Hiker’s Hike…

Havasu Creek Canyon, Arizona circa April of 2000

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I might not be getting the best experience out of my hikes.  I think about how I used to hike and what made me excited about a particular trail and something has changed.  I feel like I’ve been doing so much fitness-oriented hiking lately that I can’t down-shift and enjoy a hike purely for the experience.  As I make the effort to change this, it made me start thinking about why I hike, what draws me to the trail and how what the trail has to offer changes my approach to the hiking experience.

Slot Canyon in Northern Arizona

What draws me to the trail these days is very much about goals.  I find myself choosing hikes based on bagging a new peak, beating a previous time or simply logging miles in to my fitness routine.  My choices are less about the experience and more about the route, the terrain and how fast I think I can complete it and get back home.  So much so that I don’t even carry a camera with me anymore.  There’s really nothing wrong with this, especially since I am in recovery from an injury and I am focused on training for a race.  Fitness goals are very important to me right now, but I do miss hiking purely for the joy of discovery.

Havasu Creek near confluence with Colorado River

When I first moved to Arizona and began hiking in the desert, every hike was about getting to see something new.  It was about the varied terrain, the exotic and esoteric plants, the fascinating little creatures that scurried about…it was about the journey.  The desert was a new place to me and I would find myself randomly picking hikes in far off places just to see what I could find.  I wanted to stand under a new waterfall, look from a new peak, see new trees and hear new birds.  I recall hikes where I would spend huge amounts of time just watching a rattle snake, or the spectacle of a tarantula migration or inspecting some old piece of mining equipment long since left behind.  Some of my best and most memorable hiking experiences were from this time in my life.  A time when every trip was a new adventure in every sense of the word.

Today I feel torn.  Part of me enjoys the convenience of a trail within a 10-minute drive of my house in the city that offers me 3, 5 or 7 mile options that I know I can complete in a set amount of time.  It’s definitely better, in my opinion, than asphalt.  But there’s another part of me that misses the exploration side of hiking, the adventure and the sense of discovery.  I feel like I should have more reverence for the trail, more respect and acknowledgement of the uniqueness that makes each trail special.  The problem I have is that many of these local trails just don’t feel special anymore.

I think it’s time to push out of my comfort zone.  It’s time to visit new places, take the road less traveled and reintroduce ADVENTURE to the outdoors again.  I know there are amazing places out there that I have yet to visit and I want to start making those destinations more of a priority.  We all hike for different reasons and there is no right or wrong, as long as you enjoy yourself and stay safe.  I can still run in town and climb local peaks to build cardio and endurance, but I really want to hike the kind of trails that used to fill me with a sense of wonder…a true Hiker’s Hike.

And who knows, maybe I’ll start carrying a camera again…

Grand Canyon, Arizona circa October, 2007

 

Overton-GoJohn Trail Loop

The Cave Creek Recreation Area (Now known as Cave Creek Regional Park) is nestled in the foothills of a small range just north of Phoenix, Arizona.  Located off of 32nd Street north of Carefree Highway, this area has a vast and colorful history.  The park and it’s trail system are an expansion of old mining trails from the 1870′s when Jasper and other minerals were mined from the hills around the park.  Some of the old mine sites are still visible even though many of them have been closed off for years for safety reasons.  The park includes 2,922-acres of beautiful, classic Sonoran Desert scenery and the new visitors center offers classes and lectures about the flora and fauna of the area.

My all time favorite loop in the park is a combination of two different trails that intersect and create a 6.5-mile loop.  The Overton Trail heads out from the main parking lot at the visitors center and takes you west (clockwise) at a nice, gradual incline into the depths of the park.  The trail here is very well maintained and an easy walk.  This is a multi-use park and the trails see a fair share of bikers and horses so watch out for both.  As the trail crests the first rise you get a fantastic view of the western ridges in the distance and is absolutely fantastic for well timed sunset photos.  The trail wraps around the west side of the mountains that make up the heart of the park and allows you to climb up and around the back of the mountains where you leave all signs of civilization behind.  For a park that sits surrounded by residential developments, the back side of the park (north side) gives you the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.

The Overton Trail tops out at a flat landing where a small bench has been erected for those needing a quick rest.  Shortly after the landing, the trail connects to the Go John Loop.  This secluded section of hiking winds down a very flat, easy section of trail that has seen a lot of maintenance over the years.  This section is usually where I work on some trail running and try to slam through it at a good pace because it’s not until you reach the bottom of the wash that the trail becomes interesting again. From the bottom of the wash the trail turns into a mixture of sand, loose rock, ragged exposed bedrock and everything in between.  The trail winds though the vegetation offering up-close and personal views of some of the Sonoran Deserts most famous wildlife.  Palo Verde Trees, Mesquite, Saguaros and Barrel Cactus highlight the trail.

As the trail climbs out of the wash there is a short section that some hikers find challenging and Mountain Bikers can practice their technical skills.  Once past this climb, the trail pretty much levels out and becomes a nice, easy hike to the east side of the range.  From the east side you get a glimpse through the valley to the town of Cave Creek and the residential properties that back right up to the park.  The trail meanders right along a barbed-wire fence the marks the eastern boundary of the wilderness area.  Watch for Mountain Bikers through this section as the trail is perfect for them to pick up speed.

The tail end of the trail is a slow, easy descent to the east parking lot.  Once back at the parking lot you can either walk road side back to the main lot at the visitor’s center or hike a section of trail that takes you through the middle of the developed part of the park.  There are tables and gazebo picnic areas, a kids playground, barbecue pits and public restrooms.  I have often done this loop and not seen anyone on the trail, but returned to find a very active park with kids playing families having lunch.

Cave Creek Regional Park offers overnight camping in designated areas and trail rides on horseback during part of the year.  Check with the ranger at the visitor’s center for rules and fees.  As with all of the Maricopa County Parks, there is a $6 per vehicle fee to enter the park for day use.  Annual Passes are available for $75.

Directions to the Park

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