Random images from our Arizona getaway to Cottonwood

We recently made a weekend getaway to Old Town Cottonwood and found there’s lot to do and see in this quaint, historic section of the central Arizona town.

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We started out the morning with a short hike along the Jail Trail in Old Town Cottonwood. At the trail head, we noticed beautiful morning glory vines weaving along the fence at the Wild Rose Tea House.

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Views along the trail include these giant pampas grass clusters on the banks of the Verde River.

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Pampas grass plumes bent to the morning breezes, resembling billowing ostrich feathers.

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Fungus took over residence in a downed cottonwood trunk.

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We lingered for a while at the edge of the Verde River, near the Tuzigoot Road bridge.

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The far end of the Jail Trail connects to the entrance of Dead Horse State Park.  (Tip: Walk-in entrance fee is only $3.)

breakfast

After walking along the river, we stopped for a bit of brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe.

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There’s nothing better than a frothy latte on a chilly morning in Old Town Cottonwood.

larrys

Even if you’re not enthusiastic about antiques, you’ll find enjoyment browsing Larry’s Antiques & Things.

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While shopping for unusual antiques, we not only found a “alien receiving” sign, but we found an alien to go with it… 🙂

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Finally, we topped off the day with wine tasting at one of several tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood including the Pillsbury Wine Company Tasting Room on Main Street.

Thinking about a road trip? Now is the perfect time to visit Cottonwood:

March 29 is the Verde River Runoff.

The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is April 24-27.

A blues festival, guitar concert and local history program are among the events dot at the Old Town Center for the Arts.

Check the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce calendar for more events.

Enjoy your Arizona Getaway!

 

Feel a Pacific power blast at Maui’s Nakalele Blowhole

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Considering a spring trip to the Hawaiian Islands? The island of Maui offers a variety of spectacular sights and sounds. Think about hearing the sound of the Pacific Ocean jetting through a lava shelf. Imagine seeing the sight of a huge blast of sea shooting up over 50 feet up above the rocks.  If you can picture these, you’d likely be thinking of the Nakalele Blowhole.

The Nakalele Blowhole is located approximately 16 miles north of Lahaina, just off of Highway 30. This northern tip of Maui claims sweeping views of open fields, majestic cliffs and fascinating rock formations. Near mile marker 38 is a parking turnout and what appears to be an old dirt Jeep trail. Park here and follow this path down to the small lighthouse. Here you will think that the trail ends. You will need to continue following the coast in a southeasterly direction along the rock shelf for about 15-20 minutes. The total distance one-way is probably only about half a mile. There is another, smaller blowhole before you get to the “real one,” so just persevere and eventually you will see – and hear it!

Some visitors park their cars along Highway 30 a short distance past the first turnoff and walk down the hill from the road. That route may be quicker but not as exciting or interesting.

Tips: Wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Wear swimsuits or quick-drying shorts and shirts. Bring towels – plan to get wet!

The hole through rocks is about 18 inches to two feet in diameter, if memory serves. I have learned about accidents at this blowhole that have left visitors severely injured or dead, because they got too close to the opening. New homemade signs now carry the warning. I’d stay several feet back – it’s still possible to feel the thrill and cold spray – and “shoot some footage.”

Read some of the reviews on travel sites like tripadvisor.com and watch a few of the many videos on youtube.com before you go. For the best blowhole shows, try to visit during high tide and high surf.

We recommend using mobile apps such as EveryTrail.com and Oakley’s Surf Report for more information while at the site.

Blowhole is the upper right corner

Blowhole is the upper right corner

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Soak like Hawaiian royalty at Kauai’s Queen’s Bath

Start of trail to Queen's Bath was fairly dry during June

Start of trail to Queen’s Bath was fairly dry during June

On our first trip to Kauai, one of the first beach excursions we mapped out was the short walk to Queen’s Bath near Princeville. This 15-minute jaunt gave us an immediate (and cautious) appreciation for the Pacific’s power — the force of its waves, as well as a healthy respect for the seasonally changing coastline trail conditions.

