Saturday, December 23, 2017

Trail Work Event: 12-23-17

TRAIL WORK DAY: 12-23-17
Who says trail work isn't fun? 
In preparation for the 2018 Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race coming up on January 20, 2018, MT+PF volunteers spent the morning prepping a section of the route.
Clearing a Palo Verde tree hazard
The end of a productive day.
A shiny new sign was installed during the event.

Trail users will be glad that is cactus was trimmed.
This event was one of several held over the past months where workers cleared brush, raked rocks and trimmed cacti to make the section of the Maricopa Trail that runs between Spur Cross  Ranch Conservation Area and Lake Pleasant Regional Park safer and more attractive for race participants and users in general.
Trail Director Rick Kesselman led the project


Monday, December 11, 2017

Plant Profile: Desert Marigold

Desert Marigold
Baileya multiradiata
A familiar plant found along the Maricopa Trail is the Desert Marigold.  The hardy perennial with grayish green leaves and daisy-like yellow flowers normally blooms from March through November, although depending on weather and rainfall, they can pop up almost anytime. The lone blossom shown here added a welcome spot of color in December.  The plant is a member of the Asteraceae family and grows in clumps up to 30 inches high and 24 inches wide. It thrives in disturbed, sandy soils such as those found in washes and along roadsides.  In addition to its long blooming season, the plant has a large range covering much of the Southwest between 300 and 6500 feet in elevation.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Maricopa Trail Usery Mountain Segment

Some sights from a recent trek of the Maricopa Trail Usery Mountain Segment.
This scenic passage runs between Usery Pass Road and Bush Highway just south of the Salt River Recreation Area. It's a wonderful way to experience this beautiful swath of Sonoran Desert---without the crowds!

RATING: easy
LENGTH: 7.5 miles one way 
ELEVATION:  1320' - 1880'
From US 60 in Mesa, take the Ellsworth Road exit 192 and go 9 miles north (Ellsworth turns into Usery Pass Road) to the Wild Horse trailhead on the left. The trailhead is marked by a Maricopa Trail sign and a no-shooting post. There’s space for about 6 vehicles in the dirt turnout parking area.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Critter Prints on the Maricopa Trail

Look what we spotted while trekking the Maricopa Trail near Lake Pleasant---racoon footprints! Keep alert and you might also spot the tracks of coyotes, bobcats, skunks and myriad critters that live along the route.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Maricopa Trail in San Tan Regional Park

San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Queen Creek
On the far Southeastern edge of the Valley, the Maricopa Trail makes a loopy pass through San Tan Mountain Regional Park. With its rollercoaster-like terrain and big sky views, the park’s trail system incorporates difficult mountain climbs and easy strolls among the cacti and ironwood trees that line sandy washes. The Maricopa Trail shares roughly 10 miles of paths within the park that can be accessed from both the Nature Center or the Goldmine trailhead.  
Plenty of directional signage and downloadable maps aid in customizing a loop hike to suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for a quick outing with kids or a challenging all-day trek, the Maricopa Trail makes for a solid baseline route with numerous connecting paths.  Head out on your own or join in one of the ranger-led outings that focus on desert habitats, stargazing and heritage sites along the trail.  Here’s one scenic loop to try.
From the main trailhead, begin on Moonlight Trail (ML), hike 1.2 miles to the San Tan Trail (SA).  Turn left (south and hike 1.5 miles to the Hedgehog Trail (HG).  Turn left (north) and continue 1 mile to SA, turn left and go 0.3 mile to Stargazer Trail.  Turn left hike 0.8 mile to ML, turn right and hike 0.7 mile back to the trailhead.
LENGTH:  5.5-mile loop
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  1400'-1600'
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
PARK HOURS: Sunday- Thursday: 6 a.m. - 8 p.m. , Friday-Saturday: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.
PETS: leashed pets allowed
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, visitor center, wildlife exhibit, tortoise habitat, ranger-led activities
From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 to Ellsworth Road exit 191.  Follow  Ellsworth 13.6 miles south (Ellsworth turns into Hunt Highway at about the 12 mile point) to  Thompson Road (traffic light), turn right (south)  and go 2.1 miles to Phillips Road. Turn right and continue 1 mile to the park entrance.
INFO: Maricopa County Parks & Recreation: San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
6533 W. Phillips Rd., Queen Creek 85142

