July 29, Sunday: A hiking window opens, a break in the withering summer heat of the desert. It is 88 degrees, sunny and muggy at 10:45 a.m. That may sound awful if you live in Seattle. But in Phoenix we call it a respite. I’m thinking a hike at North Mountain Park is in the offing for this evening, the first “wilderness” hike I’ve done since June 18. In the meantime, lounging in the house, I have just read an op-ed column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, “Blissfully Lost In The Woods.” Kristof and 14-year-old daughter are backpacking a 200-mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon. He offers an antidote to “our postindustrial self-absorption.” Says he, “Take a hike,” and tosses out a depressing stat: Back-country campers in our national parks have decreased by almost 30 percent since 1979. That can’t be good for future preservation of our wilderness areas. As I wait for the evening’s sojourn, I toy with nature from inside cool walls. I capture a beautiful Green June Beetle in my specimen jar, the plump one-inch beetle having attached itself somehow to a screen in the living room. Glossy green and iridescent with golden edges, I can not think of a more handsome insect. I set it free on the front lawn and soon it is gone. . . . North Mountain Park, inner basin west. It is 6:40 p.m. and a cool, yes, cool 81 degrees, when Nebra and I hit the trail in a steady monsoon-season rain. Half-dozen other vehicles are parked at the 7th Ave trailhead. “Perfect weather, huh?” says a man passing by, going out in a hurry with a backpack. He’s joking, I’m not. “Amen,” I say. “Amen.” Nebra’s hacked. Her newly coiffed hair is wet and flat. She’ll need a lot of product when she gets home. First time either of us has hiked in this much rain since Bryce Canyon, in Utah, years ago. I count two other hikers and five bikers before we get back to the car in semi-darkness. I let out a big hoo-ray. I’ve at the last minute gotten in a July hike.
July 31, Tuesday: North Mountain Park, inner basin/east. I sit by my car in the parking lot waiting for a powerful thunderstorm to declare itself. At last, the dark and rumbling clouds move east. It is only then that I hit the trail. It is 4:45 p.m. as I head out toward the dam, then cut back on the Shaw Butte Trail to the divide. For the first 30 minutes I see no one. As I try to shoot a photo of a Say’s Phoebe rustling in a sere bush, I hear the crunch, crunch of a jogger behind me. I turn to see a man in his 50s, tan and slender and wearing nothing but blue shorts and running shoes. He halts to ask if I will take a photo of him with his small camera. I shoot a couple, then he’s off to complete a 5-mile trot around Shaw Butte. “I don’t run all the way,” he says with a toothy smile. Although it is partly cloudy with a westerly breeze. The air varies warm to stinging hot. Returning on the Christiansen Trail, I’m rewarded with the view of a rainbow, just a small arc of a larger one others at a different locale may be able to see. High up on North Mountain, a few hikers pound the paved trail to the summit. Down here, I count a meager number of five others on the trails, the fewest I’ve ever seen on an outing in this park. Three joggers, a biker and a hiker. No one but a dedicated masochist would hike out here in the sapping heat of July. I do about 2 1/2 miles in an hour of leisurely walking. To my surprise, I completed two hikes, not just one, for the month.