Queen’s Bath is a tide pool along the rocky north shore. It can be a great place to try out or practice snorkeling. We made the trip during the summer, when Kauai’s north shore is calmer and a bit drier than in the winter months.

The trail location can easily found from various web resources; one of these is HawaiiGaga.com. Many of these websites will also alert visitors to safety precautions. As first time visitors from the desert, we weren’t accustomed to walking along slippery, muddy trails laced with protruding roots.  I’m glad we did a little research before our vacation and invested in good set of sturdy hiking sandals with heavy tread. With snorkeling gear and a light backpack of snacks, water, camera and tow, we started out fairly early. This turned out to be a good plan, because there is limited parking for hikers along the residential street. The warmer part of the afternoon will draw the bulk of the tourist crowd.

Following the trail, we walked past a couple small waterfalls and came through an area of lush tropical growth.  (As desert dwellers, we always appreciate any kind of vegetation deviation from creosote bush and cactus. Thicker, greener: better.) And just as we were starting to love this dense little thicket, the trail opens up to a full view of the rocky Kauai north coast. Waves come crashing on the black lava rocks, sending up the salty spray. To see this part of Kauai up close for the first time is exhilarating, exciting!

Soon we realized we are stepping gingerly along the lava rocks along the shore. Walking became a bit more “tricky,” as we kept one eye on the ocean waves and the other on the rocks below our feet. After exiting the wooded trail, we stayed to the left (West), following the rocky coast for a few hundred yards. We passed two other lava rock tide pools that reminded us of the photos we had seen of Queen’s Bath, but they were not our intended destination. Finally, we recognized Queen’s Bath as we approached, knowing it was the same iconic sight plucked from postcards and brochures, the same place we’d seen in the popular Hawaii guidebooks and websites.  It’s the only tide pool that’s almost completely surrounded by rock walls. There is only one narrow ocean outlet against the water’s edge. Several nice rocky benches and ledges on the near side of the pool made perfect places to sit down, spread out our gear and enjoy the “bath.”

Kauai’s Queen’s Bath actually is named after another site on Hawaii (the “Big Island”) that was swept away by destruction after Kilauea Volcano’s 1983 eruption, according to Wikipedia. That particular “bath” site was reserved only for Hawaiian kings and queens.

Spending an hour soaking up Kauai’s sunshine, floating effortlessly in a crystal-clear tide pool and noshing on a picnic lunch with fantastic views of Kauai’s north shore is indeed the “perfect day in paradise.”  And it’s surely enough to make any Arizona desert rat feel like Hawaiian royalty.

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen's Bath

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen’s Bath

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

You'll know when you've come to Queen's Bath - it's almost completely enclosed

You’ll know when you’ve come to Queen’s Bath – it’s almost completely enclosed

Queen's Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Queen’s Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Spectacular views of Kauai's north shore while relaxing at Queen's Bath

Spectacular views of Kauai’s north shore while relaxing at Queen’s Bath

 

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Holiday hiking at San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Chilly New Year's Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Chilly New Year’s Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Day hiking on holidays has become a sort of tradition for AzGetawayTravel. For the past several years, on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, we have plotted out a hike for a short two to three hour outing. Last year on New Year’s Day, we took a loop section of the National, Pima Wash and Mormon Loop Trails on South Mountain.  This year, we made a loop at San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

In past years at San Tan Park, we normally would hike to the top of the Goldmine Mountain, to see wonderful views of the Southeast Valley. The park is a popular destination on holidays. On one Easter Day hike a couple of years ago, a group of hikers had placed Easter eggs along the trail for their family members to find.  Some of the steeper trails have a few patches of slippery gravel and steep sections but nothing too difficult for novice hikers or even those recovering from too much Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas eggnog.

