I’d categorize Utah is my freshy fresh 2017 love interest (the Supes are my local love and Canada is my big love). Utah caught my eye sometime late last year and has been on my mind ever since. It is the area of the map I’ve been searching as I make plans for new adventures.
There are wonderful national parks in the state, but I’ve found that national parks only seem to have one or two relatively short trails that dogs are allowed to hike. National forests, on the other hand are prime time adventure dog real estate! For this trip my eyes were on Dixie National Forest in the southeast corner of the state – Whipple Trail in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, to be exact.
There is something to be said for planning ahead…we’ll just get that statement out of the way right now.
A week before we rolled out is when I decided we’d be rolling out. The plan was to leave work early on Friday to drive the 7 hours to the Pine Valley Recreation Area where the Whipple Trailhead is located. We’d camp at a designated campsite and start hiking right away Saturday morning, sleep in Whipple Valley, hike down Sunday afternoon to spend the night at the campsite again, and then head home early Monday morning.
Not a bad plan for a regular weekend, but a horrible one plan for Memorial Day weekend when everyone and their uncle’s cat decides to go camping and you’re trying to stay at a first-come-first-served campsite and work gets busy so you can’t leave until Saturday morning.
We still had a grand adventure!
We arrived in Pine Valley around 2:30pm. As expected, no campsite available. Luckily you can park for free at the trailheads if you’re just hiking for the day or doing overnights on the trails.
A three-person family was gearing up as I pulled into a parking spot. We compared notes on what we knew about the trail – rangers had yet to clear it, downed trees across the trail, potential snow at higher elevation on north facing areas.
The weather was warm and the elevation hit me a little harder than expected, but it was a beautiful hike with spectacular views and just enough shade to even out the warmth. The hounds were on their best behavior – or maybe the elevation was hitting them a bit as well. ;)
There was no water on the trail until we hit a few streams halfway up, which is also where we ran into our second human encounter. A couple was setting up camp and reported that they’d only gone halfway up the remainder of the trail before they turned back because it was harder than the first portion. Suuuuper!
I kept on trekking, taking breaks often, thinking about how easy it would be to turn back or just set up camp at any of the other sites we came upon after that point. We reach the first pocket of snow tucked up under some pines. Then a patch, closer to the trail. Another blob covering half the trail. Just as we came upon the next set of campers, snow covered the remainder of the trail as it headed from the summit area of the trail down to where the trail spilled out into the valley.
We hopped and slid down to the green space ahead – I stared in awe as we stepped from the trees into the grassy valley that opened up ahead. Green grass, little spring flowers, a stream down the center. There was still snow tucked away in the shadows of the tree line, rumpled up dirt where the snow pack had moved along, and water simply flowing out of the ground from the thawing process.
We located a narrow portion of the stream to cross and set up camp across the way. I could see two other campsites when we explored a bit more and saw the family of three arrive a short time later. We wound down with a beautiful sunset and retired for the evening.
The houndy hounds were a bit chilly at night (it dropped down below 40) because someone forgot their winter jackets – no names mentioned – okay it was me!! <insert multiple crying emojis> I covered them in every extra piece of clothing or fabric I had, but I was still thankful for the morning sunrays that were a toasty piece of heaven.
We explored the valley for a while before making our way back down the trail. Greeted by a dead car battery, I was grateful for friendly hikers willing to give me a jump and for my dad for making me carry jumper cables in my car at all times because the other hikers didn't have any. If you take anything away from this post, take that -- always carry jumper cables in your car!!
Even with a few detours to the original plans I'd cooked up at the last minute, I loved every second of our adventure and can’t wait to get back to Utah for another one.
Now that we've established I'm a weenie when it comes to worrying about bears... ;)
Back to the list of things to be sure of:
#2 of 2 – Know that your dogs are comfortable sleeping in your new tent.
Seems obvious, right? Right.
I thought I knew this. Or at least kind of sort of maybe. :P They loved the tent we’d used up in Canada and had seemed cool with this one when I tried the initial setup in the backyard. Apparently all of that goes out the window in a new location.
We reached Horton Springs Trailhead with plenty of time left to hike and set up camp. We hiked and then set up camp across the creek where there are two wooden “tepees” in a clearing and several fancy “couches” made from stones circling the fire ring. I'd missed seeing this on a group hike I'd done here a few weeks prior (even though we'd been on the lookout for it), so it seemed like the perfect spot to set up camp this time around.
While exploring the site I noticed banana peels left in the fire ring and a half eaten banana on one of the stone seats. Who leaves food sitting out in the woods?! Are you trying to draw in pesky wildlife?! (Just to be clear, I love seeing wildlife, but I don’t want it lured into camp.) I planned to burn it in the campfire later or move it outside the immediate campsite area. We continued exploring the area and eventually set up the tent along the edge of the clearing.
