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Always time for Silly Mountain

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Silly Mountain, Arizona

 

Two hikes I’ve always wanted to do in the Phoenix area — Camelback and Flat Iron.

But my schedule was tight, and after touching down at the airport, I only had a few hours before hitting the road the following morning. Flat Iron is a grueling day-long trek on the Superstition Range, and Camelback is best as a morning hike.

Luckily, there is always time for Silly Mountain, a park on the east edge of Apache Junction with a mile or so of trails and a 2,100-foot peak with a 400-foot elevation gain.

I got there shortly before sunset and had great views.

Superstition Mountains, view from a Silly Mountain. (C)2019 J.S.Reinitz

The view from Silly Mountain. (C)2019 J.S.Reinitz

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Photo: Cold weather kayaking

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“Spring” 2018

After about 20 minutes of hard paddling, my glasses began to fog up, obscuring the swift water. The kayak’s nose was a red blur in front of me with two smaller red blurs cycling on either side of me, my paddle blades trying to keep up with the current.

The plan had been to put in at the park and head upstream under the railroad bridge and then play around just below the dam in a relaxing fashion before drifting back down to the ramp. But just after launching, I realized how quick the water was moving, and the fight was on.

It was early in the morning, and everyone was at home asleep. It was cold, overcast windy. Ice formations clung to the rail bridge piers. 

It was spring break in the Midwest. Time to get out and enjoy kayaking.
In light snow.
 

There is a certain amount of dread that creeps in when you strain to push against the current and after several minutes, you glance to the side and see the shore and notice that with all your work you are only holding ground — like a big water sports treadmill.

After inching past the rail bridge, I cut to the right bank where I spotted a small cove with calm water. A wave washed into the cockpit, the icy water freezing my hip numb. So much for my plan to stay dry.

I slowly inched across, mindful of the strainer — a large toppled tree with all of its branches intact hanging in the water — immediately downstream. If I collided with the strainer, I would likely be knocked from the boat, forced underwater and held down by the power of the water rushing through the branches.

A flock of geese watched me drift into the cove exhausted. They flapped around and walked over to the bank as I landed on a sandbar.  

Photo: Shadows

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Fishing trips aren’t good for catching fish when the river is out of its banks and sweeping past your campsite.

But as long as the current doesn’t start lapping at your RV, the outings are still good for catching up with family, relaxing with a beer and frying up some fish that your wife’s uncles had frozen from an earlier excursion.

So went last fall’s annual get-together on the shores of the Iowa River. Each year, the wife’s father and uncles and cousins carve out a weekend for casting sinkers monofilament and hooks and worms into the murky water and reeling out whatever bites. That summer was the first time women folk were included, and it just happened to be the first time I had the time and the ambition — not being a fish eater and not much of a fish catcher — to attend.

It was also the first time I realized the site was only about 90 minutes away from home. And it just happened to coincide with what Midwesterners call flood-nado season.

My teenage son and his friend soon got bored of casting into the rushing river from the shore and began to make noise about taking out the uncle’s flat bottom jon boat that sat dry docked on a trailer in camp. It was obvious the boat’s motor wouldn’t be able to keep up with the current. Or it should have been obvious.

After my son attempted to argue for a boat ride a few more times, it was time to teach him to art of reading the scene.

“These guy have been fishing since before you were born, heck, since before I was born,” I told him. “They didn’t haul the boat all the way up here to park it in the campground. They want to take it out. Really bad. But they know the water. And if they aren’t launching the boat, you know there is a good reason. How about we walk grandpa’s dog.”

I had seen an old corn crim a bit downstream, and the in-laws assured me the farmer wouldn’t mind. But you never really know. We set out with cocker spaniel, working our way around the mud puddles in the dirt road before we came to the building. 

It was empty, save a rusty filing cabinet and a few spent shotgun shells scattered about. My son and his buddy scaled the ladder to explore the upper level while I looked after the dog. A few minutes later they emerged having discovered a mannequin that someone had blasted with a shotgun.

