If it doesn’t spark joy

This too can spark joy.

Most everyone (in the world) has no doubt heard of the Marie Kondo Movement whereby if something doesn’t spark joy in your household, your life, your relationships, your id, your chakra, etc. that you let it go.

Since this isn’t a lifestyle blog, or a cleaning blog, or even a self help blog, I’m not going to talk about how I managed to throw out a few things in my garage. What I am going to talk about is how in my period of non-wildness, how I see things differently about those that are most assuredly still wild about the outdoors.

As most of you know, and I don’t even really like mentioning this because people DM me and tell me that I’m fishing for sympathy (thanks, btws…) but I almost died a couple Februaries ago. I suffered (and survived) a fist size blood clot in my lung which the doctors said was the largest they’d ever seen in a healthy person. I’ve cataloged here how I feel like a part of me died in that ICU and that I emerged from it a different person. Different meaning different and probably equal parts worse and better. I know that therapy could likely help me through this, but I’m at heart… very stubborn. “It is known.”

The point of this post though is that over time, I’ve grown to realize that so much of what I see is people trying to be someone they are not. In their photos, whether it be on a hike, at work, or wherever, they look hollow and empty. I admit that I am torn on a weekly basis about knowing if I need the outdoors to be whole or rather if I deprive myself from it if I’m better for the deprivation.

The people that I admire the most in the outdoors realm are those that I am certain are being who they truly are. #spon does not qualify. All that we (I) want is to love something because I love it, not because I have to (to get paid) and because I want to. Bereft of obligation, need to prove something to someone, and the need to be seen as just and right.

So what it is that sparks joy for me?

Scrabble. I love it. It mos def sparks joy. Bird watching. Yep. Grandpa absolutely likes watching birds, feeding birds, chronicling the birds I’ve seen. Baseball cards. I love reading about them, looking at prices, dreaming about buying ones that most people can’t afford to buy. My Auburn sports obsession. Final Four bayyybeeeeeee… My dogs. My kids. My family.

I’m a nerd. Deal.

You are not hiker. You are not camper. You are not backpacker. You are not climber. You are not mountain biker. You are… John, and Sally, and Gertrude, and Alice. The trap of becoming what we do is deep, dark and has no escape hatch if you fall too far into it. Be who you really are.

It sparks joy.


The Mostly Triumphant Return of Hiking Jason

IMG_1820 copy“Been on any cool hikes lately”   

‘Not really.’  ——-Me.

“That’s a shame… that’s WHO YOU ARE…”  —— Unnamed coworker

“Hey, remember that 18-mile hike you did when you said your back hurt… I looked at your track and you rode with someone the last half mile on the jeep road.  You’re a fraud, and I’m going to tell everyone…You never deserved to be in Backpacker”  —–Prominent guy in the Phoenix hiking community


I hiked today for the first time in a LONG time.  It felt good, familiar yet also foreign.  I realized oddly, that I missed the smells and the sounds alot more than I missed the sights.  My lungs were fine, one of my ankles hurt a little bit and my back hurt from the weight of the 3 gallons of water that I always take in my Camelbak, mostly out of habit.  But otherwise I was fine.

But what have I been doing for a year…

I wish I could say that I’ve been writing the next great American novel, have been in some foreign country building a water source for underprivileged children, or having founded a successful non-profit.

But I can’t.  The truth is, I’ve been doing whatever I wanted to do, which mainly has consisted of spending time at home with my family, watching sports and doing my other nerdly hobbies.

For months, I beat myself up about it…  Still do/did.  But I also realized that unlike the trails and the mountains, my family won’t always be here.  My son’s already left for college and my daughter’s about to be in the eleventh grade.  My dogs that I play with almost constantly will one day die.

But the trails will always be there.  The fact is… they don’t miss you.  They also don’t really call you.  We are called to them from within and for the last year, I just didn’t want to do it.  Hiking became work.  Work became obsession.  Accomplishments meant little because no matter what I accomplished, it wasn’t as good as someone else.  My hills and mountains weren’t the Rockies, or the Cascades, or Nepal, or insert whatever other cool place that you can imagine or have lusted over. Instead of going to Iceland to hike glaciers, I got up every morning at 5:25 and went to work.