Monday, October 30, 2017

Maricopa Trail Links Two Tiny Gems

Fairy Duster and Mariposa Hill Trails
If you image the trails of Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area as an ice cream sundae, Fairy Duster Loop and Mariposa Hill Trail are the whipped cream and cherry on the top. Neither trail requires much effort to hike, but they perfectly complement the area's more rough-hewn, difficult routes with soft footing and sweet views. Opened in January 2016, they offer short, pretty detours that connect with backbone route Spur Cross Trail (Maricopa Trail) to explore new territory on the site's east side.
Fairy Duster Loop traces the foothills above mesquite-cluttered Cottonwood Wash where profuse plant life makes the trek sort of like hiking through a mini botanical garden. In addition to the shrub for which it's named, plants you'll find along the flowing path include joboba, buckwheat, filaree, ratany, cholla cactus, brittle bush and dozens of wildflowers, making it a good choice for a springtime bloom snooping hike.

Mariposa Hill Trail is named for a delicate lily that decorates its flanks. This trail follows what used to be Old Cottonwood Canyon Road to a lookout point with big views of Cave Creek and the saguaro-studded mountains of Tonto National Forest.
These fresh-cut routes can be hiked alone or tagged on to old favorites like the Metate Trail, for a longer loop. Here's one trail mix option.
From the trailhead, hike 0.1-mile north on Spur Cross Trail (SX) , turn right onto Fairy Duster Loop. Hike the 0.6-mile loop, then head 0.7-mile north (right) on SX to Mariposa Hill Trail. Hike 0.2-mile to the top and then back down. Continue 0.2 mile on SX to Metate Trail, follow it 0.8 mile back to SX, turn left and go 0.3 -mile back to the trailhead.

LENGTH: 2.9 miles (loop described here)
ELEVATION: 2,200'-2,468' (loop described here)
Fairy Duster Loop: 0.6-mile loop (2,330' - 2,385')
Mariposa Hill: 0.2 one way (2,400' - 2,468')
RATING: easy-moderate
FEE: $3 daily per person. Bring exact change for the self-serve permit kiosk.
From Loop 101 in north Phoenix, exit at Cave Creek Road and drive 15 miles north to Spur Cross Ranch Road. This is an easy-to-miss junction located just before entering the busy main drag of Cave Creek. It is signed and the turn off is on the left. From here, the road jogs north and then makes a tight turn to the left at Grapevine. Continue 4.2 miles to the parking lot on the left. The last mile of the road is good dirt.
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Plant Profile: Desert Christmas Cactus

Desert Christmas Cactus
Cylindropunta leptocaulis (Opuntia leptocaulis)
Take a hike on the Maricopa Trail to spot this common, but often overlooked cactus.
Arizona's native Desert Christmas Cactus bears little resemblance to the showy cultivated cousins marketed during the holidays. A member of the cholla cactus family, this species spends most of the year as a mop-like tangle of slender stems with aggressive-looking, two inch spines.  The spidery, plant grows in hip-high tickets and when not in bloom or bearing fruit, its dull green color and woody textures can make it appear "dead" to the untrained eye.   The edible, half-inch-long fruits are covered in stickers called glochids, which must be scraped off before consumption. This time-consuming process yields handfuls of mildly sweet treats.
However, in the cooler months when most other desert flora is dormant, this cactus adds bursts of vivid fuchsia to the landscape.Also known as the "pencil cholla" and Tesajo cactus, the plant produces tiny, translucent yellow-green blooms in summer followed by fleshy, bright red berries that mature in winter.
Blooms: May - June
Fruits: all winter but best in November-December
Elevation: 1000' - 4,000'
Habitat: deserts, bajadas, grasslands
Photo: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale

Monday, October 16, 2017

100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge

Get Your 100 Miles on the Maricopa Trail
If you’re having trouble getting motivated to hike more, here’s your opportunity. The 2018 edition of the 100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge kicks off in November. The Maricopa County Parks program encourages hikers, bikers and horseback riders to log 100 trail miles between November 1, 2017 and February 8, 2018.  Everything you need to participate and track your progress is available on the parks website (link below). The program is a great way to hit your stride, gain experience and get to know our the more than 420 miles of trails within our 10 regional parks. One of the rules is that participants must visit at least 3 parks, and the Maricopa Trail counts as a “park”.  So, dust off those boots, ditch the excuses and hit the trail. You’re sure to meet new friends, achieve your personal goals and gain a higher appreciation for our beautiful desert trails.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Plant Profile

Of the hundreds of wildflower species that grow along the Maricopa Trail, Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi) perfumes the landscape with tiny violet flower clusters that attract pollinators. The native plant is found throughout the Sonoran Desert, favoring rocky outcroppings, washes and bajadas. The perennial shrub has woolly, gray-green, mint-scented leaves and can grow to 15 feet in height where water is plentiful but average 6-8 feet.
BLOOMS: Spring - Fall
ELEVATION RANGE: up to 3000 feet
PHOTO: Maricopa Trail near Lake Pleasant