Maybe not the most wholesome thing to stumble upon, but it beats getting washed down the river.

 

Thanksgiving walk

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 Greenbelt Lake was down a bit during my Thanksgiving Day walk. The edge had receded about 20 feet from the usual shoreline, so I took the opportunity to beach-comb and look for objects that would otherwise be underwater.

Here’s a chronological list of what I found :

— Evergreen with Christmas ornaments. Just inside the treeline.

— Beaver lodge built along the treeline and starting to expand into the lake.

— Plastic fishing bobber in the sand. Green and white sphere.

— Submerged golf ball. Titliest No. 1 with a single crack in the shell. It was halfway buried in the muck, and I used a stick to dig it out and roll it shore.

— Submerged domestic beer can. Too far into the water to tell if it was opened, unable to reach it with the stick.

— Submerged golf ball. Jack Nicklaus No. 4. Used the stick to roll it in. In bad shape, appears to have undergone some terraforming.

— Fishing thing. Short plastic spike surrounded by styrofoam with a spring on one end.

— Second beaver lodge. This one blocked the beach, so I had to go up into the forest and back around. Lots of gnawed sapling stumps jutting out of the ground like punji stakes.

— Thin sheet of ice floating on the lake’s southeast edge.

— Hockey stick shaft, minus the striking surface.

 

Impromptu kayaking trip

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 6:30 a.m.: Come up with idea for an early morning kayaking trip because I can’t sleep even though it’s the weekend.

7 a.m.: Grab 4-liter Sea to Summit dry bag containing compass (in case I get lost), whistle (in case I need help) and Gerber knife (in case of something), and slip out while everyone else is asleep.

7:15 a.m.: Drive off with kayak, paddle, backup paddle (in case I lose the paddle) and life vest lashed to or otherwise stowed in the Jeep.

7:24 a.m.: Reach the shore, ease into the kayak with the plan of circling the Island of No Worries, begin paddling upstream.

7:35 a.m.: Spot a yellow and orange bobber tangled in a mass of tree limbs reaching up from the river. Liberate it with the knife (so that’s why I brought it), spot a fishing lure in the same mass and collect it as well. Continue on.

8:05 a.m.: Reach the upstream tip of the island, begin traveling downstream on the other side.

8:15 a.m.: Round the downstream side of the island and begin back upstream to the port.

8:25 a.m.: Land at a weed-covered boat ramp that I didn’t notice when I started. Load up the kayak.

8:35 a.m.,: Drop by my favorite downtown, non-franchise coffee shop, discover it doesn’t open until 9:30 a.m. on the weekend. Bah.

 

Trip Shot: Kayaking Mirror Lake

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Approaching the interstate bridge ove Mirror Lake, Wisconsin.

Kayaking
Location: Mirror Lake, Wisconsin

Conditions: Overcast, cloudy, light mist. Temps 60s F. Calm water. 

Gear: Two single kayaks, one double kayak, paddles, PFDs.

Trip shot: Dutchman’s Lost Mine

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Superstition range

Just to set the record straight, there is no chance of finding the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Mine within Lost Dutchman’s Sate Park.

Zero.

And that’s a good thing, considering the doom that befell those who found or searched for the fabled treasure trove in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

The area had been explored by the Spanish against the wishes of the Apache who held the mountains sacred, mined for silver and gold by a Mexican cattle baron and his descendants until around 1847 when they hid the mine fearing an Apache attack and annexation by the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, only to be discovered later by Jacob Walz (or Waltz), a German immigrant who was mistaken for a Dutchman (Deutsch man, Dutch man, what’s the difference) and who was known to roll into town every now and again laden with gold-rich ore in 1870s.

Walz’s home (we are using the short version of the surname to conserve valuable “t”s) was caught in a flood in 1891, and he died later that year following a lengthy illness, but not before giving clues to the mines location.

The hunt for the gold was back on, and the journey that followed is littered with headless skeletons, decapitations, disappearances, reappearances sans head, suspicious gunshot wounds, falling rocks, vague landmarks and cryptic carvings too numerous and tangled to recount here (see link below), suffice to say the evasive legend lives on.