This time we decided to keep it simple, and start out ‘Day One’ with ease — taking a rolling stretch of trail along the Moonlight, San Tan and Hedgehog Trails, creating a five-mile loop. Fortunately we climbed up away from the sandy washes of the park and circled around a hill, allowing for more scenic walking. This loop appeared to be very popular other park visitors, because it was heavily used by all — mountain bikers, families with small children and dog walkers. It’s a great destination for your out-of-town guests.

San Tan Regional Park has a wide variety of events coming up in January – there’s something for everyone in the family: archery, photography, birding, stargazing, lunch with the snakes. (Wait a minute… lunch with what?) Just check out the website for more information. And while you’re on the website, take a closer look at the Maricopa Trail, a network of trails and canal paths connecting communities throughout the county. When this is finished it will link all 10 Maricopa County regional parks. You’ll be able to literally walk, run or bike around the entire county! Learn more and see the maps on the Maricopa County parks website.

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San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

 

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails

Hike like a local on California’s ‘Bump and Grind’ Trail

Hike like a local on the Bump and Grind Hike

 

Valley and mountain views attract hikers, bikers and runners to Bump and Grind HikeView from our turnaround spot on Bump and Grind TrailPlanning a California getaway to the Palm Springs area? Hiking on the to-do list? Then hike like a local — on the “Bump and Grind” urban hiking trail in Palm Desert.

Our concierge recommended this one. She said it’s where all the locals go. As long as you’re in pretty decent shape, you can make it to the top, and the views up there are terrific, she attested. So we’d thought we give the Bump and Grind a try. (By the way, it’s also known as the Mirage Trail.) This trailhead was near our resort, the Westin Mission Hills (about four miles), so we didn’t have to eat up a good portion of a weekend day driving around or riding a tramway to get to the trailhead. Another advantage: it’s free.

From Rancho Mirage, we drove south down Bob Hope Drive to Highway 111 and parked behind the Desert Crossing shopping center in Palm Desert. It’s a good thing we got there fairly early, as the street parking was filling up fast. (Phoenix urban hikers surely can relate.) Plus the day’s forecast temps were mid- to upper 90s. Dozens of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers of all ages and abilities wanted to get an early start.

The path itself is much drier, softer and sandier than desert trails we’re used to in the Phoenix area, but it’s wide and well-marked – for the most part. The trailhead is designated as the Mike Schuler Trail at this at the parking area, but it actually picks up the wider Bump and Grind Trail (no sign) as you come around the back lot of Moller’s Garden Center. The first quarter mile is fairly narrow but widens out considerably – like an old Jeep trail.

For those who make it all the way to the top of the approximate two-mile, 1000 feet climb, it’s great workout. It’s a decent workout even going the first half mile. We took our time — snapping pictures, stopping for plenty of water, enjoying spectacular views of the Coachella Valley, Santa Rosa, San Jacinto and Little San Bernadino Mountains, and yielding right-of-way to faster, decisive traffic. We came up to about 1000-foot point (probably about two-thirds of the total distance) before we turned around. The Bump and Grind also is much less ‘green’ than those North or South Mountain or Superstition trails around Phoenix. Very little vegetation is found along the way – only brittle creosote bush.

But local hikers aren’t necessarily there to enjoy plants, wildlife or the trail’s photogenics. Sure, they hike to enjoy the panoramic views from the top. Of course, they hike to burn off calories for their daily or weekend workout. But most importantly, they are hiking there now because ‘they can.’ After a long and hard grassroots effort against California Department of Fish and Game, they can finally hike without threat or fear of being fenced out or hauled off.

It’s a long story, but basically the DFG closed the upper end of the Bump and Grind hike because it claimed big horn sheep used the area during lambing season. Locals cried foul when the DFG claims couldn’t be supported by wildlife management studies. Plus there were confusing proximity issues that seemed baseless. To the local hiking community, shutting down the best section of this scenic hike year-round seemed completely unnecessary. Naturally, locals took all the next logical steps. They started a Facebook page, “Save the Bump and Grind” and wrote to their representatives in the state assembly. Finally new legislation and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown last month reversed the DFG decision — the last one-half mile would remain closed only for the February to April lambing season.

