Hieroglyphic Trail

Since I was in Tempe for Arizona State University’s Family Weekend, I had limited time to get in a proper hike. I had finally hiked the “A” the day before, but on Sunday I had a bit more availability to get some trail time. I settled on doing the Hieroglyphic Trail out in the Superstition Wilderness. I had seen the signs for this trail back when I hiked Fremont Saddle. This 3-mile round trip hike was just the right length to let me get back to the hotel to shower and check out. The sunrise was spectacular, but since I was alone, I could not safely capture it on my phone. Where’s Ted when you need him!? I pulled into the parking lot and about 6 or 7 cars were already there. Both the Hieroglyphic trail and the Lost Goldmine Trail start from here.

The trail works its way toward a massive collection of petroglyphs near the mouth of the canyon. Clear signage was in place at the junction for the two trails. The trail is a typical desert trail, with some rocky sections and some dirt sections. I scrambled down one minor section just before reaching the petroglyphs. 

I carefully explored the petroglyphs carved into the surrounding rocks, watching my footing, as the rocks were slick from water flowing down the canyon. I certainly did not want to slip into that pool of stagnant water. Since I did have a timeline to stick to, I did not linger as long as I might have wanted to. I passed more and more folks heading up the trail. It was certainly a popular one, as the parking lot was almost completely full upon my return. 

Hayden Butte (aka The “A”)

While my son has attended Arizona State University for two years now, I never seemed to have to the time to hike up The “A”. On my last visit I made sure I got the quick hike in. Located next to the football stadium, it is just 3/4 miles round-trip. I opted to approach it from the west trail to the summit. This is just a paved service road to the water tanks. Once it reaches the tanks, the trail becomes a mix of concrete stairs and railroad ties almost the summit. It is a popular work-out trail for students and nearby residents.

I made my way to the top with no issues. I was surprised to see the benchmark still embedded on the summit. I made my way back down using a different route for the second half of the descent. Maybe next time, I can wake up my son and have him join me :).

Mount Elden

The previous day’s ascent of Bill Williams took a bit out of me. That, coupled with a slightly worse weather forecast, meant the planned hike up Kendrick peak was not going to happen. Instead, I opted to summit Mt. Elden, which is all of 10 minutes from my friend’s house.

Mt. Elden

I grabbed a biscuit from McDonald’s and ate it while I finished getting ready. If you have ever driven through Flagstaff and seen the tall mountain right in town, that is Mt. Elden. The parking lot was almost full when we got there at 7:30. 

The trail starts off fairly gently before the steep ascent to the summit. My friend’s husband decided to join me. He had hiked it years ago and wanted to try again. But about a mile in, he looks down to discover the soles of his hiking boots have separated. I dug out my duct tape to hold them together enough for him to return to the trailhead and call his wife. One of the benefits of an in-town hike with cell service! I then set off.

I was extra mindful that I was at altitude and kept a measured pace. This trail was much rockier than Bill Williams. A friend described this hike as like doing Viejas Mountain but 3x harder. I can attest that is about right. 

The trail would work its way up the steep slope, switching back and forth. Hikers would pass me returning from the summit and a couple would pass me on their ascent. I would stop from time to time to catch my breath and to take in the view.

Soon, the lookout tower and all the other towers came into view. I found a shady spot and just sat there for a while. Once I had recovered, I wandered around the summit. The views were spectacular. I could see Kendrick to the northwest and Humphrey to the north. Clouds were starting to build, so I was glad to have changed up my plans. I found both reference marks and the benchmark. 

I had made the summit in 2:30, and after about 30 minutes at the top I knew it was time to head down. Given the steep rocky nature of the trail, I did not expect to gain much time like I had on Bill Williams. I stopped a few times to chat with folks making their way up. Finally the 1/2 mile to go sign appeared and the end was in sight. It had gotten a tad warm, but a strong breeze offset that. All told I recorded this hike at 5.40 miles. It took me 5:02 to climb the 2,405 feet to the summit.

Bill Williams

With our local forests still closed, I got the ok to head out on another hiking adventure. This time I decided to head to Flagstaff to try some of their Six Pack peaks. I left San Diego at 4:30 am, in part of avoid some LA traffic, but since there were afternoon showers and thunderstorms in the forecast, I also needed to be mindful of that.

Can some tell where Bill Williams #1-#20 are?

There are four peaks in the general Flagstaff area; Humphreys, Kendrick, Mt. Elden and Bill Williams. Since Bill Williams is near the town of Williams, that was my first stop for the weekend. I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead and set off. The trail is incredibly well marked with green blazes to guide you along. I set off a bit too fast and the elevation gently reminded me to ease up my pace. My starting elevation was 6,900’. 

The trail worked its way ever upward. Some nice collections of wildflowers would be found for much of the hike. I did have to break out the bug net as the flies were just bothersome enough. As I continued climbing, I kept an eye on the skies. A few clouds here and there but all looked good. The trees kept me from having any views of the area, but just walking under the pines and eventually some aspens made up for that.

