Alyssavnature named in Top Southwest Adventure Blogs of 2016!

Happy 2017 and cheers to a brand new year of adventures!

Ain't no party like a camper party.

Ain’t no party like a camper party.

Traveling in the southwest has been an amazing adventure so far. And clearly, my growing obsession for the region must shine through in my writing.

Alyssavnature just made the list for Top Southwest Adventure Blogs of 2016!

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So while it’s not yet the 14th of the month for my usual update, I wanted to thank Southwest Discoveries for the mention and share some of the other great writing happening over here. The folks behind these other 49 blogs are also sharing their experiences and posting photos about enjoying the outdoors in the Southwest. And they’re great resources for anyone looking to get outside for an adventure of your own.

On a quick personal note, we’ve hunkered down in Vegas for a little while to catch up on all the practical things in life that catch up with you while traveling and celebrating the holidays. This means balancing out the fun and debauchery of Vegas with a series of mundane visits to the dentist, optometrist, veterinarian, and multiple auto repair shops. But we’re camped out in the middle of the city, so that’s all pretty accessible and convenient. And we’re still managing to escape here and there to explore the outdoorsy side of Vegas too. It’s out there, if only you can maneuver the street trash, skip the cocktails, and see past the glitz and glamour.

Until next time…

3 Unforgettable Hiking Trips near Las Cruces: Southwest Road Trip Series

While spending a month in New Mexico, my husband, new pup, and I set up camp in three different “home bases” to explore the surrounding areas: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces. I didn’t know much about Las Cruces before I spent a week here, but it ended up being one of the memorable parts of the entire trip. This was largely because of the unique hiking spots we got to explore that were nothing short of fascinating.

One thing that I’ll always associate with Las Cruces is the crazy high wind. Pretty much every day we were here, there were sustained 30 mph winds with 50 mph gusts that were relentless. Other things I’ll always remember about this place include finding my birthstone in the wild, hiking through a sandstorm, and learning how resilient my pup, Monkey, really is.

So for the next contribution to this Southwest Road Trip Series, these were my three most unforgettable hiking trips in the Las Cruces area.

 

1. Kilbourne Hole – Mining for Peridot Gemstones

The first hike that we went on in the Las Cruces area didn’t end up involving much actual hiking at all. Instead, it was a treasure hunt!

Kilbourne Hole is a place that you won’t find in average New Mexico guidebooks, and we only learned about it while reading about gemstones native to this region. I was skeptical about finding gemstones out in the wild, untouched by human existence in this day and age. But treasure hunts like this don’t happen every day, so we had to give it a try.

It took about an hour and a half to reach Kilbourne Hole from our campground in Las Cruces via intense off-road-style dirt paths that brought the Jeep’s speed down to about 20 mph. Pretty close to the Mexico border, this place really is in the middle of nowhere, and the 45-minutes of rocky dirt trail to get here was an adventure in itself.

IMG_4793Kilbourne Hole is a maar (i.e. a pit/depression caused by a volcanic explosion) in Doña Ana County and a remnant of a volcanic explosion that dates back an estimated 100,000 years. Today it’s a National Natural Landmark on BLM land and known for the unique minerals that surfaced after the eruption. The crater measures just 1.7 miles long by over a mile across, but it’s hundreds of feet deep.

IMG_4794Although I was skeptical about actually finding rocks worth anything, only a few minutes passed before we started seeing green and yellow gems glimmering in the sunlight. This area is open to the public and there are no regulations about removing any rocks from the site as long as you can maneuver the crazy roads to take them back to wherever you came from. IMG_2471Along the road to get here and at the crater site, I never saw a single other person or car. The only signs of life out here were a few stray cows and a desert flower or two.

