Awesome hike: Hidden Valley in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Wow! That was, and still is, my reaction to this short detour trail off of National Trail in the South Mountain Park in Phoenix, AZ. Hidden Valley is an awesome tribute to the forces and beauty wpid-wp-1423458166079.jpegof nature.

Hidden Valley trail is aptly name because it’s a trail you can hike only after a 2-plus mile hike in on either National or Mormon trail. As such, the .9-mile segment of the hike labeled Hidden Valley is not overrun with other people. If you don’t see the sign, you can walk right by it and not even know what you missed.

In January 2015, I hiked the entire length of National Trail (approx. 14 miles) and saw nowhere near the natural beauty that awaits hikers on the Hidden Valley segment. Oddly, some of the most magnificent features are within a few hundred feet of National Trail itself.

Here are some of the more notable features from Hidden Valley in South Mountain Park:

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Here is the hike summary via Mapmyhike .

If you go, be sure you have good stable shoes and socks – no flip flops – and a couple quarts of water.


How to shock a fast food server

People who work in fast food pretty much see and hear it all. There is very little you or I say that they haven’t heard before.

Recently, I had an exchange with an African American worker at a nearby McDonald’s that left us both nearly speechless. I had just stopped in to use the free wifi and catch up on emails, so when it was my turn to order, I approached with my customary, “May I please have a small black coffee.”

“There’s that word again,” she replied.

I stood there in stunned silence thinking my use of the word “black” offended her. A checkmate of the eyes ensued for several seconds as I grasped for my next words.

Thankfully, she broke the silence with, “Please. I hardly ever hear that word and it’s so pleasing to the ear when I hear it.”

I explained that my niece who works in fast food recently told me that her biggest pet peave is when people come up to the counter and say “I want….”

Having worked in a number of service roles in the past myself, I try to be pleasant with service workers as a rule. However, my niece’s perspective helped me realize that I need to bring my A game in manners whenever I interact with fast food workers. Plus, I’ve been trying to model better manners for my teen daughters; even though they weren’t with me on this occasion.

I challenge you to give it a try. Next time you’re ordering food from a fast food worker, see if you can shock them by using your best manners. Extra credit: address the person by the name on his or her name tag when you thank them.

Reflections on 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona

The Super Bowl came to Arizona in January 2015 and so did the world’s spotlight. The game went down as one of the most memorable in history.

Who will ever forget the Seahawks’ decision to pass on second down with the ball on the one yard line and the league’s reputed most powerful runner, Marshawn Lynch, at their disposal? How could anyone forget the interception by Patriots’ rookie Malcolm Butler? Even he looked shocked when the cameras captured his reaction on the sidelines.

There were plenty of memorable plays made on the field and during the halftime show featuring Katy Perry. As a resident of Phoenix, some of my memories of the 2015 Super Bowl experience have more to do with the impact the game had on our city.

I was priced out of the game but I did participate in a couple of the fanfest activities. I made a small slideshow and short video from my fanfest experiences.

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Here are some my lasting impressions of the Super Bowl XLIX experience in Arizona :

  • Glendale mayor Jerry Weiers whined on national tv because his city will likely lose money by hosting the Super Bowl because of the cost of security and police officer overtime.
  • Both teams stayed in hotels less than ten miles from our home. This made for a few exciting moments with team sitings, but also caused some traffic snarls.
  • Pre-game festivities began about a week before the Super Bowl at four key locations, with the primary spot being downtown Phoenix.
  • Reportedly, over a million visitors, many of them celebrities, made their way to Phoenix during Super Bowl week. Thats’ a mind-boggling number considering the stadium holds less than 80,000.
  • According to media sources, tickets in the nosebleed section were selling for $9,000 the week of the game. Our church pastor mocked the price by saying we could offer our kids tickets to the Super Bowl or a car.
  • All the local hotels made bank, with even the cut-rate places charging around $400 a night. From the looks of things, many of the restaurants made out pretty well too.
  • Game day weather was pretty spectacular, with warm temps and clear skies. However, the four days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday were very Seattle-esque.

Note: I am not an NFL fan. The Super Bowl game is the only game I will watch in entirety during the season.

The work ethic of teens these days

Those of us of the Gen X generation and older often pass judgment on the teens of today with statements like these:

  • They have it so easy.
  • They don’t know what hard work is.
  • Where’s the work ethic?

