Last week Gina and I left the rain - soaked SF Bay Area to visit Gina's mother in Mesa, AZ. We had planned to also get a lot of hiking in, to summit a few of the mountains in the urban / suburban parts of the Valley.
The plan was to summit South Mountain, Papago, Piestewa and crown the week with Camelback. But plans change, fortunately. Because I met so many hikers (these parks have a LOT of users!), I learned of new places to try out and explore. And although we made it up most of Camelback, some of the discoveries were so cool I didn't regret our deviation from the "plan."
After recovering from the 15 hour drive across the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, my sister in law mentioned something about "North Mountain", of which I'd never heard. Entering this park off AZ51 north of Phoenix required no fee: but since maps weren't available from our parking lot we noted only a narrow, steep and rocky canyon at the start. Off we went. The trail was a slow series of dismounts to pull the chair over rocks or man - made obstacles, roll for 10 - 20 feet, then dismount and repeat. We worked our way up slowly but with determination. Topping a saddle, a 30 - foot series of short, evil steps would take us to the main trail - which turned out to be a well maintained, paved road used mostly by utility companies to check their operations at the summit.
North Mountain topped out at 2704', I believe, but the entire gain was probably only 500 - 700'. The road made the trek anticlimactic, and we stopped frequently to check in on the ever changing views. There were some tasty canyon trails I marked for next time, which will, of course, have me planning another trip ASAP.
Monday provided a little shocker - as I sat down in my chair to start the morning, it rocked sharply down to the left side. A short compression bushing on the caster (front wheel) set had fallen off! And I had all week to live with it? Yikes...Gina got on the phone and found a place in Phoenix that was open on the President's Day holiday. Off we went, depsite our plans...
We were met soon after entering Southwest Medical & Rehab by the gentleman Gina spoke with, Al Aranda. Al took a quick look, conferred with another technician and said "I think we can help you," before taking the chair into the back room.
15 minutes later they returned. My chair was once again fully suspended, working like a champ and chomping at the bit to get out on a trail. Al refused to accept any payment for the fix, which probably speaks volumes for the compassionand integrity of the shop. The inventory of chairs in their showroom was staggering and diverse. If you find yourself in need of a mobility device and you live nearby, forget the TV commercials and see Al and his compadres. They provided the kind of customer service all businesses would be proud of.
We returned to the house to plan the rest of our week. Gina and I had already finished "Hole in the Rock" at Papago Park, which was cool, as it was a really big...well, the name says it all. We met a couple of very nice women who seemed to know the area well. After climbing a long staircase to get to the main attraction, we discovered a barrier free way to get down, of which we availed ourselves. This was a very nicely finished urban park, but no place for solitude. Great for families with kids.
Wednesday, after literally flipping a coin to decide whether our quarry would be Piestewa or Camelback, we headed to the Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback. This trail was not set up for even the most creative and ambitious wheelchair adventurer - the hundreds of stairs leading to the rocky part of the upper trail made this park much, much less than enjoyable. A nice stair runner stopped to talk and advised me that the Cholla Trail, on the east side of the mountain, might be a little less daunting. Gina and I talked and decided to give this one a try.
The Cholla Trail had no parking at the trail head, but the 3/4 mile walk to the start helped loosen my shoulders for what would be a daunting day. The trail was narrow, and natural rocks provided some really interesting obstacles I had to overcome. In the first 50 feet of trail I had to dismount half a dozen times in order to get around boulders and shelves.
It didn't get much better. The narrow single track trail was extremely popular, and because there was so much traffic I ended up steering clear and waiting for runners and hikers to pass as I pondered my attack of the next craggy section. A trailside meeting with a man named Mathias proved wonderful, as he told me about Pinnacle Peak Trail in Scottsdale. As he and his girlfriend went back down, Gina and I continued abusing ourselves, tossing the chair up over rocks and low hanging trees. Gina's knee had swollen for an as - yet undisclosed reaon, but she said "let's keep going", so we did.
But we didn't go much farther. Between her knee and the fatigue I felt hefting the chair and my pack over so many rocks got to us. We called it quits a short distance later, and left with my vow to contact Phoenix Parks and Rec when I got home to inquire about their trailbuilding philosophy. This trail could've been built as a graded switchback - style trail, working around the obstacles. Maybe the disability climate here in the Bay Area is more enlightened, but imagine how valuable a resource Camelback could be if more kinds of users were welcomed. Perhaps a conversation with the fine trail architects of the East Bay Regional Park District could help.