Returning to the fire ring later, I noticed the banana on the seat was gone. I’d made a point to keep the dogs away so they wouldn’t eat it, so what did eat it?! Eek! Ummmm….okay.... time for a distraction! More exploring and playing in the creek!
As the pups started to slow down I decided it was time to hang out in the tent a bit. <insert sound of everything coming to a screeching halt> The dogs weren’t having it. And not because they weren’t tired or ready to relax – they were definitely worn out. Herc was trying to push through the tent walls and Cool Whip was trying to pry open the doors that I couldn’t close fast enough – it was mayhem.
Options? Hope that if I try again later they won’t completely destroy the tent or pack up and head home for the night? I really wanted to spend the night and I really wanted to try again with the tent, but it was nearing dusk and the day had already been weird enough that I figured better safe than sorry (“sorry” being a second round of mayhem at bedtime, a torn tent, and hiking back in the dark).
I packed in a hustle and we set out for the car. Back home I decided to set up the tent in the backyard (in the dark :P) to see if the pups would do okay with it in a familiar setting. Cool Whip claimed the top, widest portion (of course, such a princess). Herc got the middle, half on the blanket and half on my sleeping pad (always the sneaky fella). And me? I curled up in a fetal position in the lower, skinnier half of the tent. Not ideal, but doable. ;)
I’ll try this another time or two to ensure they’re comfortable in here, but I’ll still keep an eye out for a proper 2-person (aka 1 human and 2 large dogs) backpacking tent just in case. Because all bets are off when Herc decides to stretch out and roll onto your head in the middle of the night…
Talking again about how life isn’t always 100% sunshine and rainbows.
Most of the time it is, but not always.
We tried to do an overnight backpacking adventure. It did not go as planned.
Two things to be sure of next time:
#1 – Know what bear scat looks like. Or that of any predatory animal in the area I suppose. Know what is out there that could kill or seriously harm you. Know how to identify if it is nearby.
I thought I knew this. Or at least kind of sort of maybe. Until we ran across scat on the trail that resembled what I thought bear scat looked like. Uuggghhh. It was dried though, so we kept hiking.
A few minutes later we came across a second pile. Then a third. This was starting to get out of hand.
Upon finding a fourth pile which was somewhat fresh – not steaming, but definitely from that morning – I decided to assess the situation. Was my fear of bears taking over or was this something I should actually consider?
Regardless, if the farther we went and the higher we climbed equaled increasingly fresh bear(?) scat, then it seemed like a good indication we should head the opposite direction.
Eventually we returned to the trailhead, explored a little more, then headed to a backup destination. Knowing what type of scat that was would have either solidified my decision to turn back or given me confidence to move forward. I felt like I'd let my fear win, but was happy that at least it wasn't an overwhelming win since we were going to fit in more explorations. With a second trail in the plans for the remainder of the day, we could still log about 10 miles of hiking. AND we're enjoying an excellent day outside, which is most important.
This area was quite amazing. Completely different from the eastern side of the Superstition Mountains that I usually see. So many trees and the stream was flowing much more than I expected!
This loading chute is at the trailhead, along with several pens to hold livestock and a house. Elsewhere in the area are other old remnants of people living out here such as building foundations and walls, and even an old bed spring out in the woods. Wild! ;)
I love the Superstition Wilderness for its history and its beauty!
#2 in the next post.
While my pictures and smiling face may imply otherwise, I don’t actually jump onto the trail with a carefree attitude, confident in my abilities, feeling sure-footed every step of the way.
I usually step out cautiously from my vehicle, peer around, second guess myself and my abilities, and question the safety of the situation.
I imagine all possible things that could go wrong as I get the dogs set up and hoist up my pack. I face the trailhead, peering through the dim pre-dawn light.
Well, really, no one is around, so I could just go back home and crawl into bed and no one would be the wiser. I take a step.
What time it would be when I’d actually arrive back in my bed? Another step.
Those initial emotions and thoughts pop up again, but maybe with a few less worst-case-scenario disasters running through my brain. I take a few more steps.
**Loud noise** Oh heck, was that a bear?!* Panic!* Kristen, bears don’t live in this area… Crap, it was a mountain lion! Oh man, it’s going to stalk me and kill me! *scan surrounding area searching for the slightest movement indicating the location of a stalker mountain lion* *hear sound again* Eek! *glance at one of the dogs just in time to see it sneeze a third time* Aye caramaba, Kristen! Calm the heck down! *deep breath*
I start walking and try to focus on the beauty around me. Soon I forget about returning to the safety of my bed. The first rays of sunshine peek over the mountain tops.
I hope I’ll have the courage to finish the whole loop.
More steps. Still keeping an eye out for slow creeping movements of the mountain lion that isn’t stalking me, while also admiring the last bits of spring blooms.