Today, the historic miner with a misidentified country of origin is a state park on a swath of the Sonoran Desert in the shadow of the Superstition range. There is a campground, small welcome center and picnic areas. Most of the hiking trails are in the adjacent Tonto National (Cactus) Forest, as is the range itself, so mining is prohibited, as is removing anything from the federal land, down to the most insignificant pebble. If you find the mine, you can’t take any gold, but you get bragging rights and can apply for a junior park ranger patch.

As I handed the park employee the entrance fee, I asked about the estimated hiking time to Green Boulder, an outcropping with a 2,580-foot elevation (according to the map, which also instructs us not to shoot firearms near trails — so we can shoot if we are far from trails? — and to stay out of mine shafts — so maybe the mine is here somewhere?). He suggested a time and trail beyond what we had planned to spend.

We opted for a shorter walk and passed an oil painting class in a picnic area and made our way under towering saguaro cacti. My 14-year-old son learned about the jumping cholla cactus the only real way to fully understand and appreciate the jumping cholla cactus and why it is called jumping — by getting close enough to catch a pointy spine. Only one needle found him, and it only found the tip of his finger just after we warned him to keep his distance. Easily removed. This was lucky because the jumping cholla, also called the teddy bear cactus, is known to decimate small villages, according to this TV report.

After a little walking on our short trail, we decided our trail was too short. Green Boulder loomed not far off at the end of a path. It wasn’t the roundabout path the ranger had suggested, this was straight shot. My son and I decided to try it while the others chose to stay in the lowlands. It turned out to be longer than we thought, but we made good time. We enjoyed the view of the cities off on the horizon, caught our breath and rested our tired legs.

Sometimes treasure isn’t measured by dollar signs. The view was golden.

Resources …………..

For a blow-by-blow account of a modern hunt for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine with all the pitfalls and emotional peaks and valleys, check out this piece onDesertUSA

For a history of the mine and its victims try this article on Legends of America

The official Arizona state parks entry is here

Trying not to enjoy the view along the Apache Trail

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Apache Trail. (c) 2017 J.S.Reinitz

From the Phoenix-Mesa area, there are two ways to reach the secluded cliff dwellings that are the Tonto National Monument. There is the counterclockwise route, cutting south of the Superstition Mountains on Highway 60, an easy going, paved road that passes through Miami, darts west just before the mining town of Globe on Highway 188 and reaches the caves in 78 miles. 

Safe and sound.

But getting a real feel for the land means taking the northern route on Highway 88, known as the Apache Trail. While the 40-mile trail is shorter, the going is slower, and you might as well a century away.

Just past the tourist stop of Torrilla Flat, the pavement gives way to parched dirt road that winds along the cliffs and gullies carved by the Salt River and its tributaries over eons. The sometimes single-lane path is known for narrowing at curves, creating a bottleneck between a cactus-infested cliff wall for traffic on one side and thereat of a tragic plunge for traffic on the other. Some recreational vehicle rental companies prohibit their customers from exploring this road in their behemoths.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some level, low-altitude straightaways with no danger of rolling down a rocky cliff. These portions are usually marked with flash flood warning signs.

The trail had been a Native American path and old stagecoach route that was shored up in the early 1900s to transport supplies to dam projects along the Salt, according to relatives, Wiki and local tourism websites.

We opted to take the Apache Trail on our return trip from the cliff ruins partly because I wanted to stop at Tortilla Flat, but mostly because I had forgotten how slow and arduous the journey is — especially on the return route. Driving to the Tonto National Monument on the Apache Trail you get the wall side of the road, driving back you get the plummet side.

Sure, the view was spectacular. At least that’s what my passengers told me. The sights shouldn’t be enjoyed by the person behind the steering wheel, at least not for very long.

We did meet an oncoming, full-size, pull-behind travel trailer dragged by a heavy duty pickup that had a gigantic stainless steel gas grill in the backbox. We pulled over, inching toward the ledge so he could have enough room to pass.