I also became jealous and envious over time.  But not of the pretty pictures, not of the hikes, and not even of the places that my friends were going, but of their desire.  Because I didn’t have any.  None.

Truthfully, what I did have was fear.  Not of snakes or animals, but fear that I’d never have any desire to hike or go outside again.

But one thing that I have learned in a year is that what we do is not who we are, and its not what we are meant for.  Although I don’t really understand why, people tell me that I inspire them.  But as some have told me its not what I do (or in this case did) its how I care about them, tell them that I am proud of them, tell them that in many cases that I love them for who they are, and not for what they do.

Today, I still hiked over 3 miles per hour, which I suppose is probably because of my long legs.  I stopped and watched a javelina make its way down into a wash.  I took a ton of pictures for a three mile hike.  Basically, I did it my way.  I hiked for myself, and for nobody else.





Stewart Mountain(s)

20161029_094836View of Peaks 2961 and 2931

This past October, I climbed Stewart Mountain, Peak 2961 and Peak 2931. If you’re familiar with Phoenix, these peaks overlook Saguaro Lake and yield wonderful views of Four Peaks. These are my favorite type of mountains, loose pea gravel … (sarcasm)

I had arrived at the trailhead (pull off) before daybreak and used my headlamp for the first half mile or so.  Being October, I didn’t worry too terribly much about snakes (I rarely do) and saw none.  It was unseasonably warm, however maybe I should have!

But I made it first up 2961, down, then over to Stewart Mountain then over to 2931. 2931 marked what had been a long string for me of the shortest mountain being the hardest. It seemed the steepest and had the loosest scree.   These are mountains that you will not find another soul on.  Ever.  There is no trail whatsoever and there really are not any cairns either.  These are fairly safe mountains that are good for a Phoenician to introduce themselves to route finding and off trail adventure.

View of Four Peaks (and Browns Peak at far left, the County HP)

The ~1 mile boulder hopping chute down between Peaks 2961 and 2931 held a first for me. I could feel a rock I was standing on slightly vibrating from I believe a rattlesnake or two (possibly a den) below it. I looked, but never saw them and kept moving. The smooth granite boulders in the wash/draw/chute are particularly slippery and my hiking shoes were getting low on tread so that was fun. 

All in all, a great day.

20161029_082218Summit View from atop Stewart looking at the Superstition Mountains (r) and Weaver’s Needle (l)


stewart routeThe route

Hike Statistics:

3.73 miles
1819 ft AEG (Accumulated Elevation Gain)
1145 ft of actual gain
3:39 elapsed time

Trailhead coordinates:    33.588, -111.542
Vehicle needed: Passenger car is fine.  I parked off of a paved road, N. Bush Hwy.
Water sources: none 
Nearby peaks to bag:  Three in one day isn’t enough?  🙂
Permits: None


stewart profile



Governor’s Peak

20161209_090752My first glimpse of the backside of Governor’s Peak (center right near the yellow cliff bands is a false summit)

With daytime highs still around 110 here in Phoenix (Hell Portal, AZ), you’d think I was nuts to be getting the itch for peakbagging season… but dewpoints and nighttime temperatures here in the desert are finally starting to creep downward.  I’ve already begun to mentally prepare for this coming season.  

So with that said, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite peaks that I bagged last season.   And Governor’s Peak was certainly one of them.  

I began my hike by parking along Castle Hot Springs Rd. which at this point is unpaved and fairly graded.  You will have to cross a dry creek bed which the road goes over but unless it’s wet you should be fine.  I parked basically between Casa Rosa (a group of houses where desert rats live) and the actual Castle Hot Springs Resort.  Believe it or not, this resort which in the 1930s SURELY was in the middle of nowhere, and currently is only slightly less in the middle of nowhere, entertained guests such as the Rockefellers. Of note is that this is where John F. Kennedy was taken to recuperate from his wounds on PT-109 in World War II.

