by Dave Baker Friday, December 4th 2009

In October 2008, I had the good fortune to walk a cross country backpacking loop off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were a party of six, and when it came time to figure out how we would divvy up group gear, trip member Bob Wade kindly volunteered to “bring evening cocktails”. We wisely accepted Bob’s offer, and after the first evening’s happy hour realized we had made a very good decision indeed. The nightly cocktails were a huge hit, and after the trip I begged Bob for the recipe.

Dragon Creek drainage

Working up a thirst in the Dragon Creek drainage

Apparently, a passage mentioning backcountry margaritas in the guidebook we referenced while planning the trip caught Bob’s eye. Thus inspired, one evening Bob recruited his wife Ruth to help concoct a suitable mixture. As Bob later reported, the two spent a pleasant night mixing, taste testing, remixing and taste testing again (and again) before settling upon a splendid and lightweight backcountry margarita mix. Bob admitted, “Ruth did the hard, creative work; I mostly taste tested.”

Ruth's recipe

The evening’s test results

Ruth and Bob have graciously agreed to share their backpackable margarita recipe:


(Makes sixteen - 8 oz. drinks)

1 package Kool-Aid w/ 1 cup sugar - lemonade flavor

1 tub Crystal Lite (enough to make 2 quarts) - orange flavor

(Combine Kool-Aid, Crystal Lite, and sugar to create powdered drink mix)

12 oz. Tequila

12 oz. EverClear

To make one cocktail:

1 rounded tablespoon of drink mix

¾ oz. (also ½ shot) Tequila

¾ oz. (also ½ shot) Ever Clear

(total of 1 shot or 1 ½ oz alcohol)

1 cup (8 oz) water

Ice (ha ha ha)


Bob and Ruth own and operate the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, one of the very finest outdoor specialty stores in all of America. Stop by when you are in the area and say hi.

Gear | Trips

Red Rocks and Psychics

by Dan Davis Saturday, November 28th 2009

There is an intense and spiritual place at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona where canyons, spires and mesas are carved into and out of the red sandstone layers.

Often associated with vortexes, crystals and new age psychics, there is no question that there is something special going on around Sedona. But it has nothing to do with vortexes.  I have experienced the same feelings deep in Matcatamiba Canyon and in the middle of the Pinacate - it is simply the land.

Sedona 1 
Canyons, Buttes, Mesas and Slickrock around Sedona

So, go ahead get it out of your system and look at the t-shirts, aromatherapy oils and past life regression astrology reports in the shops in Sedona.  Then head out of town and into the canyons and along the slickrock where the magic is real and the mysteries are free.

For hiking opportunities, this country is hard to beat. If you want a beautiful, intimate and easy hike to introduce yourself to the canyons, head west out Dry Creek Road to Fay Canyon, Boynton Canyon’s less visited sister.  Grab your camera and a set of trekking poles and enjoy the three mile round trip hike up the canyon that takes you by Fay Arch.  Continue on up the canyon beyond the arch for a private glimpse of this diverse ecosystem and remnants of an ancient dwelling. Throw in a few more ravens and it would be perfect.

Sycamore Canyon, western neighbor of the more famous Oak Creek Canyon and considered more scenic by many, is accessible by foot and an ideal place to go for some secluded backpacking or longer day hikes.  Trailhead access is west of Cottonwood as well as south of Williams up on the rim.  There are more difficult hiking and backpacking opportunities in the Red Rocks/Secret Mountain Wilderness Area.  Administered by the Coconino National Forest, find more information at

Oak Creek Canyon, with its more than 5 million visitors a year (more than the Grand Canyon), is full of swimming holes, hiking, campgrounds and fly fishing.  I’ve been assured that brown trout lurk in the upper sections of the creek, but brookies are the only ones that seem to like my flies.  This is an ideal place to go hiking with children because it has it all – easy trails, scenic beauty, natural and cultural history, and perhaps most importantly, the classic childhood boredom remedies of wading and looking under rocks.  In warmer weather, consider a hike into the West Fork in the canyon.  Water shoes or sandals are a must, as there are many creek crossings on this magnificent hike.  The parking area fills up early, especially on weekends, so try this one during the week.

A drive up the 13 mile historic Schnebley Hill Road dirt road affords sweeping panoramas of the region.  The road is a bit bumpy but suitable for passenger cars. You can’t go wrong stopping anywhere along the road and taking a short walk along the canyon floor.  After a climb of over 2.000 feet to the overlook, turn around and head back into Sedona or continue on to I-70 through the ponderosa forests if you are going on to Flagstaff or Phoenix.