The trail connects with a service road almost at the summit. It was here I met another hiker. We chatted a bit before heading in our respective directions. The summit is home to a variety of communication towers and a fire lookout tower. There were two service trucks and two off-road vehicles parked near the top. I chatted with the off-roaders a bit before heading to the tower.

While the tower is closed, you can climb part way up. As I sat on the stairs having a well earned snack, I was soaking in the views. I found one reference mark but that was it. Being mindful of the weather and needing to still get to Flagstaff to stay with a college friend and her husband, I set back down the trail.

It certainly was easier coming down from 9,256 feet than the climb up. Back at the car I logged the hike at 7.8 miles in 4:52, with an elevation gain of 2,371 feet.

Petroglyph National Monument

I had hoped to hike the Piedras Marcadas Canyon trail with the family on the way into Albuquerque, but the afternoon rains prevented that from happening. Instead, I woke up early and drove out to the trailhead. Unlike the other trails in Petroglyph National Monument, this trail is open from sunrise to sunset. I parked the car in the empty lot and set off.

The entire trail is a 1.95 mile loop and fairly flat. Along the way I saw some incredible petroglyphs. I hustled back to the car to return to the hotel and rejoin the family.

After checking out of the hotel and having breakfast, we drove to the Petroglyphs National Monument Visitor Center to get our Junior Ranger Badge, then we set off to explore some of the petroglyphs found along the Boca Negra trail. 

While I would have loved to explore more, it was heating up and we had other sights to see.

Petrified Forest National Park

Our first real stop on our road trip to Little Rock to see my sister and her family was the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. Since it was late July, I knew we were not going to be doing a lot of the trails scattered around the park. One hike we actually did was the Giant Log trail located just behind the Rainbow Forest Museum.

Once back in the cool, air-conditioned car, we continued driving through the park. We hit several of the major sights: Blue Mesa Road Loop, the Teepees, Newspaper Rock.  

The drive also took us into the Painted Desert. We again stopped at a few viewpoints to take in the views. I would love to come back here and do some longer hikes, even an overnight trip.

Camelback Mountain

My greatest worry about hiking Camelback was not the hike itself, but how I would feel after hiking The Flatiron the day before. If Piestewa is Phoenix’s Cowles Mountain, Camelback is their Iron Mountain. In addition to the heat, the other challenge for this hike is the parking at the trailhead. It is currently compounded by the fact that the other route to the summit is closed for maintenance, so everyone has to take the Echo Canyon trail. I had joined the Arizona Hiking Society’s Facebook group and inquired about how early one could start, as technically the trail is open from dawn to dusk. My son was getting his first vaccine shot in the mid-morning, so I had a hard time limit (and the reason why I had to stay longer in Phoenix). I was told the lot is open, and usually fills up quickly, so a pre-dawn start was recommended. I pulled into the lot, a bit before 5:00 am and there were a few cars already parked. I put on my headlamp, grabbed my poles, and set off.

The trail began as a wide dirt path that quickly brought me to a small saddle. The city lights from this spot were lovely. There is a sign informing you to stay on the trail, as a hiker recently fell to his death. This hike has a lot of rescues, and in fact, has a helipad to assist when necessary.  

After the saddle, a series of wooden stairs aided my ascent. Soon after that came one of Camelback’s signature features — the metal fence and railing section. The route became so steep that these were installed to assist hikers and to provide some safety from the drop as well. There were some notches in the rock, so I was able to get through this section without any trouble.

The route would transition mostly from a trail to a “choose your own adventure” up the steep boulders. I was thankful for my poles and my gloves as I picked my way up. Occasionally, trail signs would guide me along. Other markers were used to indicate reference spots on the mountain for search and rescue. The boulder section was nothing technical, but I am sure for someone who does not do a lot of desert hiking it can be quite the challenge.

Soon I found myself reaching the summit, just as the sun was breaking through the clouds to the east. What a sight. I had a 360-degree view of the Phoenix area, and not a lot of company on the summit. I chatted with a couple of fellow hikers for a bit before heading back down. My legs certainly were feeling the effort from yesterday’s climb up The Flatiron.

As I climbed back down, more and more hikers were making their way up. I was again glad that I started early. Around the halfway point, a gentleman in a knee brace asked me about my poles and if they helped. I told him that for me, yes. We then probably spent 10 minutes chatting about various hikes in the area, after all, I have 3 more years of my son attending ASU! 

At the top of that railing section, I had to wait several minutes to descend due to the increase in traffic. Like the day before, I snapped photos that I could not take on the way up. I thought about heading over to the cave but decided I should get down to make sure I got my son to his appointment. Once back at the parking lot, it had completely filled up and there were cars waiting. I tossed my gear in quickly and freed up a spot. With that my Six-Pack of Peaks Arizona Winter Challenge was complete! My stats for Camelback were a relaxing 2:30 to cover the 2.4 miles and its 1,300 feet of gain.

