I have witnessed the Phoenix lights

In the 10 o’clock hour of Monday, April 14, 2014 while the eyes of many were focused on the eastern skies for the lunar eclipse of the blood moon, something unusual and unexpected was happening in the sky west of our home.

It had been a long day for me, so I turned in early and was sound asleep by 10 p.m. Around 10:30, my wife came to the bedroom and woke me up in somewhat of a panic. She had trouble coming up with the words, but she was adamant that something strange was happening in the sky.

Eager to continue my slumber, I murmured a quick explanation of the eclipse and tried to return to sleep.

“This is not an eclipse,” she said. “There are some strange lights shining in the sky behind our house.”

She first saw the lights from our kitchen window downstairs. The angle was just right for her to see the glowing lights between the trees and rooftops situated between our home and the open desert an eighth of a mile to the rear.

After waking up and taking a quick look, I knew she was right. The heavy shade screens on our bedroom windows distorted the view somewhat, so I trotted out to the patio for a clearer view. There they were just like so many other had described before.

My wife and I are faithful Christians and generally categorize UFO sightings and the like as fiction. About a month earlier, I had heard a blurb in the news about the anniversary of the Phoenix Lights – a phenomenon of unexplainable lights that thousands of Phoenix residents reported seeing about the same time of night back in 1997.

After the lights “turned off” we returned to bed and broke out the iPad to do some research. The most recent post of any sort relating to the lights was from March 20, 2014. A gal reported seeing exactly what we saw as she returned to Phoenix from San Diego on I-8. Her view was from the south and the lights were over the same vicinity: the Estrella Mountain – Gila River Indian Community area.

Here is an excerpt from her blog post:

We noticed that 4 more of these orbs appeared in a line. They were bright orange orbs floating in same spot radiating intense light. For the next 2-5 minutes these orbs continued to appear and disappear across different positions in the sky. Out of nowhere once again, it was as if someone flicked a light switch when they just disappeared.

We never saw the orbs move to a position other than a vertical line. However, her light switch analogy perfectly describes how the light left the sky.

I was struck by the fact that the orbs could hold their straight-line position considering that on the night we witnessed them, the wind was blowing hard enough that the palm trees were swaying around pretty good. Another memory that stayed with me was that there was absolutely now sound, as we experience when planes or helicopters fly overhead.

The following day I did a little more research. Two things convinced me that there is more to these lights than meets the eye:

  1. In the Phoenix Lights documentary on YouTube, dozens of people who previously didn’t believe in UFOs detail accounts very similar to what my wife and I experienced. The documentary clearly rules out that what we saw as being any part of military operations.
  2. There are several articles that point out the native people who inhabited this area before us have reported similar sightings for hundreds of years. Some historians believe that even the notorious petroglyphs etched in rocks around South Mountain Park in Phoenix tell of visits from celestial beings.

This experience has completely opened my mind. I don’t believe we have been invaded by aliens and I don’t think that what we saw is cause for alarm. But, I will forever be on the lookout for objects in the sky that take me back to that night in April 2014. I still cling to my faith that there is only one God and that Jesus is the key to my eternal salvation. However, I am now convinced that some of us on earth have and will experience things that are not of this world and not explainable by man.

AZ bucket list: Carefree

Carefree wasn’t on my Arizona Bucket List before I visited the town, but it should have been. I took my parents and my teen daughters to Carefree in mid-March 2014 as our impromptu Plan B. You see, my parents were visiting us in Phoenix from deep in the heart (more like lower extremities) of Texas. Before their arrival, Mom mentioned that seeing the desert in bloom was on her bucket list.

We had planned to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix on the free day they offer the second Tuesday of every month. Just us and about half the people in Phoenix! The morning of our planned visit, the entry line (of cars) was backed up about a mile from the place. It’s at that point we were greeted with a sign that read “Free Day lots full.”

That’s when we resorted to Plan B. I remembered that in my search for desert demo gardens online, I stumbled onto an article about a garden in the Town of Carefree – about 25 miles north of Phoenix. So, guided by the GPS, off we went. The drive into town was unexpectedly rural and beautiful, with distinctive rock outcroppings and native plants lining the highway. Starting about five miles before the town of Carefree, you see interpretive signs identifying various plants growing in their natural state.

In the center of town is a meandering 4+ acre demonstration garden with water and shade features, along plenty of places to sit down. Adjacent to the park is a row of unique business that cater visitors. (See photos below – click for larger view.)

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I had visited the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix a couple weeks before we drove to Carefree, so I had a good frame of reference. The gardens in Carefree were every bit as beautiful, just on a smaller scale. The best part of our visit: It was FREE and we parked right next to the garden walk with absolutely no lines or hassles.

