A hiker’s diary: November 2012

Last entry first.

November 30, Friday:  Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Quartz Ridge Trail.  See “A quiet urban trail into a distant past,” December 3, 2012.

November 28, Wednesday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  It is easy to size your trail out here to the time you have allotted.  With so many trails that cross, you can do a medium hike of 45 minutes or two hours or more.  Today I traversed one of the longest hikes.  I went out from the Visitors Center to “Southwest Dam” and back via “North Dam.”  I ambled along playing hide-and-peek with coveys of Gambel’s quail, covering an estimated four miles in two hours.  Surprised to see so few out here in that time.  It was a warm afternoon, the sun veiled at times by scattered cirrus.  I counted 16 hikers, seven bikers and three joggers.

November 24, Saturday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  There are moments out here on the trail that you can almost forget you are in an urban park surrounded by a population of nearly 4.2 million.  Almost forget.  This is no wilderness area.  You are never really alone even when you don’t see a single soul.  You hear the sounds.  A human voice travels a long way here in the basin between the two highest points, Shaw Butte in the northwest and North Mountain on the southeast.  Just for kicks I tried today to see if I could tell whether voices were in front of behind me.  In two tries, I got only one right.  There are also the steady crunch of a bicycle and the staccato steps of the jogger.  Domestic dogs bark from homes on the perimeter and most of all there are the hums or airplanes patterning in for landings at Sky Harbor and the chop-chop of emergency and TV news helicopters.  That said, I find the hour or two I might spend in a day out here in the midst of suburbia well worth the effort.

November 22, Thursday:  Superstition Mountains, Hieroglyphic Trail.  Our annual Thanksgiving Day hike.  Nebra’s sister, Sue, came with us.  It is bright and warm and, after negotiating the maze of roads through rustic Goldfield, we reach the huge paved parking lot, surprised to see only a dozen other vehicles.  I hiked this trail for the first time on March 9.  It is a first for Nebra.  As for Sue, she hasn’t hiked at all for many years.  The trail leads out 1 1/2 miles to some boulders at the start of a long, high canyon where centuries-old petroglyphs appear above a waterfall area.   I was looking for an easy hike for Sue and a destination that might be interesting to her, and where we could spread out our Thanksgiving meal of sandwiches on one of the large, flat boulders.  We went out only a mile before turning back.  The trail has little shade and the air grew hot.  Later, we wended our way back by car to Old Dutchman State Park and had our Thanksgiving under a ramada but didn’t hike.

November 16, Friday:  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon Trail.  Before leaving for the coast and Carlsbad, CA, we hiked up this trail.  But before we even got onto the trail, a surprise awaited.

Borrego Valley stretches out toward Indianhead Mountain.

November 15, Thursday:  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Panorama Overlook Trail.  After driving 317 miles yesterday from Phoenix to this, California’s largest state park, Nebra and I finally climb up the half mile to this overlook trail to look at the flat Borrego Valley.  Make no mistake, this is a big park.  About 650,000 acres, equal to 50 miles by 20 miles.   And of course we can not begin to see it all from the Panorama Overlook.   The trail begins in a far corner of the southern part of the Palm Canyon Campground.  This will mark our second night camped out here in a small dome tent.  Last night we were the only campers in the 37 sites that dot the paved oval.  Today we were joined by an RV several sites to the south.  Suppose it didn’t arrive by itself but I’ve seen nary a human yet.   The park surrounds the little town of Borrego Springs, which is about 2 1/2 miles to the southeast.  It is nearly dusk when we start out cross-country for the first 100 yards or so, then begin a series of short switchbacks up and up and up.  At one of the turns we run into an older couple with a dog on a leash, a beautiful female Akita.  Everytime I see an Akita I think of the O.J. Simpson trial.  It was Simpson’s Akita, Kato, whose howling awakened neighbors to the murders of Simpson’s wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.  Anyway, leashed or not, the owners have committed a no-no.  Dogs are not allowed on the park’s dirt trails.

At the level top of the Outlook, I look out to a wide sea of gray dotted by green.  Sand and the almost white indigo and burro bushes supply the gray, and creosote the green.  Below, the eye follows the concrete sidewalk that crosses in .6 of a mile the desert from the campground to the park’s attractive and informative Visitors Center.  It is almost dark when we get back to our campsite to begin preparing supper under a mostly cloudy and cool sky.  Temps reached 80 F. today and a low of 55 is forecast for later tonight.  Tomorrow we plan to hike up Palm Canyon to look for the endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep.  A park ranger told us the canyon would offer our best chance.

November 13, Tuesday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  A beautiful day.  Lots of hikers, bikers and joggers.  And Gambel’s quail.  Don’t think I’ve seen a larger covey than the 18 birds that crossed in front of me near the Visitors Center.  Also saw another covey, this of 11 with at least two more making sounds in the bush, near the Trupiano bench.  Altogether 32 quail moving about.  Did over 2 miles in the eastern part via the north dam.

