2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my hiking blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Ring Around the Picket Post

If you’re driving toward Superior on US60 it is hard to ignore the sight of Picket Post mountain as it looms on on the south side of the road.  It’s a very dramatic mountain, rising a couple thousand feet out of the valley floor.

The club usually schedules at least one hike to the summit each year, and the 800-mile Arizona Trail skirts the western side of the mountain on its’ way from Mexico to Utah, so the trailhead is a common destination for our club.

(I’ve inserted smaller photos in this post to shorten load time, but you can click on any of them for a larger view.)

Mountain 0

But today we weren’t here to climb the summit, or follow any established trail (at least not for very long), but rather to circle the mountain via a route cobbled together from a segment of the Arizona Trail, an old Jeep road, bushwacking through one canyon, following cattle trails through a second canyon, and eventually returning to the Picketpost trailhead via a short section of the Arizona Trail.

Loop Map

Loop Summary

The total route ended up being 9.24 miles by my GPS reckoning, but a very “doable” hike.  (Yes, it’s a bit long, but no tough climbing or scary cliff lines to negotiate.)

Loop Elevation

It was a cool morning.  My truck thermometer at the trail head tells why everyone was in jackets and gloves at the start.


The few miles were a gradual climb, with total elevation gain of around 500 feet.  Under a friendly sun, by the time this grade was topped, most of the jackets and gloves were in our backpacks.  This was on the western and southern sides of the mountain in open “rolling” terrain.  The dominant view was of the mountain.


Mountain 1

The highest point in the route was about directly south of the mountain.  From there the next couple miles were a slow descent in open country to the southeast corner of the mountain.  Easy walking on a jeep trail.

Southeast of the mountain we headed northeast into Telegraph Canyon. Being an old Navy Radioman, I listened closely for Morse Code, but hearing none I have no clue why the canyon is so named.

This is a fairly narrow canyon with only a sketchy trail.  Scenic, with a small stream in the bottom.  In a couple of spots we had to work our way higher on the canyon wall to clear obstacles — those are the two “up blips” you see in the elevation profile above.

In the scene below you see Tony suggesting a path through one boulder field.

Telegraph 0

Here a couple more scenes from this rocky passage.

Telegraph 2

Telegraph 1

Telegraph Canyon is a side canyon which eventually drains into Arnett Canyon which runs WNW along the north side of Pickpost Mountain.

Arnett Canyon is a wider canyon, older than Telegraph Canyon, and has a “soil” (vs “rocky”) floor.  This supports a completely different vegetation set.  While Telegraph was populated primarily by cactus and mesquite, in Arnett Canyon the cottonwood tree was the most noticeable resident.

Arnett 2

Arnett 1This canyon is shows a lot of evidence of use by cattle, and with good reason.  There is ample water, and good vegetation.

Arnett 3

Arnett Canyon opens up near the end, and then drains into Queen Creek.  Just before that junction we left the canyon and cut cross-country back to Picketpost Trailhead.

After not hiking for a couple of weeks, this was a great hike — a tad long but not strenuous, and with great scenery all along the route.

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Pass Mountain

The club hiked the Pass Mountain Loop today.  This is an 8-mile loop around Pass Mountain just north of Mesa.  Being a loop, you can hike it in either direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise.

If you hike in a clockwise direction, the first 2 miles or so is a my least favorite trail segment in Arizona — a trek at the base of the mountain, basically flat, but always climbing into or out of one of a seemingly endless series of washes (gullies to you Minnesotans).  Tiring and boring.  If you hike it counter-clockwise, well you’ve saved the worst for the last, but you still have to do it.  The group split roughly in half, doing the hike in two groups, one in each direction.

The most scenic portion of the hike is the first 4 mile segment if you go counter-clockwise, and it also is the segment with the best morning light.  So I had this great idea, I’ll just hike that segment, but twice — once in, and once out.  So I got the full 8-miles under my new boots, and avoided that hateful segment on the south base of the mountain.  The bonus was excellent rich morning light in the most scenic portion of the hike.

The start of this segment in this direction is a climb of about 1.5 miles to a saddle (between the two small peaks at the far left of the photo below).  This is a climb of perhaps 800-900 feet, fairly steady, so not too bad on fresh legs.



