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.