What’s on your hiking checklist?

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake


Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):

  • Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
  • Compass/GPS
  • Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
  • Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
  • Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
  • Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
  • Small flash light or headlamp
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
  • Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
  • Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
  • Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
  • Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
  • Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
  • Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
  • Tissue pack
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
  • Ace bandage
  • Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
  • Benadryl
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lip protection
  • Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Identification
  • Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches

Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!

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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:


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:




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Seven reasons to visit Guaymas/San Carlos, Sonora

San Carlos is one of our favorite Mexican getaways. The resort area is about a seven-hours’ drive south from Phoenix and half an hour from Guaymas, Sonora. It’s an easy drive though Tucson, Nogales and Hermosillo. Spring is a perfect time to visit. We love San Carlos for the same reasons most tourists enjoy Mexico: beaches, fishing, boating, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, shopping, dining, nightlife, sight-seeing… the list seems endless. Here are just a few things we love best about the destination:

1. Crystal clean pools at our resort, the Sea of Cortez Beach Club

2. San Pedro Island’s sea lions

3. Walks along the beach: Playa Los Algodones

4. Sensational sunsets over San Luis, Doble and Venado Islands

5. Tours to Guaymas to see the city hall, municipal plaza and this church: Iglesia San Fernando

6. Snorkeling at San Pedro Island

7. Tetakawi Mountain and Lalo Cove

San Carlos has a wide variety of dining and lodging accommodations. Here are a few websites we recommend for additional travel information:

What’s Up San Carlos

San Carlos, Mexico


Desert Divers



Arizona fall getaway option: Rent a cabin, ranch house or group camp

Are you considering a fall weekend family getaway, but want something a little different from typical motel room? You may want to think about renting a cabin! Arizona is full of cabin rentals and the state has a wide variety from which to choose.

Cabins are perfect for large groups or family gatherings for the upcoming fall and winter holidays. I remember every Thanksgiving, a few of my friends, with their extended families would reserve entire ranches, church camps or scout group sites for their four-day November weekends. These out-of-the-way, rural Arizona locations also make excellent destinations for fall weddings.

If you are considering an event for your large fall gathering, the American Camp Association website is a good place to start your search. The ACA site will redirect you to the managing organization’s website. Among these are church camps such as Mingus Mountain Camp or YMCA camps such as Sky Y Camp; both are near Prescott. In recent years, it was possible to reserve scouting camps and cabin sites. For up-to-date information about church and scout camp policies for outside group rentals, it’s best to call the respective administrative offices.  After the applications are approved, fees are paid and liability waivers are processed, you can start packing.

It’s a sure bet that most of these larger group camps or cabin resorts are already booked for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend, but you may want to consider a year-round cabin in Arizona for a weekend in December or early spring.

For commercial cabin resorts, you can simply search online. Popular locations include most of the mountain communities: Flagstaff, Prescott, Pinetop, etc. But if you want more privacy consider less populated areas such as Greer, Strawberry or Heber-Overgaard. For a comprehensive listing, use this link to Arizona Office of Tourism website. Or try these directory sites for Mountain Dream Rentals or Cabin Rentals.ws.

If you’re considering renting a private-owned cabin or mountain retreat with a certain necessary amount of luxury, check websites like www.vrbo.com. Simply enter “Arizona cabin” on the first search box; then narrow the search by region and availability dates. Read reviews, scrutinize photos and add up the nightly rates, security deposits and other miscellaneous costs like cleaning or pet fees. Consider all the features of the cabins and space needed for your group’s size. Many of these cabins are equipped with all the goodies including major kitchen appliances, fireplaces, flat screen TVs, game consoles, home theaters, even hot tubs.

Let’s say you’re looking for something a little bit more rustic… almost pioneer-like… one step up from the Winnebago. Maybe you’re looking for something to put your family in an old-fashioned Christmas holiday mood. Then consider the public lands option. For cabin rentals in a national forest, the easiest way to get information and make a reservation is go to the www.recreation.gov site. Just click on cabins, then Arizona. Or check this listing on the USDA site. For state park cabins, use this site. Some of these public lands cabins can be quite primitive. They may only have the basic four walls, a roof and a bunk to roll out your sleeping bag. Others are a little more comfortable – with decent mattresses, plumbing, heaters, window air conditioner and kitchen appliances. Suggested items for packing are included in most of these websites. I’d still remember to bring my own sturdy broom, small shovel, axe, water bucket, extra garbage bags, firewood and water.


Camp cabins at Dead Horse Ranch now have a/c and heat


Nightly rates for the public lands cabins are considerably less than privately-owned or commercial cabins. They start about $50 per night for a single room cabin with double bed and bunk to a three-bedroom, three-bath ranch house that sleeps 10 for $200 per night.

Lyman Lake State Park has cabins and yurts available for nightly stays. What’s a yurt? Find out here.

Don’t forget the GPS, mountain bikes, hiking boots & poles, binoculars, cameras, trail and nature identification guidebooks. For those evenings and the odd chance it should rain; keep the kids entertained the old-fashioned way with books, games, music and jigsaw puzzles.

A getaway in a camp cabin or ranch house can be a great opportunity for a couple, family or large group desiring a weekend to get closer to nature or simply get away from a hectic schedule of school and work.