Archive for April, 2009

Verde River Trail

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

[Part of our ongoing series of Behind-the-Hike for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

Coming out of the Verde Valley was the closest I came to being in serious trouble in all my guidebook hikes. You know that “example” last post about fltering water from a catrtle pond in a desperate attempt t stave off heat exhaustion? This hike. But we’ll start at the beginning.

Verde Trail #11

“Northern seven-mile section climbs away from the river, and is easy to
travel.”  – USFS

Well, as we shall see, that all depends…

HIKE START: 17 June 2008; 11:40am

HIKE END: 18 June 2008; 5:20pm



This was the last hike of my 10-day run to finish the guidebook, and the next-to-last hike I actually did. With deadline looming, I took my vacation week and plotted out a course that would net me 8 hikes in 10 days – and it almost worked! Most of those hikes are in the central mountains or the Mogollon Rim.

So I woke up that morning in my hammock at the Pine TH, did some laundry at a trailer park in Pine, ate breakfast at the hotel in Strawberry, and rolled on down Fossil Springs Road.

I prodded my poor Buick down 5 miles of FR 194 until I finally ran out of nerve and parked it at the intersection with FR 540, and humped the remaining distance to Twin Buttes TH. I wisely left a couple of gallons of water in my car.

Typical trail conditions on Cedar Bench

Typical trail conditions on Cedar Bench

I love – love – juniper scrub country, but after 7 miles of it, I was actually kinda glad to start seeing chaparral.

My notes declare – in hindsight – that I should have stayed on the dirt path and gone down to the Verde. I did, in fact, take the trace route down to Fossil Creek, where I slapped together a bit of camp, and discovered that one of my wading shoes had fallen from my pack. Undetered, I spent the last hour of remaining daylight splashing about barefoot in the creek, ignoring the voice in my head that warned a foot injury down here becomes a survival scenario.

Coming down towards the Verde River

Coming down towards the Verde River

Finishing my DVR notes, I discovered that machie’s memory was blank. Every DVR note from the past seven hikes had been somehow obliterated! So I spent a few hours that night shooing bugs out of my headlamp as I desperately tried to write down in my pocket notebook every detail I could remember about the previous seven hikes.

I confirmed a principle I had long suspected the truth of: If you can’t remember it without notes, it probably won’t make it under word count anyway.

Also: Transcribe your DVR notes at the first opportunity! Like in the car after the hike.

Also: Don’t take your DVR into the drugstore. I suspect the anti-theft system will wipe out memories. Even in Pine.

I hauled a sleeping bag down for nothing. (In my defense, I had needed it every other night for the past nine days). It didn’t get down below room temperature until well after midnight.

I wasted the cool hours of the following morning in a brutal bushwhack trying to find a route along the shore (or, as it turned out, over a butte, and then over a rocky cliff) to the Verde River trail proper. I foolishly thought such a dircet route would be less annoying than the field of burrs I had originally descended through.

If you ever feel the urge to scramble over boulders in a 40 lb pack – resist it. Stay on the damn trail. GAFDE.

I found the trail, then the Verde River, and spent a good hour flopped out in a little swimming hole there until I knew I had to get going.

[Here is where I’d insert photos of both the banks of Fossil Creek and the bank of the Verde so you could compare and contrast, but I’m out of space again. I do however, have an album on Facebook with more photos.]

On my way back up, I flirted with heat exhaustion.  was too hot to eat more than half an energy bar all the way up, but, as we alluded too, I was thirsty enough to drink almost anything.

Bull Tank is the name of where I spent some time filtering green slime through a handkerchief into a Nalgene bottle. Happily, Auqumira kills everything! That was a long wait to drink chemically-shocked slime, but I was glad to have it.

I was even happier making it back to the car, where the means to make a gallon of warm Gatorade awaited.

The original plan was to camp at that very spot, and finish the run with Fossil Springs the next day, but I was done – and so were my boots.

Other notes:

* The banks of the Verde are known habitat for Southwest Bald Eagles, and officially closed to traffic from December through June. However, I have been told by Ken Jacobsen, who manages the nest-watching program, that the Verde Trail receives so little traffic that hikers are not a concern to the nest-watchers.  Still, if you see a nest, camp somewhere else.

* The Forest Service publishes a Guide to the Verde – mostly for boaters, but with some useful info for every user – and free. The part I described is around River Mile 20. The Verde River below this portion is called the Graveyard of Canoes by local boaters. Just so ya know.

