Monday, January 23, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park, California - Hiking

Katy and John invited me to join them for a quick weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  Being one of my favorite places, I quickly accepted the invitation.  I flew down to Las Vegas on Friday afternoon and met  up with Katy, who had been in Las Vegas for work, and John, who flew down from Seattle.  In the pouring rain, we headed south for the three hour drive to Joshua Tree.  It was late by the time we arrived, so we ate a quick dinner at the delicious Pie for the People before checking in to our funky AirBnB home for the weekend. 

Despite a stormy forecast, the sun was shining on Saturday morning.  We headed over to Indian Cove to begin our first hike for the day, the Boy Scout Trail, heading into the Wonderland of Rocks.

Blue sky and sunshine for our hike
Katy and John on the Boy Scout Trail
We hiked the Boy Scout Trail for about an hour and a half, eventually climbing up out of the canyon and into a rocky landscape dotted by yucca.  Noticeably missing from this part of the park, however, was the Joshua Tree, so we decided to climb around the rocks for a bit before returning to the trailhead. 

Yucca
Katy and John in the Wonderland of Rocks
John climbing the rocks
Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

We headed into the main part of the park after our hike on the Boy Scout Trail to check of some of the top attractions.  Our first stop was a quick hike on the Hidden Valley loop trail, followed by a drive up to Keys View.

Joshua Tree in Hidden Valley
Joshua Tree
Keys View

From Keys View, we drove to Pinto Basin to check out the ocotillo patch and the cholla cactus garden.  Pinto Basin is an incredibly large, open  region of the park surrounded by beautiful, barren mountains.  The Colorado Desert meets the Mojave Desert in Pinto Basin, making the area even more unique.

Ocotillo in Pinto Basin
Cholla cactus garden
Cholla cactus garden in Pinto Basin
Cholla cactus

Our final stop of the day was the Hall of Horrors, a popular rock climbing area in the park.  We decided it would be a good location to watch the sun set, and we were correct.  As the sun dropped low in the sky, the granite rocks and Joshua Trees little up with a beautiful warm glow.

Joshua Tree at Hall of Horrors
Sunset at Hall of Horrors
Joshua Tree at sunset
Joshua Trees at sunset
Sunset at Hall of Horrors
Sunset at Hall of Horrors

After watching the sun set, we headed back to town for dinner.  We ended up at Crossroads Cafe, another great choice with vegan options for me.

Katy and John
John enjoying the sunset
Sunset in Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset from Hall of Horrors in Joshua Tree National Park
On Sunday, John and I hiked the short trail to Fortynine Palms Oasis, enjoying some breaks of sunshine between the building storm clouds.  The oasis was filled with beautiful palm trees of various sizes, and a substantial amount of water was flowing nearby.  We finished our brief weekend trip with a delicious lunch at the Natural Sisters Cafe in Joshua Tree, followed by even more delicious coffee from the famous Joshua Tree Coffee Company.

Fortynine Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park
Fortynine Palms Oasis
Fortynine Palms Oasis
Fortynine Palms Oasis
Fortynine Palms Oasis

A rainbow followed us on our way out of town, but the breaks of sunshine were quickly replaced by darkening storm clouds and rain.  By the time we reached Mojave National Preserve, the rain was falling hard and low clouds obscured any views of the surrounding landscape.  We were thankful to have had such a beautiful day of hiking in Joshua Tree on Saturday, making the quick trip absolutely worth it.  A big thanks to Katy and John for inviting me along!

Rainbow in Joshua Tree

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Phoenix, Arizona - MLK Weekend - Biking and Hiking

After a week of frigid temperatures in Salt Lake City, it was time to return to Phoenix for more biking adventures with Roger.  The New Year holiday was cool and wet, but we had a fantastic time mountain biking and hiking in several of the regional parks surrounding Phoenix.  We had hoped to do some road biking for MLK weekend, but as so often happens with my trips to Arizona, another cold, wet storm was in the the forecast.  Despite the gloomy weather, I rented a mountain bike on Friday and we headed to the  Brown's Ranch Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Biking from Brown's Ranch Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve


The mountain biking trails at McDowell Sonoran Preserve are incredibly fun to ride.  Few trails require any technical skill, and most are smooth, fast, and flowy.  The trails are very well marked, and each trail junction has a ID post to indicate your position on the map.  You don't need a route plan or advanced map skills to figure out where you are and where you want to go.  The desert scenery is great along all of the trails, so it's difficult to make any specific trail recommendations. We rode for several hours, from Brown's Ranch  to the Granite Mountain area, and managed to cover the majority of the trails in the network by mid afternoon.  The sun never came out, but we had a great day of biking.

Brown's Mountain
Biking down from Brown's Mountain


Biking at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Taking a break on Hawknest Trail

Between the rain showers on Saturday, we managed to hike Camelback Mountain from the Echo Canyon Trailhead.  It was a popular trail with a lot of people, but it certainly wasn't easy.  Several sections of the trail required the use of hands to climb, and a few spots had railings to assist with the climbing.  Despite the steepness, the trail was short, and before long, we were standing on top of the camel.  Camelback Mountain is a prominent feature in the Valley of the Sun, and I remember being fascinated by it when I first visited Phoenix as a kid.  It was fun to finally hike to the top!

