South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park in Phoenix is the largest municipal park in the entire United States. In spite of this, it boasts only 51 miles of trails. This is partly due to the harshness of the landscape, partly the rough geography of the area, and partly intentional, as efforts have been made to preserve the natural desert ecosystem in the area. The nice aspect of this is that leaves what amounts to a very decent amount of empty space out there.
When Wren and I moved this summer, one of the things we were most excited about was being close to the mountain. Unfortunately, I’ve not taken advantage of the mountain’s proximity the way I should have.
Life, as it does, got a bit in the way. Also, I mean, it’s been a hot year and South Mountain is a brutally hot and unforgiving place to hike. I finally got out there for a decent afternoon hike this week, and it was amazing. One of the best short hikes I’ve ever been on.
Corona de Loma Trail
I picked the Corona de Loma trail because it’s got a profile with a long lead in on the Desert Classic, and then a nice steep climb up to eastern subordinate peaks of the mountain. This is similar, though with only about half the distance/elevation change, to Flatiron, which Wren and I are planning on climbing sometime in the next month.
The hike started off innocuously, pleasantly warm, not too hot, but fairly tame. I overshot the trail I wanted to take by a bit in the process, so I ended up backtracking a quarter mile, but the scenery was nice enough. We’ve had some solid winter rain totals this year, and it’s left the mountain surprisingly green. Also, and this will come back around later in the post, it was an unusually hazy day for Arizona.
The climb up was quick. I felt surprisingly good during it. I recently started running again, and it’s been brutal; my body can barely handle it. Naturally, I expected the drop in conditioning would be reflected in my endurance and speed hiking, but that just wasn’t the case. I reached the top of the saddle and took a trail over to the near peak, with plenty left in the tank, for a fantastic view of the region. I’m going to push a lot harder on my next outing, going at least as far as the Buena Vista Lookout, and faster, for sure.
The hike was great up to that point, but nothing special. Almost the moment I started back down, though, things got really fun!
The Way Back Down
As I was return to the saddle, I heard a great big clatter down the side of the mountain. There’s quite a bit of native wildlife in the foothills and on the mountain, especially with the farmlands and golf courses nearby providing year round sources of water and food, so I was excited to see what was big enough to make so much noise.
It turned out to be two very small javelinas, snorting, grunting, and stumbling their way down the steep hillside into the draw. I stayed for awhile to watch them and beginning of the sunset.
After watching them for a bit, I noted that the sun was getting awfully low, and I ought to be moving on. That whole process was really stunted by the wonderful fact that the sunset was one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. I kept stopping to take pictures and just watch the clouds and sky.
I managed to get back down to the Desert Classic by sunset, and wasn’t too worried. The only light I’d brought along was my phone, but the sun setting behind Estrella Mountain called for a good long twilight, and the white of the desert out here is pretty easy to navigate on night vision alone.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about light in any case, because the as the sun set, the full moon rose golden over the Superstitions to the East. I wish I’d had a better camera than my cellphone, because the moonrise was beautiful, but it’s just a yellow blog in cameraphone night shots.
The Love of Hiking
Whenever I’m hiking, I find myself markedly less stressed and more happy., and generally end up asking myself, Why am I not always hiking, all the time? Why am I doing things with my life that are not hiking?
There’s good answers to those questions of course. For one thing, hiking works up an appetite, and food costs money. For another, there are people I like, and sometimes it’s cool to hang out with them.
This hike, in particular–well, it didn’t match some of the longer hikes I’ve done in the beautiful back country of this gorgeous continent, but it was almost as extraordinary in that it really is just a small wild area near a city, desolate by most standards, and lacking in any extraordinary geography . . . but, still, there was beauty and peace in abundance.