Friday, March 29, 2013

Hiking In Phoenix

Did you know that, according to National Geographic, the City of Phoenix is one of the top cities in the country for hiking? Phoenix’s desert preserve system contains more than 30,000 acres and has close to 200 miles of trails located within the city limits.

Here's Part 1/5 of a DiverseCity video presentation describing the various trails.

Watch the entire video series: [Part 2][Part 3][Part 4][Part 5]


  1. I hiked the Maxine Lakin Nature Trail this past week and thought I would share my experiences. The trail begins inside of Mountain View Park, located in Sunnyslope at 7th Ave and Cheryl Drive.

    Now, if you're not familiar with the Sunnyslope area of Phoenix, it's a strange place. You arrive at the base of the North Mountain Phoenix Preserves, with absolutely beautiful terrain, and with the Goldwater mansion located at the top of the mountain. At first, it looks like the perfect place to live. If Barry Goldwater lived there, it has to be a nice place, right?

    But, if you drive around the neighborhood surrounding the mansion you'll come to see that the area is basically a slum, boarded-up houses, homes in dis-repair, and graffiti everywhere. But the strange thing I find about Sunnyslope is that even though it's a slum, there are pockets of nice apartments and homes in between. It's like there's no zoning laws or enforcement. Really weird.

    Regardless, there was plenty of free parking in the park at the time I arrived, and there was no one else on the trail. That was a plus for me. I don't want to fight the crowds or have to pay to park.

    But, since it was my first time exploring this trail, I wasn't sure if I was in the right place. So, I headed up the trail hoping a sign would tell me if I'm in the right place or not. I did find a sign at the base of the trail, but it was so tore-up with graffiti that it was illegible. Luckily though, I knew I was in the right place because of the embedded cement plaque celebrating Maxine Lakin. So, I continued on the trail.

    Now, the trail is described as an easy-moderate difficulty trail. But I found that it was more on the moderate side. I found it more difficult than described not because of the terrain or the altitude, but because of the fact that the trail was covered in imported rocks that made hiking more difficult.

    If the trail had just remained just dirt, the hike would have been as described, but the addition of rocks on the trail caused me to slip and slide going up the mountain, making climbing more difficult. The rocks actually created LESS traction.

    But overall, the positives outweighed the negatives. I'm probably going to choose this trail as my main place to hike. Piestewa Peak is a little more difficult and more scenic, but it's more crowded, costly to park, and more difficult to climb.

  2. Decided to try the opposite side of the mountain today. I found North Mountain Park to be a very beautiful park, plenty of parking, and a great place for a family outing or a picnic. I saw plenty of wildlife - different birds, lizards, and ground squirrels. The squirrels would even eat out of peoples' hands.

    Hiked up Trail #44 to the top of North Mountain. Like usual, it always "looks" easier from the bottom. This trail was rated more difficult (moderate-difficult) than the Maxine Lakin Trail, and it was a steeper climb. But, this trail wasn't covered in loose rocks, was much smoother, and had a portion of it paved, so it seemed easier to traverse. Regardless, I was puffing pretty hard when I got to the top. Had a beautiful view of the Sunnyslope area, Cave Creek, and Downtown Phoenix from the top and there was a nice breeze to cool me off. Not sure if I want to go back to the Maxine Lakin Trail now. North Mountain Park was much a more beautiful place.

    After the hike, I also decided to visit the North Mountain Visitor Center. It was also a very beautiful place, with entries into trails that traverse the Shaw Butte range. The visitor center itself had a small number of exhibits about the Phoenix Mountain Preserve System, geology of the mountains, and history of the surrounding area. The volunteer staff were a bunch of friendly folks and explained everything thoroughly without me even having to ask for help.

    The center also offers various original works from local artists that help support the place. So, I bought a nice "Earth Day" planter filled with various cacti and succulents for a mere $16.00. That's half the cost if I would have bought it anywhere else. It was too good of a deal to pass up, plus the money goes to a good cause. There are still a few left if you're interested.

  3. Hiked the Maxine Lakin Nature Trail again this morning. It seemed a little easier this time. Maybe it was because my first hike of this trail was during mid-afternoon, and my hike today was in the early morning. Duh!

