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.

Reflections on 12-12-12: No ordinary Wednesday


by @PaulFiarkoski

I’m not into numerology, so I don’t believe anything special happens when numbers line up in a certain way. That said, all the hype with 12-12-12 could have came and went for me with almost no significance. Same for last year on November 11, and October 10 the year before that. August 8, 2008 (08-08-08) was sort of cool since it was my sister’s birthday – and the day of the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.

My lack of interest in a numerically significant date notwithstanding, somehow a switch was flipped for me the morning of December 12, 2012. It actually started the night before when my 11 year-old daughter made me pinky promise I would take a picture of my iPod screen for her at exactly 12:12 pm since she would be at school.

Couldn’t avoid the buzz
When I checked in on Facebook the morning of the 12th, my feed was lit up with all things 12-12-12. Same thing on Twitter. One post in particular stood out to me: ” 12.12.12 …I have the DVR all ready to go!,” a friend from my high school posted. It was then that I remembered hearing about the benefit concert taking place later in the day at New York’s Madison Square Garden. I promptly set my DVR too.

Time check
I worked from home that day and started my lunch hour at exactly 12 noon, so could I stay focused on upholding the pledge I made to my daughter. An added bonus was being able to hug and kiss my wife like we do each New Year’s eve at midnight. I captured the special moment on my iPod and posted the image on Facebook with a snarky comment about surviving 12-12-12. Even though I know the Mayans alleged apacolypse was allegedly not to occur until December 21, so many people mistook the twelfth for D-day that I decided to play along.

The screen shot I took of my iPod screen at 12:12 on December 12, 2012.
The screen shot I took of my iPod screen at 12:12 on December 12, 2012.

Benefit concert
The day continued as any usual Wednesday would until 6:30 local time when the 12-12-12 benefit concert came on the tv. What a line up! When it kicked off with Bruce Springstein and Bon Jovi I quickly realized this was going to be a big event. The legends just kept parading out, one after another. Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, the Who. Honestly, I got chills a few times just sitting there watching these larger than life rock stars humble themselves for the cause of raising money for those suffering from the effects of SuperStorm Sandy.

I checked in on Facebook and Twitter a couple times during the show to see how others were reacting to the performances. Most were impressed, although there were a few low points. Kanye West comes to mind. A personal favorite for me was Adam Sandler’s rendition of Hallelujah. An instant classic! The biggest shock for me was that Alicia Keys did not sing her hit “New York”. Maybe I’ll find out when I play the rest of the concert on the 13th that it was part of a finale. I hope so.

Like Farm Aid on steroids
Here was my one-liner that summarized how I felt about the concert: Farm Aid has been working out and taking roids for the last 25 years and has re-emerged as the #121212concert for Superstorm Sandy victims.

I mentioned to my wife that when we look back at tonight in ten years or so, we’re going to realize this was a bigger event than Woodstock, BandAid or any of the other big time concert events.

Meteor Shower
Another topic that others were commenting about on social media was the Geminid Meteor Shower – an event I would not have been aware of were it not for Facebook. Then Kanye West took the stage. About 45 seconds into his act I decided then was a good time to make a break for the hot tub. Everyone else in the family had already dozed off, so I was solo. Low and behold, I saw a few streaks from the meteors whizzing through the night sky, high above South Mountain on the south edge of Phoenix.

I still don’t believe there is any thing special about how certain numbers line up. But thanks to the large contingent of others that do believe, 12-12-12 was anything but an ordinary Wednesday for me.

Confessions of a surprised Phoenix newcomer


by @PaulFiarkoski

One Saturday morning during my first holiday season as Phoenix resident I was out running a few errands. Being new to the area, a lot of things on the radio caught my attention, like the promo for a car dealership that was hosting a radio station for a live remote on this particular day.

I wasn’t in the market for a car, but something about the announcer drew me in as she rattled off a few today only specials then invited us listeners to “come on out and see ’em for yourselves” at one of two locations.

Surprise, AZ
Surprise, AZ is a real place

When she gave the first location I could visualize it on a map in my mind. It was the second location – the “surprise location on Bell Road” – that confused me.

“Hello!” I thought to myself. “It’s not a surprise if you give the location.”

I couldn’t believe my ears as I played back the for-sure radio blooper in my head. “What a fool,” I remember thinking. “She totally blew the surprise and gave out the location. She’ll be lucky if she’s not fired on the spot.”

About fifteen minutes later I realized the fool was me. I mentioned the DJ’s blunder to a convenience store clerk, who very politely wondered aloud “Could she have been talking about a location in the town of Surprise?”

Doh! Imagine my surprise.