The morning started with the alarm and coffee and then a neighborhood street that led to Bell Road, to the Sonoran Desert Parkway, to Lake Pleasant Parkway, to the Carefree Highway and west past Lake Pleasant, then to Castle Hot Springs Road, and finally, five miles north to a trail-head in a parking lot that has been re-fenced with silver wire that is new against the morning, untarnished and unvarnished with desert sun and windblown sand, unrusted in the elements, bright and confining, restricting of early hikers looking for familiar portals that ride now in memory alone.
Common and uncommon things mix in a November sunrise.
Somewhere between light enough and yet not enough…we see destinations unfolding with the trail…like the white caps on the tips of the many saguaros’ arms with their densely packed and unfolding new spines…things to come.
One of many crossings of Cottonwood Creek…a familiar place with wild burros, great horned owls, and collared peccaries….
and lying on the desert floor, looking east…and finding that “distant fairyland of wonder and bright alarm.”
A creosote frame leaving an aromatic resin on fingertips….
…and the tiny treasures of desert wildflowers….
Still heading west…with the destination in the upper right corner…after many winding turns, hills, valleys, dips, and desert meadows….
A distant spot of white in a green and brown world….
Gaining elevation and looking east…we can see a bit of Lake Pleasant tucked into the haze covered hills…
…and south…faint waves of them…green, purple, blue…white…and gone….
Higher now, more of the lake…and the landmark of Castle Hot Springs Road. You might remember that the haze is from California’s wild fires back in October/November.
The stark contrast of yellow against the greens and browns of the desert is a welcome change…it is even a surprise sometimes.
Walkin’ Jim Trail follows Cottonwood Creek up into the mountains, all the way from Castle Hot Springs Road…when the occasional mis-adventurer loses the trail on the way down the mountain, all he has to do is locate the proper drainage down from that mountain and follow it back into the stream-bed…and back to the parking lot where he started….
There were tadpoles larger than jellybeans in the pools along the way…more desert mysteries…marvels…Sonoran Desert surprises….
smoke from california’s november wildfires drifted across the desert and found a temporary home in the sonoran desert north of phoenix…lake pleasant under haze…as seen from the distant end of the walkin’ jim trail
Looking east on the Walkin’ Jim Trail at 7:06 a.m. this Sunday past…five miles north of the Carefree Highway…about half a mile west of Castle Hot Springs Road…which is just west of Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Maricopa County, Arizona.
Panning east to west and proceeding minute by minute, this was the view from the side of a road less than one mile from my house last evening.
I’ve mentioned before that I live in the far northwest corner of the “Valley of the Sun” that is Metropolitan Phoenix…the pan of desert that through the miracles and science of hydrology and irrigation, comes alive with great expanses of nearly unnatural hues of green that we don’t expect to find in places such as this.
The foreground is dominated by watermelon fields, the dark line with the golden cap beyond the field is ripening corn, and then you see the edge of a neighborhood to the left (east), and then the Estrella Mountains in the distance. There are hiking trails on the right (west) end that are similar to the ones found in the White Tank Mountains that you can see in the last photograph below.
The trails are part of the offerings in the Estrella Mountain and White Tank Mountain Regional Parks, which were created and are maintained by the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department.
Making photos of this area has been on the agenda for the last couple of weeks…as the softer light of the setting sun make for more appealing images. The clouds were not expected, but greatly appreciated. They are an early indication of the approaching monsoon season, but have yet to do anything more serious than add to the humidity and cause desert hearts to long for rain.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
The trail is climbing up into the canyon now…slowly gaining elevation…moving up into the rockier aspects of the mountainside.
Hmm…cause for concern? I’ve never seen a sign like this on any previous hike…not here, or in Utah.
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…
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.
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.
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…
…but there it is, worn smooth by thousands of thousands of summer floods crashing down the 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….
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….
…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?)
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…
…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.
There were several clumps of this beautifully tufted “fountain grass,” in the waterway.
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.
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.
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.
Sunday morning, November first of this present year, eight minutes into the hike…the desert looked like…well, the desert as I have come to know it. This stretch of the Sonora Desert has become rather familiar. I’ve been on this trail eight times now and have covered more than 40 of its 70-plus miles…and this stretch is the furthest south that I have been. There might be still one more track south of this trail-head, but being familiar with the area south of here, I doubt that I’ll head in that direction.
