I’m a man who likes to walk around this remarkable state. While I normally hike plenty, some years I up the ante. I set a goal of hiking at least 1,000 miles during a calendar year. That was my plan for 2018. Here are a few favorite trails and memories from my 1,000-mile year.
RENEGADE TRAIL, SCOTTSDALE
1/24/18 Miles to date: 88
Winter breaks against the hard spine of desert and dissolves in a balmy puddle. While other parts of the country are battered by storms, I’m in shorts walking beneath a fluttery desert sun. It takes a few miles just to reach curvy Renegade Trail as it swoops through clusters of tawny boulders interrupted by cactus fields. It’s one of the lonely pathways carved from the northern portion of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Mostly level, it climbs up and over a couple of low ridges offering expansive views. Wild country surrounds me on all sides, yet I’m still in Scottsdale. That’s the power of a trail.
ESPERERO TRAIL, TUCSON
3/10/18 Miles to date: 275
Dark clouds can’t keep me off the trail on a March day in Tucson. I hiked into Sabino Canyon, carved from the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Desert dwellers are cynics when it comes to rain. We never believe it will happen until we’re dripping wet. So imagine my delight when a mile down the trail, the impossible occurred. A slow, flirty drizzle began, dancing on my hat brim with feet of sugar. It washed dust off bird feathers, gave lizards a back massage and triggered the haunting perfume of wet desert. Suddenly anything seems conceivable. Miracles do happen. It has rained in the desert.
RED MOUNTAIN TRAIL, FLAGSTAFF
5/20/18 Miles to date: 531
Red Mountain is one of hundreds of cinder cones dotting the landscape between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. What makes this one special is it’s missing a chunk of its side. Hikers follow a sandy path and can walk right into the core of an ancient volcano. It’s an intriguing cul-de-sac full of twisted spires, colorful cinder pillars and contorted walls, all fringed by a thin screen of pine trees. The amphitheater reminds me of a pintsized Bryce Canyon, and I enjoy an afternoon of scrambling and climbing in the nooks and crannies.
AIRPORT LOOP TRAIL, SEDONA
7/13/18 Miles to date: 677
Sedona’s small airport sits atop a mesa ringed by this high shelf of a trail. Views of iconic formations are on display while following the path. These red rocks are breath-snatching at any time, but especially charming on a monsoony day of distant storms streaked with light. It was a dance of sun and shadow beneath a sky both bruised and radiant. Every place has a “golden hour.” In Arizona, we just happen to have bouquets of them throughout our summer afternoons.
CONE MOUNTAIN, SCOTTSDALE
9/6/18 Miles to date: 843
No surprise, but I have the trail to myself on a toasty summer morning. Located in the popular Brown’s Ranch area of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, this trail bustles with hikers fall through spring, which is the logical time to go. But logic and I are barely on speaking terms. No one becomes a desert rat due to an abundance of common sense. I’m here because I love this rough land all year long. The trail throws a lasso around distinctive Cone Mountain, weaving among saguaro sentinels. On the backside, big boulder slabs add texture to the slope. The snarling heat bullies me, but I ignore it. I’m close to something here — the Earth’s beating heart. I just know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
Constellation Trails, Prescott
9/25/18 Miles to date: 912
Located directly across from the Phippen Museum in Prescott, the Constellation is a network of interconnected loops that weave among the rugged boulder fields of the Granite Dells, a field of exposed bedrock gnawed by erosion. Rounded yet lumpy, wrinkled yet smooth, these sculpted stones are stacked up the slope toward an imposing ridgeline. There are plenty of great picnic spots and I regret not having a sandwich handy. Enjoying a peaceful jaunt into the Arizona countryside while having a snack is my idea of a good day. The little pathways lined with scrub oak thread their way through the formations and allow for multiple routes and viewpoints of Arizona’s amazing bone structure.
Lime Kiln Historic Wagon Trail, Cottonwood
10/22/18 Miles to date: 1,004
On an exquisite autumn day I hiked into the limestone hills above the Verde River through long grass meadows that ramble toward the wall of red cliffs that define Sedona. This was once part of the wagon road used by Sedona farmers to haul produce to the miners in Jerome. Today, the trail stretches 15 miles from Dead Horse Ranch State Park to Red Rock State Park. I bite off six beautiful miles beneath an azure sky stacked with clouds, and just like that, I am over 1,000.
Of course, I didn’t stop there. I’ll continue hiking through December 31 but 2018 marks the sixth year that I’ve topped 1,000 miles. It’s just something I do for me—for my health, spirit and peace of mind. Every one of those miles serves as a sweet reminder of what I love most about living in Arizona, where wild country lies just outside my door. And no matter where I travel to in this remarkable state, I can find trails that lead to epic scenery, cradling solitude and a seductive horizon.