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Sun, Nov. 17

Johnson: Hiking the urban, wildland interface on the Iron King Trail
Column: Hiking Arizona

Ted Johnson takes a photo at Iron King Trail. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

Ted Johnson takes a photo at Iron King Trail. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

Two hikers expressed concern, maybe alarm, over the apparent demise of their beloved Iron King Trail. When a new housing development gets plopped down in the middle of a trail you frequently utilize, such concern is understandable. So, one damp day I decided to check it out.

I started at the official trailhead on the east side of Glassford Hill Road north of Spouse. Unfortunately, the official trailhead lacked any updated information on changes in route, parking, plans, etc. So, I followed my nose west through new construction and soon found myself watching a Pronghorn Antelope weave its way through the same obstacle course. He was joined by a Roadrunner and a variety of birds chirping in the underbrush nearby.

In spite of my assumption that development automatically means a decline in wildlife populations, sometimes the opposite turns out to be the case. Depending on the species, some find that they are safer and better fed near people, as long as they have a means of retreat to natural habitats. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

The further west I went, the more confused I got. I passed behind a house with a low back fence. Two people were in the yard and when they saw me, they asked, “What kind of critter are you?” I asked them what kind of critter they were but we could not decide on who was the monkey-see and who was the monkey-do.

he better half of the pair (the woman) directed me to where the trail continued. Later I emailed Brian Witty, Director of Parks and Recreation in Prescott Valley for clarification. He indicated that the trailhead would be relocated west of the present location in the not too distant future. Once I got back on track, I noticed that there were few others on the trail. It was Saturday. I concluded that the light rain might have discouraged others from hiking. However, when you have the chance to hike in the rain, in Arizona, that’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. You just have to be prepared.

Since most hikers in Arizona are from wetter places, I assume that they would be more familiar with wet weather hiking than I, but you never know. The low use may have also been due to uncertainty or lack of appeal due to the residential development. Having hiked in Phoenix for years, I got accustomed to hiking within sight of rooftops, yards, highway noise, etc. Yet, for many, that’s something they gladly left behind. In that case, trails in the Prescott National Forest would offer a more remote feel while still being convenient.

As with anything, pick your poison. As you continue west along the Iron King Trail, you soon find yourself in the Dells and all the civilized sights fade away. A biker passed me as I approached the Dells. He pointed out a herd of 20 Mule Deer up ahead. Nice!

In spite of development, changes in trail conditions and confusion, the wildlife encounters, cool conditions, and cordial conversation made for a great hike.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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