March 1, 2020
8:14 – 8:55 a.m.
White Tank Mountains, Surprise, Arizona, United States
Arizona State Trust Land
One minute apart looking in opposite directions….
7:34 am, above; 7:35 am, below
Morning in the desert on State Trust land, just north of the White Tank Mountains in northwest Surprise, Arizona, USA.
In April of the past year I went trespassing onto State Trust land that lies north and west of the White Tank Mountains.
I have now obtained my permit and can hike, shoot guns, park my truck, camp, get drunk and disorderly, or just otherwise mind my own business out there in the fenced desert of western Maricopa County.
On that first foray, I noticed the barely visible zigzag road on the side of the distant mountainside and purposed to get there someday, sometime, some other not-scorching Arizona morning. Those are clumps of mistletoe hanging/subsisting in the palo verde tree in the below photograph…and creosote/greasewood in the foreground.
So that’s where I went with purpose yesterday morning, back to that formerly trespassed land. My plans for the day had been canceled and I jumped at the opportunity to get out there, to get out into the out-of-doors that lies just northwest of the town where I reside…to get into the literal desert just out there and beyond.
I’ve mentioned in the past how I find much of the desert so unappealing, especially when viewed from a distance, when all one sees is the rolling or flat or hilly or mountainy landscape or terrain or whatever you might call it…those locations where it just looks like dirt with green fur on it, if there’s even any fur to be seen.
And I’ve said, too, that I have intentionally gone out into the same desert looking for what my inner eye/heart might consider to be beautiful, compelling, possessing of that “something” that would make my mountain/forest loving soul, say, “Yes…it is beautiful out here.”
I have also shared that in order to find those things, I have had to look closer, to find those smaller things that give me pause, that insist upon being captured in images for me to reflect upon later, for me to enjoy.
And so I endeavored….
…to bring back images that were not too bleached-out by the late morning and early afternoon sun…
…to capture what might be a compelling representation of the essence of the lives that inhabit such a landscape…
…photographs that demonstrate what the desert is inside of that bleakness…the rolling fuzzy dirt of our West….
…the persistence of living…
…the evidence of death and decay…
…and the beautiful juxtaposition of harsh and delicate…
…sharp and soft…
…loud and mute…
…and may they be treasured…all.
ADDENDUM: here is a nice link from AZBackcountryExplorers.com that provides helpful information about using State Trust Land.
On one side of the blown fence, it’s county park property, on the other side, it’s state trust land…land set aside for the state to use for its various institutions.
On one side, you drive through a gate with an attendant and pay $7 to access the park property for a day, and on the other you pay $15 to access it for a year, unless you’re a hunter, and then you only have to pay for the hunter’s license.
I parked outside of the gate on the trust side, stepped over the mangled fence, and went wandering through land that had single and double-track trails leading all over the desert, went past old watering ponds and tanks that had been marked with graffiti, stepped over spent shotgun and other shells, shattered clay pigeons, and beyond the other marks of man searching for more ancient trails of creatures that care nothing for trespassing signs and fences.
There were small and larger dry waterways with footprints of birds, mice, rabbits, lizards, and coyotes; tracks worn into the desert floor that were likely created by cattle heading toward the watering ponds from those past eras when the land was (more?) open and access was simply granted by desire; and tracks of time’s passing in the already parched desert grasses and wildflowers, the new buds on trees still waking in middle Spring, and various sizes of cacti in their growing, thriving, and dying.
Should I be concerned that I will be arrested for stealing the intellectual property contained in the images I made while trespassing on State land…..?
Not to be confused with Desert Vista Hospital where I spent an hour the other day meeting some phone-colleagues (people with whom we frequently speak, but rarely, if ever, meet) and having an interesting conversation with a patient about rich porn stars who eat at the homeless shelter so they can avoid the paparazzi….
Looking northeast from the White Tank Mountains on a past October morning…worlds away from the above-mentioned hospital….
You might recall from this post, that I went into the White Tank Mountains after an early morning rain so I could specifically see/hear the water running down the various desert mountain waterways. It had rained multiple times in the preceding week and again around three-something on this particular Sunday.
I had a somewhat fanciful goal of hiking the trail until the closest point of divergence that would allow me to “bushwhack” out and beyond that known area to find myself ascending the hill where those antennas were perched in the distance….they looked so close on the map….
It would very likely have taken me another two-plus hours to make it there over hill and over dale…and the dark clouds were coming in quickly with their occasional loosed drops of sky…so I postponed the goal and looked to the immediate landscape and much closer ground for what might be otherwise interesting.
I already shared a post (as mentioned with the link in the first paragraph above) with an image of a closer view of the bejeweled grass, but here’s another one with a bit of a broader view.
The brooding sky and a bit of trail in the foreground….
More foreground trail and the darkening sky above the antennas in the distance….
