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

Arizona road trip to historic Skull Valley

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Whenever I’d return from a trip to Prescott, friends frequently would remark: “Have you ever gone up the back way? It’s a nice drive up the back way.”

I had no idea what they meant. Which ‘back way?’ There are possibly dozens of ‘back ways’ to Prescott when you consider all the forest service roads, county and state highways and US routes. I’m guessing they mean the ‘front way’ must be the Interstate 17-to-State-Route-69 way, and any alternate route would be the ‘back way.’

For me the back way to Prescott usually was described in two different routes: Route 89 from Wickenburg to Prescott or through Crown King using Senator Highway. The latter  would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

While I was scanning the map looking for other possible ‘back ways’ into Prescott, I found Skull Valley on the map. I’d seen this dot on the state map before but didn’t know about the access or anything about the community. Many times these dots are merely highway junctions with a few houses and cluster of post office boxes.

Our drive to Skull Valley was a gorgeous road trip on this sunny, but a bit blustery Saturday. All roads along this route are paved, but the roadway from Skull Valley to Prescott (Iron Springs Road) currently is under construction. December through March may not the best time to be traveling up the hill to the northwest side of Prescott because of possible snow storms and icy roads. Please check local conditions.

However, if you make the trip, when you arrive at Skull Valley, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. The center of this community is an intersection: a general store on one corner, a working ‘fillin’ station on another corner, and a hometown diner just across the tracks.

Just steps away from the intersection of Old Skull Valley Road and Iron Springs Road is the Skull Valley Depot, now a museum maintained by the Skull Valley Historical Society.  June through Labor Day, the museum is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.  Tours can be arranged by appointment by contacting curator Ida Downing.

The depot building itself was constructed at Cherry Creek near Dewey until 1926 when it was moved to Skull Valley. Trains moved through Skull Valley from 1894 to 1969. It was an important Santa Fe station in Skull Valley, because here the trains had to add engines otherwise they wouldn’t have made it up the steep mountain grade to Iron Springs and on to Prescott. The depot museum exhibits feature antique train and railroad equipment, agricultural tools and other items donated by longtime Skull Valley residents. Adjacent to the depot is the Railroad Section House, where the railway section boss lived. Here, visitors can view more Skull Valley history on display such as a wooden wringer washer, a 1920s kitchen stove and an antique pedal pump organ.

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

We worked up quite an appetite touring the depot museum and section house so we stopped in at the Skull Valley Diner for lunch. Because we had our collie Molly with us, we dined alfresco. By this time the winds had kicked up and the temperature had dropped – quickly. Hot soup, coffee and a cheeseburger never tasted so good.

After lunch we wanted to take a closer look inside the Skull Valley General Store. This place is the real deal. We were impressed to see wood floors, “penny” candy behind the counter, several huge antique glass display cases full of convenience items plus a wood stove crackling away in front of a checkerboard table.  On the walls hung signs for fresh bread, eggs, and other locally made goodies. A large homemade quilt hung on supports, possibly a leftover from the Skull Valley Pie, Ice Cream Social and Quilt Show in October. Plan to spend some browsing time in the general store. Shop for books about cowboys and horse ranching or pick up a souvenir Skull Valley cap.

Another notable feature about Skull Valley is its gas station and garage. On many of our trips along Arizona’s back roads and old highways, we often have encountered some old-style gas stations but the pumps have either been neglected or removed. It’s nice to see folks in Skull Valley have maintained or restored parts of this historic community, whether it’s in the form of a gas station, general store, diner or train depot museum. Skull Valley is a great change of scenery from urban traffic jams and suburban sprawl.

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Read more about the Depot Museum and how Skull Valley got its name.

Next week: a tour of the George Phippen memorial studio and gallery

Skull Valley Diner

Skull Valley Diner

 

Back way to Prescott through Skull Valley

‘Back way’ to Prescott through Skull Valley

Skull Valley General Store

Skull Valley General Store

You can still 'fill 'er up' at Skull Valley Garage

You can still ‘fill ‘er up’ at Skull Valley Garage

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store