Cacti, Guns and Snakes – Hiking the Peralta Trail in Arizona

The Peralta Trail is a very popular Arizona hike, and with good reason.  Being a relatively short drive from the Phoenix metropolitan area, it provides easy access to great hiking for the majority of Phoenicians (and snowbirds too!).  Located on the eastern edge of town off of Highway 60, the drive really starts to get interesting once you leave the pavement of Peralta Road near the town of Gold Canyon.  If you’re lucky enough to catch a cactus bloom in the springtime on this section of desert track, you may not even want to get out of the car to hike.  There are so many cactus varieties and my botany background is weak but even I could identify flowering saguaro, ocotillo, and prickly pear, all blooming with different colored flowers.

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Prickly Pear Cactus Flower, Gold Canyon AZ

The hike begins at the Peralta Trailhead in Tonto National Forest, although this forest is probably different than any other you’ve been to before.  This “forest” isn’t full of many trees like you’d see in a traditional forest, but it does have the aforementioned cactus and there are some trees and shrubs along the creek bed.  In those trees and shrubs, you may even have the chance to see an Arizona cardinal.  When the football team moved to Arizona from St. Louis, I thought for sure a name change was in order because I’d never seen a cardinal west of Kansas, but there are real cardinals in Arizona and their color stands out vividly from the desert landscape.

Most people hike up approximately 2.5 miles to the overlook of Weavers Needle and then head back down.  From the trailhead, the first 2.5 miles are almost all uphill with only a few spots along the way to get out of the sun.  Take full advantage of these shady areas as the temperature can get pretty hot on the trail.  Hiking in the spring and fall can offer temperatures that are decent enough, but summer hiking here would be borderline crazy. Temperatures in the Valley of the Sun can reach into the 110’s and sometimes even hotter.  The day of our hike was a near perfect 84 degrees.  Even still, we went through three bottles of water each and wish we would have had more.  As a side note, when I was at Sky Harbor International Airport, one of the souvenir shops was selling t-shirts that read “Keep Phoenix Hot” along the lines of “Keep Portland Weird” I guess.  Clever and I should have bought one!

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Several trails can be accessed from the Peralta Trailhead

 

 

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The trail

Once at the top, you get a spectacular view of Weavers Needle and the Nothern Arizona landscape in the distance.  The view is hard earned so savor it, we were really tired and pretty much only stayed for a few minutes.  A family sitting near us had packed sandwiches with them and I think my dad was about ready to pull out his wallet to try to buy one.  At least one of the kids in the family was also packing heat on his belt and had a Crocodile Dundee worthy knife on it too.  Arizona is known for having alternative politics and having kids with guns on a hiking trail is definitely a first for me.  We’d seen a few other hikers with guns holstered along the trail throughout the day.

Next up is down, downhill that is.  Hiking always seems harder going downhill for some reason.  You’re already tired and you’re having to use your legs to slow your body down.  This is also a good time to make sure that you focus because there may or may not be a rattlesnake on the trail, just sayin’!  A couple was stopped on the trail ahead of us and one of them turned up the trail towards us to let us know that there is a four foot rattlesnake across the trail and to be careful.  It was gone by the time we got there but our radar was definitely up from that point on.  The couple also warned another hiker on the trail to be careful and when he got to us he had a walking stick and a holstered handgun.  He said both were for the snakes.  On a serious note, you do need to keep an eye out for snakes.  Every place has its hazards.  After talking with a few hikers, this snake (allegedly – innocent until proven guilty 🐍) had rattled as a warning to a group of hikers earlier.  Here in the desert, the heat is a much bigger concern than the snakes but you need to be aware of both.  Wear sunscreen and a hat for the sun and drink plenty of water.  Walk softly and carry a big stick for the snakes or something like that says Teddy Roosevelt (not to hit them with of course but for gently nudging them to safety off of the trail, for their own good and for the good of anyone walking the trail, something I actually did a few days after this hike).

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The view of Weavers Needle

 

After finishing the hike, there are many great Mexican restaurants in the Greater Phoenix area to choose from to load up on some of the carbs and sweat you lost out on the trail.  We chose the outdoor seating at Los Gringos Locos in Apache Junction.  I had a margarita, chips and salsa, a Dos Equis Amber, and a cheese crisp (basically an open faced crispy quesadilla) to cap off a great day hiking with family in the Arizona desert.