20161209_094518Castle Hot Springs Resort

The hike itself (route below) is fairly nondescript except the views when you enter Four Tanks Canyon are pretty epic.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 9.02.36 PMThe route
20161209_100105Views on the way up just above Four Tanks Canyon
20161209_100725Summit Views

Hike Statistics:

6.40 miles
1951 ft AEG (Accumulated Elevation Gain)
1358 ft of actual gain
3:28 elapsed time

Trailhead coordinates:    33.965, -112.343
Vehicle needed: Passenger car would be OK
Water sources: none (possible that water could be in Four Tanks Canyon, but for a 3.5 hour hike I’d just take 2-3L)
Nearby peaks to bag:  Salvation Peak is approximately .5 miles NE but much more difficult and getting to it from Governor’s would be interesting to say the least.
Permits: None


Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 9.46.02 PM


Quien Sabe (Who Knows) Peak


20161127_092257 (1)

The summit block of Quien Sabe peak (you cannot put a price on this…)

W O W… 

This is an incredible Arizona day hike

I parked at the Cave Creek TH at the Seven Springs Campground. Since it was about 5:45 when I got there and pitch dark (and also 40 degrees), I couldn’t see well enough to know that I could have parked several other places back down the road, shortening my hike. Oh well.  Extra miles and a few AEG. 

I did the standard approach. I had originally planned to just assault the Quien Sabe Peak Ridgeline from the 246 trail up what was designated as a wash on the topo map, but that looked pretty daunting. Then I changed plans to continue to go Skunk Creek Trail and intersect with the Quien Sabe Trail on the backside of the ridge. Alas, I got impatient and left that plan at a place that looked doable. I made it up to the little prairie past Peak 4545 and then to the final push to what becomes the ridgeline. After ~30 minutes, I had made the final traverse of the ridgeline and I could see what was going to be the summit. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 8.28.02 AM

The summit block is a little anti-climactic but I was very glad to have gained it. It must have been in the mid 30s at the summit and there were so many clouds, I actually was hoping to see a random flake but alas, no. 

Then I made a fateful (for my legs) decision. Go back the way I came, which was a known route, not really that steep but would take me ALL THE WAY back down the ridge, OR descend off the summit block down what was the actual wash that leads to Quien Sabe Spring. 

Let’s see the spring he said. It will be fun he said. 

It wasn’t. 

I was literally crashing and surfing down the thickest catclaw acacia that I have ever seen. My legs don’t even look like legs anymore they are so scratched, gouged, and bloody! 

Finally, I got down near the spring proper. 

It was a *&^&%&* rusty pipe. Not even a spring or any water etc. S O A B.  (Editors note: We Arizonans geek out over water and particularly flowing water…)

But, at least I was close to where I had originally hiked and back on the 246 trail. 

After that, it was pretty much all downhill from there and I was down near the Cartwright Ranch in no time. If that was a real ranch, I’d like to work there as a ranch hand. That little valley there is beautiful. 

So, all in all a GREAT hike. This was a top 5 outdoor experience for me in Arizona. For sure.


The aftermath after I was on my way back down.  It was magic.  I have to find it again.

Monuments for All


I refuse to call these folks by their titles because none of them have earned them, but yesterday Ryan Zinke, U.S. Department of the Interior… person… said that monuments would not be eliminated but some would probably have boundary changes. Back in June, myself and numerous other bloggers gave our voices to the situation. If you’d like to read the articles that we all collectively wrote, Sara Beth Davis wrote an excellent recap along with Scott Jones. Please contact your representative if you feel as we do.

Below is the post that I wrote back in June about the Monumental Day of Blogging

When my friend Scott Jones at Just Get Out More asked me to contribute for A Monumental Day of Blogging, I was initially honored but also at once deflated.  You see, frankly, in many cases, National Monuments and sometimes even National Parks, aren’t always my thing.  I get itchy in crowds.  I feel sometimes constricted.  I don’t like the noise.  I complain internally about the commercialization, the cheap plastic trinkets, and the stuffed animals in the Gift Shop that aren’t indigenous to the area.

Now, I certainly realize that there are crowded monuments, and there are monuments that may not see a visitor a day. And that’s what is great about them.  They’re like America, different but alike.  Similar yet unique.

Scott and I camped together recently, and I told him that what I like best about our Monuments, and for that matter, our public lands in general is the fact that they truly belong to all of us.  They aren’t reserves or preserves for the rich and powerful, the landed gentry, the captains of industry.

