Judging by what I see and read, most Arizonans hike for exercise. They jog, they ride mountain bikes. I even saw a guy riding a unicycle along a rocky trail. While I’m all for exercise, my primary interest in hiking lies somewhere else. I like to explore.
Exploration for me can be almost anything. Anything that might stimulate. Traveling over a new landscape, or even a trail segment is a joy. So is birdwatching, say, or identifying a new plant along the way.
This exploration does not have to occur in the wilds. Recently I began walking the urban canals of Phoenix.
Some of these canals are lengthy. The Arizona Canal runs 38.6 miles, delivering water from the Granite Reef Dam on the Salt River to the east. It passes through desert land, an Indian reservation, Scottsdale and Phoenix before terminating in Glendale.
Yesterday, I walked only a small segment of the shortest canal in Phoenix, the Crosscut. It carries water from the Arizona Canal, in the north part of town, to the Grand Canal, in the south. In that half-mile, I came to the canal’s terminus at the edge of a golf course. There I found a large pond held in check by a 20-foot dam. I have lived out here in the desert for almost 35 years and driven around the area often. The city zoo is nearby. So is beautiful Papago Park with its sculptured hills of red sandstone. But a dam? A 20-footer? It surprised me.
Although meandering away from the Crosscut at times to get in some, uh, exercise, I learned a little about the connectedness of the city’s water supply and other things I’ve taken for granted all these years.
My thinking is this. Americans should be less manic about exercise and explore more. Get off the bike, stow the cellphone. Smell a flower, look at a bird, ponder why a trail is built the way it is. In doing so, I believe we will find as a country a lot more in common. The way America is going now, divisions at every turn, well, it isn’t working.
I’ve long wanted to hike to the top of Antelope Peak. And yesterday I finally did it.
There are no trails up there. It is just brush and rock. Every step is a step on rock. I waded through chaparral up to my waist and stumbled a lot. I fell hard once. I was crossing a rock slide. Most of the rocks were firm but one wasn’t. I caught myself with my right arm and saved remaking my face.
About a quarter-mile out, I came upon a barbwire fence. Someone built it good. Posts close together, wires taut. It took about 15 minutes to find the right spot to crawl under it.
Saw no one and voices from the town down below died out once I got up higher. No one down there in Yarnell seemed to know much about Antelope. Or how to get up there, to find a trailhead. If there was one. I asked one guy about the mountain, and he had no idea what I was talking about. All of which surprised me. They live in Antelope’s morning shadow.
It is a beautiful mountain, a high mesa that reaches 5,673 feet elevation about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix. You can see it far off in the distance from the desert floor around
Wickenburg. Yet it does not get near the attention it deserves. Certainly not the attention that nearby Rich Hill and Vulture Peak receive.
My cellphone rang at 12:25. It was from Nebra. She was down there in Yarnell working. She’s a newspaper reporter in Phoenix and was doing a following up on the Yarnell Hill Fire, the wildfire that killed 19 young firefighters last June just west of town.
“I’m about a hundred yards from the summit,” I said. It had taken an hour and a half to get this far. Only .95 of a mile. I told her I would be back down by 3 o’clock.
Finally looking out over that high cliff, I was happy. It was a spectacular vista, looking south down on the sun-baked desert floor. The old ghost town of Stanton was down there somewhere, and beyond that the historic Hassayampa River, an intermittent stream followed by those first gold-seekers, the Walker Party of 1862, the first whites to arrive in central Arizona Territory.
But there was something else. It was being up there alone with no evidence that anyone had set a boot there before me. No graffiti, no foot prints, no sign of life other than the “caw” of a crow and some scat pellets from a rabbit.
I walked a long the mesa’s ledge west to east. It was flat up here, all right. My GPS measured only a six-foot difference along the way.
Near the eastern end I walked out to a rock ledge and did a petroglyph. Wrote my initials on a rock with a rock. And the year. It will soon be weathered and gone and that’s OK.
I started back still thinking, kidding myself really, that I was the only human to ever come this way. I walked away from the cliff and back toward the middle. I passed a small pinyon pine, the only pine I saw. Lots of alligator juniper and some cedars. And the ever-present scrub oak, shrubs that tore at my forearms and hands. Clusters of wildflowers, oranges and yellows mostly, and century plants with stalks fallen.
Everything seemed so pristine. For a while. As I started back something blue caught my eye. I walked over to a large alligator juniper where someone had built a lean-to. Neatly cut wood poles layed against the tree and the tatters of a blue tarp. Someone had lived up here for a while in the last 10 years, I thought. Farther on west, I ran across a rock cairn. Small rocks on top of a boulder in an open field.
I tried a different route down to the car. It was foolish. I ended up a steeper and more rocky slope. It took a while. My hips and upper legs got sore. I could not put my feet where I wanted. But I made it. And right at 3 o’clock too.
It was the most unusual hike I’d taken this year. Glad to have done it. Glad to have survived a solo bushwhack into what in modern Arizona anymore amounts to the “real wilds.”
One of the ugly facts of the blogosphere is soft-spamming.
For example, I recently received a comment from another blog re an article I published last month called, “RLS in Saranac.” It was my impressions of a visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Saranac Lake, NY.
The comment started: “Very nice post!” That was immediately followed by: “I thought you might be interested in my current project.” The project was related to an uncompleted film about Stevenson. And, of course, the project was seeking donations.