NearandFarAZ

Sometimes it’s about the mind-blowing terrain. Sometimes it’s about the colorful wildflowers. And sometimes it’s about the endurance – just getting it done.

Today, I’d have to say my hike was all about the clouds.

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In northern Arizona, there’s a sweet spot in hiking – that stretch in June, when the temperatures warm to the 80s and 90s, the trees are in full bloom, and the summer monsoon rains have yet to start.

I call it the “pre-monsoonal season.” For the most part, you can plan a hike or other outdoor activity without too many worries about getting caught in a violent thunderstorm. Still, as the dew point rises, and the conditions work gradually up to the monsoon, you’re sure to get some amazing clouds.

It was that kind of day today. As soon as I opened my front door and felt the slightly muggy air (for arid Arizona anyway), I knew the clouds would be cropping up – white and puffy – everywhere.

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Life in the desert. Sometimes it can seem like a hot, dry slog – especially as summer begins, with its promise of months in the 90s and 100s.

But rest assured, there is always an oasis in the distance to remind you of the joys of living amongst the cacti and the lizards.

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I had one of those moments over the weekend, when I decided to check out a new trail (well, new to me) in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

In recent years, my occasional hiking in the Phoenix area had focused on the urban trails – Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak, North Mountain. All are great, challenging hikes, with sweeping views. But I must say, the traffic on the trails can get heavy, even on weekdays.

On this particular weekend, I was looking for something a little more remote. I had heard good things about the views along the Peralta Trail, and I decided to check it out. photo 2(17)With little more than directions in hand, I set off on Highway 60, driving on the freeway through Mesa and Apache Junction.

It’s a bit of a haul, but I hung in there, and soon came upon Peralta Road, just past Gold Canyon, Arizona. After passing through a small community, the street ends, and a sign cautions that the next seven miles would be over a winding, dirt road.

But oh, what a dirt road! On this early-June day, the desert could hardly have been more stunning.

Really – the views through this stretch of the Tonto National Forest are worth the drive. With the craggy range of Superstitions as a backdrop, the desert seems to go on endlessly, dotted with leafy mesquite, blooming cholla, and massive saguaros.

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Hiking Prescott AZ’s granite gems

Imagine a rolling sea, with nothing but waves as far as the eye can see. Instead of churning water, though, these waves are made of solid rock. And rather than blues and greens, the waves are in hues of reds and browns.

That is what you’ll find when you venture into the Granite Dells trails in Prescott, Arizona. But rest assured that you won’t be climbing aboard without a compass: A series of white dots and maps will steer you through.

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For more than a decade, Prescott’s Parks and Recreation Department and a group of intrepid volunteers have been building trails through the Dells. Because many of the routes take hikers and mountain bikers over sheer rock faces, the trails are marked with white dots to point the way.

For me, the opportunity to feel like a rock climber (sort of!) without the risk, or need for technical skills, is pure fun. I have my favorites among Prescott’s “white-dot trails.” Here are five of the best:

 

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Over the years, I’ve had plenty of infatuations with beautiful cities. I fell hard for Amsterdam, with its lovely canals and spirited street scene. I loved the energy and air of self-importance of New York City. Rome took me by surprise, with its awe-inspiring antiquities, bordered by narrow, shady alleys. And New Orleans – what can I say? It was like the bad boy I knew wasn’t that good for me, but couldn’t resist.

All of them were short-lived flings, though, involving quick visits. I definitely would like to return some day, but I no longer harbor dreams of living in any of them.

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San Francisco was different. Probably because I’ve been able to return again and again to visit my son, who lived there for years, I feel like I forged a bond with San Francisco and understand its rhythm and soul. So much so, in fact, that it has become my metropolitan measuring stick.

San Francisco, you’ve spoiled me for every other city! Here’s why:

 

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I know, I know – girls’ trips have become so commonplace that they’re practically clichéd.