All’s well that ends well: Local hikers have access restored to most of their Bump and Grind Hike; Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert visitors (like those of us from Arizona) have another hiking area that’s worth exploring.

Tips: 1. No dogs. 2. Consider taking a loop hike in this area. Combine the Mike Schuler Trail-Bump and Grind Trail with the Herb Jeffries Trail and the Hopalong Cassidy Trail. 3. You can also begin the Bump and Grind Hike at the Rancho Mirage-Palm Desert boundary, just past the Desert Drive-Hwy. 111 intersection. Park in the furniture store lot on the west side of the street. 4. Get up-to-date info and advisories before starting out. 5. Pay attention to hiking trail etiquette.

And by the way, if you haven’t tried EveryTrail.com yet, this wiki-style content website and mobile app is worth a closer look. I really like viewing elevation contours and user-posted photos and descriptions along strategic points along the trails.

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Relaxing getaway at Roper Lake State Park

Natural hot springs tub makes Roper Lake unique

Remember Roper Lake State Park if you’re considering a peaceful Arizona weekend getaway. When we visited in early September, the place seemed almost empty. Except for a group of scouts loading up canoes, there were only a few several travel trailers plus a couple of tents scattered throughout the park — hardly any activity, granted it was a rather rain-soaked Sunday morning. But I have a feeling when the weather’s better, Roper Lake State Park, located 171 miles southeast of Phoenix, is probably buzzing with action. Roper Lake lures visitors for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

Canoeing, kayaking. Add to that: paddleboarding, sail boarding and inflatable rafting. Exploring Roper Lake’s shores for wildlife sightings is one way to unwind. This quiet lake would be a great place for beginners to sharpen their skills on a non-motorized watercraft. Practice kayaking; try out stand-up paddleboarding. Rest assured: No jet skis or high-powered outboards will go whizzing by.

Mount Graham capped with clouds is a backdrop to Roper Lake's beach

Swimming. Roper Lake is one of 12 Arizona state parks with a designated swimming area and it also has a few hundred feet of “beach.” Although we didn’t see any people in the water on this rainy day — the only swimmers were ducks. I guess I could imagine children wading in the sandy shallows as a possibility, but the water looks to be more like a murky pond: muddy, sandy, with plenty of cattails.

Mariah Mesa Trail walkway starts from the hot tub area

Hiking. A short nature trail appears to be the only marked path. The Mariah Mesa Trail is about .75 mile and takes one up to a short ridge, but hikers are rewarded with closer views of views of Mount Graham and Pinaleno Mountains as well as blankets of Graham County farm fields. Walking around other sections of the park, such as along the lake’s edge and campground paths will measure about five miles. Otherwise serious hikers will be drawn to Mount Graham for numerous possibilities.

Picnicking. There’s a large picnic ramada on Roper Lake’s “island.” This location would be an excellent place for the family reunion, church or company picnic. Better bring the rolling cooler and wagon, because no vehicles are allowed in this area; it’s a bit of a toting distance from the parking lot. However, the grassy lawn area is ample enough to start up a game of touch football – just be alert that those long passes don’t get too long, or you’d be swimming out in the reeds for the reception.

Quaint camp cabins have porch swings

Camping. Cute little cabins have bunk beds, heat and a/c inside, and picnic tables, fire pits and porch swings outside. I’m imagining a perfect weekend retreat for relaxation: sitting on the porch swing finally finishing that novel and ‘cozying up’ around the campfire during the evening chill.

Fishing.  Small, quiet and calm, Roper Lake would be ideal waters for teaching children or beginners how to fish. There’s a fully accessible fishing dock, and 30 acres of surface area. Largemouth bass and rainbow trout are the popular catches. The park store has fishing supplies and bait.