 

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Hike: The Hollywood Sign

One of the more unique hikes around, this hike takes you up to and behind an iconic American landmark, the Hollywood sign.  We’ve all seen it hundreds of times at the movies or on television and have the image of it burned into our minds.  To finally see it in person and to use your lungs and legs to get up close and personal with it, is the best way to experience the sign.  For locals, it’s a great way to get some exercise.  For those unfamiliar with LA, it’s a great introduction to the area.  Most people arrive at LAX and the sheer humanity of the place can be overwhelming.  The airport is busy, the stores are busy, the freeways are crazy busy, and the line at In N Out Burger is long (but so worth it).  So now that you’ve been introduced to the airport, to traffic, and the most popular burger joint, it’s time to see one of the sites that the film industry has made famous…the Hollywood sign itself.

The hike to the Hollywood sign is a great way to get acquainted with Los Angles.  Sure there are other, easier ways to get a nice view of LA but this one you have to earn.  The hike is relatively short (3.3 miles round trip) but the trek to the top is almost entirely uphill.  The trail is very popular for both tourists and locals alike so don’t expect to have the place to yourself.   Actually, it’s the type of hike where having other like-minded hikers adds to the uniqueness of it.

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You can see the sign from many vantage points along the trail

Along the way, there are some nice views of the Griffith Observatory across the valley, downtown LA in the distance, and the Pacific Ocean just beyond.  As the top nears, the views get even better.  Once at the top, the views are incredible!  Not just because you see the city and the ocean, but you’re seeing it through the backside of the Hollywood sign for a truly unique vantage point.  A group of hikers has hip hop cranked on their portable speakers adding something that I’ve never experienced on any hike I’ve done and oddly, I’m good with it.  So enjoy the view while you can because the notorious LA freeways await.  Après hike at Golden Road Brewing in Glendale for some good food and beers, you earned it!

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Love this view!

Bike: Top Five Reasons I No Longer Say “On Your Left”

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I work in Boulder Colorado and get to enjoy biking the Boulder Creek Path at lunchtime.  Boulder has an interesting mix of people that use the path and it is quite popular.  The path can get pretty crowded with lunchtime athletes, students, and tourists.  As a courtesy, bicyclists commonly say “on your left” as they pass pedestrians or slower moving cyclists to avoid crashing into them.  The pedestrian has the right of way and it is the cyclists responsibility to avoid them.  Sometimes, you could expect to be scolded for not saying it loud enough or not at exactly the right time.  So in the spirit of some of the great wars between outdoor groups like rafters versus fisherman, snowboarders versus skiers, and hikers versus mountain bikers, I offer my take on the cyclist versus the pedestrian.  Here are my top five reasons for not giving the pedestrian the courtesy of the “on your left” shout out anymore:

  1. The vast majority of walkers have their headphones on so loud with their favorite Justin Beiber song cranked up they can’t hear anything else.  Or, more realistically, The Grateful Dead.
  2. Your version of “Rocky Mountain High” is very different than what John Denver had in mind.  Even though pot is legal here now, it still isn’t supposed to be smoked in public.  Many people ignore this, especially in Boulder and they are wandering all over the path without a care in the world.  Just the other day, a guy on a recumbent bike was smoking a joint and discretely put it to his side as he passed me by.  Now that sounds like a great combination: biking and marijuana.  I guess this guy must have a really bad back.  So much so that he has to ride a recumbent instead of a regular bike and needs to smoke a joint instead of taking a Percocet.
  3. You are a tourist and you’re  oblivious to the fact that you are on a multi-use path where you could get plowed over while you look at the creek, the mountains, and the scenery.  Admittedly, Boulder is a pretty cool place to look at but really people, pay attention.
  4. You don’t know what it means when someone says it.  This one I don’t fault people for.  When I first hit the trails in Boulder, I had no idea why people were saying that to me.  Now I know that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I had honestly never heard that one before.  Also, multi-use path rules and regulations can differ from one place to another so I know that it can be confusing.  I know that on a trip to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of years ago, I was walking on the right side like I would in Boulder and had a cyclist yell at me for being where I shouldn’t be.  When I think about that one, I still can’t figure out what I did wrong.
  5. You think that “on your left ” means move to your left.  I can’t tell you how many times walkers move to the left when I’m passing them, making it a close call for both of us.

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After all of these top five humorous yet sometimes annoying reasons to not say “on your left”, I still find myself giving everyone the courtesy of saying it regardless of how many people may not know their left from their right (after possibly eating too many ‘special brownies’).  I just make sure that they don’t have headphones in, aren’t high, they  aren’t tourists , that they look like they have common sense, and that they know that having a bike crashing over them like a speed bump would be bad for them and the cyclist.  But it will most certainly be the cyclists fault!

Be safe out there 🏃🏻🚴

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