Without realizing it, I’m an hour into my hike and oblivious to my list of worries. The beauty of the mountains has taken priority.
Heading down into a valley I’m suddenly catapulted forward, flailing about awkwardly as I try to gain my balance so I can fight off the mountain lion that took me down!
I see the dogs just staring at me, waiting for me to get up. What, that wasn’t a mountain lion? I see a rock jutting up from the trail. Oh, it was you.
I dust myself off and return to my hike – this time balancing the wonder and joy with a healthy respect (not fear!) for my surroundings.
It’s not like a switch has been flipped and I’m suddenly unafraid and without worry, but once I get over that initial step into the unknown I remember it's really not all that unknown.
I’ve been here before – maybe not on this trail exactly, but in this situation of taking those first steps into an unknown.
It gets easier. The more I do it, the more I can apply from what I’ve learned previously -- do my research to understand what I legitimately need to know to be prepared (trail conditions, local wildlife, presence of water, weather, etc.); tell people where I’ll be and when to expect to hear that I’ve returned; etc.
There is still that first hurdle to jump, that first step to take, but it is always worth it.
Garden Valley Loop
First Water Trailhead
We finally made it to a trailhead at exactly the right time to catch sunrise during our hike!!
We stepped onto the trail with a purple cloud-covered sky. It seemed like an endless expanse of clouds but somehow they parted in tune with the rising sun. Sun rays started poking out and soon we were treated to a wonderful display that slowly lit up the landscape.
Second Water was not my original intention. Where I end up never seems to be my original intention. And yet, it always ends of being a wonderful experience. <insert thankful vibes here>
There are several parking areas along First Water Road for many great looking hikes into the Supes. Once I was on there, I just wanted to explore it to the end to see what all of the lots were like. Some were simple side pull-offs for a few cars, and some have guide rails ups with information stations and maps of the trails. First Water Trailhead was where we landed, at the very end. Time to seize the moment!
The wide and well-maintained trail left me feeling spoiled! So open through much of it that two of us could walk side-by-side fairly often without feeling like I was being pushed off the edge of a cliff. Sometimes when we’re on South Mountain, the dog between me and the mountain decides to walk thisclose to me when we get to an area with particularly sharp drop off. Not when they’re the ones on the outer edge, just when I am. Shenanigans!
At the intersection with Black Mesa Trail #241, the land leveled out and there were an extraordinary amount of bird tracks covering the trail. So much so that I no longer saw any human tracks (which I had seen along much of the trail thus far).
The morning was peaceful and we didn’t run into any other hikers until the last mile of our hike. There were two large groups and one solo gal. The pups received quite a few compliments by the time we made it to the car.
Water Wheel Falls
Trails: Water Wheel Falls
Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy (a little scrambling over rocks)
Trailhead: Water Wheel Day Parking
The morning started with me driving right by the entrance to the Water Wheel parking lot. I thought I could scoot in through the driveway at the other end of the lot but there was a Do Not Enter sign. Wellllll then I guess I’ll just keep driving and see what else is on this road before I turn around.
This is how we came to be at Second Crossing – a little parking lot, a bathroom, and a campsite right next to the East Verde River. The park bulletin board reminded me that we’re in bear country (black bears) and that there may be mountain lions lounging around. Uhhhh… Yeah, totally forgot those existed out here. Super. Luckily we create a medium amount of ruckus without even trying, so we should be giving enough of a warning to the wilderness that we’re out and about and won’t be startling anyone from their morning nap. But I’m always on the lookout nonetheless.
We meandered along the river until we came to an overlook at a bend in the river. I could hear what sounded like some rapids or a waterfall, so we explored as much as we could. After going up and over and around we found the rapids and saw a giant boulder wedged between the cliff sides that flanked the river. Rad! This is exactly why I love roaming!
Circling back to Water Wheel Falls (via AllTrails), I made in the correct driveway. The trail was pretty well worn where is ventures into the trees and along the river – I imagine there are quite a few people out here in the heat of the summer. We had to climb up and over a few large rocks and rock piles but basically a pretty easy hike. The hounds are getting much better at listening to me to slow down and wait for their turn to hop from rock to rock.
After a short bit the trail opens up to a large canyon type area – large rock surfaces, minimal plants beyond the cliff sides, and the river/waterfalls winding along. We had the place to ourselves. We peered down from overlooks, wandered to the water’s edge, hopped across boulders, and just generally soaked up the sunshine. By the time any other hikers came along we were ready head back.