After parking the car, we descended into the deep gorge pit and braced ourselves for the crazy wind blowing in all directions. This area can only be described as desolate. In fact, the landscape makes you feel like you’re in a cartoon: the same scene over and over again to mock you and make you question reality. IMG_4812But what was really fun about this adventure for me is that we actually found my August birthstone here, peridot! Some of the stones were scattered loosely, likely someone else’s scraps from a previous collection. But others were hidden deep inside unassuming dark rocks strewn about and required a good smash to reveal the shiny stuff inside. IMG_2973We brought a couple handfuls of peridot-encrusted rocks back home with us and have begun to separate the gems from the rock parts. It’s tedious, but how fun would it be to create a piece of jewelry someday with my birthstone gem that I “mined” for along the U.S.-Mexico border! IMG_2975

Science nerds out there can read more about the crustal and mantle (peridotite/olivine-bearing) xenoliths on the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources landmark page. There’s also a 7.57-mile hike that you can do around the volcanic maar sink hole that takes about 3.5 hours and takes you to different parts of the crater that has other types of rock to check out.

 

2. White Sands National Monument – A Surreal Sandstorm

When I was 15 years old and had my learner’s permit from driver’s ed, my parents and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon. To my delight, they let me get some of my driving hours in on straight and boring roads in the Arizona desert. Little did I know that my parents set me up to drive in my very first sandstorm with plenty of those little white crosses lined along the highway to serve as reminders of the sandstorms that have come before.

The day we hiked White Sands National Monument maybe didn’t constitute a full-blown sandstorm like that one, but the powerful winds sure did make for an interesting day in the desert.

Oddly, we had to pass through border patrol just to reach the national park, which the park staff blamed on anti-drug trafficking efforts. However, the roads were paved, which was a nice change after the insanely bumpy ride to Kilbourne Hole. The visitor center and gift shop had lots of fun souvenirs if you need to stock up on friends & family gifts, so they’re worth a quick stop on your way in.

IMG_4828Hiking the white sands of New Mexico really is unlike hiking anywhere else. It’s vast, desolate, windswept, and mysterious. And since the dunes are formed by gypsum, the sand is surprisingly cool-to-the-touch, even on scorching hot days.
IMG_2493These dunes in the Tularosa Basin were explored by Native Americans, exploited by Spanish explorers in pursuit of resources, and used by the U.S. military for missile testing. They’ve really been through a lot but are in amazingly preserved condition. IMG_2509As we set on out the Alkali Flat Trail, we only encountered one other couple that was moving markedly slower than we were across the dunes. This trail is just under five miles, but surprisingly strenuous with the steep dune climbs and high winds.

It’s best climbed barefoot, and lots of water is an obvious must. I heard that you can actually rent out sandboards and sleds to glide down the dunes, which would have been a blast but we didn’t have time to try it after the hike and before the sun set. IMG_4924There’s no shade or water along this trail, or anywhere out in the dunes, but thankfully there are helpful little orange and white posts to let you know you’re on the right path. Reduced visibility and getting lost are total possibilities out here, especially in the high-winds of the spring season.IMG_4918About halfway through the hike, you’ll reach the flat section that has a really creepy vibe to it. The Alkali Flat is the dry lake-bed of Lake Otero, which filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age and covered a massive1,600 square miles. IMG_4969Although she was just as covered in sand from head to toe as we were, Monkey was a really trooper and truly seemed to really enjoy the soft, cool texture for the most part. When overly excited, she “twirls” and “dances,” which escalates to the highest degree on sandy beaches and even dunes like these.IMG_4957

 

3. Organ Mountains – Baylor Pass Trail

Several years ago when I first started freelance writing full-time, I wrote some advocacy articles for the petition site, Force Change. I learned about the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico while doing some trip research and wrote a petition to Preserve Beautiful Desert Mountain Range as a National Monument back in 2013. A little over a year later, President Obama signed a presidential proclamation that the five mountain ranges above the Chihuahuan Desert would finally have National Monument status, and therefore federal protection and managed preservation.

Well, I finally got to visit these mountains for myself and venture out on a hike that started with this ominous warning sign. One afternoon after working a half-day back at the campground in Las Cruces, we set out on the Baylor Pass Trail, which is about six miles long.