Climbing up Camelback Mountain from Echo Canyon
Climbing up Camelback Mountain
Rainbow from the top of Camelback Mountain
Top of Camelback Mountain
A brief break of sun and blue sky on Camelback Mountain

On Sunday, despite the rain, we headed to Cave Creek Regional Park for a hike.  Like all of the regional parks in the Phoenix area, Cave Creek had a spacious campground, a visitor center, and numerous hiking and biking trails.  We decided to hike the Go John trail, a 5.8 mile loop through the northern part of the park.  The desert scenery was beautiful, despite the low clouds and occasional showers.  We had most of the trail to ourselves as very few people were out hiking or biking.

Low clouds hanging over Cave Creek Regional Park
Ocotillo leafing out

Hiking at Cave Creek Regional Park
Cave Creek Regional Park

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Phoenix, Arizona - Mountain Biking and Hiking

After visiting with family in Massachusetts for the Christmas holiday, I headed down to Arizona to celebrate the New Year with Roger.  We had hoped for a long weekend of sunshine to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, but the forecast was calling for a cold, wet storm to move through.  We decided to cancel our camping plans and try mountain biking instead, hoping for some decent weather to ride.  I flew down on Thursday night and we picked up my rental bike from Arizona Outback Adventures on Friday morning.  Our first ride of the day was at McDowell Sonoran Preserve, starting from the Granite Mountain Trailhead.  The weather was better than we had expected, with plentiful sunshine and mild temperatures.

Biking from the Granite Mountain trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Bootlegger Trail
Bootlegger Trail

The trail network at McDowell Sonoran Preserve was very rideable, with plenty of smooth, flowy single track to make me very happy.  There were no technical sections that required walking, and the desert scenery was fantastic.  We made a loop of several trails, passing by landmarks such as Cathedral Rock and Balanced Rock.  After a few hours on riding, we decided to hit up the pool to enjoy the unanticipated sunshine before heading back out on the bikes.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock
Balanced Rock
Large saguaro at McDowell Sonoran Preserve

We finished the day at Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve, riding several trails from the Apache Wash Trailhead, including the steep Ridgeback Trail and overlook. The first few sprinkles of the impending storm began to fall as we finished our ride.  Considering the stormy forecast, we were thankful to have had a full day of riding.

Last glimpses of sunlight for the day
Roger enjoying the views at Ridgeback Overlook

New Year's Eve day was a rainy one in Phoenix.  We had planned to ride our bikes again, but the conditions were unfavorable all day with showers and low clouds.  Since the weather wasn't ideal for riding, we decided to hike for a few hours during the afternoon.  We headed over to Tom's Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve and began a 4 mile round trip hike to the famous landmark.  The trail was steep, and it wasn't long before the were hiking in the clouds.  A few breaks of sun, along with patches of fog, made for some dramatic views as we made our way to Tom's Thumb.

Along the trail to Tom's Thumb
Tom's Thumb in the fog

Tom's Thumb
Last sunset of 2016

Roger decided that we should welcome the New Year on North Top peak in North Mountain Park.  It was the last hike of 2016, and it was perfect.  We started the steep climb to the summit around 11:40pm, quickly ascending the poorly paved road in darkness as views of the surrounding city became more spectacular.  Just before midnight, we found a viewpoint with panoramic views of the entire valley.  At midnight, we were treated to dozens of firework displays as the city celebrated the arrival of 2017.

Waiting for the New Year on North Top Peak
Welcome 2017

We decided to hike at White Tank Mountain Regional Park on New Year's Day since the weather continued to be too wet and stormy for mountain biking.  A few breaks of sun and a brilliant rainbow encouraged us, but the storm clouds returned by the time we reached the White Tanks.

New Year's Day rainbow

We had planned to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park for the New Year holiday, so it was great to explore the park despite our cancelled plans.  Our first hike was to Waterfall Canyon, a short and relatively easy trail that passed several petroglyph panels along the way.  Thanks to recent rainfall, the waterfall was flowing, and it was a popular destination for many families out on their first hikes of the year.

Petroglyphs along the trail to Waterfall Canyon
Petroglyphs

Waterfall Canyon

Leafy ocotillo

Despite the cool, cloudy weather, we decided to hike a portion of the Mesquite Canyon trail before heading back to Phoenix.  The trail took us up over a saddle, and then along a rocky wash containing numerous, water-filled potholes.  The White Tank Mountains are named after these pockets of water, a critical resource for animals during the warmer months.  As we finished our hike, the sky began to clear, and the surrounding mountains became illuminated with a warm glow.

Water in Mesquite Canyon
White Tank Mountains

With the sun finally shining, we spent Monday morning and early afternoon biking at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  Starting from Tom's Thumb Trailhead, we rode a majority of the Pemberton Loop, along with some additional side trails.  Again, the trails were fast, flowy, and smooth, making for a fun day of riding.  I headed back to the airport later that evening, marking the end of a great Christmas and New Year holiday with family and friends.

Biking at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Riding at McDowell Mountain Regional Park