Gina let her knee rest after we returned to the house and we planned Thursday's trek - Pinnacle Peak sounded perfect, so we planned a nice hike over this 3.5 mile round trip to some of the best views of the Valley and beyond.
Pinnacle Peak Park turned out to be one of our best experiences of the trip. The trail was planned and executed almost perfectly, a glorified single track width through a dozen species of cacti, songbirds serenading us and chuckwallas sunning themselves from cracks in the boulders. Rangers and a volunteer trail patrol staff made this park feel safe, as well as adventurous. The trail staff took several photos with me, as I was probably the first wheelchair hiker who'd ever propelled his transport up this route. As with most local trails, this one was heavily traveled, but once again was full of friendly hikers offering suggestions or assistance. I think a few were slightly put off when I politely declined their offers. I was still a cultural oddity out in the 'burbs, I guess.
We met the two nice women from Papago once more on this trail, who were soooo excited to see us again. As we talked, they mentioned a trail farther north up near Cave Creek - Spur Cross Ranch. I jotted it down and we said our goodbyes. Gina stopped for awhile at a big rock in which a pair of chuckwallas tried to hide from us. They weren't successful. They did draw a crowd, though. I worked my way to the 2889' high point of the trail, as the 3100' summit was off limits due to its geologic sensitivity. There were a lot of "what the hell...?" moments, as people who'd never seen a chair climb up a mountain seemed befuddled. But all were friendly, especially the ranger staff. The hike for an in - shape walker here is a good morning jaunt, and natural beauty is everywhere. This is a model trail, and Scottsdale residents should be proud.
Thursday night found us at a nice restaurant in Mesa, and as we overindulged with my mother in law and her husband we discussed Friday's plans. It would be our last day there, and I decided to try out Spur Cross Ranch. Gina and her mother would have a nice day together, as we were heading to a show at Casino Arizona that night. I looked forward to that as well as Spur Cross.
There was little urgency to wake up in a hurry Friday morning. I got ready, helped Ron, Gina's stepdad, get around after dropping his car off for servicing early in the morning. By 11:30 AM I was out and on my way, on the long road up the 101 Loop to Scottsdale Road and north to Cave Creek and Carefree.
The first thing I found at Spur Cross was a fairly full parking area attended primarily by a small group of apparently wild burros. They weren't all too bashful, but left before I could get a photo. A couple of very nice ladies stopped to tell me which trails I should try, where I'd see the best stuff, and that the creek was running. I was overjoyed. It was near 80 degrees, and I love creek crossings. I had 4 of them on the route I took.
Spur Cross is a small park, with good, rustic fire road - style trails as well as single track wide enough that I could keep clear of the cholla. The best part was taking the Spur Cross Trail all the way through the park, where an open gate leads into the Tonto National Forest. At this writing, I'm waiting for a response from the NF to find out if backpack opportunities exist via this trail. I'll keep you posted.
Hoping to make a full loop, I took Spur Cross Trail to the Metata Trail. The earlier mentioned women said some of the best saguaros in the world were on this trail, and they wern't lying. I found some incredible examples, as well as beavertail, barrel, prickly pear, cholla and cat's claw, all meant to snag and destroy exposed skin. I was spared because I tread vary carefully through the narrowest sections of trail. This was a perfect follow up to Pinnacle Peak, as it offered all the desert with none of the people. I met only a handful of hikers out here. It was the closest thing to a wild park that I'd experienced - kudos to Maricopa County Parks and Rec for this one. Next time I'm bringing Gina out. I was stoked, and didn't want to return to the car or home.
Friday night I was in excellent spirits, having done a lot more hiking than intended. We saw a really fun show at the Casino, with Elvis, Garth Brooks, Gloria Estefan and the Temptations in full impersonated glory. It was a fun show, one I'd see again if given the chance. We had a fine dinner at the Casino's Cholla Restaurant, devouring elk tenderloin and twice baked potatoes - heck, a hiker's got to eat too, you know?
We left Arizona with sadness, as both of us had a wonderful time and weren't looking forward to ending this adventure. Reaching Bakersfield around midnight, it started to rain. We'd caught up with the rain that had plowed through California while we were gone. Tasha the Wonder hound and Indy Jones, our two dogs, traveled with us even though they stayed in a Mesa dog hotel while we visited. They were pampered and spoiled beyond belief, hoping we'd forgotten about them as the kennel took outstanding care of them.
I hate vacations because they always end. This one was no different. If Gina had mentioned something about turning around and calling in sick for a week....wow, I don't think she'd have had much resistance. Great trip, great company, great desert hiking at the greatest time of year to hike the desert. Two wheels up!