P1060708The Organ Mountains are full of Native American, New Mexican, and American history that includes Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, pictographs & petroglyphs, Apollo Space Mission training sites, and WWII aerial targets. Their towering peaks are even more ominous that that warning sign and create an eerie presence in the sunset.
P1060711From the trailhead, it felt like a long hike just to get to the base of the mountains, and it was a steady, moderate climb from there. I saw quite a few wildflowers and mysterious yellow berries in the shrubs along this trail, which took my mind off the rising temperatures and bright sun beating down.
P1060725This is when Monkey really proved her resilience here because I’m pretty sure she got a spider bite and was a real champ about it. She’s a very quiet dog that rarely makes a sound at anything, but I heard a tiny yelp and saw her frantically pawing at herself and starting to roll around on the ground. Then I noticed a spider on her paw and brushed it off. I can’t be sure that the spider caused the ruckus, but there was no other explanation in sight.

Monkey’s hiking pace slowed dramatically, and she would periodically sit down mid-stride, which I’ve never seen her do before. She also seemed to be limping, which was especially concerning because we still had about 1.5 miles to get back to the car. I was starting to prepare myself to carry this 44-pound pup the rest of the way and start searching for nearby animal hospitals as soon as I had internet reception again.

But somehow, she just slowly got over whatever was bothering her and got back to her old self again by the end of the hike. I was really proud of my little Monkey for being so tough and keeping up with us on all these hikes. Her life has changed so dramatically since she was picked up as a stray and lived in county animal control cage, and I can only hope that she’s enjoying all of these new adventures as much as we are.

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Well, since this wraps up my posts about my three home bases in New Mexico, my next ones will be about getting off the beaten path, doing some biking, sampling brews at local breweries, and random musings on traveling with a dog. There’s plenty more New Mexico adventures to come, which I’d better wrap up soon because the next big trip is right around the corner!

***This article was also featured as a guest post on Southwest Discoveries. Check out Hiking in New Mexico – 3 unforgettable trips to take

Hiking around Albuquerque: Southwest Road Trip Series

So today marks day #29 of my Southwestern road trip and I’m just now getting around to my first blog post. Womp womp.

I’d almost forgotten how time-consuming it is to hold down a full-time job while exploring towns and natural sites in new places. But I must say that working in a pop-up camper is MUCH easier than seeking out pavilions, arcade rooms, and laundry rooms while tent camping.

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But to keep track of it all, we’ve been taking tons of photos and I’ve been keeping up with my trusty travel journal at least every couple days. Just this morning, my husband literally just sent me two dozen photo album links of our trip so far, so I thought it was high time to start writing about some of the awesome adventures we’ve been having so far!

This first road trip post is all about hiking around Albuquerque. After starting in Atlanta and briefly passing through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, Albuquerque was the first destination on our list. Hiking is a big part of our travel style, so I’m aiming to highlight the best hikes we did in each of our destinations.

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Why Albuquerque?

Well as the largest city in New Mexico, it seemed like a logical place to start a month-long exploration of the state. Besides, we’re big Breaking Bad fans and were excited to visit as many film sites as possible around town.

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Sandia Mountains

While staying in Albuquerque, one of the first hikes we did was in the Sandia Mountains. We set out on the South Crest Trail and looped around the Faulty Trail and Upper Faulty Trail. This hike kind of reminded me of hiking in Georgia with its dirt/rock terrain and lush greenery. However, this hike was definitely hillier than most Georgia State Park trails, but they didn’t have much in the way of wildflowers.

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We hiked about five miles on this route since we still weren’t exactly sure what Monkey’s hiking capacity is. At this time, she hadn’t even been with us for two months, but already I’d noticed that she does quite a bit better hiking on trails than walking around in cities. Her excitement level is more chill without all those distractions, which is totally understandable. By the way, I’m also working on a post about what to do when your dog is more social than you are, because that’s definitely the scenario here!

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Read more: 

Old Town Albuquerque

Of course, we also did a fair amount of “urban hiking” as well to check out Old Town Albuquerque and the downtown area. This is a cute artsy area with lots of shops and nice for an afternoon stroll.

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This is where I first got in my head that I wanted to buy myself a silver and turquoise cuff bracelet as a souvenir. Shortly after making this decision, I discovered that the ones I liked were in the $1,000 range and totally out of budget.

