Saguaro Census 2010

by Dave Baker Wednesday, January 6th 2010

Its census time again. Saguaro National Park is looking for volunteer help to conduct the third Saguaro Census since 1990. The Park conducts a saguaro cactus census every ten years, which curiously coincides with the U.S. national population census.


This past November, four Summit Hut staff volunteered for census work with the Park as part of our 100 Days of Service program, where Summit Hut donates staff time and labor to local environmental and outdoor causes.

We had a great time counting and measuring cactus, and contributing to the knowledge and understanding of the Park’s saguaro population. Plus we learned a whole lot about the health of our saguaro forests and the local ecology along the way.

The Park could use your help too. Its fun! Six census outings are planned for January, beginning January 8th.

Read more about the Saguaro Census here.

To make a volunteer reservation and get more information, contact Don Swann or Kim Diamond at 520.733.5178, or email


Phoneline Trail

by Dave Baker Tuesday, December 29th 2009

There is little doubt that Sabino Canyon is the most visited recreation area in southern Arizona. Surrounded by the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Sabino Canyon is wild and spectacular, yet very easy to access from the Tucson area. Most visitors ride a commercial tram or walk the road (closed to traffic) that runs four miles along the canyon bottom from the Visitor’s Center. An alternate way to reach the end of the road is to hike the Phoneline Trail, which traverses the steep and rugged canyon wall hundreds of feet above the creek bed.

Phoneline Trail was built in the early 1900's to facilitate the construction of a proposed dam about a mile beyond the end of the current roadway. Happily, the dam was never built. As you travel the trail, watch for a few remaining rusted poles that once supported the phone line for which the trail is named. A long section of the Phoneline Trail is surprisingly level, allowing you to fully enjoy the many commanding views of Sabino Canyon that the trail is well known for.

Thimble Peak

Thimble Peak rises above Sabino Canyon and the Phoneline Trail

There are many ways to enjoy the Phoneline Trail. My favorite is to make a loop by walking up the 5.2 mile Phoneline Trail and then return to the Visitor’s Center via the road in the canyon bottom. This loop is about 9 miles long and involves a 930 foot climb to reach the flattish sections of the trail.

Or, you might chose to purchase tickets at the Visitor’s Center, ride a tram to the end of the road and then walk the Phoneline Trail back to the parking lot. This 5.2 mile walk involves about a 330 foot elevation gain.

You can also create a shorter 3.6 mile loop by taking advantage of the Phoneline Link Trail, which leaves the Phoneline Trail about 1.75 miles from the Visitor’s Center and switchbacks down to the canyon bottom and the road below.

Phoneline Trail

Long sections of the Phoneline Trail are nearly level

Park your car at the entrance of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a short drive from mid town Tucson. This is a fee area. To pick up the lower end of the Phoneline Trail leave the east end of the parking lot and follow a wide dirt path east until it joins a paved road. Continue east on the paved road as it swings into the bottom of Sabino Creek and a road junction where a sign will guide you right towards Bear Canyon. Just after crossing Sabino Creek, watch for the trailhead, marked by a sign “Phoneline Tr. #27”. A few steps from the pavement, turn left (north) onto the Phoneline Trail. From this point, it is about 4.5 miles to the end of the trail and the junction with the road’s end in Sabino Canyon.

McFall Crags

McFall Crags seen from the Phoneline Trail

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be very hot, especially in the summer. (The hike does receive quite a bit of traffic in the summer months; an early start and plenty of water are recommended.)

Water: None. Bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Moderate; up to 9 miles with a 930 foot elevation gain.

Maps: USGS Sabino Canyon, AZ ; Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.


 Click map for larger image



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.


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!