Friday, February 21, 2014

Phoenix's Sacred Mountain

      Camelback Mountain just might be the premier landmark found anywhere in the Valley of the Sun and now that the newly renovated Echo Canyon Trailhead has reopened, it is easier than ever to find a parking place as you prepare for an always challenging hike to stand on top of that famous ol’ camel’s hump.  An ancient Hohokam sacred grotto is located on the north face near the summit of the Echo Canyon Trail, giving rise to a second name for this venerable landmark - Sacred Mountain.
    In 1879 Camelback Mountain was made part of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation by a treaty between the federal government and the two tribes.  Within six months, powerful Arizona politicians lead by Charles Poston, known as the Father of Arizona, and John C. Fremont, known as the Great Pathfinder, got the reservation designation reversed, opening Camelback Mountain and the surrounding area to development.
    By the 1960s most of the mountain had fallen into private ownership.  Local citizens got together and in 1965, led this time by Senator Barry Goldwater, got the summit of the mountain above 1,600-feet protected and preserved from any future development. 
    Camelback Mountain is actually made up of two separate and distinct rock formations.  The head of the camel, found within the Echo Canyon Recreational Area, is composed of layered red sandstone.  The famous rock formation known as the Praying Monk is also found here.  The hump of the camel is granite and is much older in geological time than the sandstone head.
    There are two trails that connect at the summit of the Camelback Mountain.  The 1.5-mile Cholla Trail leads to the top from the eastern end of the mountain.  It is the easiest accent of the two trails.
    The 1.2-mile Echo Canyon Trail begins at the northwestern end of the mountain, is shorter but more challenging.  There are potentially hazardous points on both these trails so this is not a journey recommended for beginning hikers.  A roundtrip hike to the summit and back from both trailheads can take between 3 – 4 hours.
    Over 700,000 people climb Camelback Mountain each year.  And now with the nearly $4 million of renovation at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, which includes 135 parking spaces and 15 new bike racks, public access to this trail is so much easier.   A permanent restroom, a shaded ramada and a chilled drinking fountain are also new additions to help hikers prepare for their journey to the summit.  Until September 2014 dogs are not allowed on the Echo Canyon Trail.
    So let us suggest that you get out and visit the new Echo Canyon Trailhead?  Be aware that it is a very popular and busy trailhead.   If you are a fit hiker, make the climb to the summit; if you are not; take a picnic lunch, sit at the new ramada and enjoy a lunch people-watching in the shadow of the valley’s sacred mountain – Camelback Mountain.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Superstition Wilderness

       Superstition Wilderness – the name just conjures up visions of a harsh, rugged environment, symbolic of both the mythical and magical Wild West.  Lucky for us, this very special Arizona wilderness area is the real deal and is easily assessable to us all by car, boat, bike and/or foot. 
       The Superstition Wilderness is made up of 242 square miles of harsh, mostly undisturbed landscapes that are located on the far eastern edge of the Valley of the Sun bordering Apache Junction.  It is mostly Sonoran Desert type vegetation but a few pockets of ponderosa pine can be found at the highest elevations.
       Exploring the Superstition Wilderness can be one of the most classic, extreme backcountry experiences in the world, but it does not have to be that way.  Here are some ideas for great family adventures into the Superstition Wilderness that are exciting, fun and easy to find.

-Superstition Mountain Museum is a great place to begin your discovery of the Superstition Wilderness.  Currently Arizona artist Ted DeGrazia’s Superstition painting collection is on display there.  Here a link for more information -

-Grab a picnic lunch and enjoy the trails of Lost Dutchman State Park.  With springtime weather and wildflowers in full bloom, this state park will be an outdoor treasure to discover.  Their moonlight hikes are really unique and special! –

-Take a drive up the Apache Trail.  The first 16 miles past Canyon Lake to Tortilla Flat is paved and easy to drive.  If you’re looking for an adventure, drive the entire 44 miles of the historic Apache Trail to Roosevelt Dam.  Be one of those Arizonans who have conquered the curves of Fish Creek Hill –

-take a boat ride exploring beautiful Canyon Lake on the famous steamboat Dolly. This is a great, fun adventure for the whole family -
-Take the hike through Peralta Canyon and gaze upon the classic symbol of the Superstition Wilderness, Weavers Needle.  The 2.5-mile hike from the trailhead to the overlook is through lush desert vegetation and by mid-February an explosion of wildflowers.  We have made this hike with children as young as 6; be sure to take your own water, sunscreen, hat, good hiking shoes, etc. -

       So as the wonderful weather of February arrives once again, get out and find yourself discovering a part of the rugged Superstition Wilderness of Arizona.  It’s a special experience! 

Canyon Lake

Dolly on Canyon Lake

Tortilla Flat, Arizona

View along the Apache Trail

Weavers Needle

Monday, February 3, 2014

Rio Salado Audubon Center

      Downtown Phoenix has many opportunities for fun, recreational activities for the whole family.  And one of the most surprising and rewarding of those recreational offerings must surely be the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.  This downtown nature center is found in the heart of the city’s Rio Salado Restoration Area, a 595-acre park that is located along the south side of the Salt River between 19th Avenue and 28th Street.
    Located less than two miles south of the heart of downtown Phoenix, this Sonoran Desert riparian habitat has been replanted with over 76,000 desert trees, plants and shrubs.  Five, non-portable wells from an aquifer directly under the riverbed provides 3 million gallons of water each day for irrigation and nine of the permanent ponds found within the park. 
    With a constant source of year-around water over 200 species of migratory birds and other wildlife such as coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails and javelinas make this wild, urban park their home.  Two families of beavers can also be found within the park’s ponds, a fact that would surprise most Valley of the Sun residents.
    The ecological environments found with the park are a mixture of mesquite bosque, cottonwood/willow habitat, wetland marsh and Lower Sonoran Desert vegetation.  All of these natural environments found almost within the shadow of Phoenix’s high-rise business district.   
    For the past 5 years this newly revised habitat along the Salt River has become home to migrating Monarch butterflies, who like many humans, have found Phoenix November – February temperatures to be a nice place to over-winter. January is the perfect time to view and enjoy these most beautiful and graceful winter visitors as well as the many migratory water birds that are now found within the park boundaries.
    Since opening in October 2009 the Rio Salado Audubon Center has become a magnet for anyone wishing to learn about and enjoy the Salt River environment of the 1860s.  It also serves as the Arizona offices of the National Audubon Society.  Admission is always FREE and the center offers interactive exhibits, an interpretive loop, a variety of hands-on nature programs, as well as guided school and scout field trips.  Guided bird walks happen every Saturday at 8 am, an Animal Encounter workshop the second Saturday of the month at 11 am, and the unique Birds ‘n Beer workshop on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 5:30 pm.
    From the nature center trails connect to over 16 miles of paved and dirt hiking, biking and horseback riding paths.  Leashed dogs are welcomed on all paved trails; please remove and properly dispose on any pet waste.
    So as the Valley’s great outdoor weather returns again, let us suggest you get out, cross the Central Avenue Bridge that spans the Salt River and discover the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.  It is a great place to spend some time outdoors learning and enjoying Arizona’s natural environment.