Soaking.  Roper Lake State Park comes equipped with its own natural hot springs! It’s actually just one of many in this part of Arizona. But others are either on private land or difficult to reach. I’m estimating the waters in this park tub are about 95-100 degrees — perfect for a short “ah” moment. Imagine relaxing here after a day of fishing, paddleboarding or hiking.

A snowy egret tests the Roper Lake waters

Wildlife watching. As we strolled along the beach, we saw a number of different waterfowl and wading birds, including a snowy egret. Killdeer piercing high notes split the light breezy quiet of our morning. The high country desert scrub geography nestled at the foot of Mount Graham brings many other kinds of wildlife to view during the dusk and dawn.

Stargazing. Of course, you could venture up to the top of Mount Graham for a close-up view of stars, moons and planets or just relax in front of your cabin or in the hot tub and stare at the night sky. Because you’re far from Tucson or Phoenix city illumination, you’ll have a better view of constellations or the over-passing International Space Station.

Only major negative about Roper Lake State Park? It badly needs TLC. We noticed facilities were fair condition at best. Structures, signs and benches need repair and paint; day use areas need cleaning and clearing. We hope — if not the state parks department — maybe the Friends of Roper Lake will act soon to help with upkeep. Unfortunately, at this writing the group’s website was removed.

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High country hiking tips

A short, four-mile hike this past weekend in the Flagstaff area reminded me of all those high altitude tips and warnings I often read about on hiking websites and blogs. I just wish I had been reminded before I started hiking. I basically did everything opposite of the recommended precautions. I didn’t become actually afflicted with acute mountain sickness (AMS), but I did feel over-exerted; I was short of breath, dizzy, flushed; plus I was becoming a bit disoriented. I started to write this week’s blog post about the hike itself, but I thought Arizona visitors (and some of my readers) might benefit from these tips I found:

Preparation:

Altitude acclimatization. It’s a good idea to stay at the higher base altitude for at least 24 hours before you start hiking. Health and outdoor recreation websites recommend one to three days. We drove up to Flagstaff on Friday afternoon and began hiking Saturday morning; I may not have given myself enough time to become accustomed to the higher altitudes. Take short walks on level ground at 7000 or 7500 feet (in my case: just walking around the campground would have been a good idea). Because I live in the Valley throughout the year at 1200 feet and I planned to start a hike at 7200 feet, my body needed to adjust to a change of 6000 feet. Naturally, if I lived in Payson or Prescott, at about 5000 feet, the process of altitude acclimatization would happen more quickly and easily.

Hydration. Drink plenty of water during the day or days before your outing to keep your body hydrated. Cooler Flagstaff temperatures and rainy Arizona monsoon evenings may cause you to not feel as thirsty, so you may have to ‘force’ yourself to drink water regularly on the day before your hike. (Something else I may have neglected.) Drinks with electrolytes such as Gatorade, Powerade or Propel Fitness Water may help too, according to outdoor recreation websites.

Eat well. As with any fitness activity, eating high carbohydrate meals before the hike will increase stamina and ward off high altitude problems. Oatmeal, whole grain breads, granola snacks, trail mixes and energy bars may be recommended for the day before and morning of the hike. (Chips, salsa, hot dogs and beer: probably not so much.)

On the hike:

Slow down. Okay, this was my first mistake. Because I immediately stopped to snap some wildflower photos and adjust my backpack; I fell behind others in my group. I thought I needed to catch up so I began walking faster. Although I was just starting out the trail; I already felt out of breath. So I listened to my body (it gave me little choice) and slowed my pace.

Walking pace. Walking uphill for someone who is ‘height challenged’ usually means taking smaller, quicker steps to keep up the pace. I remembered this so I tried to lengthen my gait – taking a bit longer, but slower and more rhythmic stride. By doing this simple task, I was able to keep a regular walking rhythm, and my breaths and heartbeat slowed to a more easy, relaxed pace. (At least, I remembered this tip.)

