Hiking trail #307: Outlook excellent on Spruce Mountain, Prescott, AZ

If you hike around Prescott, you’ll notice that they name and number their trails, which is nice. The only problem you may encounter is when a local gives you a hiking tip by the number only and happens to be off a digit or two. Could be the Prescott way of telling you to “Go take a hike.”

Anyway, I found the high-country trail that leads up Spruce Mountain, which isn’t hard to find if you know the trail’s name and number. It’s the Groom Creek Loop Trail #307. Some (Prescott National Forest Service peeps) say that it’s “one of the most attractive trails in the Prescott National Forest. Despite the misleading moniker, there are no Spruce trees on the trail to Spruce Mountain, but that’s okay—it’s a lovely shady trek through Ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and Douglass fir. I chose the trail to the left as it was a hot day and this side of the loop is pleasantly shaded. On a cooler day, I’d go for the loop. Perhaps start with the opposite, more exposed side (on the right) and come down the shady side as it gets later in the day.

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The trail begins with a gradual climb and easy terrain, ramping up to a steady climb with rockier and rootier terrain near the top. You definitely have an opportunity to get your heart rate up if you’re so inclined (pun intended). The trail is runnable—the deer I startled on the way up concurs.

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Views from the Spruce Mt Trail

On top, you’ll find a picnic area with an outhouse and a fire lookout tower. If the lookout-in residence is accepting visitors, you might just be lucky enough to soak in the panoramic views of Prescott’s lakes and forest from the tower’s vantage point as I did.

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L in Spruce MTN outlook tower

Distance: ~6.5 miles, if you do the loop it’s ~8 miles

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Elevation gain/ loss: ~1,400 ft (starting elevation is about 6300 feet and the top is 7693 ft)

Getting there: ~15 min drive from Prescott, AZ: Take Mt. Vernon Avenue south for 6.4 miles. It becomes Senator Highway and passes through the small community of Groom Creek. Look for the trailhead on the left side of the road.

Notes: Free parking. MT Bikes & Dogs allowed.

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking:

Constellation Trails

Granite Basin

Panorama & Petroglyph Trails

Spruce Mountain

Mountain Biking

Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Goldwater Lake

Restaurants: 

The Barley Hound Gastropub

Farm Provisions

From Prescott Valley To Prescott: Mountain Biking the Iron King and Peavine Trails

Years ago, the Prescott East Railroad trains ran through here to the Iron King Mine and towns of Poland Junction and Crown King. Today, you can take in the area’s quintessential southwestern scenery and spectacular granite rock formations by  horseback, two (or 3) wheels, or by two feet. It’s ~4 miles down to the Peavine Trail connection and then you can continue on for another ~6 miles to arrive at Watson Lake, Prescott (~20 miles RT).

The Iron King  path is by far one of the easiest, smoothest, most family-friendly mountain bike “trails” I’ve ever encountered. Apparently they went to great lengths to convert this rail to trail and create its excellent surface. First they undercut and evened out the trail to eliminate the “washboard” effect and then they topped it with a blend of coarse and fine gravel. The path is so smooth and flat that a kid on training wheels or a tricycle could ride it. You could take a wheelchair on it (electric or person powered – if you were up for it) too. It all translates to fun times and cool scenery for all.

For me, the most scenic sections of the ride are in the middle where the Iron King and Peavine trails intersect and along the gorgeous Granite Dells and Watson Lake at the Prescott end.

 

 

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Check out the video below of a hiking trail in the Granite Dells.

 

 

Keep an eye out for resident javalina, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. I didn’t see any of them and only saw 2 other cyclists during my sunset pleasure tour. (Not sure if the hot weather (90+ degrees) – was keeping people away or what. I expect when the housing development in Prescott Valley completes, this will get much heavier use so enjoy some solitude while you can.

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Getting there: The Iron King Trail begins in Prescottt  Valley west of Glassford Hill Road, north of Spouse Drive – at the base of Glassford Hill. Unfortunately, that’s also where a new housing development is going in so the first mile or so is a bit of a bummer. Truth in advertising picture below. (Heavy sigh.). The Peavine Trail begins at the south end of Watson Lake in Prescott. Take Hwy 89 to Prescott Lakes Parkway, then to Sundog Ranch where you can park along the road .