On a recent flight to San Francisco with two of my friends, we overheard the women in the row of seats behind us tell the flight attendant they were embarking on a girls’ trip. My friends and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We realized we weren’t all that special.

But if so many people are doing it, there must be a lot to love, right? In my experience, the answer is yes.

Over the past several years, a group of friends and I have celebrated our respective birthdays by taking short weekend trips. Along with the San Francisco trip, we’ve checked out a small mining town in Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains, a resort in Phoenix, and a casino on the Navajo Reservation.

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Our hike in the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, AZ

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If you like to hike, you’ve probably heard a story or two of an under-estimated trek. The one where you thought the loop would be four miles, but it turned out to be eight. Or the route that someone said was a short, easy jaunt, but ended up being a 10-mile slog. My friends and I ran into such a situation not long ago, when we headed off on a girls’ get-away to Flagstaff, Arizona. We decided to stop along the way for a scenic hike. Since it was a warm spring day, we chose a river route in the Verde Valley. I had never hiked the Bell Trail at Wet Beaver Creek, but I had heard good things about the area. One of my friends had hiked it years before, and remembered that it led to a swimming hole. We started off, with a vague sense that the swimming hole was about two miles in. photo 1

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All spring long, a flamboyant display of colors has been unfolding quietly in the rocky hills of Prescott, Arizona.

Thanks, apparently, to the relatively wet winter of 2015, the prickly plants that normally wouldn’t warrant a second glance have been showing their more attractive sides. Every time I venture out on the trail lately, it seems, I notice a new type of cactus or shrub sporting flowers in gorgeous hues of reds, pinks, and yellows.

image-36 image-51In a lot of ways, this season’s floral bounty has opened my eyes to the less obvious pleasures of hiking.

When I started exploring the trails in Arizona’s high desert years ago, I tended to pay more attention to the big attractions. I had my standards: To make all of that hard work worth it, a hike needed to come with a payoff – either a gorgeous, sweeping view, or water of some type.

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I have a confession: I love dead trees. Please don’t hate me!

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Before you rush to judgment, let me explain. Of course I would prefer a living tree. After all, there are few things lovelier than a leafy green tree against a clear blue sky.

But let’s be real – it’s nature, and trees die. And I, for one, appreciate all of the bark-less trunks and finger-like branches out there.

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If you live in Arizona and you like to hike, there is one accomplishment that stands out. Rim to rim in the Grand Canyon – for many hikers, it’s the big one, the bucket-list trip.

The rim-to-rim is definitely not to be taken lightly, and I have seen numerous people – some young and seemingly fit – struggle with the demanding hike. It takes preparation, and it takes knowledge of the terrain and climate.

There are various takes on this momentous hike. But for me, “rim to rim” means hiking from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim near Tusayan, Arizona, to the North Rim south of Jacob Lake, Arizona, in one day. Depending on the route you take, that consists of either 21 miles or 24 miles, plus nearly a mile drop in elevation, and more than a mile elevation gain.

The day will be grueling, but anyone who has done it can attest to the fact: You will never see the Grand Canyon in quite the same way again.

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When I walk along the Peavine Trail in Prescott, Arizona, I can’t help but think about the train passengers of long ago, who must have been agog at the scenery that flashed by.
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The massive granite formations that make up the area’s Granite Dells surely seemed close enough to touch as the old Santa Fe Railroad passed by the iconic Point of Rocks and the many other massive granite formations lining the route.

The Peavine – so named because its route reportedly was as twisty as the vine of a pea plant – once carried passengers and freight between Ash Fork, Arizona to the north, and Phoenix to the south.

Abandoned as a train route decades ago, the railroad bed now serves as a recreational trail, and regularly carries hundreds of walkers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians.

Stick to the main route, and you will get none of the twists and turns of the old Peavine. The six miles that are part of Prescott’s trail system largely skirt the tortuous grades and turns, and instead offer a wide, flat trail with a gradual rise.

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