I’ve been guilty of the same sort of prejudices.

Recently, my teenage daughter turned that all around for me. Less than one week after her 17th birthday, she reported to work for her first job: at 5 a.m. – on a school day! She’s lifeguarding at the neighborhood Y. The pool is outdoors. It’s January. We live in Phoenix. But still, it’s chilly in the morning, and on this morning it happens to be raining.

“Lifeguarding is not work,” some would say. “All they do is stand around and twirl a whistle.”

Having seen the effort she has put into it, I can now contest the previous statement. Lifeguarding is skilled labor at a minimum. Prior to even being granted an interview, she was required to give up two full weekends and two weeknights for the prerequisite training. She now knows every aspect of keeping others safe at the pool: first aid, CPR, dealing with panic, hypothermia and more. She paid a handsome sum out of her own pocket for the training with no hint of being reimbursed. She passed a series of in-class quizzes, plus two water tests, and a grilling of an interview with both her manager and the manager’s manager.

Today was her first day on the job. I was awakened at 4:15 a.m. by the sound of her getting ready. Although she’s pretty self sufficient, I got up to see if she needed any last minute help so she could scoot out the door on time. She was good. She had prepared everything she needed the night before: Clothes for work, clothes for school, her lunch, and gear for swim practice after school.

To say I am proud of her would be an understatement. But, the purpose of this post is not to brag about my daughter, although I could do so all day long. My hope is that you will join me in looking a little deeper into the plight of today’s youth. In many ways, they face far more challenges and obstacles than many of us did when we were growing up. Let’s show them our respect with words of encouragement and gratitude. Thank you!

Ironman Arizona 2014 slideshow

by Paul Fiarkoski

I was so enamored with the Ironman competition after my first experience as a spectator in 2013, that I had to go back for more this year. For the unitiated, an Ironman Triathlon is consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

This year’s edition was noticeably cooler than 2013 and it appeared to affect the athletes, especially in the swim to bike transition. Many of them looked like frozen penguins after shucking off their wet suits. I was happy to hear that many of the finishers were from my old stomping grounds in the Denver-Boulder area of Colorado.

2014 Ironman Competition – Tempe, AZ

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In case you’re wondering, like my wife is, whether I have my sights set on doing the Ironman of my own some day, the answer for now is an emphatic “No”. The run portion would be the death of me. 🙂 My personal fitness goal is to hike 12 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up the other side, then back to wear I started, sometime before my 50th birthday – October of 2017.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the slideshow above and posts from my various hikes.

Hiking by the light of the Beaver Moon in Phoenix


On Thursday, November 6 the earth was treated to a beautiful “Beaver Moon” – a Native American term given to the full moon in November, signaling the time to set traps to catch beavers in the active pre-winter cycle before ponds freeze.

Here in Phoenix, the sun set at 5:33 p.m. and the Beaver Moon rose nine minutes later. I left my house promptly at 5 p.m. and caught both the sunset and moonrise from the top of a nearby peak in South Mountain Park.

Here are some pics from the experience:

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While I had daylight to see by on my way up the hill, my trip down was guided by moonlight. Since the desert trail is composed of a light tan colored dirt, the moon lights it up quite nicely, although there were a few steep spots with questionable footing where I chose to click on the flashlight.

Hiking by the light of the moon was a nice way to add a little variety to a trail I have hiked dozens of times.

More of my outdoors experiences>>

Hiking the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake, Arizona

by Paul Fiarkoski

I have heard some good things about Saguaro Lake about 30 miles northeast of Mesa, AZ but it took me over two years after moving to Arizona to make my first visit. There is plenty to do at Saguaro, and my first experience was hike on the Butcher Jones Trail – a scenic, fairly easy hike with varied terrain, flora and fauna.

A friend and I arrived at the trail head parking lot, which also serves the lake’s only designated beach, around 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning in mid October. About a dozen people beat us to the punch and were already taking to the trails and water.

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Bob and I began our leisurely stroll along the eastern shore and took it easy as we meandered along the well-marked path. The trail hugs the shoreline for about a mile, then dog-legs to the left across a stretch of desert before intersecting with a bay just of the reservoir’s main channel.

What stands out most to me about this hike is the presence of water, which is in short supply in Arizona. In addition to the numerous scenic views of the lake below, the trail winds through some of the thickest foliage you will likely find this close to the desert floor.