To the right of the “rocky” scene above, is a view (below) of an older smoother mountain range.  I wish I were a geologist so I could understand the forces which shaped this country.



In the early going it is a very good trail, but gets pretty rough and rocky after about a quarter mile.

When you reach the crest of the saddle, a wide-horizon view of several mountain ranges opens to you.  In this first view from the saddle Four Peaks is the “blue” mountain at the far right horizon.



I hike another 2 and half miles until I met the leading guys from the clockwise troop.  This segment of the hike circles around the north side of the mountain.  There isn’t a lot of scenery in the immediate environ of the trail, but a lot of nice long-horizon scenes to the north.

Here are a couple.







After a lunch pause at this skeletal cholla I joined the second group of hikers and returned with them to the trailhead.




Nearing the trailhead, this view of Flatiron was a nice ending to the hike.



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Butcher Jones Trail

ButcherJones Sign


Sounds kind of ominous, doesn’t it…..  “Butcher Jones”.  And note the bullet hole in the trail sign!

Actually it is one of our least ominous hikes.  A nice 2.5 mile (5 mile round trip) route over a rolling route, usually in view of Saguaro Lake.  Saguaro Lake is a reservoir on the Salt River.  (The red line below shows the elevation profile of the hike recorded on my cell phone app.)

ButcherJones Elevation Profile


The start of the hike skirts the shore of the lake on a pretty steady climb to an overlook point, then descends as you cross a peninsula, and then a modest ascent again to an overlook on a different part of the lake, then return the way we came.

ButcherJones Track

The light for this hike was bright and cloud free, and most of the best scenes were sunward, so photography was a challenge.  I fiddled a lot with exposure and filters, at one point stacking both a circular polarizer and a graduated neutral density.  That will explain the “dark” appearance of some shots.

Saguaro Lake is definitely not like any of the 10,000 lakes back home in Minnesota.  Its’ “basin” is a series of flooded canyons with high cliff walls, and the predominate vegetation of cactus and mesquite replace the birches and pines of home.

Saguaro Lake 1


Sagauro Lake2



I’m a sucker for photos of old snaggly trees.  I need to work on the shot below.  With a little work maybe I can enhance the “Halloween” look in a way fitting to the name “Butcher Jones”.

Saguaro Lake3


Here’s a view looking out towards the Four Peaks area.  Hopefully we will soon see some snow on the peaks to keep the reservoirs full.




Saguaro Lake4


Make a lake, and a fisherman will find it!  Below a bass fisherman scurries down-lake to his secret spot.

Saguaro Lake5


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Just an Old Standard, Peralta Canyon


Fremont Pass 104

If I could do only one hike in the Superstitions, it would be Peralta Canyon Trail to Fremont Pass, then the off-trail spur over to the lonesome pine overlook.  That’s the hike we did today.

Yesterday was a rainy day, and this morning broke bright and clear.  The air was clean and the sun was bright.  A good day for hiking, but not necessarily a nice day for photography. Bright sunlit days tend to “flatten” the color in landscapes, so my expectations were that I’d have a nice hike, but just routine photos.

In fact, the early going was pretty much as expected — a nice hike.  Nice scenery, but not overly photogenic.  Just “nice, not memorable”.  Like this.

Fremont Pass 024


However as we worked our way higher into the upper parts of the canyon, the skies changed.  Maybe the sun drew up some of the moisture from yesterdays rain.  A high hazy cloud deck formed, not really an overcast, but a sort of “filter” which softened the light and gave great “dimension” to the landscape.

Here are a few shots where I tried to capture that interesting light as it gave texture to the mountains, especially out towards the horizon.

Fremont Pass 050_tonemapped


Fremont Pass 103_tonemapped


Fremont Pass 091_tonemapped


Of course the centerpiece of any trek up Peralta is the spectacular Weavers Needle formation as you crest the summit of Fremont Pass.  Here is my favorite shot of the Needle today.

Fremont Pass 089

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Fall Color on the Gila River

Greetings again!

Colleen and I just returned to Arizona last week.  Our “last day drive” into our winter home roughly follows the Gila river across the San Carlos Apache reservation.  On the drive last Friday we were both struck by the brilliant colors of the trees, especially the cottonwoods, along the course of the Gila.

