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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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

Every kind of hiker will enjoy Hackberry Springs-Garden Valley Loop

First Water Creek

First Water Creek is the final leg of the Hackberry Springs-Garden Valley Loop

 

 

Once in a while I find a hike that has a little bit of everything, with enough variety to please most of the hikers in our small group of family and friends. Hackberry SpringsGarden Valley Loop is such a hike. The 5.5-mile hike, which starts at First Water Trail Head, is a combination hike. It’s a little bit of up and little bit of down; there are washes, canyon walls, flowing springs, colorful flowers, rocks for scrambling and plenty of views. Find the turn off to First Water Trail Head (FR 78) just north of Lost Dutchman State Park from SR 88.

Starting at First Water Trail Head, the first section of trail follows the old Jeep road downhill to an intersection with Dutchman’s Trail. Veer to the left, now following Second Water Trail for 1.5 miles.  At this point, the landscape is rolling hills and washes, typical of the Sonora desert. Once you pass a side trail leading to the right (Black Mesa Trail) you’ll notice a small mound of large stones. We’ve read that this may be the site of an Indian ruin. Keep walking for a couple of hundred feet past that mound and you’ll soon see another intersection. Again, stay to the left, and you’ll be heading to Garden Valley.

Garden Valley actually isn’t really a valley, more like a grassland plateau. It seems out of place in the otherwise rocky, craggy, wash-filled Sonora desert of the Superstition Wilderness. It’s a vast, wide-open misnomer. Garden Valley? There’s really not much growing here except scrappy desert broom, creosote bush and skeletal remains of a dearly departed “teddy bear” cholla. Follow the trail across this plain to the knobby hills heading northwest on the left. As the landscape opens up to an exhilarating expanse, you’ll notice a couple of structures across the valley. These are the remains of First Water Ranch, an old corral, windmill and some fence posts.

Garden Valley

At Garden Valley -- head for the hills

 

Continue along the trail around a large rocky crag. You will finally be rewarded by descending to a large creek area filled with brambles of acacia, palo verde, mesquite and hackberry, all dwarfed under a shaded canopy of cottonwood trees at the base of 200-foot cliff. When you reach a large clearing in the brush, start listening for running water of Hackberry Springs. Okay, so maybe it’s more of a trickle. It’s actually just a few drops seeping from a pipe jutting from the base of the cliff. Proceed ahead a few feet and you’ll see large shaded area of boulders  — a perfect spot for a rest stop and picnic.

springs

Molly enjoys a cold drink at Hackberry Springs

To complete the loop, continue to follow First Water Creek about 0.25 of a mile, until it veers directly south (to your left). Suddenly, you may be searching for the map in your pocket, wondering if you’re still on the trail. You should probably stop for a minute, since boulder-hopping and map-reading don’t mix. After you get your bearings, you’ll know you need to continue to persevere along the creek for another mile. Soon you come up and out of the creek bed, and you’ll see the abandoned corral and decapitated windmill that you spotted earlier from across the valley. Here you pick up a rutted-road trail, which leads you back to the horse staging and first parking area. You’ll remember you passed this in your vehicle, on your way into First Water Trail Head on FR 78.

mules

Three mules take a rest at Hackberry Springs

I found one website, Arizonesis.org, that has a good description of the area with details about flora and fauna.

If you’re still using maps, here are a couple of good ones: from 1) Superstition Search and Rescue and 2) from the trail head. We used the the latter for our hike.

Note to readers: I found several completely contradicting descriptions of the Garden Valley Loop. Plus looking at various maps, there appear to be many paths leading in to Hackberry Springs, so please use several resources when researching your hike.

Boulder Canyon Trail climbs high above Canyon Lake

We wanted to view the Superstitions from a different angle. Phoenix area hikers, especially those from the East Valley, can appreciate this: spring is prime time for desert hiking and you’re thinking about taking advantage of the Arizona weekend sunshine. You would like to hike some Superstition trails, but heavy use at the Lost Dutchman Park and Peralta trailheads leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic. That’s what we were thinking too, until we remembered the First Water and Canyon Lake trailheads. (There are several other minor trailheads, but these are the most popular, with more opportunities for loop and shuttle-type hikes.)

marina

Sun rises on the bluffs above Mormon Flat Dam and Canyon Lake Marina

Note: Although it’s not the prettiest website, we like the hikearizona.com site for its user-based data, images and general info. If you select any Superstition hike, you can scroll down to see the dynamic trail finder. Hover over the trails to see the description and various loop possibilities. We especially like the “live” elevation graph and topography map index to see exactly how much of a climb we can expect.