* Your morning temperature at Twin Buttes TH is likely to be your overnight low down by the river.

*Don’t do this hike in June.

* You can fish on the Verde (with an AZ license) but you cannot fish on Fossil Creek.

* I found my other wading shoe on my way back up.

* I will, someday, do the whole Verde Trail – despite my travails on this first attempt. North – south – I got that much right, anyway.

The Miserable Facts About Plastic Bottles

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Leave is to our supposedly advanced civilization to muck up a simple act like drinking water. It is said that when the cynic philosopher Diogenes, who, among other things, was the first philosopher of the “Go-Lite” movement, saw a young boy drinking from a stream with his hands, the philosopher tossed aside his cup, grumbling, “A child has beaten me in simplicity of living!”

Now that child’s mother would scold him. We’re past the age where you can just drink from any stream – at least in the western United States (and the Tonto NF in particular).

I don’t buy bottled water because I’m scared of Phoenix tap. I buy it, on occasion, because free with every purchase is a cheap, lightweight, reusable canteen. Whenever I hike or work outside, I choose one of the 6-10 such bottles that lie in the floor of my car, fill it with water, and off I go. I started this habit because 1) I’m cheap and 2) I’m concerned about the growing plastic layer in the ecosystem. Only about 15% of water bottles in the US actually get recycled. Most end up in landfills anyway – or on the floor of my Buick.

I have now been informed by well-meaning co-workers that by doing so, I am poisoning myself. The common belief is that these containers, over time, release toxic chemicals into whatever you store in them, particularly at high temperatures. Or so I was told as I poured coffee from a Styrofoam cup into an empty Gatorade container.

Like most such wisdom of our age, this is 80% crap. But the 20% of truth behind it is somewhat alarming.

Let’s start with the quickest notion to dispute: boiling water in a plastic container does not relase a toxic gas into the liquid. If it did, I would have perished long ago. On the trail, I routinely boil water and then pour it into plastic containers. There are some health risks associated with this (which we’ll get to) , but they are minute compared to water-born illnesses, dehydration, or the traffic on State Highway 87.

(More on that sad state of affairs on my personal blog from last September. You can skip the first 5 paragraphs of political whining to get right to boiling the water).

Now, there’s plastic, and there’s plastic. Late last year, the treehuggers and the chemical industry went a few rounds on the blogosphere about bisphenol-A [BPA] in polycarbonate containers. Lexan, which is – or was – used in Nalgene bottles is a polycarbonate. BPA has been shown to cause reproductive abnormalities in mice.

Polycarbonates, among many other platsics, use recycling symbol #7 (which essentially stands for “other”). The Nalgene bottle I pulled out of my pack has such a symbol.

There are differing viewpoints on this:

“Ditch them now!” from TreeHugger

This may be a problem… from Toxin-Free Canada

This is not a concern... from the US Toxicology Program

My problem with my #7 Nalgene bottle is that it cost $9 from an outdoor shop and weighs 6 oz. An equivalent  drink bottle costs $1.70 from the convenience store and weighs 2 oz. That drink bottle, though, is PETE plastic (symbol #1) which has its own issues. They release antimony, which may or may not be a carcinogenic.

USN reports on PETE plastic bottles.

And a study done at ASU, down the street:

“Nine commercially available bottled waters in the southwestern US (Arizona) were purchased and tested for antimony concentrations as well as for potential antimony release by the plastics that compose the bottles. The southwestern US was chosen for the study because of its high consumption of bottled water and elevated temperatures, which could increase antimony leaching from PET plastics.” […]

“Summertime temperatures inside of cars, garages, and enclosed storage areas can exceed 65 degrees C in Arizona, and thus could promote antimony leaching from PET bottled waters.”


“Clearly, only a small fraction of the antimony in PET plastic bottles is released into the water. Still, the use of alternative types of plastics that do not leach antimony should be considered, especially for climates where exposure to extreme conditions can promote antimony release from PET plastics.”

What you should look for, then, is bottles made of HDPE (#2) which has not been found to leach anything toxic into the contained liquid (yet). Worth noting that Nalgene is making HDPE bottles. (Though they curiously don’t give a weight…)

So what’s an informed, green hiker to do?