Take breaks. Climbing 1000 feet in two miles even in the lower elevations can be a challenge. In Arizona’s high country — as you can imagine – it’s more stressful. Short, five-minute breaks every 15-30 minutes to hydrate and rest when I first felt distress allowed me to continue hiking longer. Ideally, slowing down and walking at a regular pace initially would have prevented the need for too many stops along the way.

Wear sunscreen… (Some of these tips belong in the ‘no-brainer’ department but I include them anyway.) At higher altitudes, the sun’s UV rays are more intense. Because it’s so much cooler in Arizona’s high country than the Phoenix metro area, and those huge pine trees seem to provide a lot of shade, the tendency is to not feel you need sun protection. But remember: There’s less atmosphere at these higher elevations to absorb the harmful UV rays. Always wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat.

…and sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses will help minimize some of the headaches associated with high altitudes and the sun’s intensity. A wide-brimmed hat will add extra protection for both skin and eyes.

More info:

http://www.abc-of-hiking.com/hiking-preparations/high-altitudes.asp

http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html

http://www.hikingdude.com/hiking-high-altitude.php

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Woods Canyon Lake: Not just for fishing

Arizona has arrived at the ‘dog days of summer.’ Most Arizona metro streets are almost desolate on weekends. Every Arizona city-dweller with an RV, trailer, tent, cabin or hotel reservation escapes the heat, and heads out of town for cooler temps in northern and east-central Arizona (or any elevation over 6000 feet). Many campers will likely be on their way to Woods Canyon Lake.

Woods Canyon Lake is so popular during the summer for many obvious reasons. It has a beautiful location. It’s an easy two-hour drive from the Valley. You don’t need a monster mud truck to get to the site. It has great fishing, camping, hiking — and yes — it’s at least 15 degrees cooler. But there’s much more to Woods Canyon Lake than most people realize.

For instance, not everyone knows that Woods Canyon Lake has day-use facilities for lakeside picnicking. Don’t let the “campground full” sign deter you. You can still get in a day of fishing and picnicking. Rocky Point Picnic Area is located immediately adjacent to the lake, just northwest of the marina and store area. For a $5 day use fee, picnickers can enjoy a meal while watching trout fisherman float around the coves and inlets or gazing overhead for a chance sighting of one of Woods Canyon Lake’s large bird species, such as osprey or bald eagle. Just beyond the picnic area, you may spot one of the eagle nests high in the treetops.

Another popular attraction for visitors to Woods Canyon Lake are several hiking trails and nature paths in the vicinity. The main Woods Canyon Lake Trail makes a 5.5-mile circumference of the lake. It’s an easy walk of 2-3 hours. During summer months, you’ll see a variety of lush ferns and grasses growing from the forest floor under a canopy of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and oak. Watch for green meadows speckled with bright yellow wildflowers and steep, rocky ravines. If you start your hike southeast (to the right) of the lake’s marina, you’ll walk past people fishing offshore and over the earthen spillway. Soon you’ll be in a dense woods. Careful, now: Arizonans from mid-western and eastern states could get sentimental.  An easier walking option is the Meadow Trail, a paved path that short cuts through the campgrounds to a string of three Mogollon Rim overlooks along FR 300. Check the HikeArizona.com site and Woods Canyon Lake facility map for other nearby hikes.

Don’t forget to bring your bikes with you to Woods Canyon Lake. Many of the hiking trails nearby are also rated for mountain biking. These include the Rim Vista Trail 622 and FR 235. Just be alert for lightning as well as fast moving trucks zipping around the curves. Some people may think they’re still on the four-lane sections of State Route 260. Log on to everytrail.com to see more bike trails.

