Hiking through the White Tank Mountains – Part 1

In the twenty-plus years that I lived in the Phoenix area before moving north for a few years, I had only “hiked” at these mountains once…and had driven to the “White Tank Mountain Regional Park” only once or twice more.  I used to look at the mountains from afar and considered that they were just part of the landscape, and to be honest, I considered them to be a rather bleak and unappealing part of the landscape…the far western boundary of the Valley of the Sun that was my desert home…grayish brown lumps of rock…out there.

(I made the below photo while in the parking lot of the Ford Canyon Trail-head…about four minutes before sunrise proper.)

Dawn with windmill at White Tank Mountains

After moving to Utah and experiencing the Wasatch Mountains as my “back yard,” I began to reflect even less favorably on the White Tank “Mountains,” because they were so much less than the new and real mountains in my life.  My hiking sons who lived with me in Utah for those few years had actually frequented the White Tanks more than I had…and after hiking to our favorite waterfall in the Wasatch, we all had something like a growing, playful contempt for what could be found at the end of the “Waterfall Trail” in the White Tanks.

(I made the next photo about six minutes later, walking northwest on the trail that would take me to Ford Canyon where I would have a wonderful climb.)

Glow of sunrise on Saguaro Cacti at White Tank Mountains

As the twists and turns of Life would have it, my family and I moved back to this metropolitan desert…and I still have the yearning to be out hiking mountains…and it just so happens that the White Tank Mountains are probably the closest “mountains” to where I presently live.

(And still another six minutes later, I had rounded a bend in the trail and had a clear view of the antennas that one can see for miles across the desert.)

Ridge-lines and shadows at White Tank Mountains

So after being here again for just over a year, I figured that I was probably overdue in heading west and learning more about these mountains.  I will admit that from afar, from the dozens of miles away that I usually view them, they still don’t look like much, still don’t appear inviting in the least…and still aren’t very compelling as far as “mountains” are concerned.  But now, after having spent the better part of a winter’s day climbing, hiking, and walking among them, I do have a greater appreciation for the White Tanks…I can consider them to be “mountains” in my hiking experience…because I did have to actually “hike” and “climb” up them to get where I wanted to go on that particular Sunday.

(The next photo is what it looks like facing northeast from the trail, with the White Tanks behind us, before actually getting into the canyon.)

Looking northeast from the White Tank Mountains

And as I have mentioned in a previous post, it was in looking closer at my surroundings that I found the beauty of this particular spot of desert.

Ford Canyon Trail in the morning at White Tank Mountains

The above and below images were made probably within a few yards of each other…approaching three miles into the hike…heading mostly west, but north, as well, hiking what would be the right side of a slightly oblong loop that comprised my route for the day.  The vegetation above consists of the large Saguaro cactus, some variety of Cholla cactus immediately to the right of the Saguaro and in the closer right-hand foreground of the image…some brighter green Creosote to the bottom left, and Ironwood and Palo Verde on the far right side and moving inward.  There are also some grayish-green shrubs that are a variety of Sage and some Brittlebush.

In the below image you’ll notice the skeleton of a fallen Saguaro…what’s left of it anyway.

Saguaro skeleton along Ford Canyon Trail in White Tank Mountains

The trail is climbing up into the canyon now…slowly gaining elevation…moving up into the rockier aspects of the mountainside.

Hillside boulders in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

Hmm…cause for concern?  I’ve never seen a sign like this on any previous hike…not here, or in Utah.

Hikers-Beware sign at entrance of Ford Canyon in White Tank Mountains

And that’s where we’re going…that bit of trail that you can discern at the foot of the closest Saguaro on the left…

Hazardous trail in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

Looking back down the draw…down the dry waterway that must be something fierce and wonderful after a summer monsoon….  The trail will be toward the right and out of frame.  At 8:55 in the morning, the sun was still a ways behind the ridge and lighting only a portion of the canyon…and making it difficult to make a good image.