* Buy a #2 bottle (because you won’t find one at the convenience store). There are a lot of different products. I linked to the Nalgene bottle because I had been using their name above.

* Don’t pour your hot coffee into a #1 bottle (at least, not every day).

* When your #1 bottle starts to get scratched up, go ahead and recycle it.

* Don’t let yourself get dehydrated or sick because you’re worried about cancer in laboratory mice.

Because when you find yourself on a hot summer day up to your ankles in mud filtering water from the stagnant, green cattle pond in a desperate attempt to stave off heat exhaustion, nanograms of acetowhatzits are the very least of your problems. At least, I’ve always found that to be the case.

Skunked Tank

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

First, some housekeeping. So ya know, complimenting my site in a obviously vague way followed shortly by a link to a commercial site (particularly an adult site) will still be considered spam. Also, spelling counts.


[Continuing our series of behind-the-hikes from Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest}

Skunk Tank Loop

This hike in the Cave Creek / 7 Springs trail complex took two attempts. I have drafts of the hike description written for both clockwise and counterclockwise. (The clockwise version is the one in the Guide).


DATE: 13 November 2007


START TIME: 1:30pm


ACTUAL MILEAGE: Unknown (about 11 miles)

I never really learned my lesson about late starts, though after this one I should have.

I initially missed the ramp going out of the wash, and followed the wash instead. Lost within the first hour of the hike. I found actual trail at the top of the saddle, after bushwhacking my way up and around the side of the ravine. You’d think I learned a lesson about that sort of nonsense after this hike, but I didn’t.

By the time I reached the actual Skunk Tank, the sun was sinking behind the hills, and I had to dig up my headlamp out of my pack.

The switchbacks are slow and treacherous going by the 10′ range of an LED headlamp. The three river crossing were even more exciting. The batteries burned out on the GPS, which would have recorded an incorrect route anyway, plus I did at least half the hike in the dark. I’d have to come back…

HIKE # 2

DATE: 19 November 2007


START TIME: 10:45 am (He can be taught…)

END TIME: 5:15pm (It all goes faster in daylight…)


This hike went much better. All the electronics worked, I stayed mostly on the trail, and I started and finished in daylight.

I also went counter-clockwise, which meanting starting south down Cave Creek Trail (left), doing the three crossings, and then going up the switchbacks.

Here’s a secret – since you’ve gotten this far into the post: I never did a hike specific to the Cave Creek Trail. My description of it in the guidebook is derived from notes taken on this hike and the Cottonwood / Cave Creek Loop.

Bongo enjoying a break at third crossing

Obviously, most of the photos are from the second trip.

Going back down the other way, I found the trail I should have been on in the first place during my first circuit, and duly recorded them in my still working GPS.

Either direction, Skunk Tank itself marks your half-way point.

My record after this hike was 2-2 vs the Tonto National Forest and/or my own stupidity. I was beginning to wonder if I could really finish the book at that rate. Happily, though, my win percentage steadily improved.

Vineyard Trail

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing Behind-The-Hike series for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest.]

This lovely hike heads up from Roosevelt Lake towards Four Peaks, and is part of the Arizona Trail which runs through the state from Utah to Mexico.

DATE HIKED: 1 April 2008


START TIME: 12:45pm

END TIME: 6:50pm


This was one of those rare combinations of a reasonable start time, good weather, a scenic trail and a working camera. Thus, I have some pictures, but precious little space. So I’ll put a few here, and you can go to my personal site HERE to see the rest.

The above is one of my favorite photos from the guidebook days.

You can read all about the Salt River Project Dams, inclding Roosevelt Dam from their website history here.

The O’rourke camp was named after the the John O’Rourke firm of Galveston, Texas, who one the contract labor bid.

“In 1910, O’Rourke’s Camp consisted of 42 percent white Americans, 15 percent Spanish emigrants, 11 percent black Americans, three percent Mexican nationals and two percent Chinese. No American Indians or Mexican-Americans lived in the contractor’s camp. O’Rourke hoped to attract 300 to 500 workers to Roosevelt, but the most contract workers employed at one time was a little over 200. Common laborers of all types were paid $2 a day; drillers, $2.75; carpenters, $3.50 to $5, and sub-foremen, $3.50. The government deducted 75 cents per day for meals.”

The photo on the left is the heiograph tower.

The photo on the right is pollen on my boots.