As luck would have it, on Monday the hiking group decided to hike a segment of the Arizona trail near Kelvin, Arizona, which also follows the Gila river.  I’ve hiked this route a couple of times before, and being a rather relaxed trail without a lot of elevation gain, it was an ideal “first hike of the season” to condition my legs a little.

Blessed with a broken cloudy sky, the lighting was diffuse and flattered the golds and yellows of the fall foliage.  Here are a handful of fall color scenes along the hike.







The last shot (below) is something of a mystery.  This solitary staghorn cholla plant was showing not fall color, but the brilliant blooms normally seen in April!   Also I saw a few globe mallow plants in bloom, again a flower we generally don’t see until March or April.  Non-conformists!




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High Country Solitude


(Before I describe the hike, I need to give a caution about the road up to the trailhead.  FR201 is an 8-mile very narrow and twisty mountain road which in dry weather is easily passable with a typical short-wheelbase SUV.  It is NOT SUITABLE for a long wheelbase pickup, or a “dually”.  REGARDLESS OF YOUR VEHICLE, DO NOT attempt this road after a rain or snow storm.  Once you commit to the drive there are very few points where you can bail out and turn around, and if slippery any spin out would almost certainly lead to loss of your vehicle.)

Having said all of that, the road is generally well maintained, has a smooth surface, and will not be a problem in dry weather.  Your passengers (driver, you keep YOUR eyes on the road) will enjoy breathtaking views at every turn.  The trip up this road is visually stunning.

This hike has been on my bucket list for two years now, ever since George, Peter, and I scouted both ends of it back in the spring of 2012.

Yesterday 6 of us (Tony, Mark, George, Ken, Peter, and I) hiked the Arizona Trail “Passage 22” from Peeley Mountain to the trailhead at Cross F Ranch.  This 12 mile route takes you over connecting segments of several trails in the Mazatzal mountains (#86, #95, #88, #91, and #244).

We don’t know what happened to this guy, but not all junctions are well marked, and some sections of the trails are pretty sketchy, so this is a “pay attention to your map” hike.


Here are the particulars of the route as recorded by my Suunto GPS Track Pod.

Peeley Summary

Peeley Map

(You can see a larger version of the map above and an interactive version of the elevation charge below at  http://www.movescount.com/moves/move26710694)

Peeley Elevation

I’d classify this hike as strenuous, primarily because of the length. As you can see, overall this is a downhill hike.  While there is a fair amount of elevation gain it is early in the hike when your legs are fresh, and is distributed between downhill or flat segments so you have a chance to rest your legs.  Pace yourself and carry a good supply of water.

The hike starts at about 5,600 feet altitude and is above 4,000 for almost the entire route, so this is a candidate for a spring day when it is too warm to hike down here in the valley.

This is a visually interesting hike, but not “pretty” in the traditional sense.  Most of this area has been involved in the “Sunflower Fire” of 2012 and the “Willow Fire” of 2004.  Smokey the Bear wouldn’t like this place!

The dominate “vegetation” all along the route are the reminders of those fires.


Sometimes mountainsides are a mottled mix of dead and live Ponderosas. The stark white skeletons in the foreground are the bleached remains of Mountain Holly.








Speaking of burned out old timber, here is a view of three specimens who hiked with me.  (Tony and Mark forged way ahead of us out of camera range.)  Left to right, “Lonesome George” (who did the Lewis and Clark work for this trek), “Bandana Pete”, and “Cactus Butt Ken” (ask him).


Not all the scenery is so bleak, however.

A lot of the hike is on high ridgelines, so broad vistas are commonplace. All of the prominent landmark features in a 50-mile radius, like Mount Ord, Weavers Needle, 5057, Flatiron, Four Peaks, the Mogollon Rim, and others were visible at one time or another.






This was a fun hike with a small group.  Other than my 5 companions, no other human was seen all day, and the solitude was the kind to put you into a contemplative mood as the miles passed away under your boots. For example, you could wonder “why would a fella leave a perfectly good hiking cap lying on top of a trail-marking cairn way out here in the wilderness.


Or “why is there a rock inside this bigger rock and how the heck did it get there?”


