Good times on the Verde River in Arizona

Stream of kayakers on gently flowing river

Yesterday I paddled the Verde River in Central Arizona with a Meetup group of about 53 others I’ve never met. We all had one thing in common: Love of adventure.

Verde means green in Spanish. I suggested we rename it Marron River after the Spanish word for brown. Check out the pics and video below to see what I mean. One of the locals guiding us on the trip said, “Na – it’s always like this for a few days after a big rain. We just call it dirty Verde.” Cracked me up and stuck with me.

Verde means green in Spanish. We just call it dirty Verde.

This was about the halfway point of our float. I’m on the down river side of a large chunk of rock that created a nice eddy where I could sit still and take a break. The other kayakers are resting near a rock formation one local told us is called Salamander Rock.
This was about five minutes after we all launched and I was near the front of the pack. Look at the parade of kayaks that contnue as far as you can see up river.
Shady spots like this provide periodic reprieve from the intense Arizona sun.
Nothing fancy about the shuttle ride for this trip. We just piled as many people as we could into pickup trucks to go from the end point where we left our cars back to the starting point where we left our kayaks.

Had a great time with cool people and saw some amazing sights. My favorite was an array of ancient cliff dwellings. Actually had a little fish jump into my kayak too. By the time I realized it and tried to help him back into the river, he jumped back out of the kayak.

I’m working on a more detailed write up with more pics and video for my new blog. Be sure to follow AZ Wonders if you’re not already, as I’m quite a bit more active with that one.

The road trip of a lifetime

In October 2015 my 17 year-old daughter and a few of her friends talked me into chaperoning/chauffeuring them on a 5-day RV road trip from Phoenix, AZ to Telluride, CO via Monument Valley in the Four Corners region.

It was just me and six high school seniors. I tried to teach them a few things about responsible road travel and fellowship.  Instead, they taught me a few things:

  • Live in the moment. There’s plenty to worry about later on.
  • Look for things to laugh about and, if you don’t see them, make them happen.
  • The day doesn’t end until you say it does.
  • There’s some mighty fine dining to be had in the upper, back room of a grungy pizza joint.
  • Rainy days can’t dampen the spirit of adventure.
  • Living in today’s world requires a lot of recharges.
  • My daughter’s going to be alright.

As with most vacations, it’s best to let pictures (and video) tell the story. Check this video one of the young men made:

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.


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.

AZ Bucket List: The Grand Canyon like you’ve never seen it

On the last weekend of May, 2014 I bagged the proverbial elephant on my Arizona Bucket List: A hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This 3-day, 24-mile round-trip on foot adventure was arranged by our church and I was immensely blessed to be a part of it. It would do no good to try and put the experience into words, but I took some photos to share a glimpse of it with you. Below is a sampling of the photos and the full album is on my Shutterfly site.