Don’t bother picking your way through the rocks and cactus to get to the corrugated shed in the old vineyard. There’s no opening in it. GAFDE. You can see everything there is to see from the trail.

I did actually go down to Buckhorn Springs, put my feet in the water, and had a nice meal.

Last November I returned back up this trail researching an article I wrote on the Southwest Bald Eagle for Inside/Outsde Magazine. I didn’t actually see any eagles on the trip (it was still a bit hot to see them in late afternoon, I can confirm this is a legitmate habitat for this distinct species of raptor.

Trail #8 – a cautionary tale

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing Behind The Hike series for Day and Overnight Hikes in the Tonto National Forest]

Trail #8 taught me a lot of lessons – all the hard way.

My first attempt was with Ben, and we hardly got there:

HIKE #1:

DATE: 1/19/08


ACTUAL MILES: Unknown (we got so lost, I stopped taking such notes)

TIME: Unknown (about 5 hours)

We got a late start, and underestimated the drive time. I further assumed I could drive to the trailhead – which is not the case in a Buick sedan.

In the guidebook, I advise NOT taking the  little side road on the far side of the first hill. GAFDE.

That road, we learned, leads to a little horse coral. Past that corall, still on dirt road, we climbed a fairly steep hill, ate some lunch, and wondered why we hand’t found a trail. Pulling out my topo map, I figured out that we were still a good mile south of it.

Later, we tried to bushwhack bach to FR602. Don’t do this. The road is the only place you are safe from catclaws. You won’t save any time (or skin) going cross country here.

We finally found the trailhead, and pushed on up the hill to the saddle.

So I had the hike all along.

But there was more trail. So I went back…


DATE: 4 April 2008

COMPANIONS: Carolyn and Jayson (though Jayson only drove).


TIMES: Unknown

This was at the tail-end of a 4WD drive expedition. Jayson doesn’t hike recreationally and stayed with the vehicle, playing with his kite and HAM radio.

Carolyn, as you may remember from Fish Rock Pass, doesn’t mind getting lost.

We actually pushed quite a distance past the saddle, but I wouldn’t recommend venturing into that valley unless you’re trying to evade law enforcement. What follows is beyond what I chronicled in the guidebook, straight from my notes:

Past the saddle, the trail goes down into the juniper/prickly-pear/catclaw wilderness that defines this elevation. The trail is rocky and a little washed out, but the grade is gentle.

About a quarter mile past the saddle, the trail cuts in and out of the drainages, and can be difficult to locate. Catclaw has overgrown the path in some places – foreshadowing – as you pass through a haunted forest of skeletal trees.

The catclaw grows in some places in jungle-like profusion, and often at eye level. It is particularly troublesome in drainages.

Trail stays north of the wash for the duration. If you cross the wash (as we did a couple of times) you are no longer on the trail. If the catclaw gets too much for you, you can follow the riverbed and make similar rate of progress. While the catclaws will rip relentlessly at all exposed clothes and flesh, a bushwhack through the rock-choked creek-bed will abuse your feet and knees. Pick your pain.

Catclaw provides an important habitat for various species of vermin, but is nothing but a painful obstructive nuisance to large vertebrates such as human beings.

There’s water in the creek bed intermittently past Indian Springs.

We stopped at a cabin-sized boulder, past our turn-around time. Neither of us wanted any part of the catclaw jungle in the dark, so we turned around.

The few pleasant stretches of this trail do not make up for the catclaw. Had the deadline logistics worked out differetly, I might have left this hike out altogether, except the hike as far as the saddle really is kinda cool.

As I panted into my DVR:

“If I come back, I’m bringing a machete.”

Cottonwood Trail #120

Friday, April 10th, 2009

This is NOT the Cottonwood Creek Trail [247] that I wrote about earlier as part of the CCC Loop. Cottonwood #120 leads from Lake Roosevelt towards the Superstition Mountains. It is part of the AZ trail.

DATE HIKED: 23 December 2007


ACTUAL HIKE TIME: 4 hours 45 minutes


For some reason, I do not have a start and end time noted in my log, though I did note that we got a late start.  I also didn’t have a camera, which is sad, because this hike is quite scenic.

This very moment (mid April 2009) Lake Roosevelt is 100%+ capacity, and thus quite a site as you’re panting at the cattle guard.

A paragraph from my description of this hike appears in some of the marketing materials.

