Hiking Trails in the Sonoran Desert

Go John Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park

Go John Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park – Phoenix, AZ

Go John Trail

Go John Trail

The Go John Trail was my favorite trail in Cave Creek Regional Park. This trail is 6 miles long, giving you a decent bit of exercise (unlike the flatter Clay Mine and Slate/Quartz trails). My favorite part about this trail is the wildlife, though. This trail receives less traffic than the others in the park, so you’re more likely to see a rattlesnake or two. During my quick hike through Go John Trail, I was able to see deer as well, having otherwise eluded me over the previous three days. This hike starts at the north trailhead because the grade is easier; if you’re looking for a more strenuous workout, try hiking this trail in reverse.

One of the Many Saguaro Cacti Along Go John Trail

One of the Many Saguaro Cacti Along Go John Trail

Once you leave the north trailhead at the parking lot, it’s easy to stay on the Go John Trail. Starting up the trail, bear right to follow the inside curve of the trail. It’s practically impossible to get lost since every intersection is well marked. Loop hikes tend to give me a little bit of anxiety since you can add 10+ miles to your hike if you miss a turn. This happened to me on The Beartooth Recreational Trail ended up being an extra ten miles when I missed a turn south of Sawtooth Lake. Thankfully, Go John Trail won’t get you lost.  You should still hike this trail at a slower pace than normal. Not only is the scenery worth slowing down to appreciate, the wildlife isn’t as shy when you slow down.

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

Keeping conversations and trail noise to a minimum will pay off on this trail. I hiked this trail solo after noisier groups, and the wildlife noticeably hides at the warning of these hikers. Frankly, I think that everyone should hike a trail in this manner, but to each their own. The profile of this trail is straightforward if hiked clockwise– there is a small hill in the beginning and middle, with a larger hill at the end. Many guides have categorized this trail as a “moderate” trail, but I cannot agree with them. Although one hill turns into a set of stairs, all of the hills on this trail are less than 300 feet high. Compared to the other hikes I have written, Go John is definitely an easy trail and changes less elevation than most. Bring plenty of water on this hike (I hiked this in February and ran through a liter of water), and take your time. The best part of this trail is the chance to see wildlife. Speak softly, step lightly, and maybe you’ll see a critter or two.

Deer on Go John Trail

Deer on Go John Trail

Directions to the Go John Trailhead

Enter Cave Creek Regional Park (37019 N Lava Ln, Cave Creek, AZ 85331), pay your $8 entrance fee and drive to the end of a loop.  You can’t miss the Go John Trailhead.

Map to the Go John Trailhead

 

 

 

20 May 2020

Clay Mine Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park

Clay Mine Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park – Phoenix, AZ

Clay Mine Trail

Clay Mine Trail

The Clay Mine Trail is a short and easy hike that is part of the larger Cave Creek Regional Park. It is the easiest hike in the park, but you shouldn’t pass up the trail because of this. At the end of the trail lies the Clay Mine, an interesting way to end the hike, and an opportunity to catch a much needed cool breeze from the cave. Leaving the nature center parking lot, head north following the sign for Overton Trail.

Clay Mine Trail Intersection with Overton Trail

Clay Mine Trail Intersection with Overton Trail

Approximately 100 feet down the trail, another turn appears. Turn left (east) here, following the Overton Trail until it meets the Go John Trailhead. You could have just started at the Go John Trailhead, but most hikers start this quick trail from the nature center. Keep walking east, and you will see the sign for the Go John Trail. The trail leads uphill at this point, but it’s an easy grade. Follow this trail for a short quarter of a mile where you will see another intersection, Cave Creek Trail.

Clay Mine

Clay Mine

Follow this trail the short 1 ½ miles through one more intersection. Approximately 100 yards from the end of the trail is an interesting abandoned mine. This mine was owned and operated by Leila Irish, and whereas the mine contained no gold, it did contain something else– clay. Seeing a business opportunity, Irish bottled and sold the clay as a “cure-all”. Although the clay was useless for most ailments, it did supposedly work well for dysentery. If only this elixir were available on The Oregon Trail game, less of my characters would have died from dysentery.