These lands belong to the economically challenged, the dirtbag hippies coasting in on a diminished tank of gas without money for their next tank. African American, Asian, all colors, all races, all creeds.  There’s something uniquely American about cramming your vehicle with as many people as it will hold and simply paying your entrance fee at the gate.  All their money is good. No portfolio stuffed with stocks and bonds matters at that gate, they wave you on through.  They’re for people like my friend @halfpint22 that go to them in winter when no one else is there because it’s hard, not because its easy.  They’re for people like my mother-in-law, that just want to visit the visitor’s center and buy a T-shirt.

Others will speak much more elegantly to the history of the monuments, the facts, the economic impact, the ROI vs. expenditures and other such terms.

I prefer to tell you how public lands make me feel. 

In a word, they make me feel American.  They make me feel proud.  They make me feel pride inside that people that came before us gave a damn about their country.  They gave a damn about the land, about the meandering streams, the babbling brooks, the misty morning meadows and the massive mountains.  Buildings made from adobe, brick, wood and steel.  With skies above them so beautiful they make you cry.

But as the title of this post implies, the monuments are in peril.  Frankly, America is in peril.  I’m convinced that many of us are going to have to fight to keep some of these spaces.  Some will and some won’t.  That’s the way of it.

But I’m willing to fight for public lands.  I’m willing to fight with my words, with my brain, and with my heart.  I don’t have money, I don’t have influence.  But I have a voice.  But just like one voice is relatively quiet, many voices are loud. Now more than ever, our monuments need your voice.  They need your tweets, your blog posts, your letters to your elected officials.  They need you to show others why they are important.  Why they are sacred to both Native Americans and to tourists.

They need us.  

They need all of us.  

Because they’re facing the fight of their lives.

Will you answer the call?

Best Hikes in Phoenix you’ve never heard of: Mount Ord from Slate Creek



Ord Route

Where is it: In the Tonto National Forest and in the greater Mazatzal Mountains.

How do you get there: About 38.3 miles past the intersection of Shea Blvd. and SR 87 Beeline Hwy. about 2/3 of the way to Payson, AZ.  TH Coordinates: 33.9601, -111.39841

Lists of John link: http://listsofjohn.com/peak/17292

What kind of hike is it:  Instead of an out and back, its an up and down.  There are likely some limited connecting routes out here as well and opportunities for backpacking/overnights.

How long is it: ~15.50 miles from the Slate Creek TH to the summit and back down. (RT)

Accumulated Elevation Gain: ~4100 ft.

What trails are involved: A couple of Forest Roads. You’d have to be the worst navigator ever to get lost here…

How long will it take: Between 5.5 hours and 7 hours depending on your speed

Is it scary:  Not in the least.  This is Class 1 trail (road walk) the entire way to the summit.

What animals might you see: Coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, elk, Arizona black rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Gila monster, white tail deer, human hunters

Do I need water:  Always as there are not really any water sources close by the trail. Bring at least 3.5L.

Who will like this hike: This may very well be the easiest 7128 foot mountain in the world to climb. It’s a good opportunity for a beginner to get their first ‘tall mountain’ exposure.  You don’t need ANY navigational skills to reach the summit.

For more info:  http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=1640

Hiking Jason rating: 4 hiking boots out of 5

This is probably the easiest tall mountain in Arizona.  It very well may be your first introduction to a ‘big mountain’ and its perfect for beginners that want to begin some elevation goals.  Very likely, for many, this may be the tallest mountain they’ve ever climbed.  The trail begins just off of the Beeline Hwy at Slate Creek.  While there are some nice views on the way up, the best views are from the summit.  This hike is what I like to call an achievement hike.  Meaning that the purpose of this hike is to teach yourself that you belong on big mountains, that you really can do 4000+ AEG in one day, and that you can hike nearly 16 miles.  Trust me, YOU can do this hike.  

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be super excited about a hike that consists of ONLY a jeep road for the entire length of it.  But its pretty along the hike, there are some great views of the Mazatzal Mountains and you’ll be excited to be on a big mountain. And Ord is a BIG mountain.  It seems MUCH taller than it really is from the trailhead.  It LOOKS 10,000 feet, but its very deceptive.  There are tons of shady spots along the way to have lunch or take a break.

This hike is a confidence building hike.  It may be good preparation for you for climbing taller mountains in Flagstaff, the White Mountains, etc.

I highly recommend that you check out this hike.

Let me know what you think!