Echo Canyon Recreation Area at Camelback Mountain Reopens with Parking Problems

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Echo Canyon Recreation Area at Camelback Mountain re-opened Wednesday morning after a yearlong closure, and excited hikers jammed the renovated parking lot.

One of the main features of the redeveloped trailhead and staging area was the expansion of the lot from 66 to 135 spaces. But rangers were turning away vehicles because the lot was too full at various times of the day.

Even larger crowds are expected on Saturday, the first weekend day after the reopening.

See also: Echo Canyon Trail at Camelback Mountain to be Slightly Longer, Less Steep; Trail Closed January 28 Until Fall -Camelback Mountain Combines Beauty, History, and Adventure in One Fragile Phoenix Park

Several times before noon, rangers were forced to put out "Lot Closed" signs and turn away vehicles. Those folks could drive back in a little while -- the lot occasionally would reopen as people finished with their hikes exited -- or find the nearest street parking more than a mile away.

Cholla Trail, the summit trail on the mountain's east side, remains open with parking on Invergordon/64th Street.

Rangers say a couple of visitors Wednesday were perturbed over the ban on dogs at Echo Canyon, which the city says will last only for six months.

Ranger R. Delgado says he was "verbally accosted" by two people before noon on Wednesday who were ticked at the dog policy. One guy drove up in a Chevy pickup with this dogs and started "dropping F-bombs" as he protested the ban. He squealed his tires as he tore off, Delgado says.

The second dog-lover pulled up in a compact car with her animal and was turned around. As she drove off, the woman yelled obscenities at rangers as she drove away.

Most people who arrived were just happy to have their favorite trail back in action. The city estimates that Camelback Mountain sees about 700,000 summit ascents annually on Echo Canyon and Cholla trails combined.

The more-popular Echo Canyon Trail on the east side, and its trailhead area, had been closed since January 28, 2013, for a long-overdue makeover.

Besides growing the parking lot, the city's $4.3 million project included smoothing out and lengthening the first section of the trail, which had become decrepit due to erosion from years of boot-steps and rainwater. New restrooms have replaced the porta-potties, new signage informs visitors about the wonders of the mountain park and warns them of its dangers, new walkways help pedestrians get around the park without being run over, and a separate road was added for residents of the small housing complex just west of the park.

New Times took some pictures and chatted with rangers and visitors at the park during Tuesday's media preview and Wednesday's reopening.

The expanded parking lot isn't the ultimate solution to Camelback parking, clearly. But more spaces will mean less tension among park users.

Delgado tells New Times he's responded to several fights over parking spaces over the years.

In 2012, before the Echo Canyon closure, a woman frustrated over the fact that she couldn't park in the lot "almost ran over" a ranger on purpose, Delgado says.

The woman refused to stop initially after Phoenix police were called, resulting in a short high-speed chase.

So much for a nice workout in a beautiful outdoor setting.

"The beginning of the trail is different, but it looks nice," says Wassim Ballan of Phoenix after completing a summit hike. "It's good to be back."

Doug Rachel of Phoenix was among the regular Echo Canyon Trail trail hikers who'd been waiting patiently for the re-opening.

The renovation was long-needed for both regulars and the many visitors to Phoenix for whom Camelback Mountain is a prime destination, Rachel says. The new access area is nice and it's great to have more parking, he says.

But overall, he found the completed project rather underwhelming.

"I think 4 million is a lot for what's been done here," he says.

While accepting of the new trail alignment, which makes the first section less steep, Rachel says he prefers the challenge of the old steps made from railroad ties.

But something else bugs him, too: "I'm a little disappointed I couldn't bring my dog anymore."

Told that the city says the ban on dogs was supposed to be temporary, Rachel says he's skeptical and believes the city will make the ban permanent.

June Norman of Connecticut and her husband usually spend their winter vacation in Palm Desert, California, but chose to stay for a couple of days in Scottsdale this year. On a whim, they decided to try Camelback Mountain this morning for the first time and found themselves in the middle of crowds of locals arriving for the much-anticipated trail re-opening. But they were able to find a spot and get some hiking in without any problem.

June didn't quite make it to the top, while her husband achieved the summit.

"I thought it was fantastic," she gushed. "It's beautiful!"

Chris Ewell, an architect for the city of Phoenix, oversaw the renovation project.

Now get out there and hike.

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