March 1, 2020
8:14 – 8:55 a.m.
White Tank Mountains, Surprise, Arizona, United States
Arizona State Trust Land
Palo Verde tree with low clouds over White Tank Mountains, 11/29/2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had walked across the Sonoran plain on a man-made trail that led into and onto the edges of raw canyon walls. After reaching the pass at the top, I found only cairns and footsteps that led into the natural trail of a watercourse that had been carved through the land and literal rock by eons of desert rains and their accompanying floods. The crispness of the morning air was gone with the rising and warming sun, but the unexpected bright orange of Fall’s changing colors quickly reminded me that the nights were indeed cold up here…in the White Tank Mountains.
Abstract like thoughts and imaginings…the eternal desert changes and renews itself with the close passing of time….