Trip shot: Walking under waterfalls

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Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Silver Falls State Park has 10 waterfalls tucked into a lush 9,000-acre rainforest in north central Oregon. Three of the more spectacular falls are accessible by car. South Falls, North Falls and Winter Falls all have their own designated parking lots. To get to the remaining seven, you have to hoof it down dirt trails, up hills, over creeks and past cliffs. Ten waterfalls in a seven-mile loop. The cool part: You get to walk behind some of them.

My 13-year-old son and I stuffed granola bars and rain gear into our hydration packs and took off counterclockwise down the path, keeping a good pace to be mindful of our non-hiking companions who planned to mill around the main South Falls complex with its lodge snack bar and gift shop (cool purchase: trail map on a micro fiber lens cloth). I handed my son an orienteering compass and the paper map so he could practice his navigation skills. To shave off two miles and three falls, we took a shortcut at Winter Falls. So, seven waterfalls in about five miles.

 

Drake Falls, apparently a 27-foot drop

The first one we came to was Winter, which was unimpressive at the time, only a slight trickle. It was summer, so perhaps Winter Falls is more of a winter waterfalls. From there we darted north, crossed the north fork of Silver Creek and followed it downstream to Middle North Falls. Again, this wasn’t at full flow but had more water falling compared to Winter. We took the side path behind the falls, taking in a little of the spray and ending up under a cave-like overhang on the other side.

Back on the main path, we passed Drake, Lower North and Double Falls, skirting some cliffs and a viewing deck. After crossing the north fork again and waiting out a short bottleneck of hikers (some in flipflops), we followed the creek for another mile before we made a miscalculation at the confluence with the south fork where the trail split.

On paper, the Maple Ridge Trail is only one mile, compared to the 1.3 mile west branch of the Canyon Trail, with both trails ending at the trailhead. Again considering the non-hiking folk who were into hour two of milling around, we opted for the shorter Maple route. Which turned out to be uphill, and uphill, and uphill some more. Switchback after switchback. Figuring in the time to make the elevation gain and the rest breaks, the Maple trail probably took as long as the longer Canyon trail, but the Canyon trail probably had a better view.

From there, the hike ended at the centerpiece South Falls, which also boasts a walking path underneath.

More on Silver Falls from Oregon State Parks.

 

Video: Marsh kayaking

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(C)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Rivers around here have been a bit too harsh as of late. A massive storm unleashed flash flooding with creeks and streams overrunning their banks, covering roads and washing away cars, cattle, towns.

Amidst the devastation, I happened across a few unscheduled hours. And the one thing I wanted to do was take the kayak out. Luckily, there are a few lakes nearby that weren’t troubled by the downpours.
At one, I skimmed across the main pool and maneuvered into a backwater marsh where I cut through sometimes thick vegetation and floated past partially submerged trees to follow a small army of Canada geese.

Photos: Sunset ride on Cedar River

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Sunset on the Cedar River. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Sunset on the Cedar River. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

You can’t let the heat keep you down, no matter how oppressive.

Ninety-something degrees with ninety-something humidity.

In the end you have to fill up the CamelBak with ice water, abandon the air conditioning and wade out into the thick air. Climb onto the bike and pedal, don’t worry about sweating. You are going to sweat and get winded.

Take the familiar route, up one side of the river and down the other. Ease into the rush of wind as you dart down the trail.

Because, in the end, you might forget the heat and humidity, but you won’t forget the sunset.

Photos: Abandoned cement tumblers

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Some people call them junk in the woods, but for me the abandoned cement tumblers are pieces of history.

I marched the kids and two of their friends out to the site a few weeks ago as spring was fighting to take hold. The tumblers were a great place to take a break, have some snacks and let the kids climb around and jump from one to the other.

The slightly rusty cylinders are relics from the days when the nature preserve was gravel and sand pits for a cement operation. The pits have since become lakes, and trees and vegetation have reclaimed the land. 

 

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