Cruising Arizona’s Apache Trail

I had a free weekend in mid-January 2014, so my oldest daughter and I took to Arizona’s open roads and checked the Apache Trail off our Arizona Bucket List. The roughly 5-hour loop begins just north of the town of Apache Junction on the eastern edge of Phoenix metro. Most of the drive consists of fairly navigable two-lane blacktop. It’s the 25 or so miles of dusty, washboard road that will keep me from rushing back.

Prior to moving to Phoenix in 2012, I spent 17 years in the Denver – Boulder area of Colorado and did plenty of driving in the Rocky Mountains. So, I am fairly adept at handling steep, winding roads. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how steep some of the sections on the Apache Trail would be. In particular, Fish Creek Hill requires you to ride the brakes almost non-stop as you descend over 1,500 feet in elevation in just a couple miles. Even riding in my vehicle’s lowest gear, the decline was too steep to cruise without the use of brakes. As a result, many drivers, including me, pulled off about two-thirds of the way down the hill to let the brakes cool off – and take a few pictures.

I will let the pictures below tell the rest of my story; however, if I had to name a highlight it would be the awesome splendor of Apache Lake – a Goldilocks sized reservoir sandwiched between Roosevelt and Canyon Lakes along the Salt River. At one point, we backed my truck onto a small driveway on a bluff overlooking the marina area and sat on the tailgate to chow down our picnic lunch. As we resumed the drive, I was awestruck by the towering cliffs shooting out of the glassy, narrow channel on the lake’s eastern end. The visuals ignited dreams of bringing my family back in warmer months to cruise the lake in a rental boat.

Views from the Apache Trail (click any image to enlarge):

Hike review: Phoenix South Mountain, Lost Ranch – National – Pyramid

When skiers use the phrase “earn your turns” they are talking about hiking to a snow-covered section of mountain that cannot be accessed by a chairlift in order to ski it. The phrase that kept coming to me during this hike was, “earn the burn.” As in, burn in the legs.

Let me remind you, I am hiking the trails of neighboring South Mountain to get my legs in shape for a May 2014 hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and back out. If you’re looking to get your legs in shape, burn is good – and so is this hike.

I have not verified this point yet, but I would be willing to bet that this is the only trail in Arizona that leads you through a window of a burnt down structure, as you seen in the pictures below. This spot is known as Lost Ranch. It’s about a mile into the hike from the trail head, and where all the fun begins.

From here, you hike down through a pretty deep wash, then it’s all uphill for about another mile until you connect with National Trail. At this point, you hook a right and head east on National until it connects with Pyramid Trail about four miles later. If you’re in for a little more elevation gain, take an extra ten minutes and hike up Goat Hill for an outstanding view in all directions from 2,504 feet above sea level.

When I hiked it (January 2014), I did not encounter another person on that entire stretch. Once you connect to Pyramid Trail, you do a virtual about-face and head west about 1.5 miles before reaching what many consider the top of the trail.

Here is where I discovered my first petroglyph on South Mountain. I hear there are numerous petroglyph sites scattered throughout the park.

Petroglyph near the top of Pyramid Trail
Petroglyph near the top of Pyramid Trail

Speaking from experience, the descent down the face of Pyramid Trail can be challenging, but nowhere near as tough as the hike up it.

Hike details:

  • Trail: Lost Ranch – National – Pyramid
  • Length: 9 mile loop
  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: negligible
  • Difficulty: 1,270 (includes Goat Hill)
  • Date hiked: January 11, 2014

*Rough estimates. I don’t do GPS.

Hike review: Phoenix South Mountain, Sidewinder – Secret Trail Loop

The Sidewinder – Secret Trail loop is one of the easiest, yet most rewarding, trails I have hiked on South Mountain.  I estimate that the hike is about 2 miles round-trip and there is very little elevation gain. I intentionally chose this trail because I only had about an hour so before sunset and knew it would not take long.  The loop took me just over an hour to complete.

I found that the Secret Trail section of this hike was most intriguing since it runs along the desert floor, just at the foot of South Mountain.  From the trail, you can see a rocky crag rising up sharply toward the peak. I looked briefly for some of the fabled petroglyphs that are legend to exist in these parts, but I did not see any.  Closer examination would have required going off the trail.

I would recommend this trail for anyone who is looking for an be easy trail with spectacular views. Take a look at my pictures to get a taste of what the trail offers.  The trail head is located in a residential neighborhood near 36th Street & South Warpaint Drive.

Hike details:

  • Trail: Sidewinder – Secret Trail
  • Length: 2.0 miles round-trip*
  • Time: 1.0 hours
  • Elevation gain: negligible
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Date hiked: January 9, 2014

*Rough estimates. I don’t do GPS.