Throughout this trip, I proceeded to browse shops for my dream bracelet. But in the end, I decided to give up and settle for a $19.99 knock-off. Whatever, it’s still cute and I got some other awesome turquoise jewelry too that I’m planning to chat about exclusively in an upcoming post!

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But moving on from my jewelry woes, there was also a pretty interesting sculpture garden that we checked out near Old Town ABQ as well. It was outside the city’s art and history museum on the other side of a pretty large park.

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Petroglyph National Monument

But my favorite place to hike in the area was Petroglyph National Monument. I few years ago, I wrote a post about petroglyphs and pictographs after checking some out on hikes in Montana and Wyoming. And I’m still a bit fascinated about ancient rock carvings and all that.

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Related: Pictographs v. Petroglyphs v. Graffiti

The trails of choice were Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas, which were both dog-friendly. On the first of these routes, we hiked about a mile to reach the petroglyphs and then they slowly started to reveal themselves. The carvings were bit far away from the trail but still totally visible and easy to point out. Round trip, Rinconada Canyon involved about 2.2 miles of hiking.

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Then we drove about six miles up the road to Piedras Marcadas, which was oddly located right in the middle of an urban subdivision. These people’s backyards literally back right up to the petroglyph trail, which was kind of cool and kind of ridiculous at the same time.

Between the two trails though, this one was definitely the better one to scope out petroglyphs. There are lots more of them, and you can walk right up to the rocks with carvings.

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Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much graffiti out here either, which was refreshing. Piedras Marcadas was a little over two miles round-trip as well and offered lovely views of the town down below and nearby mountains.

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A Dirt Road Near Cochiti Lake

One pretty random hike that we ventured out in in the Albuquerque area was along a dirt road near Cochiti Lake. This was actually a backup hike after finding out the hard way that Tent Rocks National Monument doesn’t allow dogs.

This is in an area full of Native American pueblos. We tried to stop by one, Santa Domingo Pueblo, but it was early morning on a Sunday and nothing was open and we felt kind of awkward just lurking around.

Anyway, the national park dude at Tent Rocks recommended that we just drive down the road and pull over wherever to hike with our dog without hassle and for free. So that’s what we did.

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We parked and hiked down a paved road until we hit a barricaded dirt road and turned down on it. There was only one other couple around and quite a bit ahead of us down the trail, so we actually let Monkey off-leash for a bit. As a recovering stray, she doesn’t go too far away from us and is slowly earning our trust.

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We hiked this route until we got to a dried-up river, which seems to be a pretty common occurrence in New Mexico given the climate. The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny and 70s. From here, we moved on from Albuquerque and drove to our next destination: Santa Fe, which we quickly discovered had plenty of awesome hiking spots of its own!

Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest (A Guest Post from Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries)

It’s been way too long since I’ve had a chance to update this blog about my recent adventures, but I’m happy to report that a BIG ONE is beginning TOMORROW!

If all goes as planned, I will have rounded up the husband, the dog (we recently adopted one – more to come on that soon!), and a bunch of gear by mid-morning. I’m pointing Chief the Jeep and the currently nameless pop-up camper towards New Mexico and embarking on an extended working/camping/exploring road trip to the Southwest for a wonderfully indefinite amount of time!

So I thought there was no better time than the present to share a guest post from the founder of an Tuscon, Arizona-based adventure travel company I recently connected with by the name of Mitch Stevens. Mitch is the founder and lead guide of Southwest Discoveries, and he was kind enough to share some Arizona hiking expertise with me and my readers. Whether on this upcoming trip or a future one, I hope to check out some of these awesome-sounding Southwest hikes very soon.

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Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest 
By Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries

It’s a well known fact that Arizona is beautiful, often breathtakingly so. In this post, we will introduce five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest. From the fascinating Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona to the red rock country near Sedona and the Grand Canyon, Arizona features a staggering diversity of landscapes, perfect for Arizona Day Trips and adventures. But with so many amazing places to trek, just where to you draw the line? Allow us the opportunity to present to you five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest that are perfect destinations for your next hiking adventure.

The first of our five Day trips in Arizona offering big, uninterrupted space, plenty of cactus and southwestern flora to experience and the unspoiled splendor of one of Earth’s major ecosystems.