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking: Thumb Butte 

Granite Basin

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Restaurants: Farm Provisions

Barley Hound Gastropub

“Collect moments, not things.” Hans Rey, Mountain Bike Adventurer

Like the man said, it’s all about the moments. Hans Rey specializes in collecting moments of exhilaration as he achieves epic mountain bike feats in amazing locations. The video of Hans and his two younger companions (Danny MacAskill and Gerhard Czerner) conquering Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro on mountain bikes is spectacular. Hiking at elevation is hard enough, can’t imagine what it would be like with a heavy, awkward mtb on your back. Fifty-one year-old, mountain bike legend, Hans Rey shows us how it’s done and inspires us to dream big, rise to the challenges and treasure the moments.

Yes, this is the same Hans Rey I ran into on my TransCatalina Mountain bike adventure.

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(He was riding a electric MTB then, which I’ll admit I thought was just a tad lame…Got to please the sponsors I guess so I’ll give him a pass on that one.) Anyway, after seeing him slay Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro in 10 days, I think he earned a lifetime free pass to ride an ebike anytime.

Watch the incredible 30 minute film, Kilimanjaro, Mountain of Greatness and let me know what you think.

And tell me, who inspires you? And what is your next adventure?

Exploring the Goat Canyon Trestle by Mountain Bike, Jacumba, CA

Deep in the heart of the Jacumba Mountains overlooking Carrizo Gorge in Anza Borrego State Park, you’ll find the Goat Canyon Trestle. Getting to the world’s largest curved wooden trestle is like being transported to the wild west of days done by. You’ll traverse dark tunnels in various stages of collapse, dodge rock slides, narrowly avoid precipitous drops into rock canyons, explore abandoned trains and endure the blazing desert sun. If this is your idea of fun, read on. Ok, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s an easy, flat mtb cruise or a longish flat hike through some very cool (pun intended) desert terrain.

(Video credit and pics I’m in below: Ken Wells)

It’s slow going as there are several points where you have to lift your bike over one obstacle or another. You can’t speed through because you never know what’s around the next corner or if the bottom might drop out in front of you.

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Be alert and cautious all the way out and back. Headlamps are a must for the tunnels, lots of obstacles in there. Workout-wise, it’s easy – safety-wise, it could be considered a bit sketchy.

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As you bike along the railway, sometimes the path is quite narrow with a precipitous drop into the rocky canyon below. A moment of distraction could make for a very bad day. Wouldn’t suggest mountain biking for kids here, unless they are quite skilled and cautious riders.

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Up close, the trestle seems a bit rickety, like a skinny, dilapidated Jenga set.

 

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Background: The trestle was built in 1933, as part of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, aka “the impossible railroad” that ran through Baja California and Eastern San Diego County and ended in Imperial Valley. Over the years, collapsed tunnels and rock slides plagued the railroad, including the collapse of Tunnel 15, which led to the creation of the trestle. The trestle was constructed of wood (no nails used), rather than metal due to the area’s extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lead to “metal fatigue” / failure and it was designed with a 14 degree angle to offset Goat Canyon’s high winds. By 2008, rail traffic had ceased.  As recently as last year, another tunnel, Number 6, near the trestle collapsed…(Yikes.)

Distance: Roundtrip 10 -14 miles, depending on where you start

Getting there: 8E from San Diego, take the Jacumba Exit

Parking: Park for free in the dirt lot right off the freeway at the Jacumba exit and follow the dirt portion of Carrizo Gorge Road 2 miles towards the DeAnza Spring Resort, the largest “clothing optional” resort in North America. Optionally, pay $5 to park at the resort.  1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.  There’s a Subway & gas station right off the freeway. You can also grab a bite & beer at the resort after your ride…20180421_102928.jpg

Note: This is the desert, plan accordingly – ample water, sunscreen, hat, etc…

 

Rediscovering the San Pasqual Valley via MTB along the Coast To Crest & Raptor Ridge Trails

A couple years back, I went for a pleasant mountain bike ride with a friend and have been wanting to return for a while.  I couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  Fortunately, my friend has a reliable memory and was able to direct me back to the spot. It’s part of the Coast to Crest Trail and in the San Dieguito River Park  (92,000-acres)

If you read my Lake Hodges MTB post, this spot is on the other side of the I-15 freeway. The trail begins at the historic Sikes Adobe.

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Established around 1870, the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead is one of San Diego’s oldest adobe homes. Tours are offered on Sundays, more info here.