Whether you’re visiting Arizona or live hear, if you like moderate hikes with great views, you owe it to yourself to give Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake a try.

Remembering Phoenix Deluge Day 2014

At about 2:30 a.m. on September 8, 2014 I was awakened from my sleep by the sounds of hurricane force wind and horizontal rainfall pounding against the side of the house. By the strobe produced by periodic flashes of lightning, I was able to see the palm trees arched in a leeward direction through our second level bedroom picture window. Once I realized it was just rain, I went back to sleep. An hour later the sounds woke me again, although this time they were louder and more intense.

My inner weather geek had to see this awesome spectacle of nature, so I sprung from bed and slipped downstairs. When I looked out the back patio door, I was shocked to see the water line about 4 inches from the door. Initially, I squeegeed some of the water to the edge of the patio until I realized water was beginning to flow from the side yard onto the patio. Repeated flashes of lightning revealed that our pool was close to overflowing if the rainfall continued at this rate. (And it did continue for a few more hours.) That would mean even more water coming toward the patio door. To avert that potential issue, I plugged in a sump pump and ran the water to our front yard via garden hose. Later I would realize just how important that move was when I discovered many of our friends and neighbors are dealing with water damage inside their homes.

As daylight came around, I could see that between both sides of our house and the stucco walls that enclose our property was 2″ to 3″ of standing water. My concern shifted to whether water would seep into our house from the sides. Thankfully, we had enough breaks in the rain throughout the morning to allow water to percolate into the ground. Once I was comfortable that we were not going to get flooded, I turned on the news to see what was going on around the metro.

Local TV stations showed numerous video clips of motorists stalled in standing water throughout the city. We’ve come to expect such displays of Darwinism during monsoon season, but usually car floodings take place in out of the way places involving some knucklehead trying to drive through a flooded wash. The scenes on my TV showed dozens of people stuck in water up to their car windows in the middle of Interstate 10 – the city’s primary artery for east-west travelers.

Video: Morning commuters on I-10 stuck in flash flood

There was more unforgettable footage including:

  • The lower two-thirds of our church’s auditorium was flooded
  • Water rose all the way to the rim of a 10-foot basketball hoop in a Mesa community
  • Some guy cruised around his neighborhood on a Jet Ski in Gilbert
  • Another guy piloted a radio controlled boat around the cul de sac
  • First responders helped carry babies to safety from their parents’ cars stuck in a daycare parking lot
  • A 911 call from an elderly man captured his panic moments before his bride drowned in a flooded wash

I didn’t think to snap any pics of the high water at our house, but thankfully one of the local TV stations published this slideshow of images from around the area.

During one newscast I watched, they reported that the September 8,  2014 rainfall was the greatest amount ever measured in one day. (Most cities around the metro received between 4 and 6 inches and records go back about 75 years.) Additionally, the one-day total was more than double the total of rain received over the prior 9 months. We don’t get a lot of rain in Phoenix, but when we do it can really leave a lasting impression.

3 tips for drafting poll questions your readers can’t resist

Polls are a great way to engage your readers. While page view counts are a good indication of how many people made it to your page, polls help you gauge how many people are actually reading your content. And their responses help you to get to know your audience better.

I’ve been writing poll questions for websites for about six years. Some have yielded lots of votes; others were duds. Based on my experiences, I have developed a knack for what poll questions work and which ones will flop. Here’s what works:

1. Keep it short and simple

Try to keep the questions to 50 to 60 characters or fewer, including spaces. If you need to get really wordy, cut yourself off at 100 characters. And only ask one question. No compound questions; that just confuses people.

2. Quiz opinion, not knowledge

If you want the poll to generate enough responses to be useful, the question(s) should require almost no thought on the part of the responder. The less someone has to think, the more likely he or she is to respond. And there should be no wrong answers.

Here is an oversimplified example: Do you prefer green, red or blue?

3. Offer 4 responses or fewer

More than four responses to choose from can cause two negative things to happen: indecision and inaction. You want the user’s response to be a quick, knee-jerk reaction. Keep the length of responses to a minimum: 25 or fewer characters. When possible, leave no neutral option. If too many people select it, the results become virtually useless to you.

Online quick polls are a great way to engage your readers, if done properly. For best results, keep ’em short, ask for opinions, and limit their choices.