1. Mt. Ajo – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo Sunset (1 of 1)

As a trip leader and interpretive guide, Beth Krueger knows the desert. She once spent four days camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, surveying birds and other wildlife. While most hikers avoid summers in this part of the world, this is Beth’s favorite season. At this time of year, she can savor the fruit of the organ pipe cactus, purported to be the best tasting in the world.

Beth and I collaborated on a late winter outing at the park’s nearly pristine desert wilderness, celebrating the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Our group hiked to the summit of Mt. Ajo, an incredibly beautiful trek which enabled us to experience the Sonoran Desert at it’s finest.

We marveled at magnificent organ pipe and saguaro cacti as well as a rich assortment of extraordinary plants. The preserve is a showcase for plants and creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this southwest region. Located between Arizona’s Ajo Mountains and the Mexico border, Organ Pipe is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus appears, rare in the United States but common in Mexico

A hiker can explore many sections of this international biosphere preserve where big views, uninterrupted space, lots of the namesake cactus and one of the Earth’s major ecosystems survives in almost unspoiled splendor. The monument lies next to Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which is connected to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. Together, these lands represent a large, unbroken desert habitat, home to species such as the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, Quitobaquito pupfish and desert bighorn sheep.

Our group hiked one and a half miles through dense stands of giant columnar cactus to the Bull Pasture overlook. There are exceptional views in every direction. The immediate surroundings are filled with smaller peaks, canyons, and other rocks formations; and in the distance are more mountains. If winter rains are generous, this vicinity of the park erupts with dense stands of Mexican Gold Poppies and other gorgeous wildflowers.

After we left Bull Pasture, the official trail ended and the unofficial cairned route began. A series of switchbacks quickly took us up several hundred feet, and the views just kept getting better. Before long, boulders and rock formations that were part of the backdrop at the beginning were now right in front of us. After a few short, steep switchbacks with some loose footing, the route meandered alongside amazing rock outcrops, including windows, arches and a series of huge cone-like stone formations.

At this point, the awesomeness factor jumped to a whole new level. After another mile of hiking on a ridgeline with stunning views, a short but fun boulder hop landed us atop Mount Ajo, the tallest mountain in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.(http://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm) We scrambled a short distance on the summit and more grand views emerged.  There was a large and colorful rock slab that looked like a spaceship, covered in lime green lichen. This made for a great resting spot.

On the return hike, we completed a loop hike by taking the Estes Canyon Trail to the trail head.  Estes Canyon is spectacular for birding and has many beautiful organ pipe and saguaros. It’s a great place to observe the unique botany and ecology of this fascinating region. For a brief cyber journey of this southwestern wonderland, turn up your speakers and enjoy Organ Pipe Magic. https://youtu.be/tnMc680-TXE

 

2. Wet Beaver Creek – Paradise Found

Wet Beaver Creek - swimming

Arizona’s Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness is paradise found. Located on the western escarpment of the Mogollon Rim, the perennially flowing Wet Beaver Creek drains an area of 250 square miles and descends more than 5,000 feet in its 30 mile tumble to the Verde River. What makes this stream particularly appealing for hikers is that it’s a backcountry swimmer’s dream; no fewer than twenty five plunge pools (25 to 75 yards across) must be negotiated. Although a day hike at Wet Beaver Creek is very enjoyable, the entire wilderness hike can encompass a 2 or 3 day backpacking trek, an unforgettable adventure.

Wet Beaver Creek, from start to finish, crosses the divide between the Colorado Plateau to the north and the Basin and Range country to the south. If completing the entire journey, a hiker will trek from verdant ponderosa pine forest at the rim to Sonoran Desert and descend through five geological formations: Basalt, Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino and Supai.

On a beautiful early fall day, a group of us started our day hike on the Bell Trail in the popular lower end of Wet Beaver Creek. The walk started out mellow and flat but after a mile, the scenery become increasingly colorful. Red Supai sandstone rock formations comprised the rim of the canyon and the walls steepened. We reached the famous Crack, an amazing swimming hole cut out of the Supai formation.