The first 3-4 miles or so are completely flat with easy terrain and valley views. Perfect for beginners and kids. Next you have 2 options, you can climb up some lovely single track to the Raptor Rodge lookout (and continue on to Ysabel Creek RD Staging Area) or cross  the road to the Old Coach Trail and climb a steep paved road.

 

(I did both this time.) Previously, I had chickened out of the Raptor Ridge single track as it looked a bit rutted. This time it appeared smooth so I went for it and didn’t regret it. What a sweet ride, great for a trail run too. Only ran into 3 people out there despite a sign warning about congestion on the trail. It was gorgeous and a decent workout. Distance to Raptor Ridge is 6.1 miles ea way. The lovely valley views really open up as you climb. Once at the top, you can continue on down to the to the Ysabel Creek Road Staging Area, a somewhat rutted and scrappy fire road. Unless you have a car shuttle, you’d have to climb back up that road. I opted to return to the intersection and  climb up the Old Coach Road instead. Once you navigate through the grove of trees and climb the steep paved road, you can continue to follow the Old Coach Trail signs across the 2 residential roads until you get to the single track. (I haven’t followed the single track to see where it goes as it’s gets a bit technical for me – trails is rougher, rocky, etc…) And the map ends at the paved road. Perhaps I’ll have the gumption to explore more next time.

 

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Raptor Ridge is aptly named. This area is great for bird watching.

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Wonderful, well kept trails make for a splendid afternoon on foot or wheels. Gets hot in the summer so go early and bring water.

Getting there from the I-15:12655 Sunset Dr. Escondido
Exit Via Rancho Pkwy
Right onto Via Rancho Pkwy.
Right onto Sunset Dr. (1st traffic light from I-15N; 2nd traffic light from I-15S)
Left into the Sikes Adobe Staging Area (dirt lot ), or park along the street

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruising around Lake Hodges, Escondido, CA

My back was a little tweaked from last week’s roller blade when I used my butt as a brake so I was looking for something mellow to do this weekend. That’s when I thought of mt.biking around Lake Hodges on the flat section of the San Dieguito River Park Coast to Crest Trail.  This multi-use trail is open to hikers/runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The main trail (a planned 70 miles – 45 miles of which currently exists ) extends from Del Mar to Volcan mountain in Julian. And there are over 20 miles of auxiliary trails within the River Park to play on.

I chose an easy cruise on a friendly wide dirt trail through the North side of the park. If you add on some single track on the flip side, you can make it around to the dam.)

(Option to stop in for some refreshments at Herandez Hidaway on Lake Drive.) We passed it up because my back was acting up (could have been the three falls). There are only about 3 spots where a mtb novice or clutz like me needs to walk (should have walked) hence the falls. Otherwise, super pleasant, beginner mtb trail. Managed to get about 16 miles in on the out and back.

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Lake Hodges Dam in the Distance

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San Dieguito River Park Lake Hodges Bike & Pedestrian Bridge with Bernardo Mountain to the left.

I’ve ridden and run the South side too – not as much mileage there and much better views on the North side, in my opinion. If you’re tough and technical, you can go for the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail – looks fun. You can also find more trails under the pedestrian bridge, but you may encounter some challenging single track there. (I might hike a couple of these to scout them first and report back. I suspect they won’t be as scenic since they ride away from the lake.)

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Other options to explore if you’re not afraid of some rugged single track

Getting there:

There are a number of ways to access the trails. The pedestrian / bike bridge is a good a starting point for explorations North or South.

I-15 freeway to West Bernardo/Pomerado Road, go west and park in the Bernardo Bay parking lot on the right just before Rancho Bernardo Community Park,

Or perhaps consider parking your car at Hernadez Hideaway on the other side of the lake so you can look forward to lunch and libations after your ride.

Hernadez Hideaway, 19320 Lake Drive Escondido, California 92029

Cheers!

 

Take a Walk on The Wild Side. Getaway Tips: Catalina’s West End

A few people have asked me what I’d recommend for a couples’ 2 to 3 night camping trip in Catalina. For nature lover’s with limited time, I suggest you skip touristy (though charming) Avalon and head straight for Catalina’s “Wildland” gems.  Most Catalina aficionados concur that the 2 most beautiful spots on the island (not that you can really go wrong anywhere) are Little Harbor Campground and Parson’s Landing Campground. I’ll focus this post on them.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love those 2 spots.

 

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Heading down to picturesque Parson’s Landing

MAP 

How you plan your getaway comes down to your preferred balance of activity to relaxation.

