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 of 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:
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):
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.
Speaking from experience, the descent down the face of Pyramid Trail can be challenging, but nowhere near as tough as the hike up it.
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.
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
Views from the top and other vantage points
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)…
Overlooking the Phoenician Resort
Some members of our hiking party approaching one of many steep segments of the trail.
A cool feeling visual you don’t get very often in the Phoenix area.
A brief stop along the trail to admire the valley view.
Another steep section of trail. Notice the helicopter landing pad for mountain rescues in the upper left third of the pic.
Somehow we need to get to where the gent in the upper right is.
This Christmas tree is at the summit. Another hiker there that day said she saw a couple 20-somethings carrying it up a few days earlier.
Descending Cholla Trail. Good view of a golf course in the upper half of the photo.
Uphill and downhill hikers often negotiate tight spaces on the narrow trail..
I’m sure more than one developer has thought of building a resort up here too.
Nature showing off its amazing ability to adapt to harsh environments.
This is the top of Camelback from a viewpoint several hundred yards before the final ascent.
Two weeks shy of my family’s June 1 anniversary of living in Arizona we finally took a weekend to go see the state’s crown jewel: the Grand Canyon.
So many people ask me if I have been yet, and I always felt a little weird saying no. I have really had no excuse other than, “we’re too busy.” We found an empty weekend on our social calendars, so we took the drive four-hour drive to see it.
In a way, I thought of seeing the Grand Canyon as a bucket list item. Been there, saw that. Check! I had seen plenty of pictures and videos, so I knew what to expect; or so I thought.
What I wasn’t prepared for was literally losing my breath the first time I walked up to the edge of the south rim. If photos are two dimensional and real life is 3-D, the Grand Canyon is definitely 4-D. I can’t explain the fourth dimension, but it’s there.
My first visit to the Grand Canyon definitely won’t be my last. As I stood there at one view point looking down to see a few dozen hikers making there way on the trails like tiny ants, I couldn’t help imagining myself in their shoes. The wheels started turning and I have already begun to plan my next trip.
Our church sponsors a hiking trip each June where you hike down to the bottom of the canyon on day one, then stay two nights in a lodge, and hike back out on the last day. The trip is completely booked for this year but you can bet my wife and I will be near the top of the list when they open it for registration in 2014.
Here is a brief slideshow of some 2-D snapshots of the Grand Canyon.