The Flatiron

Since I needed to stay in Arizona for a few days after bringing my son back to ASU from his visit home for Passover, I set out to climb the last two peaks on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge-Arizona Winter list; The Flatiron and Camelback. Unfortunately, an early heatwave had descended on the region, pushing the highs in Tempe into the upper 90s. This certainly threw a wrench into my planning. In doing my research on The Flatiron, I also learned that the day-use area where the trailhead is located is only open from 6 am to 8 pm. I had hoped for a pre-dawn start to avoid some of the heat. I called the ranger at the Lost Dutchman State Park to inquire about what my options might be. She informed me that there was a self-registration kiosk and I can park in the day-use overflow lot. Problem solved! So, Monday morning another very early alarm went off in my hotel. I gathered my gear and made the 40-minute drive to the park. I filled out the registration form, slipped in my $7, and proceeded to the parking lot. I followed a short connector trail to the primary parking lot and then on to the Siphon Draw Trail. A quarter moon shone through the thin clouds above the Superstition Mountains.

The first 1.25 miles or so are on a well-maintained trail that will take you to the mouth of the canyon. With my headlamp guiding me, I made my way along in the dark, gaining about 700 feet of elevation along the way. At the base of the canyon, the trail followed the left side and began to gain elevation a little more earnestly. Another hiker caught up with me, and we hiked along until we reached The Basin, a natural depression where millennia of wind and erosion has worn the red volcanic tuff into a Martian landscape. The sun had risen, so I stowed my headlamp. We stopped for a brief bit for me to take a few photos before continuing on. Many day hikers reach this point and turn back, as the next half of the hike is where the real challenge begins. 

Climbing up and out of The Basin gave me a good look at the remaining climb. Over the next mile, I would gain about 1,500 feet of elevation. My temporary hiking buddy went on ahead, as I was keeping a measured but slower pace. I dropped down into Siphon Draw and began the steep climb. At this point, the trail had ended, and I was looking either for the white or blue blazes spray-painted on the rocks, or following my own route-finding skills. From all the trip reports, and also from the hiking buddy I had met, the key is to stay to the left side of the canyon. I kept climbing, stopping for a quick breather from time to time, turning back to enjoy the view, then turning back around to see The Flatiron slowly getting closer and closer. Finally, I came to probably the biggest challenge of the entire hike — “The Wall”. This is an 8-foot nearly vertical rock face that you need to scale. I opted to take the left side and use a sturdy tree as a handhold to help me scale it. My heart was racing as I pulled myself up and over. Once past this obstacle, it was just a short bit until I reached the plateau and the trail out to The Flatiron. 

As I sat alone on top of the Flatiron, I soaked in the incredible vistas. A chipmunk tried to become friends to see if I would share my orange. I declined. After about 15 minutes, another hiker joined me. We chatted a bit and exchanged cameras for some photos. I was ready to begin my descent and let him enjoy the summit by himself. At the top of the draw, I looked down and truly understood the sheer steepness of what I had climbed. Once back at “The Wall”, I examined the other side and decided that it seemed like a safer route to descend. I had no trouble working my way down. With that challenge completed, it was now just the careful steep descent ahead of me.

Making my way down, I started to encounter hikers making their way up. As I drew nearer to The Basin, I would encounter more and more hikers. Dropping back into The Basin, I took a short break to enjoy this natural wonder. Off to one side, there was a small pool of water, and I could only imagine what this must look like during a rainstorm. The day was starting to warm up and the sun was above the mountain, so I continued on down the trail.

I would stop to take photos that I normally would have taken on the way up but mostly kept on trucking. I could see the state park off in the distance as I plodded along, knowing I had a cool drink in the car and A/C. This was clearly the hardest of the six peaks, but I had hiked the 5.8 miles, gained 2875 feet in 6:15. Not too shabby! The thermometer on the car read 92°, so I had certainly made the right choice with that 4:30 am start.

Piestewa Peak

I knew I had time for either Piestewa Peak or Camelback before it was time to head back to San Diego. I flipped a coin and Piestewa Peak won. Previously known as Squaw Peak, this mountain was renamed in 2003 to honor Lori Ann Piestewa, the first known Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military. I knew this would be a crowded ‘Cowles’-like peak, but since I was trying to complete the Six-Pack of Peaks – Arizona Winter Challenge, I needed to climb it. As I neared the trailhead, I was prepared to circle for a parking spot, but as luck would have it, I snagged one! It had warmed up a touch, so I changed into one of my cooler shirts and set off.

The beginning of the trail is wide and has constructed steps and cement curbs. There a sign warning hikers about the dangers of heat, and to use headphones. This peak really is the Cowles of Phoenix. I wonder if Camelback is the same? I followed the stream of people along Trail 300-Summit Trail to a saddle around the .5 mile mark. Here, there is a junction with Trail 302. Staying on Trail 300, the climb began to get a bit steeper. Hikers and tourists would pass me coming down from the peak. The rocky trail would have a few sections of railing, but after climbing Picacho Peak, this seemed overkill, but given the level of traffic on this trail, necessary. After the final push I was on the summit. Given how crowded it was I did not stay long. In fact I did not bother to photograph the benchmark (I knew it was heavily scarred).