I wanted to check out one other area for potential hiking opportunities before we officially started back home. The trail was open to hikers, horses, and dirt bikes/ATVs, and just after we stepped onto the trail several dirt bikes flew by. They were very respectful of our space but I decided that running into more of them was more than I wanted to deal with at the moment. So I let the hounds dawdle in the little creek for a bit, which Herc loved, before returning to the car. Just as I turned to start back I dropped my phone in the creek!! YIKES!! AHHH!! I snatched it out of the water and tried to shake it off, hoping with all hope available for its survival. How did I manage to drop it?! Why was I even fumbling with it over the water?! I’m always so cautious around water!! Ugh, definitely a sign to just go home. Somehow, beyond any of my understanding, it hasn’t shown a single sign of damage! Whew (knock on wood!)! But I am taking that incident as a sign to figure out some better options for carrying my phone, what I use for navigation, and what I use for taking pictures. Time to research!
Trails: Bursera > Gila > Lost Ranch Mine > Pyramid
Miles: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: Medium (some hills, but nothing rigorous)
Trailhead: South Mountain Park Trailhead Parking Lot, 15498 S 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85045
A sort of sunrise hike… Sort of, as in I tried to make it to the mountain to be hiking during sunrise but life happened and I wound up watching it in my rearview mirror. Whoops! Nonetheless, still beautiful and still an excellent morning!
We began our hike from the South Mountain Park Trailhead Parking Lot off Chandler Blvd where you launch from the Pyramid Trail. Bursera starts at the first fork to the left – there is a post noting such. The trail wraps up the hill with plenty of lookout points that offer great views to the east, south, and beyond (aka great spots to catch sunrise – if you’re timelier that I was!).
I decided to cut across Gila Trail (5.7 miles RT) rather than National Trail (7.1 miles RT - this is the original route I found via AllTrails) due to the warmer than normal temps. Skipping the first little trail I saw that forked to the right – a super-short shortcut back (connects partway down Gila) – we continued on Bursera until we hiked down to a wash and back up. Just past the wash was the start of Gila Trail heading off to the right. From there we just kept to the right at any fork in the trail and made our way back to the parking lot (Lost Ranch Mine Trail to Pyramid Trail).
Despite a full parking lot, we saw very few people along most of our hike. When it comes to hiking with these two yahoos, a hike that gives us plenty of space and very few trail interactions earns an enthusiastic double thumbs-up from me!!
My best guess was that everyone chose the other trail option (continuing on Pyramid Trail) or we were all traveling in the same direction (counter-clockwise). It wasn’t until we hit Lost Ranch Mine Trail that we really came upon any significant number of folk – and normally I’d just insert a <shrug> here as I don’t mind meeting people on trails, and in fact it is often enjoyable – but we also suddenly encountered quite a few dogs!! Apparently everyone takes their dogs hiking at 9am!
We parked at the Blue Point Recreation area (Tonto Pass required) – same place we parked for the Goldfield Ovens, just hiking in the opposite direction. The hounds and I set out on the trail just as the first hint of light was starting to shimmer up from the horizon.
The grass and spider webs were covered in dew, the sunrise was golden, and we didn’t run into any other hikers the entire morning!
The trail meandered through the grass, past a few “campsites” along the edge of the hillsides, and then mostly through desert terrain until it arrived at the road and picked up on the other side. On the south side of the road the terrain had a bit more brush and trees the closer we got to the river.
Herc of course waded into the water – I swear he’d live in water if I let him! As we hiked along the river we found a few outcroppings of rocks that made perfect pit stops for watching the sun rise and enjoying snacks.
You can follow the trail all the way around the hills back to the Goldfield Ovens, but we just headed back the way we came. It was so lovely that I didn’t mind seeing it all again.
3.5 hours northeast of Phoenix is a section of land I could easily see myself driving right through without a thought of stopping to look around – from the car it looks fairly flat and somewhat monochromatic.
I would, however, be missing out. In a big way.
Thankfully the National Park Service has set aside this chunk of land as the Petrified Forest National Park. And SUPER thankfully they welcome dogs on all of the trails! <3
The petrified wood was fascinating to see up close -- so many colors appears from the minerals in the water way-back-when. And the rest of the landscape was equally as unique, though these pictures do not do it justice!!
There were several short hikes (about one mile each) and quite a few points of interest/scenic overlooks. We spent much more time exploring than I expected (in a good way!) and had to hustle through the last few points of interest, which was a bummer. However, I will definitely return!
Morning stroll: We cross paths with a man out for a walk.
Me: Good morning!
Man: Good morning!....Hey, can I pet your dogs?
We turn back: Sure!
Herc is usually the more social beast while CW just stands there as though she'd rather be ANYwhere else, but this time CW was the one to greet him first and hangout for pets while Herc barely made the effort for a drive-by sniff hello.
The man asked about Cool Whip's breed and mentioned how CW reminded him of his former dog, an American Bulldog. He explained that he and his wife lost their dog about a year ago and they miss having one. They're ready to get another but have a few trips coming up, so they need to wait.
Aww! It was as though Cool Whip knew this knew and knew this man needed something special this morning! These pups always seem to know more than they let on. <3