 

lake

Top of the hill view above Canyon Lake on Trail #103

So we opted to start from the Canyon Lake trailhead on a recent Sunday morning. The trailhead is well marked across from the Canyon Lake Marina. Just park in the designated hiker spaces at the south end of the marina, closest to the highway. The Boulder Canyon Hike #103 which climbs up quickly along a hillside and soon you’ll have panoramic views looking north at the lake, the canyon below and the bluffs rising over Tortilla Creek to the northeast. After the highest point, we continued around a ridge to the northeast, which opened up to excellent, but distant views of Four Peaks, the Superstition Mountains’ Flat Iron and Weaver’s Needle.

 

tarantula

Tarantula takes a hike along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Although the trail continues for another mile or two before heading down the hill into La Barge Canyon, we turned around at approximately the 2.5-mile point. We found an excellent grouping of big rocks to stop for a quick snack before our return trip. This made for a pleasant 5-mile, 3-hour hike. Plus, it’s a nice way to work up an appetite for lunch at the marina’s Lakeside Restaurant. (Tip: the Friday Fish Fry is worth the beautiful drive).

Boulder Canyon 103 heading back

Heading back to Canyon Lake Marina, along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach shows Kauai’s beauty

The formidable and intimidating Kalalau Trail. Just the thought of considering a hike along this very challenging trail on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast was overwhelming. On a recent trip to Kauai, we had thought about making the long hike, but without overnight permits, camping equipment or the ‘moxie,’ we decided to hike only the first two miles of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

View of Na Pali Coast from Kalalau Trail

Most hikers in fairly good physical condition will find the first, short piece of this 11-mile hike is an easy to moderate hike. It may be muddy, with some rocky creeks to plow through, and crowded, with the occasional traffic jam while some hiker ahead lingers to gaze out over Ke’e Beach or snap some photos of the coastline. Oh, wait — that was me. However, all the slippery mud, knee-skinning boulders, high density traffic conditions are far surpassed by the spectacular coastline and majestic mountains of Na Pali Coast, and beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach and Valley.

Spectacular views along the trail

Before our party of four started out, we packed up our gear. Although hikers will travel this short piece of Kalalau in about 3-4 hours round-trip, we thought we’d spend more time at the beach. So we packed some fruit and sandwiches and filled up our 100-ounce Camelbak MULE packs. (This isn’t really an endorsement, but we’ve had these well-used packs for about 14 years now and they’re still in very good shape.) We were also equipped with our Keen sandals, which we found gripped the mud-slippery boulders well, and one walking pole each, to add that “third leg” of stability and balance.

Hanakapi’ai Beach

Ke’e Beach seen from first half mile of Kalalau Trail

We arrived at the trailhead early in the morning before the Ke’e Beach parking lot overflowing. If we had waited until late morning, we would have been driving around in circles until someone left. Hikers may find additional spaces in the overflow parking by the caves, which is just a five-minute walk from the trailhead.

Sand, surf, sky at Hanakapi’ai Beach

After the first half mile on the trail, we stopped and looked back to see we were far above the coast. We could almost see the full-length sandy expanse of Ke’e Beach, until it curves around to the northeast. We then marched onward, following the trail and the single rank and file of hikers up and down through stream beds, over ridge lines and around hillsides. On the final descent to Hanakapi’ai Beach we could hear the crowd who had already arrived, plus the crash of breaking waves.

Spend some time at Hanakapi’ai Beach relaxing in the shallow pools

Hanakapi’ai Beach is a small spread of white sand with the creek from the mountains spilling in to the Pacific. Upon arrival, we immediately kicked off our sandals to soothe our feet and ankles in the fine sand and warm pools. (We visited during June.) We staked out several large boulders to set up lunch and watch the skilled surfers in the waves. It’s safer to stay out of the open ocean here, since the rip currents can be treacherous. Hikers have been reminded many times, online, at the trailhead and with signs along the trail. We decided not to add a few more hours to our trip by venturing upstream to Hanakapi’ai Falls. That side trip, plus the next nine miles of the Kalalau Trail will have to be added to a future Kauai vacation itinerary.

Hawaii State Parks’ website has the official information plus a detailed, downloadable brochure.