    Again, there's something about this trail that I like. The degree of difficulty and the short distance (1.2 miles) is just about right for me. I think it probably has to do with how quiet and uncrowded this area of the Phoenix Mountain Preserves seems to be too.

    So, thank you so much for all of your conservation efforts Maxine Lakin.

    1. Hello Red,
      I'm Maxine Lakin's daughter. Thank you for adding the video about her and thanking her for her conservation efforts. I showed it to her and she was really touched.

  4. Thought I would try something new today, so I hiked Trail #100 - Charles M. Christiansen Memorial Trail, from the North Mountain Visitor Center located on 7th Street to the trailhead located at Mountain View Park on 7th Ave., and back. It was a little over a 3-mile hike.

    The difficulty of Trail #100 is rated easy-moderate, but I would say it's more on the easy side.

    The trail meanders around the base of North Mountain so the grade remains relatively constant. While I found this a trail to offer an easy and picturesque walk, this trail is much better suited for bikers or horse riders. From end to end, this trail's length is about 11 miles long, just the right length for a scenic and not-too-dangerous ride.

    For anyone interested - the trail was dedicated in 1986 to Charles Milo Christiansen, the former director of Phoenix Parks and Recreation who led efforts to preserve the Phoenix Mountains.

  5. As I was just beginning my hike of the Maxine Lakin Nature Trail the other day, I ran into a nice couple who looked out of place. So, after asking them if they hiked this trail before, they told me that they were from Manhattan and were visiting Phoenix for the first time.

    Lucky them. I offered to escort them on the hike, which they jumped at, but also allowed me an opportunity to teach them what little I know about Sonoran Desert. So, off we went.

    They had no clue about anything regarding desert flora and fauna, so I delighted in acting like a tour guide. We must have stopped every 10 feet so the husband could take a picture of every type of plant and cactus they saw.

    The first thing I did was caution them about those damn jumping cholla cactus. I don't think they believed how easy it was for it walking near one to become a problem, so of course I had to demonstrate. Message received as the wife felt the spines puncture her "non-hiking" shoes, and a few got stuck on her shorts.

    I'm sure they appreciated my descriptions and facts about the desert flora and some of the ubiquitous lizards, and I kind of surprised myself at how much I knew. I KNOW that they appreciated having me there to take pictures of them together.

    Well, if you've never hiked the Maxine Lakin Nature Trail before, there is a small cave located near the middle summit of the trail that looks like someone could crawl into it. The wife started to stick her head in the opening when I cautioned her that rattlesnakes congregate at openings of these type caves because rodents tend to frequent them.

    Being from Manhattan, that was enough for her to pullback and get back on the trail. I laughed a little bit, because in the times I've hiked that trail, I've never seen a rattlesnake anywhere along the trail.

    So, we headed on down the trail and back to our cars. I felt a little disappointed for them because we hiked the trail earlier in the afternoon (it was a day after our monsoon rains so it was cooler) and not many animals were out. They didn't get to see the many Gambel quail, jack rabbits, or ground squirrels that are usually out and about the park and trail. Those would have made for some good pictures to take home to New York.

    Well, to make a long story short, here's why I'm relating this story. The very next morning I went out to hike the trail again on my own. After reaching the trail's summit and coming upon the small cave again. I saw a rattlesnake just venturing into the cave.

    As soon as the snake heard me, it quickly crawled up onto one of the cave rocks, struck a typical rattlesnake curled-up pose, and shook it's rattle like mad. It looked to me to be a Mojave rattlesnake, reddish-colored, thick-bodied, and was about two feet in length.

    I was about ten feet away, but I've got to tell you, that snake looked seriously mean and ready to not only strike, but to come after me. I've never experienced a rattlesnake with such an attitude. I'm not usually afraid of snakes, but this one snake scared the crap out of me, so I got the hell out of there.

    In some ways, I wish that couple from New York could have seen the snake too, but it wasn't meant to be. Although I've read about it beforehand, now I KNOW that it's true that rattlesnakes tend to be found at cave entrances, and I'll be even more cautious.