On summer Saturday evenings, families will have the opportunity to sit around the Woods Canyon Lake amphitheater and listen to one of Ranger Bob’s nature programs. This season the focus is wildfires – how they start, prevention and tools firefighters use to extinguish the fires. It’s both education and entertainment for the entire family. Programs start at 7:30 p.m. Don’t forget the snacks, hot chocolate and a blanket – for those chilly Rim country evenings.

Only non-motorized boats are permitted on Woods Canyon Lake and as you would guess, most are fishing boats. But that doesn’t stop other outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the lake for kayaking, canoeing or floating in an inflatable raft. You may even seen a small pontoon boat floating around the lake perimeter and coves, fishing, watching for wildlife — just enjoying those cool, mountain breezes and blue skies. Take a look at the Desert Mountain Paddlers meetup site to watch a fascinating slide show from the group’s adventures at Woods Canyon Lake last October.

If you’re going to Woods Canyon Lake to camp during summer months, know that these sites are scooped up quickly. Sites can be reserved online, and also, there are a few that are available on a “first-come, first served” basis.  Obviously on non-holiday weekends after the school year starts, sites become more available.

Handy links:

Woods Canyon Lake camping

WoodsCanyonLake.com

Woods Canyon Lake facility map

Apache – Sitgreaves National Forest

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Six reasons to visit Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

opening

For several years now, we’ve been extending our Arizona getaways to farther corners of the state and we often had sidestepped the communities closer to the Phoenix. We would stop only for refueling or quick restroom and snack breaks. But on recent visits to Pine, Strawberry and Payson, we rediscovered Rim Country. And Tonto Natural Bridge is the area’s best attraction! Here are six reasons to add it to your itinerary:

 

lodge

Now a visitor center, park office and gift shop, the main building was once a pioneer home and guest lodge

1. Easy access

It’s approximately two hours from the Phoenix area, just 14 miles north of Payson, Arizona, off state route 87. Paved roads all the way make for an easy drive, although the last few miles are on a steep driveway down to the park’s main parking lot and visitor center. Plan to spend at least four to six hours at the state park. There are trails to hike, boulders to scramble upon, cool breezes to inhale. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it. The park currently is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the visitor center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And easy access doesn’t mean it’s pricey. For a $5 adult entrance fee, the park is really the best deal for an Arizona day trip getaway!

 

springs

Be prepared to take a natural springs "shower" under the bridge

2. Hiking trails

These hikes aren’t long, but they are steep and some many have uneven steps. Others are very slippery and narrow and require boulder hopping or ledge hugging along Pine Creek. Prepare to get wet: if not from an accidental dip in the creek, you’ll feel the constant spray from the natural springs showering down from atop the bridge. You may want to bring some head gear or you can simply enjoy the drops. Sturdy hiking boots are recommended. Also, allow plenty time to climb up and down these trails. On weekends, the trails will be busy. When we visited in May, there was a constant stream of visitors. Bring along patience and common courtesy on the trail. If you’re not up to hiking down to under the bridge or along the creek, you can still enjoy the bridge sights from one of several lookout points.

 

garden

The garden setting near the main lodge building makes a great location for a picnic lunch

3. Picnicking

After a couple of these hikes, you’ll probably want a bite to eat and a cold drink. Remember: even in Payson, summer days are warm. It’s best to hike in the cool of the mornings and reward yourself with a picnic lunch. Some picnic areas have ramadas, but there are plenty of uncovered tables under the shade trees for your family picnic. Use this handy map to plan your visit. Restrooms and drinking water stations are located nearby. Please visit the park website for updates about fire restrictions before you light up one of the grills.

 

lodge

Main lodge building contains many historical items and a gift shop

4. Pine Creek

Of course, during early spring after rains or snow melt, or during late summer after monsoon rains, the Pine Creek’s flows are much higher. And conversely, during late spring and early summer the creek flows will be less. But natural springs surrounding all points of the bridge keep the creek fed. This constant spring water flow produces an array of graduated shades of green from layers of moss, mint, watercress and ferns at the creek bed. We spotted one of two designated swimming areas, but they look a bit on the stagnant side for my liking. Unless you want to step out of the water looking like Hollywood’s “Swamp Thing,” you may want to refrain from creek wading.