Lower water-course of Ford Canyon in White Tank Mountains

To the right of the bottom right corner/protuberance of that large rock in the center of the image, you can see a first glimpse of a “white tank” with the water streaks below it.

A first white tank in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

I was familiar with white granite from the mountains and boulders of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah…the rock that locals had termed “Temple Granite,” as it was used to build the Mormon’s temple in Salt Lake City…so it was something of a surprise to find it so out of context here in the middle of the desert…

Another white tank in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

…but there it is, worn smooth by thousands of thousands of summer floods crashing down the mountains….

Saguaro reflection in pooled water in White Tank Mountains

The trail has disappeared into an understood sense of direction, a knowing of where one ought to go simply because the land suggests it.  A marker has been stuck into the ground at a wider spot among the boulders…its information tells us that we are on the Ford Canyon Trail and have traveled four miles and that we should go in the direction of the arrow, more or less….

Trail finding 1 in White Tank Mountains

Sometimes the physical trail is nothing more than footprints left by those who wandered here before us…we have to look down and around…to imagine the moving water that lives and travels here and not become lost in the enormity of our surroundings, but to focus and understand…and even hope….

Trail finding 2 in White Tank Mountains

…and look for the unnatural, odd stacking of stones whose alignment means more than just direction…affirmation…relief…. (Do you see the cairn just right of the center of the photo?)

Trail finding 3 in White Tank Mountains

The only trail, really, was the waterway, the drainage, the silt and sand and gravel, rocks, and boulders, green trees and grasses that lead ever uphill from our location…to worn slabs of granite steps to climb and go further…that lead to a damn wall…

White steps in White Tank Mountains

…rather a dam wall, a contrivance reminiscent of alpine reservoirs maintained in former times to catch winter waters for summer times.  I don’t know the history of this place, don’t know if it was used for livestock…or whatever, but the former pool has been filled with sand and dirt and other whatnot.  I’m not sure if it occurred naturally with the rains, or if it was filled intentionally by the builder or someone who came afterward.

Dam wall in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

There were several clumps of this beautifully tufted “fountain grass,” in the waterway.

Fountain grass in Ford Canyon of White Tank Mountains

It’s hard for me to imagine a river of flood waters coursing over this area, but I know it has, and at numerous times over the eons, in order for these slabs to have so many of their rough edges smoothed away to the rounded surfaces that now exist on these exposed masses of rock.

Saguaro crested waterway in White Tank Mountains

This is the point where the path became a literal trail again and climbed out of the waterway of Ford Canyon….this is also a natural ending place for this first post, as the next one will share images of vast open hillsides that dominated the second half of the hike.

Coming out of Ford Canyon in White Tank Mountains

Thank you for visiting with me and enduring to the end of this unusually long post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these several glimpses at the Ford Canyon Trail in the White Tank Mountains.

28 responses

  1. I wish there was a “Love” button, not just a “Like” button. Scott this is fabulous. I can’t wait to continue with you.

    December 26, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, Laura…it will be pretty easy to find when you make it back to the valley. 🙂

      December 27, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    • This is so nice and I agree with you too. Thank you dear Scott, great photographs, but as always, I love your photography. Happy New Year, Love, nia

      December 28, 2015 at 1:08 am

      • “I wish there was a “Love” button, not just a “Like” button” I mentioned these words… 🙂

        December 28, 2015 at 1:09 am

        • Thank you very much. 🙂

          December 28, 2015 at 6:32 am

      • Thank you, Nia, for the kind words. I wish you a Happy New Year, as well. 🙂

        December 28, 2015 at 6:32 am

  2. Impressive . . . and not crowded at all.

    December 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    • I encountered probably around 20 people on the whole 14-15 miles of the entire loop trail…which was much less than I thought there’d be, especially on such a nice weather day in late Fall.

      December 27, 2015 at 6:32 pm

  3. Nicely done Scott and well worded and recorded.

    December 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    • Thank you very much, Mike.

      December 27, 2015 at 6:32 pm

  4. Thanks for the hike. Looking forward to the second half.

    December 26, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    • My pleasure, M….and thank you for visiting. Part II will be coming shortly.