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Gila River Passage

Today a small group of us, just 7 hikers, took a fun little hike on one of the newer sections of the Arizona Trail near the town of Kelvin out in copper country south of Superior.  The three frames below give the “details” as recorded by my track pod.

Kelvin Summary


Kelvin Map


Kelvin Elevation




The first two miles of this trip was an excellent trail, built by the Arizona Trails Association, which climbs on a rolling route above the Gila River which has a fairly decent flow of water at this point.







The spring flower bloom has started in these hills, and it’s great to see the color returning.  This hillside of Mexican poppies will be golden with a blue counterpoint of lupine in a week or so.



Here are some more examples of the variety of flowers which we enjoy every spring.







At about the 2 mile point the trail starts a descent down to the river, surrendering all the elevation we had gained.  On the downslope there were a couple examples of crested saguaro.  This one was close enough to the trail to get a nice look at the mutation.

CREST 2The descent into the river valley brings us to this picturesque old railroad bridge.  It still serves an active railway which serves the coppermines to the east of us.  We at our lunch near this bridge.



I guess we were a bit lazy today, so rather than return via our inbound route up in the higher country we ambled back to the trailhead area over the flat railroad bed.



All in all, not a dramatic trek, but it was a fun and scenic break from some of the more aggressive routes I’ve hiked lately.



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Tonto National Monument Upper Dwelling

About 75 miles away, above Lake Roosevelt and overlooking the Tonto Basin is the Tonto Ruins National Monument.


There are two main “villages” at Tonto, and numerous minor sites scattered on the 1,100 acres.

The “lower” site is a short walk from the headquarters building and is easily accessible to the public.  Here’s a view of those ruins as seen from the parking lot.


The second main dwelling, the “upper” site is located about a mile and a half from the “lower” site and is not generally open to the public.

The park rangers lead limited numbers of hikers (15 persons, on three days of the week). These hikes are always interesting, not only for the opportunity to see “close up” some very well preserved ruins, but also to gain knowledge from the park ranger “tour guides” who always give great insight into the peoples who lived here, how the lived, and other information unavailable if you just “hiked through”.

I was fortunate to reserve two dates this winter, and today was the first of those hikes (the second will be March 7th).

The route to the upper ruins starts with a trek of about 3/4 of a mile in narrow Cave Canyon.  This canyon contains year-round spring, so with plenty of water the canyon bottom is shaded and cool with a profusion of vegetation and trees.











When the trail breaks out of this short canyon walk, the upper ruins become visible in an alcove high above you.  In the view below, the ruins are the light colored area in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center.  From where you stand here, the hike looks pretty daunting, but there is a well thought out trail of switchbacks and a few rock stairs which takes you up quite easily.



Here is a view of the ruins as the trail approaches them at the top of the slope.




This set of dwellings (it was home to several families) was built in the early 1200’s and occupied into the late 1300’s.  Given its’ age it is remarkably well preserved.  Our ranger guide today gave us about 90 minutes of time exploring the ruins, and gave a very detailed picture of the significance of various rooms and artifacts.

Below for your enjoyment is a selection of photos taken at the dwelling.


















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Peralta Trail to Fremont Pass

Today we hiked the Peralta Trail to Fremont Pass, then continued on to the “lone pine tree” overlook.

On this hike I carried a new toy, a Suunto GPS Track Pod, which records your movement and which you then download to give a report of your hike.  Below is some of the output describing our hike today.

Peralta hike summary

Peralta hike map

Peralta hike elevation


This is a fairly aggressive ascent, but the trail is well routed so the grade is mostly quite gradual so less tiring than the numbers might suggest.

The bulk of the hike is inside Peralta Canyon, a beautiful environment of steep walls, hoodoos, and a variety of vegetation.  Here is an assortment of scenes on the trip to the pass.







The real payoff of this hike is the views at the pass, especially the signature formation of the Superstition interior, Weavers Needle.  Here a couple shots from today.





Finally, a note about hiking safety, especially proper attire and strong footwear.

The uncertain footing on these backcountry trails can instantly turn into a twisted ankle, a slip on an incline, or any number of other serious injuries.

With that in mind, how many of you guys noticed that this hiker, rather than sturdy boots, was wearing tennis shoes!




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