Continuing upstream, true adventure began. The rugged character of this riparian wilderness revealed itself as we splashed, waded and swam across huge plunge pools. The forest canopy thickened and red rock outcrops soared overhead. We swam through a huge pool which was especially charming; a balanced rock towered above us.

At our lunch spot and turn-around point, we scrambled to a remote prehistoric Indian Ruin. Wet Beaver Creek lies within the ancestral lands of the Sinagua culture and archaeologists are still investigating evidence of their prehistoric occupation at Wet Beaver Creek. The Sinagua were hunters and gatherers, utilized extensive irrigation systems and were believed to be the first to trek and swim the length of Wet Beaver Creek. Throughout the Verde Valley, Sinagua rock art and extensive ruins are abundant. Nearby Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Well are outstanding examples.

An exploration of Wet Beaver Creek is an astonishingly beautiful trek and well worth the time and effort. To view highlights of this epic adventure, turn up your speakers and enjoy this three minute video. Happy trails!
https://youtu.be/ksxI7eIpIYk


3. Finger Rock – Tucson’s Best Trek

Finger Rock - alpenglow

Superlative landscapes, beautiful sunsets, grand views and an exhilarating short climb to a lofty stone pinnacle are the drawing cards of Tucson’s Finger Rock Trail. Late fall through spring are the best times to pull off this trek.

We started early in the cool dawn air and hiked to Linda Vista Saddle, a steep and invigorating workout. In three miles we ascended over 3,000 feet and arrived at one of the few level spots along the trail. If we continued two more miles on the Finger Rock trail, we would have topped out at Kimble Peak, a worthy destination in its own right.

However, our goal today was to scale Finger Rock itself. We left the established trail and headed off to the northwest, down a gully then up a sketchy route, climbing another 1,000 feet. An hour and a half of scrambling and bushwhacking later, we were at the foot of Finger Rock, a slender pillar of lichen encrusted granitic gneiss which juts up 250 feet in spectacular fashion.

Guiding us on this perfect autumn day was Don Smith, an accomplished rock climber, caver, canyoneer, backpacker and avid adventurer. Don has been known to take lengthy sabbaticals and journey to fantastic locales such as the Yukon, Alaska and Belize. He takes folks to some remarkable places, including Tucson’s Finger Rock!
Don went first, set the anchor and belayed the rest of the group. We completed the first pitch then reached the midpoint of the climb. Don clambered up the rock, achieved the near high point of the Finger and secured the rope at strategically placed bolts. The rest of our crew, one by one, scrambled up to a high perch offering marvelous panoramas of numerous rock formations, the lofty crest of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Tucson valley and beyond.

From there, it is a short scramble to the actual high point of Finger Rock, a precarious roost which can only accommodate one or two people. After spending about an hour enjoying the incredible spectacle, we rappelled 100 feet to the bottom of Finger Rock.

Three and a half hours later, after witnessing an awesome sunset, we all safely returned to the Finger Rock trailhead, rejuvenated after another splendid day of adventure in the mountains.

For an exciting glimpse of this astonishing trek, click on https://youtu.be/8plEYNCcxHw­. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

 

4. Rogers Canyon – Spirits of the Past in the Superstition Wilderness

Arizona day trips - group at Rogers ruins

Most folks have hopes and dreams, some more grandiose than others. But few people are fortunate enough to realize all of their dreams. Elisha Reavis wanted to live off the land in a beautiful place far away from the hordes of humanity. He lived out his dream in a high mountain valley in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains where he farmed, grazed and tendered an orchard. Ponderosa pines graced his ranch and a beautiful clear spring-fed creek watered the fruit trees he planted. He died in 1896; his grave-site is located in a place few people will ever see. Thanks to Randy Weber, a Tucson hiker, historian and naturalist, we were one of the few.

500 years before Reavis departed, the Salado peoples were eking out a living in Rogers Canyon. So we headed left at the Rogers Canyon trail junction to observe the fascinating cliff dwellings. Gradually, the character and look of the landscape transformed from high desert grassland to riparian. Huge old sycamore trees, juniper, oak and mountain laurel appeared. As we ventured deeper into the thick of Rogers Canyon, spectacular volcanic rock formations made their appearance. Various shapes chiseled by the elements resembled a teapot, Queen Victoria’s crown and a huge boulder perched precariously high up on the canyon wall.