Cacti on Clay Mine Trail

Cacti on Clay Mine Trail

Once you’ve reached the end of the trail and have exited to the campground, you can turn back around and retrace your steps or just walk down to the main road and walk to the nature center. You can’t park anywhere at the campground, and a shuttle for a trip this short would be weird, so take your time and walk back to your vehicle. If you have just a short couple of hours to spend in the Cave Creek Regional Park, this is an excellent and easy hike that anyone can hike on. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and if you have some extra time in your day, check out some of the other trails in this park. Otherwise, spending $7 to access the park is too expensive for such a quick hike.

Directions to the Overton Trailhead

Enter Cave Creek Regional Park (37019 N Lava Ln, Cave Creek, AZ 85331), pay your $8 entrance fee and drive past the horse stables to the well-signed Overton Trailhead.  Alternatively, you can also begin this hike at the next trailhead down, Go John Trailhead.

Map to the Overton Trailhead

 

 

 

12 May 2020

Fat Man’s Pass – South Mountains

Fat Man’s Pass – South Mountains Phoenix, AZ

South Mountains - Phoenix, AZ

View From Mormon Trail

Fat Man’s Pass is one of the most popular hikes near Phoenix, AZ. Two large boulders force you to squeeze through them to the other side of the trail; a fat man cannot squeeze through this gap (to be honest, it’s a tight squeeze), but I would argue that a fat man can’t get to the pass to begin with. This is one of those trails that leads uphill from the start, and while I’ve listed this trail as an easy trail, it was with much deliberation. From the parking lot at the Mormon Trailhead, the trail immediately leads uphill. You will begin to appreciate why some hikers consider this a moderate or difficult trail.

Mormon Trail Intersection

Mormon Trail Intersection

This is one of those hikes you want to do in the early morning. Moving your way to the top of the first hill only rewards you with another couple of hills to hike up. These “false summits” are a little annoying. That being said, this is a trail that most people can hike on without too much difficulty. Take your time, take a few breaks, and you’ll be fine. After 1 ½ mile, the trail slows its steady incline as you reach the first intersection.

This hike, as described, is a straight shot to Fat Man’s Pass, and a straight shot back. You can alternatively make this a loop as a part of the Mormon Trail Loop, or you can add a loop at the Hidden Valley trail, following Fat Man’s Pass through and continuing on the trail to add another half mile to the trail. My dog was tired (and overheated in early March), so pace yourself on this trail. The trail is hot and miserable even when the temperature is only seventy degrees.

Fat Mans Pass Trail

Turn Left Here

The directions for this hike are simple: stay on the main Mormon Trail (which later turns into the Hidden Valley Trail) until a half mile past the first intersection at the top of the hill. Stay on the main trail, and you will eventually (2 ¼ miles from the trailhead) reach the turn for Fat Man’s Pass. Turn left and head a hundred yards downhill to compare your gut against the two boulders. Remember to take short breaths, to drop your pack or hold it over your head, and to take your time squeezing through the two boulders. It would be embarrassing to call for help because you were stuck at Fat Man’s Pass.

Squeezing Through Fat Mans Pass

Squeezing Through Fat Mans Pass

Once you’ve made it through Fat Man’s pass (hopefully with pictures as proof), you can turn around and trace your steps back to the trailhead. If you’re willing to hike another half-mile, you can see the natural tunnel on Hidden Valley Trail. These are busy trails on weekdays and insanely busy trails on the weekends, be sure not to leave any litter behind, and to stay on the designated path. There are a few signs of overuse and even graffiti along this trail, try to set an example to others by reversing some of that damage.

Directions to the Mormon Trailhead

Located south of Phoenix, AZ in a well-signed neighborhood, drive to 8610 S 24th St, Phoenix, AZ 85042.  Any GPS, map, or phone app will be able to get you to the right place.  Phoenix is so big it’s hard to give general directions that are accurate.  This is a busy trailhead, and all the locals know where it is.  Stopping at a gas station if you lose your way will allow you to get better directions.

Map to the Mormon Trailhead

 

 

 

07 May 2020