I actually stopped at the cattle gate, because Ben had stopped way back in the trees.  Looking forward to taking this trail the whole distance someday. It would be an easy car-shuttle assuming one vehicle is 4WD.

From my notes:

The full moon rising over the mountains on the other side of
the lake as we reached our car in twilight was the most beautiful part of the
hike – and that’s saying something.

The Ballantine Trail

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

[Part of the ongoing behind-the-hike series for the Tonto Guide.]

This hike follows the Ballantine Trail around Boulder Mountain towards Pine Mountain. I hiked it twice, and there’s still ore left that I want to explore.

HIKE 1 = to be quick = On 2 December 2007 Ben and I did the Pine Creek trail to the Ballantine junction and continued about a half mile beyond. The photo in Ben’s Hiking Essentials (one of this blog’s first entries) is from this hike. That makes a super-easy kid’s hike – but not enough of a hike to justify a full entry. So I went back to hike a more substantial portion.

HIKE 2 (The Main Hike)

HIKE DATE: 20 March 2008



START TIME: 10:15 AM    END TIME: 4:45PM
The Forest Service description does not mention the cabin. I found the route through other sources. The dirt bike trail that eventually led me back to the Ballantine was a happy if accidental discovery.

I did not mention (or photograph) the more recent remains of dead cattle lying about. Don’t just casually drink any water you find in the stream.

Ballantine goes on from the turn-around I used for the guidebook to go around Pine Moutain and down to Cline TH. Cline TH needs HC/4WD vehicles to reach. If you want to do the entire trail, a fairly heroic quest, start from the Cline side, because that starts with a steep and sporadically marked ascent that you want no part of with fading daylight. The western portions of the Ballantine, though, particularly the Deer Creek spur would not prove too troublesome by flashlight.

My son is still mad that I went back and finished this trail without him.

News Roundup for March

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

New thing: towards the end of every month, I’m going to digest news items relevant to the Tonto NF or Arizona hiking in general.

Fossil Springs is now open again. It has been for a month, but just sayin’ because now its warm enough to get to the TH without snow chains.

This is Wildfire Prevention Week, and according to the USFS press release:

BLM fire management specialist Ken Shaver observed, “There is some potential good news on the summer weather front.  The predictive weather services people are forecasting a wet monsoon season this year. If our summer season is like it was last year, the wildfire season in Arizona could again be on the quiet side.”

Your tax money at work, clearing out deadwood.

Quoted from the above source:

The Hazardous Fuel Reduction project areas include:

  1. Payson WUI ($870,000 for 2,537 acres)
  2. Pine WUI ($660,000 for 3,205 acres)
  3. Verde WUI ($400,000 for 481 acres)
  4. Lion WUI ($42,000 for 335 acres)
  5. Chamberlain WUI ($825,000 for 1,000 acres)
  6. Christopher/Hunter ($310,000 for 375 acres).

The Southwestern Region expects more projects to be approved for funding over the next few months.

Even though the reservoirs are at high levels and streams are reportedly flowing throughout the Tonto, I’d still figure on fire restrictions this summer.

The sad saga of Macho B, the jaguar (yes-really-a jaguar) that AZ Game and Fish accidentally captured, collared, tracked, rescued and ultimately euthanized suspecting a fatal kidney disorder continues into the finger-pointing stage. You can follow the story at Macho B’s website.

Finally, for those interested, my proposal for a D&O Coconino National Forest has been after much consideration, declined by Menasha Ridge Press. It was, to be fair, among the last proposals to be cut.  Everyone (that I talked to) liked the idea, they just couldn’t make the numbers work out.

A good freelancer, meaning one who can crank out readable copy on deadline, can expect a rejection rate of 11 out of 12 proposals. Mine runs a little better, but I write for beer money, and have the luxury of choosing my pitches with care. If this were my primary source of income, I’d be writing a proposal a day, and my rejection rate would be much closer to the industry norm (if not higher). If I take any of that personally, I’m done. Consideration for the writer’s supposed feelings noticeably declines at about $.10/word and is non-existent at national magazine rates.

My chief disappointment, then, is that it’s a lot easier to get out of my other obligations to go hiking when I have a guidebook in the works. So I am casting about for other ideas, and would value any input.

Meanwhile, the behind-the-hike series continues, for all of you 94+ people (and counting, I hope) who have bought a copy of my last excuse to get lost in the wilderness.