The early twists and turns of the trail, and the crossing and re-crossing of dry water-ways or creek-beds had brought me up a slight rise and pressed on toward a flatter plain that would soon give way to other and more declivities and inclines as I progressed northward. I had seen this particular Saguaro from further back and wondered if the trail would take me anywhere near it. If one were “looking for a sign” when lost out here in this desert wild, that someone might be tempted to view this as some kind of guide, or not…. I found it to be a significant landmark that, when coming from the other direction a few hours later, told me that I was very close to the end of my excursion.
I’ve seen mistletoe several times, but don’t know that I’ve ever posted any images of it. Here it is in it’s context…
…and here it is again, but in a closer view.
The living and the dead of the eternal desert….
An old-school trail marker, faded by severe summer suns….
The trail was actually quite a bit lower than the surrounding desert in the below photo. I thought it provided a nice shrub-height perspective.
I thought there would be more to this section of the trail than there actually was. I came to the end much sooner than I thought I would and then stood there mid-trail thinking, “Is that all…really?” It felt much too early to head back to the truck and I wasn’t inclined to marching further on the already familiar track, so I headed off-trail to explore a couple of the minor peaks in the area. After reaching the top of one, I turned north and found a pleasant-enough view of the desert beyond…the trail toward the middle of the image is the one that would take me up toward the trail-head at Table Mesa Road.
I’m still adjusting to this desert hiking and have to admit that I’m sometimes disappointed in the landscapes and panoramas…sometimes they seem so featureless…or plain…. Someone once said that it’s not what we look at, but what we see that’s important…so I press myself to look more closely in my search for beauty out here…I try to look at things with a fascinated, scientific mind sometimes, framing things within contexts of what I’ve read and learned about this type of landscape.
And when looking much closer, I find cliffs and canyons covered in lichen….not literal cliffs and canyons, of course, but ground-level rocks that are covered in the moisture-dependent and fragile, yet enduring yellow lichen that appears with more frequency than one would expect out here.
I notice, too, the varieties of plant life and the slope and angles of the land as it rises and falls in its relationship with, among other things, the comings and goings of water, the sculpting that occurs from the drainage and collecting of its seasonal rains…and then I wonder at how it looked when it was born, this volcano-riddled desert…..
From the top of another hill, I looked south and over the desert that pressed against roads and homes and saw the distant ridges that were clothed in the mists of commerce and civilization…smog…and was touched by the irony of this kind of “beauty” being the result of something so inherently unappealing.
When I was taking a biology class in college several years ago, one of our assignments was to conduct a field study or observation of the plants growing on one slope and compare them with the vegetation found living on an opposite hillside. I had recollections of that experience when I was climbing the hill in the above image. I had just been on a different slope that was only dirt and rock with very little of anything growing there and no evidence of animal-life, and then visited this particular slope that was covered with wild grasses and Jojoba shrubs, desert trees and cacti, and had wild burro and rabbit droppings, as well as lizards and chipmunk/squirrel type creatures scurrying about….what a difference there was to be seen in the opposite extremes of the lay of the land……when looking closer.
I don’t know the name of the tree in the above image, but it provided an uncommon and inviting shade as I was descending the last hilltop of my afternoon explorations.
And lastly, an image that presents the contrast of near and far in the Arizona Sonora Desert…not very compelling when viewed from a distance, in my opinion, but strikingly beautiful and fascinating when experienced up close and personal.
I’m not sure when I learned about Indian Mesa, but I think it might have been when I was researching Lake Pleasant Regional Park and the surrounding area for an earlier post this summer, but at any rate, I’ve been meaning to get out there and see it for myself…and decided to do it after the temperatures cooled off a bit. So, this past Sunday, November 9…when the high temp for the day was supposed to be somewhere between 85 and 89 degrees, I started out early with the hopes of getting there and back before it got too warm. Things didn’t start well for the venture, though…the directions were missing a few pretty important details, or maybe I was just a bit dense that morning…so I didn’t arrive at the trail-head quite as early as I had hoped. It was still a very nice hike…and it even included water and Cottonwood trees….
If you’re interested in learning more about Indian Mesa, you can click on this link to be taken to the Wikipedia site that covers the subject. You can also click on this link to learn more about the Hohokam people who are thought to have lived there…. If you’d like to view the images in a larger format, you can click on any photograph in the galleries to be taken to a slide show…and then click on the “View Full Size” in the lower right corner of each frame to see the larger version.