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MARICOPA TRAIL : Anthem-Lake Pleasant

Anthem-Lake Pleasant
An easy-to-access way to sample the northern section of the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail begins at the Agua Fria trailhead near Lake Pleasant. This easy segment runs through open desert and washes with terrific water-themed views. The route roughly parallels Carefree Highway for 9.3 miles then turns north to share dirt with the Black Canyon Trail.
Near Deadman Wash, the trail heads east, passing under Interstate 17 to connect with the Anthem community.  Near the lake, the path scoots around and above the Beardsley and Waddell canals, Camp Dryer Diversion Dam and the massive wall of Carl Pleasant Dam.
The route can be a bit confusing at the beginning.  To stay on track, go east (right) on the dirt path for 0.1 mile to where it comes out on the access road. 
From here, continue hiking on the road, cross the canal bridge and look for a Maricopa Trail sign on the right where the road curves to the north at 0.2 mile from the trailhead. From this point on, the route is marked with signs and cairns where it gets sketchy in washes.  In addition to the reservoir features, the trail also passes through an ironwood-lined gully, and crosses a flat plain of creosote and cholla before encountering a RV park near 87th Avenue. 
As the trail moves east, the sound of gunfire from Ben Avery Shooting Range heralds the approach to Interstate 17 and a traipse into the Anthem where you can continue to Cave Creek Regional Park and Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area.
LENGTH: 16.2 miles one way to Anthem
Option: 2.7 miles to 87th Ave
Option: 3.7 to New River Road
Option: 9.3 miles to Black Canyon Trail
Option: 11.5 to I-17
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 1100' - 1737'
From Phoenix travel north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway/State Route 74 exit 223. Drive 9 miles west (toward Wickenburg) to Beardsley CSR, turn right, go 0.1 mile and make a U-turn to the trailhead parking area.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sample the Maricopa Trail in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Here’s a fine example of how the Maricopa Trail ties in with existing routes, parks and preserves on its 300-plus-mile trip around the Valley.
Desert views on the Gooseneck Trail
Within the central segment of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the Maricopa Trail shares dirt with the Gooseneck Trail.  
Desert Christmas Cactus grown along the trail
From the Fraesfield trailhead at 136th Street and Rio Verde Drive, the Gooseneck/MT cuts a wiggly, southbound course that twists and bends in a continuous dance through the desert.  Users dodge among massive granite outcroppings-- like Rock Knob --with majestic views of Four Peaks, Superstition Wilderness and the Verde River Valley.
Rock Knob formation & Four Peaks
At the 4.4-mile point, the Maricopa Trail leaves the preserve and enters McDowell Mountain Regional Park tracing the Pemberton Trail. You can continue on through the park or return the way you came for an easy day hike that sweeps out in lazy arcs around the prickly plants and geological curiosities of our beautiful Sonoran Desert.
LENGTH: 8.8 out-and-back
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2500' - 2813'
HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily
Fraesfield Trailhead: 13400 E. Rio Verde Dr.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Bulldog Canyon Trailhead to Pass Mountain Trail

Bulldog Canyon Trailhead to Pass Mountain Trail
View of Four Peaks
Loop trails are fantastic inventions. Hiking on one feels sort of like a following a cinematographer filming a visually-rich sequence that ends where it began. Arizona has some impressive hiking hoops. Revered for their flowing, long lengths and community-unifying qualities, projects like the Flagstaff Loop Trail (42 miles), Prescott Circle Trail (54.4 miles) and the grand dame of them all--Maricopa Trail-- act as the glue for regional, non-motorized recreation systems. When complete (target 2017), the Maricopa Trail will form a 310-mile loop around Greater Phoenix, connecting parks, suburbia and surrounding cities. The thrill of trekking on fresh dirt is rekindled each time a new segment drifts into pristine tracts or provides an alternate path to familiar hiking haunts. With the recent opening of a 1.4-mile section in the East Valley, there's now another way to approach the popular Pass Mountain (PM) Trail. Previously, access to PM was only though Usery Mountain Regional Park or a lot off Meridian Road in Mesa. This new western approach from Bulldog Canyon Trailhead will eventually tie in with a yet-to-be-constructed corridor to the Granite Reef recreation area near the Salt River.
A nice, roomy trailhead
The "Bulldog" segment makes an easy, 300-foot ascent to the junction with 7.5-mile PM Trail (not signed). Roughly 5.6 miles of the PM loop trail is on the Tonto National Forest and there's no fee to hike on this scenic section. However, if you cross into the part of the trail that's in Usery Mountain Park, be prepared to pay the $2 per person fee (exact change required).
Cactus blooms
You can avoid the fee by heading left at the junction. From here, its just under 2 miles to the saddle overlooking a valley straddling the desert space between the Superstition and Goldfield Mountains. This makes for a good turn around point for those left their wallets at home or are not up to the 10.3-mile circuit.
LENGTH: 1.4 miles one way (trailhead to PM)
or 10.3 miles roundtrip with Pass Mountain Loop
RATING: easy-difficult
ELEVATION: 2,010'- 2,340' (2,740' with PM)
FEE: $2 per person if you enter the park on foot. Exact change required.
From Phoenix, go east on US60 to the Ellsworth Road exit. Go north 8.2 miles north on Ellsworth (turns into Usery Pass Rd.) to the trailhead corral on the right past milepost 22 which is 1.6 miles north of the Usery Mountain Park entrance.
Maricopa Trail:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race 2018

Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race
January 20th, 2018
Lake Pleasant: site of the finish line and after party
Featuring an approximately 40-mile course, the Prickly Pedal is a showcase of Maricopa Trail diversity. The race features numerous short, steep, rocky climbs and descents beginning in Cave Creek and winding up at Lake Pleasant.  Prickly Pedal isn’t just a great race, it’s an opportunity to support the Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation (MT+PF), a nonprofit organization which strives to provide sustainable financial support to the newly constructed Maricopa Regional Trail System.
Register before January 16th, 2018 for early bird pricing.

Maricopa Trail: Spear S Ranch Day Hike

Spear S Ranch Trailhead
Spanning 311 miles and linking 10 county parks, the Maricopa Trail is a unifying, non-motorized system of existing paths, closed roads and new construction. Forming a massive circle around the Valley of the Sun, its course brushes against busy recreation sites, suburban neighborhoods and desert wilds with entry points in the parks and at special trailheads. Spear S Trailhead was established in 2011 and gives access to a splendid stretch of rangeland via paths established by the Hohokam people who lived in the area from about 300 B.C. to 1500 A.D. This is also cattle country, and a plaque near the trailhead features a list of early homesteaders whose roads and ranch sites still imprint the land.
The Maricopa Trail
The Spear S trailhead is located roughly halfway between Lake Pleasant, Cave Creek Regional Park and Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, making it a convenient launch for both day hikes and backpacking.
One scenic option is to do an out-and-back hike to the Cave Creek area parks. This route jogs along saguaro inhabited hillsides, shady washes painted green with plant life and heart-stirring open desert terrain with 3,219' Apache Peak as a central beacon along the way. Trail signs are posted at all junctions, but can be easy to miss. At the 2.9-mile point, the trail splits.
                                                                                       Turn north to continue to Spur Cross or
                                                                                       stay straight for Cave Creek.
4 miles one-way to Cave Creek Regional Park, or
6 miles one-way to Spur Cross Conservation Area
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,050' - 2,295' (as described here)
BEST SEASON: October -April
GETTING THERE: Andy Kunasek Trailhead at Spear S Ranch: 41799 N. New River Road
Go north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Hwy (State Route 74) exit. Go east (right) to 7th Street, turn north (left) and go 4.5 miles on 7th St. (turns into New River Road) to the trailhead on the right (located just before Linda Lane).
INFO & MAPS:Maricopa County Parks & Recreation,



Welcome to the blog extension of the Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to protecting, promoting, developing, and maintaining one of the nation’s largest county park systems.
The Maricopa Trail winds through the county, connecting the 10 Maricopa County Regional parks on a 315-mile scenic and diverse route. The parks that are connected through the trail are: Buckeye Hills Regional Park, Cave Creek Regional Park, Estrella Mountain Regional Park, Lake Pleasant Regional Park, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, San Tan Mountain Regional Park, South Mountain Regional Park, Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Usery Mountain Regional Park and White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
For a map of the Maricopa Trail click here:
The Maricopa Trail – Maricopa County

The trail is VERY near completion and as we approach the "golden spike" moment, we 
want to:
• Raise awareness of the trail.
• Encourage people to get out and hike.
• Share trail reviews and hiker-provided comments and photos.
• Post news updates.
• Invite you to fun trail events.
• Inspire you to embrace stewardship by becoming a volunteer or trail crew team member.
Visit the Maricopa Trail and Park website: