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.