Latest entry first.
January 29, Tuesday: Shaw Butte Trail, North Mountain Park. It was 55 degrees and breezy and I could see nothing but shade ahead as I trudged up the steep incline on the Shaw Butte summit trail. So miserable that I turned around and headed back into sunshine. Good thing that I did or I would’ve missed the coyotes on the other side. It was about 20 minutes before sunset when I heard the howls and yips from a distance and found four coyotes with my binoculars. What a thrill! [I’ll write a separate article about the coyotes later].
The trails were wet still from the recent big rain, but that didn’t stop hikers, bikers and joggers. I even saw a young man on a scooter, first time ever in the park. Disgusting. Thought all motorized vehicles were illegal on these trails. The rider putt-putted up the Christiansen Trail toward the Pointe Tapatio Cliffs resort. Probably out-of-state. But he had a little smile on his face that seemed to say, ha-ha, I’m getting away with something. Saw a verdin, two Gambel’s quail and an unidentified bird I liken to a fat mockingbird. No, it wasn’t a Curved-Bill Thrasher.
January 25, Friday: Sunnyslope Mountain, North Mountain Park. I had driven along Dunlap many times and given only a cursory look to the hill with the large white-washed “S” on its southern slope. Every year, I read, freshmen from nearby Sunnyslope High School are assigned to slop more paint on the small rocks. For months now on the way to hike in North Mountain Park I’d eyed the contour trail that led up to the “S” from the west.
Today, wanting to hike a new trail, I decide to search for an access point that would provide a shortcut to the summit. Rain is in the air. While combing through the neighborhood on the south side of the hill, trouble occurs. An angry middle-age man in a car confronts me. He is yelling at me at the top of his lungs as he stops. I roll down my car window. “This is private property,” he screams. “What are you doing here? You’ve driven through once and now you’re driving through again.” Obviously, he thinks I am a thief casing the area. “I don’t owe you an explanation for anything,” I say trying to keep cool. He threatens to call the police and even takes a photograph of my car before driving off with more admonitions. “I’m tired of getting ripped off,” he says, adding, “I work for a living.” Finally, seeing no easy route up to the trail from here and not wanting to get my tires slashed while hiking, I drive up to the park’s 7th Avenue lot, don my backpack and head out with no clear route to “S” Mountain. At the southern retention dam, I survey the land below. A faint trail contours around the hill. I’m sure the “S” is on the far side of it out of sight. And I’m right.
I come out at the bottom of the “S,” then scramble along the letter’s west side to the summit. Nothing much to see here. Some graffiti, several empty plastic bottles. The top is fairly flat. Small outcroppings of rock jot up here and there. It is beginning to sprinkle when I start back. Although there were no great sights, I feel a small sense of accomplishment. I have solved a mystery. I have found a route to “S” Mountain on my own, no map.
January 23, Wednesday: North Mountain Summit. It is about 20 minutes before the 5:52 sunset when I reach the summit of this small mountain that looks out to metro Phoenix in every direction. I was up here just three days ago, on the 20th, with Nebra. Today I’m traveling solo. An uneven chunk of granite serves as a seat while I chew on a deli sandwich bought at a QT gas station. It’s delicious.
I’m waiting on the sunset. It should be nice. Scattered clouds in the west and east, nice for photos. I count about a dozen others up here, waiting. Most have cameras. I shoot photos and eat, then head down to the paved part of the trail that will take me back to the Visitors Center in about 50 minutes. It is a wonderful evening. Temps have risen to about 80 F. and the city’s bright lights of reds, oranges and yellows are starting to emerge along major streets.
Across the way in the distance to the northeast, I zoom in and take a photo of the pricey hilltop restaurant called the Different Pointe of View, at the Hilton Pointe Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Nebra and I are thinking of going there to celebrate our 27th anniversary. It is dark by the time I move off the pavement. Now the trail is dirt and rock, undulating above busy 7th Street. The way is lit nicely by a waxing gibbous moon, only two days from full. Just past the saddle, a jogger comes by from behind, trying to negotiate the rockiest section of the trail, down to the Trupiano memorial bench. Later I make way for a cycler, lights ablaze, coming up from the ravine behind me. It is almost 7 when I get back to the parking lot, after about a 4-mile roundtrip. I feel like I’m starting to get in shape again after a sparse period of winter hiking.
January 9, Wednesday: North Mountain Park, inner basin. Sometimes when I hike trails I know as well as the back of my hand, I think up crazy stuff to do. Today, on my first hike of the new year, I set out to find the exact spot on the Christiansen Trail where I can no long see the transmitter towers atop Shaw Butte. But it is an impossible task. As the towers recede behind a buttress to the Butte I can not tell if I’m still looking at the tippy-top of one of the two towers I saw clearly from the Visitors Center or a saguaro. Which? I chalk up the experiment as a work in progress. Next time, if there is one, I’ll pull out the binoculars, find the spot precisely and send the results off to Science magazine. One thing is for certain. It is a flawless winter’s afternoon. Sunny except for heavy cirrus building in the west, 70 degrees and so calm you can hear voices of hikers on the North Mountain summit trail a quarter mile away. I sneeze loudly and wonder if I’ve startled someone a mile away. As nice as it is, I count only 24 others on my two-mile jaunt. Sixteen walking, five biking and three jogging. It’s only as I near the end of my hike that I hear Gambel’s quail gabbling in the brush out of sight. Big storm coming. Rain and then the most frigid temperatures we’ve had in a couple of years.