Check out the pictures and captions below for more insights. Click on pics to expand.

Hike review: Desert Classic Trail on South Mountain in Phoenix, AZ

I continued my quest to hike every foot of charted trail on South Mountain by hiking a portion of Desert Classic Trail with my 12 year-old daughter on Christmas Eve morning in 2013. She had recently hiked it with her 7th grade class, so I asked her to lead the way.

The highlight of the hike was a rest stop on the notorious helicopter pad, which is the highest point on the trail. We walked the perimeter of the helipad and admired the views of million dollar homes, mountains, and clear blue skies. We could even see my daughter’s school where we parked the car.

Desert Classic is appropriately named since it offers a great variety of desert terrain and plant life in a relatively short distance. I found the vegetation to be more noticeably dense and diverse than on many of the trails of South Mountain.

Hike details:

  • Trail: Desert Classic
  • Length: 3.5 miles round-trip*
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 100 ft.*
  • Difficulty: moderate

*Rough estimates. I don’t do GPS.

Check out the pictures and captions below for more insights. Click on pics to expand. One of these days, I’ll add highlighted maps showing the exact trail(s) I hiked.

Hike review: Phoenix South Mountain, Bursera – National Trail loop

Visible to anyone flying into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport is South Mountain – a notorious mound of rock bearing a few dozen red-light dotted communications towers. Since one of the trailheads for South Mountain is about a half mile from my driveway, I have taken quite a few hikes on it since we moved to Phoenix in 2012.

It was only recently that I got serious with my goal to hike every foot of marked trail on South Mountain – a 17,000-acre preserve owned and operated by the City of Phoenix. Some sources report South Mountain (pdf map) is the largest city park in the nation. Who am I to question them? For a little perspective, Vail Ski Resort in Colorado measures up at 5,300 skiable acres.

I completed the hike chronicled below with my friend Ken on a beautiful Saturday morning in December, 2013. We were blessed with mostly cloudy skies following a day and a half of rain. We also had a few days of rain a couple weeks earlier, so the mountain was as green I have seen it.

Hike Details*

  • Trail(s): Bursera Trail to National Trail via Lost Ranch
  • Length: 5+ miles round-trip
  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 800 ft. (ballpark)
  • Difficulty: hard

*Rough estimates. I don’t do GPS.

Click photos to enlarge.

My Arizona Bucket List

Image of Grand Canyon
One of many lookout points along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

I’m creating this list for my family and me, but thought I’d share it for anyone else who might be interested. We just moved to AZ in 2012.

I became aware of many of these sight from the Arizona Highways Magazine TV show and Facebook page. If there are other sites you would recommend, please leave them in the comments box below.

Must see:

  • Chiricahua Mountains
  • Grand Falls, aka Chocolate Falls
  • Sunrise Ski Resort
  • Lake Powell
  • Petrified Forest
  • Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch (don’t judge 🙂 )
  • Sabino Canyon
  • Saguaro National Park
  • Meteor Crater
  • Town of Winslow

Have seen:


Reflections on my hike of Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain

I’ve been prepping myself for a 3-day hike in the Grand Canyon in May 2014 by taking on some of the more strenuous trails around Phoenix. Camelback Mountain has a reputation for setting the legs on fire, so when I saw that my church had organized a hike up the humps the first weekend of December, I couldn’t pass it up. Below is a quick summary of my experience.

At the time of our hike, the only way to access the top was via Cholla Trail (pronounced choy-ya) which rises up from the east side. In the picture below, envision hiking a trail cut just on the other side of the spine of the camel that runs from the right (or rear) to the left.


Quick stats:

  • Destination: Camelback Summit – the top of the tallest hump in pic above
  • Distance: about 3 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Time: 3.5 hours; time of day: early morning
  • Weather: sunny with calm air and temps in the mid-50s


  • Free admission
  • Views from the top and other vantage points
  • Desert landscape
  • That burn in the legs


  • Parts of trail require scaling rock walls and navigating back down them
  • Concern of bee attacks as advised by signs (bees killed a few people on Camelback in 2013)
  • Volume of other hikers on the weekend resulted in congestion
  • Parking a half mile from the trail head on a residential street

I’m glad I hiked Camelback so that I can say that I’ve done it, but I won’t be rushing back anytime soon. The single biggest turnoff was the volume of people. Friends have recommended other trails that will help prep me for my Grand Canyon hike, so I’ll place priority on those trails in the future.

If you have hiked Camelback, I would like to hear your thoughts in the comment box below. Questions? Fire away and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Some more pics from my hike (click to enlarge)…