      December 27, 2015 at 6:33 pm

  5. I’m glad that you didn’t see any rain while you were there. The white granite is interesting. Ours here in the granite state is mostly gray but we have pink as well.
    I don’t blame you for wanting to hike it, it’s a beautiful place with the worn stones and cacti skeletons.

    December 26, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    • I think it would have had to have been a real storm, or summer monsoon, to have caused any real danger, Allen. I would have enjoyed watching the stream flowing out here. And yes, it is beautiful…there are still a couple of significant trails out there that I haven’t explored yet, so I’m sure I will be back.

      The white granite was a surprise…and it seemed to have only been truly visible in the stream beds…which I found to be curious…unusual, even.

      I’ve seen gray granite, but never pink…that would be a treat.

      December 27, 2015 at 8:03 pm

  6. Scott, you can’t know how much I enjoyed this post! Beautifully done! I still have fond memories of the desert and it’s so good to see these photos!

    December 26, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    • I’m going to imagine that you enjoyed it like I enjoy your mountain and forest posts, Terry…the images of landscapes that continue to touch my heart with sweet memories and longing. I’m very happy to share them with you…. 🙂

      December 27, 2015 at 8:06 pm

  7. A wonderful hike by all accounts Scott!

    December 27, 2015 at 5:47 am

    • Yes, it was, Adrian…thank you. 🙂

      December 27, 2015 at 8:06 pm

  8. Looks like some pretty rough going. You’re lucky that you can still get into and around places like this. Wish I still could!

    December 27, 2015 at 8:40 am

    • There was a mile going up and another one going down that could have caused some trouble, but the majority of it was over relatively smooth trails, Gary. I can imagine that the day is out there in the future when I won’t be able to make the hike up into such places, so I’m going to do as much of it as I reasonably can while I’m still able. There was an 84 year-old gentleman who used to guide hiking tours up into the mountains of the Wasatch when I was up there…he’s the one who wrote the book that I often referenced in my posts on the canyons near Salt Lake, “The Lady in the Ore Bucket.” I don’t know how realistic it is to do so, but I hope I can still be that active when I’m his age….I hope…. 🙂

      December 27, 2015 at 8:14 pm

  9. I enjoyed the vicarious trip, Scott. It could be tricky to squeeze past those prickly Saguaros on the cliff…I like the way you describe the trail, or lack of it – follow the land, like others have been doing for so very long. There’ll be cairns along the way to reassure you. Love the skeleton and chollas too. They may not have those grand Wasatch silhouettes, but these mountains are beautiful in their own way – restful, etching a nice series of interruptions along the horizon. Beautiful colors in that first photo!

    December 28, 2015 at 9:26 am

    • I’m glad you could go with me vicariously, Lynn…and thank you for the thoughtful comment.

      January 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

  10. There are some tastes in food that we have to learn to enjoy, and I think the same thing is true visually. You’ve found beauty here, and I believe that as you keep on hiking, you’ll find more and more. Wishing you a very fine new year, with much adventure.

    December 30, 2015 at 6:59 am

    • I think you are very likely correct, Shimon…and I shall continue hiking this desert so that I may learn to enjoy these landscapes as I previously enjoyed others. I thank you for your thoughts and encouragement, and for the well-wishes for the new year….I do wish you the same…with peaceful adventures….

      January 2, 2016 at 11:14 am

  11. Oh Scott, this is utterly luscious. Most of all I’m so very glad to see (read) how you’re discovering the beauty in your current location. I couldn’t be more happy for you! And, yes it IS quite beautiful in its very different way.

    January 2, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    • “Utterly luscious,” how wonderful, Gunta! And thank you, as ever, for your encouragement….

      January 24, 2016 at 5:29 pm

  12. John Smith

    Thanks! I highly encourage more unusually long posts.

    January 4, 2016 at 10:18 am

    • You’re certainly welcome, John…I shall work on having more long posts. 🙂

      January 24, 2016 at 5:30 pm

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