If you want to see both Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing, the easiest way to do it is to take the San Pedro ferry direct to Two Harbors. Once there, you are equidistant to Parson’s Landing and Little Harbor – this gives you the most flexibility and the most relaxation and recreation options. You can grab a bite and set out for either destination as a day hike / bike or an overnight at one or both of them. You can also catch a shuttle one or both ways.

When you visit Two Harbors,  enjoy a meal at Doug’s Harbor Sands – the only restaurant / bar in town. I recommend the Mahe and a Buffalo Milk or two for dessert. Buffalo Milk is a delicious libation named after the island’s iconic buffalo (think alcoholic chocolate milkshake). I’d post a picture of one, but I drank them so fast I forgot to take one.

Otherwise, you could stay over in Little Harbor night 1 and then work your way West to Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing. On a quickie? Perhaps you take the Safari Bus back to Two Harbors or Avalon. (Arrange in advance.)

Staying Overnight in Two Harbors

Two Harbors Campground (42 tent sites & 3 Group sites) about a 1/4 from “town” on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Outdoor cold water showers & portapotties.

In “town”, the Camping Cabins  offer simple comforts on a budget ($50-70 a night) They are available November through March only.

Note: There are coin operated hot water showers in Two Harbors.

After roughing it for a day or two, I always like to throw in a little luxury. See why the rustic Banning House Lodge in Two Harbors is my Top Pick .

Two Harbors Things to Do:  Diving, snorkeling, swimming, stand-up-paddling, kayaking, fishing, exploring and relaxing. So yes, you can have tons of fun just hanging in gorgeous Two Harbors. Did I mention the Buffalo Milk? (Yeah, I did.)

Two Harbors Visitors Services 310-510-4205

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Parson’s Landing 

 Head from Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing (via West End Road – easy fire road ~7 miles & or the Trans Catalina Trail – hard single track ~11 miles) and camp out there. Note there is no running water at this campsite.  You can hike from here to Starlight Beach (the Western most point of the island), but be prepared for 20 miles round trip as Starlight Beach is day use only.

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DISTANCES

Avalon to the airport ~10 miles

Avalon to Little Harbor ~15 miles

Avalon to Two Harbors ~23 miles (MTB route – ~3,284 elevation gain)

Little Harbor to Two Harbors ~7 miles by fire road or shorter by single track, expect a fair amount of climbing in either direction

Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing ~7 easy miles West End Road or ~11 via a challenging portion of the Trans Catalina Trail (hikers only) Note: Parson’s Landing Campgraound has no running water.

Two Harbors to Starlight Beach  ~17 to ~21 miles depending on your route (see above)

Two Harbors to the airport ~13 Miles

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Logistics – Getting to Two Harbors

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro to go direct to Two Harbors ~$75 ea round trip.

Or treat yourself to a Helicopter ride, starting at ~$135 one way depending upon your departure point. It’s a quick way to spend $135, but it is a dazzling ~15+ minutes. (One way is enough, unless you’re in a hurry and have $ to burn.)

If you have a boat, you’ve got it made to explore your way.

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Hiking permits are free and you can get them online.

Mountain biking? Get the scoop on the $35 pass and bike rentals.

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Long Haul Options From Avalon

If you start in Avalon, you can take the island’s Safari Bus to Little Harbor,  Two Harbors, or Parson’s Landing,  but you are limited by their schedule. Mountain biking or hiking is possible too, but only if you’re up for ~23 somewhat tortuous miles (especially if you’re going to be carrying a pack) see my Catalina mtb. adventure post 1 & 3). There is a new Catalina Back Country Concierge that offers gear haul and other services, but they may not be open on weekdays in the off season – – at least they weren’t when we called them.

Another option is to stay in Little Harbor the first night and save the final 7 miles to Two Harbors for Day 2…

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Caution

So many fantastic options, so little time. Be safe and have a blast!

I’ve been all over the island, the terrain can be challenging and most of it is completely exposed. (Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.) Keep ~150 yards from Buffalo. (They don’t like bikers.) Stay on designated trails and fire roads. Taking that short cut through brush may be tempting, but my brother will tell you, it’s not worth it. He got bitten by a rattlesnake there doing just that and had to be airlifted off the island. He’s fine now, but it was a bit sketchy during his two weeks in ICU…And no, I wasn’t on that trip.

Let me know if you have questions and do tell me what you did on your Catalina getaway!