November 11, Sunday:  South Mountain Park, National Trail.  Did segments #2 and #3 of this 15.5 mile trail with Nebra on a sunny but cool afternoon.  We started with an 11-mile shuttle, leaving Nebra’s Prius at the Mormon Trail parking lot and taking my Civic west up to Telegraph Pass and parking along the paved Summit Road with three other cars.  At about 5 miles in length, this is the longest part of the National I’ll do at one time.  Leaving Telegraph Pass, the trail snakes above the highway for about a mile before rising gently up toward the park’s highest point, Mount Suppoa at 2,700 feet, with grand views of Phoenix about 1,500 feet below.   If you like solitude this is it.  We met only a biker and two hikers in the first 3 1/4 miles, until the small Buena Vista lookout, the end of what I call Segment #3.  The National climbs to within a 100 feet or so of elevation from Suppoa’s summit.  Beautiful it is not.  The mountain is covered with antennae.  Liu writes in “60 Hikes” that he has heard workers can not stay up here for more than a few hours at a time due to the transmission power.  Shortly after passing the curious Chinese Wall, a line of frozen lava, I stop for lunch, a Subway turkey and ham, just below the Buena Vista parking lot while Nebra walks out to a high point and a bench with even grander views of Phoenix and the Salt River Valley.  My Segment #2 starts here and ends an estimated 1.8 miles later at the west end of Hidden Valley.  I thought this rugged and hilly downward segment would traverse a no man’s land.  I was wrong.  This segment seems to be a mountain biker’s heaven.  In the short distance of rough terrain we passed no fewer than 16 bikers bouncing along, some at high speed.  Near Buena Vista the trail is so rocky and rough, one biker portaged his two-wheeler up for almost a quartermile of steep, boulder-strewn slope.  Not far from Hidden Valley, the trail drops down a rocky 10-12 feet that only some of the most daring and experienced bikers will try to negotiate.  A middle-age biker riding by himself told us this is the most dangerous biking area along this trail.  Not too scary but tantalyzing.   He once fell here and nearly broke his leg, he said, and has seen several bikers lying about , their faces bloodied.  The best technique, he said, is counter-intuitive.  Do it swiftly, not too slow.  Shadows are long by the time we veer off the National and head back to the Prius on the extremely rocky Mormon Trail.  No bikers here.  I’m glad to get this hike over with.  Only one more segment of six to go, #5 from west of Goat Hill down to the San Juan Road.  Overall, we did about 7 miles today, and I’m feeling it.

November 2, Friday:  South Mountain Park, National Trail.  It is evident now that I will not be able to do all of Charles Liu’s “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Phoenix” in a year.  After waiting for summer’s heat to burn out, I have done only 25 with 8 weeks to go.  That is troubling math for all but the most dedicated hikers.   I could do it, I suppose, if I didn’t have so much other stuff I want to do.  Like an upcoming week-long trip to California.  Anyway I got back to knocking off a few more hikes with an afternoon jaunt up a segment of the long National Trail in the mountain chain that runs east and west along Phoenix’s south side.  The National at 15.5 miles covers the length of South Mountain Park, but I have chosen to do it in roughly six or seven segments.  I had already done the last and middle segments, and today I did the “first” segment hiking 2.6 miles coming up from the east at Pima Canyon to the sign post at Hidden Valley.  The trailhead rests amid heavy development.  The Pointe Resort golf course on one side, the massive “village” of Ahwatukee, with a population of almost 80,000, on the other.  After walking a rather flat jeep road for the first mile or so, you escape into a lightly traveled zone of scenic hills and a narrow trail.  Unless you fantasize over large boulders, there is nothing remarkable.  At the junction with the Hidden Valley Trail, I move ahead onto familiar ground.  Months ago I had done Hidden Valley and Fat Man’s Pass, hiking up on the Mormon Trail from the north.  At the top of a rise with a splendid view of  downtown Phoenix in the northwest, I turn off onto the Mormon Loop Trail which takes you back to the National Trail and the jeep road in Pima Canyon.  I stop several times along this loop to shoot photos and to jot down notes.  If there are desert plants that can’t be found along the Loop, I can’t think of many.  I noted bersage, small-leaf palo verde, brittlebush, ocotillo, saguaro, chain and teddy bear and buckhorn cholla, clumps of hedgehog cactus,  red compass barrell, creosote and a few bushes of what I thought were Mormon tea.  It was near dusk when I finished the Loop, and after back-tracking from the deep sand of Pima Wash, I reached the trailhead again shortly after 5:30.  The parking lots were still full and numerous young people, most of them traveling alone, were heading out on the jeep road to get their exercise in.   It was the end of another beautiful desert afternoon, clear sky and temps in the low 80s.  I may not reach the quantitative goal I set for myself but the quality of my hikes has been way up there.

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