Finally, we arrived at the Salado cliff dwellings. These well preserved ruins, located in a huge cave above the canyon floor, were the highlight of our day. At one time, as many as 100 people lived here and there were more than 65 rooms when it was constructed over 600 years ago. Most of the ruins have all but vanished but there is still a lot to see. The view from the ruins, looking out across the canyon was fantastic, a sight to behold. The ruins are fragile and irreplaceable; the forest service asks that hikers tread lightly and respect this magnificent place.

The long and bumpy drive from Rogers Trough trailhead is almost as striking as the hike itself. To the west views of saguaro studded Byous Butte, especially at sunset, are glorious. About six miles down the road on the right, we observed a picturesque stone arch. Numerous ridges and peaks of the Superstitions as well as other sky islands in the distance were prevalent throughout the journey back to civilization.

 

5. Adventuring at Nankoweap

Nankoweap - Fred and the canyon

For hikers wanting to experience raw adventure and avoid crowds, the Nankoweap trail at the Grand Canyon is one of the most enjoyable and epic treks in the southwest. Spectacular geology and out of this world views are the calling cards of this magnificent place. Nankoweap is located at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The trail was originally constructed by Major John Wesley Powell, the one armed civil war veteran and explorer in 1882. It was created so that Charles Doolittle Walcott, a geologist in the Powell party, could easily be able to access the canyon and study its rock layers. Powell is best known for his epic explorations down the Green and Colorado Rivers and is credited with leading the first group of men down the Colorado River in 1871, through present day Grand Canyon.

Julie Dobson, who runs a travel adventure website called Escaping the Midwest, (http://escapingthemidwest.com/2016/01/22/the-words-of-john-wesley-powell/), recently posted a few of Powell’s most famous quotes about the Grand Canyon. Powell wrote, “the elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedlingly diverse.”

In 2015 I had the pleasure of guiding a group of adventurers down the Nankoweap Trail. The first three miles were a delightful romp through a high elevation forest of ponderosa pine, juniper and aspen. Then suddenly, the trail took on an entirely different character. The route plunged off the rim of the Grand Canyon and a long ridge-top traverse ensued. After hiking two more miles, all the while gazing at amazing far reaching views, we arrived at Marion Point. Coming into contact with the geology in this part of the Grand Canyon was incredible, rock layers reached far back into our planet’s past from 300 million to 750 million years ago.

Wonderful and unbelievable panoramas unfolded. The visible green ribbon along Nankoweap Creek was 2,500 feet below us. The forks of Nankoweap Creek extended far back toward the plateau, each separated by colorful rocky ridges and lofty buttes. The most striking of these was Mt. Hayden, a distinct and slender 400 foot Coconino sandstone spire at an elevation of over 8,000 feet. Marion Point can also be the turn around location for hikers interested in a spectacular but rigorous ten mile roundtrip day hike.

But our group’s plan was to trek further into the heart of the Grand Canyon (backpacking experience and appropriate gear are highly recommended). Our long ridge-top traverse continued. After we reached Tilted Mesa in just over two miles, the route led steeply down to Nankoweap Creek and the Colorado River. Near the river, high cliffs of Redwall Limestone and beautiful exposures of Muav Limestone and Bright Angel Shale were the dominant features. Our first view of the emerald green Colorado River in the distance was mesmerizing. Not only did we finally see the river but we heard the roar of Nankoweap Rapids, amplified by red and tan walls at Marble Canyon.

Our group camped at the Colorado, which proved to be an excellent base for exploring further afield. We trekked seven miles upstream along bubbling Nankoweap Creek and discovered intriguing places such as Mystery Falls, a set of cliff top Anasazi granaries, and a fascinating cave featuring a stream running through it.

Should the Grand Canyon be included on your bucket list? Most certainly. And the spectacular and uncrowded Nankoweap trail is one of the best ways to experience the real Grand Canyon, the raw and unspoiled grandeur of this most magnificent gorge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.