Break out of the concrete jungle
A lot of people can’t hike with me. I have a horrible tendency to look into every detail of new environments. Anyone who has walked anywhere with me, even on city blocks, notices my eyes looking skyward to analyze a tree form or leaf shape. Some may not care to hear about the life cycle of an oak gall wasp. Fine. I get that.
However, here is a list of some of the best parks, wilderness areas, and forests I’ve ever experienced. Now you may see some of the best ecological variation without having to hear me use the term “alluvial plain” or “leaf dessication.”
Saguaros are the typical cactus form. The truth is, though, these giants are found within a rather small area in central to southern Arizona. The fluted cacti tower above heads in this park, some over 20 feet. The area features other shocking plants, such as the green snakelike ocotillo which are often 10 feet tall and flower bright yellow. Agave stretch a single stem 12 feet skyward to bloom fire orange before dying. Come in the late spring (now!) to see the epic display.
Along higher elevations, entirely different plant species exist, such as ponderosa pine and spruce. Hiking to the higher elevations of Mica Mountain provides new views and ecosystems to explore.
Wildlife abounds as well. Woodpeckers and owls burrow into saguaros for a well-protected fortress to call home. Coyotes, fox, jack rabbits, rattle snakes, and even black bears live in this area.
The jagged mountains cut into the Arizona skyline are shale and sandstone. They provide for shockingly linear overhangs and edges.
Check out any trails that go along the Rincon mountains. Specifically, the trail that climbs Tanque Verde Ridge to the summit, or Hope Camp Trail for some awesome views.
Hidden outside one of the ugliest, most tourist towns (Nashville) are the pristine Smokeys. Make the drive into the park as the sunrises to see the purple majestic fog circling the peaks. This park is highly regulated in terms of who camps where- reservations are required. Offices open at 8 a.m. Be there at seven a.m.
A must see is Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. Sugarland Mountain trail walks you right along a ridge allowing for 360 degree breathtaking views. Make sure to get some hiking through the bottom lands below Clingman’s for spectacular views of the peaks, as well as river crossings.
You will meet flowing streams quite regularly, which is a relief from carrying water on your back. Be sure to rent buy or steal a water filter, and not those chlorine tablets.
Fall offers the best leaf color. Beware hikers: black bears! This park has more black bears than any other in the country. Permanent bear bag pulleys are located on camping sites.
First, this not a national park. It’s not a national forest. It’s a wilderness. No roads. No machines. No man made anything. This is the most pristine area I have ever ventured to. No human sounds can be heard. This will be the best sunset you’ve ever seen.
A visit to the International Wolf Center and a viewing of the “leave no trace” video allows you to enter the wilderness. The trails put into the BWCAW are the best I’ve ever seen. Footbridges carry you over bogs full of black spruce, to lime stone cliffs jutting out over lakes, and across every terrain in between. Mosquito nets and a few bottles of 100 percent deet insect repellent are requisite during the summer months, which is the best time to go and experience amazing weather.
Day trips can be fun (be sure to check out the pictographs all over the area), but you really must spend the night. Sunsets and stars, a long with the haunting calls of loons make the night the best time to appreciate this park.
Canoe rental is cheap in town, and they can help you plan your trip. Portaging the short distances between the lakes becomes an adventure in and of itself.
I recommend you get a hold a trail map before you head to your park or wild area of choice. It’ll help you plan out the sites you simply must see. Also, contact the park office to find out their policy on issues such as dogs, reservations, guns, and alcohol.