I know I’ve shared images of the Sonoran Desert’s cholla cactus in the past…probably numerous times…but it’s something that cannot be ignored when I’m out hiking, and no matter how many photos I seem to make, there’s something so strikingly individual about them that I’m compelled to share them again.
The cool, damp weather brought out a couple more “firsts” for me and my desert hiking adventures: a tarantula and baby frog on the trail in the White Tank Mountains.
And lastly, low clouds over the mountains partially obscured the towers just north of Barry Goldwater Peak at 4,083 feet in elevation.
Thank you again for visiting…I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the White Tank Mountains just west of Phoenix, Arizona.
“Who can withstand the recondite wisdom and sonorous silence of wildness?”**
**Terry Tempest Williams in An Unspoken Hunger.
The storm woke me at 3:45 that morning with rain slashing sideways into the bedroom windows…bolts of light flashed through the curtains and thunder sounded from its near, though distant home. I had purposed the night before to rise early and head into the desert’s mountains because I wanted to see and hear the water flowing from the previous day’s showers. The early morning rain was still alive in the mountains’ waterways when I found myself there only hours later…tiny tinklings of life running slowly down the canyons…resting in small pools mid-trail…and rising in surprising excess atop delicate blades of grass….
You might remember from the last post that we left-off with an image of two markers, a cairn, and a trail heading upward and out of the creek-bed that was the trail and waterway of Ford Canyon in the White Tank Mountains. If you want to revisit that last post before proceeding onward, you can click here to be taken to Part I.
I can’t say exactly how far it was now, but after climbing up from the creek-bed and hiking along a couple of hillsides, the trail eventually led to this granite-bedded wash, or drainage that I understood to flow into Willow Canyon.
After another mile or so, I found myself at what would essentially be the halfway point of my day, given that I was going to make the full loop of the Ford Canyon Trail and the Goat Camp Trail. When I reached the end of this last trail, there would still be another mile and a half walk along the roadway to get back to my truck.
From what I’ve read of the trails on the park’s website, the Mesquite and Willow Canyon trails are the next longest trails in the area and make nice, but shorter, loop-hikes that will compel me to return to the White Tanks on at least another two occasions.
Not far off-trail, heading west on the Goat Camp Trail, I found the curious instance of an arrow shot into a Saguaro cactus. I can’t imagine that it was an accident….
In the image above, you can see two stretches of the Goat Camp Trail…the first being on the lower ridge and heading off to the right, and the second located very faintly just above the “2015” toward the bottom left.
The photos above and below are of the same area, but from slightly different perspectives…and while it is still apparent in the above image, one gets a greater sense of the openness in the one below.
At any rate, there is a particular sweeping grandness to this desert landscape that I find to be different than the almost enveloping sense of scale that I noticed and felt bodily when hiking in the Wasatch.
Other views of a waterway with a rocky outcropping…and the “winter-bare wildflowers” with the Prickly Pear cacti in the background….
You might notice the trail, again, in the below photo, this time just below the shadowed area in the upper right corner….
A quick glimpse at the trail, still heading west into the range…still new to me at this point….
A bit of diversity in the landscape now, more rocks and different foliage….
Do you see the runner in the below photo…that spot of barely discernible pink…on the trail, just above and to the right of the image’s center…?
I don’t know the name of the lichen or the rocks in this next image…but I like them, anyway…find them fascinating….
Looking north and west…and way down at the trail that I had already hiked….
Wild grass and cactus, slabs of rock-facing on the hillside…
…and a far horizon with an approaching trail on folds of the earth…
Hedgehog cacti growing out of a chunk of rock.
…and two young singers with their arms spread…reminded me of “The hills are alive, with the sound of music….” This section of the Goat Camp Trail was probably more difficult in its descent than the Ford Canyon Trail was in its ascent…and I was very, very happy that I was going downhill at this point….
Looking upstream just to the left of the above singers….
I thought about doing an entire post on the Saguaro’s cactus spines, but thought it might be considered grossly redundant. I think this images captures just about everything….
Back on level ground and approaching the end of the trail, wondering if the goat camp that gave this trail its name might be around somewhere….
One last glimpse at the white granite boulders that highlight many of the waterways in the White Tank Mountains….
And what’s a desert hike without a zombie Saguaro…?
And finally, back at the starting point…a late afternoon look at the windmill that helped frame the sunrise in the first image of the previous post…now several hours later…with a mostly overcast sky.
While conducting a little bit of research on the name origin for the White Tank Mountains, while trying to find something historically solid to share with you, I came across this WordPress blog, History of Waddell, Arizona, that provides some general information. It doesn’t list any sources, but it’s “nice” information that hints at a starting place for future investigation.
Thank you, again, for your endurance in making it to the end of another uncharacteristically long post. I hope you enjoyed the second half of my hike from December 6th of this past year, climbing and walking the Ford Canyon and Goat Camp Trails of the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Maricopa County, Arizona.