 

creek

Pine Creek flows under the Tonto Natural Bridge

5. Wildlife

It’s possible to spot many varieties of birds and small mammals around Tonto Natural Bridge and Pine Creek. Bats, swallows, owls, woodpeckers, vultures, squirrels, javelina and gray fox are among the common species making their home in the area. Take a look at the park website to learn more about the wildlife in the area as well as the geological facts and figures about the bridge.

 

squirrel

Watch for wildlife along the trails. You may see this photogenic Arizona gray squirrel

6. To support the park

Arizonans’ visits will help keep state parks like Tonto Natural Bridge remain open and operating. Private groups also have been successful in meeting the financial needs of the parks through fundraising efforts. For more information, see the website of the “Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.” The group has an event planned for this summer. Save the date of Saturday Aug. 4 on your calendar for “Taste at the Bridge,” a fundraising event put on by the Friends and the Arizona State Parks Foundation.

Readers: What’s your favorite Arizona State Park and why? How many of you have been to all of them? Some have closed; others are moving to 5-day schedules. What are your thoughts?

Escape desert heat on Oak Spring Trail

chuck on trail

Hiking in close proximity to urban or residential areas, I have become very accustomed to encountering ‘fitness hikers.’ They rarely stop and smell wildflowers, gaze out over a panoramic lookout point or fumble around with an uncooperative camera case. And they surely don’t spread out a picnic lunch over a flat rock. But on this particular May Saturday morning, my husband and I found the “Oak Spring Trail via Hardscrabble Road” completely devoid of hikers.

The trailhead is fairly easy to find and because it’s within a mile of cabins and vacation homes in nearby Pine, we thought we’d see somebody — fitness hikers, nature hikers, maybe even a couple of backpackers. Nope! No one!

After driving west for 1.5 miles on Hardscrabble Road from state route 87 in Pine, we spotted the two-way trail crossing sign and the two-car pullout, just the way our favorite hiking website described it. This must be the place! Hardscrabble Road is a well-traveled, well-graded dirt road. So I was a bit surprised to see no other parked cars. The trailhead is on the left (south) side of the road.

wide trail at beginning

Oak Spring Trail starts out as a wide, easily visible trail

As you start out, the trail appears wide and well used. We thought because of its location and condition at the beginning, it would also be maintained, but as we continued to hike south, we realized the easy-walking, shaded path was becoming increasingly overgrown with oak, Ponderosa pine, juniper and manzanita. We followed the trail to a small creek bed, which at least on this trip was dry – not even a puddle or two. Then the light bulb went on: no creek water, no hikers.

Here, the trail location was a bit fuzzy. We zigzagged the creek several times, believing we had seen the last of several rock cairns.  We finally picked up the trail again on the right (west) side of the creek and it led us uphill away from the gulch, to a clearing. In a hundred feet or so, we spotted the trail intersection marker of Oak Spring Trail, Walnut Trail No. 251 and Oak Spring Trail No. 16. The latter is a three-mile trek east, ending at the Pine Trailhead, located just east of SR 87, 12 miles north of Payson. If we do this trip again, it would be nice to make a shuttle hike, parking a second vehicle at the Pine Trailhead. At the meadow, we searched for the spring — or any kind of water — without success, but I think we may have not hiked far enough past the trail intersection.

 

sign

Trail marker identifies three-way intersection. Note the small Arizona Trail system marker at the bottom.

Although many sections of the short Oak Spring Trail are nondescript, I recommend this trail to hikers looking for a short, easy hike into the Mogollon Rim country. Since it’s close to Pine and Strawberry, it could be combined with additional trails, or other family activities and attractions.  An ideal time of year for this hike would be March or April when the creek would be flowing.

century plant

Century plant's new sprout seen on the Oak Spring Trail