Sedona 2
Canyon hike west of Sedona, Dry Creek/Vultee Arch Road

Prehistoric rock art and ruins dot the region.  Palatki and Honanki ruins west of Sedona, and Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot and the V Bar V Heritage Site in the Verde Valley are just a few worth visiting.  Try the drive out Dry Creek Road west of Sedona, past Doe Mountain and Palatki Ruins and Red Canyon to Loy Butte and park along the road where there are no other vehicles.  Wander along the southern face of the butte, perhaps the most sacred place (in my mind, at least) in the area.  Strange feelings surround this spot.  Stop at one of the ancient dwellings at the base of the cliffs, sit quietly and experience it without conversation and your drive back out will be much different than your trip in.

Winter is no excuse to stay home.  If you are lucky enough to be there after the intense quiet of a fresh snowfall, white covering the vibrant reds and greens and the cobalt sky covering it all is not something you will forget.  Wander down to Oak Creek where the lazy summer pools, riffles and waterfalls are all of a sudden sparkling crystalline sculptures and sit and listen to them awhile.
You may even start to wonder if there really is more to it than simply the land.

Sedona 3
Sandstone towers along Schnebley Hill road

Looking for an alternative to expensive or chain dining?   If so, the Page Springs Café, about 12 miles south of Sedona off of highway 89A on the Page Springs Road is the place.  Overlooking Oak Creek, the café’s rustic setting, good food, reasonable prices and charm is the signature of this local favorite that’s been there forever. 
Red Rock Passes are required to park along the roadside in the area and can be purchased at many locations around Sedona.  The full range of lodging is available in the area.  Some Forest Service campgrounds in Oak Creek Canyon are closed in winter, so check before you go.  Primitive car camping is permitted on adjacent Forest Service land.


Dan Davis Joins Our Blog

by Dave Baker Friday, November 27th 2009

A soft spoken man with a wonderfully understated sense of humor stopped by the Summit Hut in 1999, asking if there were any positions open.

Dan Davis had just retired from a distinguished career with the National Park Service, where he had spent time in such magnificent locations as Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon National Parks. After relocating in Tucson, Dan was looking for “maybe six months or so” of work and we were delighted to have him join our staff, and even more delighted when the “six months” stretched to a full ten years with the Summit Hut!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis, on location

Dan has retired again (maybe), this time with plans to wander and travel the beautiful landscapes of the American Southwest and pursue his passion for photography (check out his photo site here).

Happily, Dan has accepted our invitation to author blog stories and show off  some of his photos here on Trail Talk – thanks Dan!

Stay tuned.


Grand Canyon Reservation System Change?

by Dave Baker Friday, November 20th 2009

Grand Canyon National Park is proposing a change to the procedure for reserving backcountry permits for overnight wilderness camping in the Canyon.

Under the current system users who are able to show up in person at the Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim when permits first become available get first shot at reservations, ahead of those who mail or fax their requests to the office. Reservations are made available on the first day of the month, four months before a user’s proposed trip start month.

On the Cranberry Route

For example, October is one of the two most popular months for wilderness outings in the Canyon, and permit reservations first become available four months earlier on June 1st. A couple of years ago I drove to the South Rim on a June 1st to get an October trip reservation, and was very surprised to find myself in line with well over a hundred people jockeying for the opportunity to get the permit they desired. There were plenty of locals in line but I talked to others who had come from as far away as Seattle! Permit requests that were arriving in the office on that June 1st via fax and mail were ignored by the reservation staff until all of the people present in person had an opportunity to place their requests.

The Park Service thinks this is unfair (I do too, even though I currently have the “local advantage”), and is proposing a change that will put all users on a more equal footing for getting the permit they desire. The Park wants to eliminate in-person requests during the first month of the four month early reservation period. So, in the first of the four months prior to a trip start, virtually all users would have to apply via fax or mail, and all such applications would be processed in the order received by the reservation office. In months two, three and four, walk-up users would again have an opportunity to be “first in line” on days they might show up in person at the office.

Commercial users and locals probably won’t like the proposed change, but I think its a good way to go. The Park is considering implementing this system or something like it as early as February, 2010.

Grand Canyon National Park describes these changes on this web page. Information about the current reservation system is available on the Park’s Backcountry Permit web page. You can also read  more about this in an Arizona Daily Sun article.  


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!