A hiker’s journal: October 2012

Last entry first.

October 21, Sunday:  North Mountain Park, Inner Basin.  For almost as long as I’ve been hiking, and that’s many years now, I’ve named landmarks along my routes.  These anonymous landmarks help me find my way in strange territory and remain in use even in a park like this that I’ve hiked dozens of times.  As I hike this evening with Nebra, we cross a small ravine I call “Coyote Holler.”  It is here along the Shaw Butte Trail, in the absolute center of the park that I have often heard coyotes howling and yipping from perhaps 100 yards away, down in an even larger ravine where no trails go.  Coming back in the dark, I see the outline of “Calvary Hill.”  It is the big hill above the Visitors Center, and on top of it is a large saguaro with two arms both perpendicular to the ground and reminds me of a cross.  Approaching the parking lot, I hear the distant calls of what I think is an owl.  Possibly it comes from “Owl Hill,” at the other end of the park where I saw the silhouette of a hooter last spring.  Some of my names need more creativity.  Nebra chided me as we passed “Limp Cactus,”  a leaning red compass barrel that caring hikers have propped up with rocks.  I doubt I’ll have to worry about “Limp” much longer.  It is dying and about to break in two.

October 14, Sunday:  North Mountain Park, Inner Basin.  I’m suspicious now of that old saying, “I could do this or that with my eyes closed.”  Believing it more or less true, I tried hiking some of the way through the park on a moonless night. I had done these inner-basin trails dozens of times and thought I knew every turn.  Lights are few here in the middle of the city.  The yellow  light on North Mountain’s towers gate glows faintly, and residential lights in the distant west do nothing to help find the rocky Christiansen Trail.  I lower my eyes trying not to look more than three or four feet in front.  I notice right away as I drop into gullies that the sense of depth is tricky.  Glad I have a trekking pole with me.  As I near the 7th Ave trailhead, I veer off to the right.  It doesn’t look right.  I’m too far north of the cluster of small homes about 100 yards away.  I retrace my steps, get back on the main trail and eventually find the palo verde tree I mark for a turn off to the parking lot.  Sometimes you do need your eyes.

October 11, Thursday:  North Mountain Park, Inner Basin.  Walking west into a dying sun, I see from a distance “white flowers” at the branch-ends of the small-leaf Palo Verde.  I stop to take a look.  They are not flowers at all.  They are enclosed webs that appear white only because they are backlit by the sun.  These webs, I believe, are spun by Palo Verde fall webworms, aka Palo Verde webbers.  The webworms are actually little caterpillars feeding off those tiny leaves and sometimes the bark.  The Palo Verde, I’ve read, is resilient to this attack and so there is no need for alarm.  The webworms are on every Palo Verde I pass along the trail and play a role in the park’s ecology as food for birds and lizards.   It is a moody day with beautiful thunderclouds to the northeast holding a threat of rain.  All is part of our transition from summer into autumn here in the Sonoran Desert.

October 8, Monday:  North Mountain Park, Inner Basin.  Sunny, 89 F when I head out from the VC.  We’ve entered a cooler phase and the three-digit temps are behind us.  I hope.  Here at 5:30, mountain shadows cover the basin, a soothing west breeze stirs the creosote slightly.  I pass a stout young woman with a huge backpack, the largest I’ve seen in this park.  No bedroll, nothing else to indicate an overnight.  I want to ask her if she’s in training for Grand Canyon rim-to-rim or something.  But I don’t want to scare her and so say nothing.   American women are very touchy about strange men at dusk.  For the longest time it’s unusually quiet.  Not one peep from a Gambel’s quail.  Arizona is now into the fourth day of quail season, and although no hunting is allowed in the park, I wonder if over the years hunting season has became stamped in the Gambel’s DNA.  I’m more than half way into the 2-mile jaunt when I finally hear chirping and see a covey of quail running up out of a ravine.  I love those quail sounds.  They make me happy.  I’m a big note taker, and today I stop to jot down time and distances.  Like “Jct, amphi, 1810, 3,455”  I write to designate I’ve reached the old amphitheater and a connector trail at 6:10 p.m.  The last figure is the number of steps out from the VC according to my pedometer.  I allow 2,200 steps to a mile.  It’s 6:30 when I get back to the starting point.  The sky is still blue but getting black, and here on the ground it is already too dark to read my notebook.  The trail of little brown ants is gone, back to their nearby den for beddy-bye, and it’s now safe to sit on the curb and change shoes.  I roll down the windows of the Civic, dial the radio to a soul music station and take a relaxing drive to the house.  October.  This is my favorite time of year in the desert.

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