Back to South Mountain Park

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I’m horribly out of shape. I blame the pandemic. I’m just not one of those people who said, “Gee, since I can’t go to the movies or go out to dinner, I think I’ll concentrate on doing pilates. . .”

It’s been almost a year since I’ve gone hiking. I miss it. I used to go once or twice a month. A few weeks ago I headed over to South Mountain Park and couldn’t find a parking spot. It was a Sunday. Duh.

Last Friday morning the temperature here was 60 degrees–in my opinion, the perfect hiking temperature. I drove out to the Pima Canyon trailhead at South Mountain to hike down the main trail, which is fairly level. I needed an easy hike. I took my camera with me and put on my larger lens, so that I concentrated on a medium distance instead of what’s close by. I’ve taken millions of shots in the park, and I wanted to try to make these a little different.

They all pretty much show how rugged the desert is. See that cyclist near the right edge of the frame below?

I got another shot of him a few minutes later.

Oops. The little circle in the sky below is not a balloon or a UFO. Probably just a speck of dust on my lens.

I walked as far as the intersection with the Beverly Canyon trail, then turned around and headed back to the parking lot. The next shot is toward Tempe, where my home is. It also shows the cloud of particulates effectively sealed in by the surrounding mountains.

I’m not sure what this group of people was up to, but I think maybe they have sketchpads? Or maybe they’re all just checking their phones.

I feel sorry for the people who have left items on the trails, especially for the poor soul who lost his keys.

When I got back to my car, the temperature was 68 degrees. Can’t complain.

Hiking Different Trails at South Mountain Park

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Hiking Different Trails at South Mountain Park

I’ve been back to South Mountain Park three times since I last posted about it. My first visit back, I hiked further along the Kiwanis Trail. But after a while, I couldn’t tell where the trail led; it wasn’t clearly marked. I turned to retrace my steps, and I couldn’t remember which way I’d come up. Luckily, a little old man and his wife appeared, coming down, and I watched where they stepped. It was tricky, harder than coming up. They wanted to wait for me, but I told them to go on–I’d be awhile. I did catch up to them again–much later.

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That little red dot left of center is a person. He gives some scale to the landscape.

So the next time, I decided to find an “easy” trail, and decided on the Marcos de Niza trail, which starts near the Pima Canyon trailhead on the eastern end of the park, which is a lot closer to my home than the main entrance near Central Avenue.

 

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the Marcos de Niza trail once I got there. Instead, I hiked a very nice, wide, fairly level trail which I think is the National Trail. Part of it parallels a sandy dry wash.

 

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I walked about half an hour, stopping along the way to take photographs. Lovely wildflowers along the path (click on smaller pictures to enlarge):

A dead saguaro cactus:

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An ominous threat of rain on the mountain:

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When I came to an intersection, I turned right on the Beverly Canyon trail, and then picked up the Pima Wash Trail, which I could see headed back toward the parking lot. (There it is, behind those red-roofed ramadas, with the city of Tempe in the distance.)

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Though this ocotillo looks dead, closer inspection shows new growth coming out among the thorns.

This tree, however, is very dead:

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The Pima Wash trail is narrower than the National Trail, and has more ups and downs, making it a bit more demanding, but not too bad. More wildflowers:

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This little cave looks like the perfect home for a fox:

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I swear this cloud followed me.

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Yesterday I went back to the Pima Canyon trailhead, but I was in the mood for something a little more challenging. I left my camera at home and took the first part of the Desert Classic trail, which wraps around the southeastern edge of the mountain. The first mile or so borders along the back of a housing development. Thirty years ago, when we were exploring moving to the Phoenix area, we looked at some of these houses with “mountain views.” However, the ones in our price range were quite small, too tight for our growing family.

This trail, like the other South Mountain trails I’ve hiked so far, are popular with runners, mountain bikers, and dogwalkers. I overheard one biker tell his companion, “This is one of the least rocky trails in Phoenix. I’d hate to see a rockier one.”

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You can’t always see the surrounding trails, but every once in a while you get a peek of other hikers.

The Desert Classic trail starts out fairly level, but then it climbs. After a little more than mile, it intersects with the Beverly Canyon trail, which continues up and over the mountain. It’s steep, but there are adequate footholds. I was not afraid, as I have been on some trails. After I descended, which was a little tricky (I handle uphill better than down), the trail becomes a bit easier and ultimately crosses the main National Trail, which I followed back to my car.

I’m very comfortable with yesterday’s hike, and I will come back to it. Parts of it are a little harder than what I expect I will experience when I visit Israel this summer, but if I train hard now, I’ll have a great vacation.

Hiking in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

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Hiking in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

My daughter Carly spent seven and a half weeks in Israel last year, six of those weeks in Hebron (I guess, technically, in Palestine) studying Arabic. She wants to go back this summer, and suggested I go, too. It’s been on my bucket list for thirty years.

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Carly warned me, “I don’t understand how this is possible, but I swear every street in Bethlehem is uphill.” I promised her I’d train. I’ve been walking the treadmill at an incline, and I will gradually increase my speed and my height. A friend who’s been to Israel recommended bringing a trekking pole for uneven ground and cobblestones.

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Working out on the treadmill is nice, but maybe it’s not realistic. I bought some hiking boots and a trekking pole and headed out to South Mountain Park.

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South Mountain Park/Preserve is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. It encompasses more than 16,000 acres at the southern edge of Phoenix, Arizona.

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I used to drive up to the summit of the park with my children when they were young. There’s a cabin-like structure at the top where you can sit, eat a picnic lunch, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire “Valley of the Sun.” But I’d never hiked there, except for one brief excursion with my kids when they begged to go home after 15 minutes.

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So, now I’m a sixty-six year old beginning hiker with two artificial hips. With the help of Hike Phoenix, I determined that the Kiwanis Trail would be a good place to start.

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Thursday late morning I parked my car at the trailhead and looked around. If you follow ARHtistic License, you may have caught on that I love the desert. It’s so much greener than I’d expected when we moved here from New Jersey. I love the rugged rockiness of the desert mountains.

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There’s a profound silence in the park, except for the chirping of birds. And the sounds of the jets en route to and from Sky Harbor International Airport, not too far away. And barrages of gunfire from a nearby shooting range. And the disconcerting buzzing of bees busy pollinating the yellow brittlebush and taking detours around my head.

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In the 1990s, Africanized honeybees invaded Arizona, and from time to time we heard reports of people and dogs being severely stung and even killed by swarms of the bees in Arizona, and at least one in South Mountain Park. Not so much lately, though.

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I discovered I really like the trekking pole. It helped stabilize me on the steeper sections of the trail, and even a gentle push on the pole helped boost me up a big step. I will definitely take it to Israel.

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Even though there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, I didn’t see many people on the trail. Part of that might be due to the fact I was there on a weekday; also, I brought my camera with me, and I stopped every few feet to take another picture. The desert looks different every time you change your perspective.

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At one point, all I could see ahead of me was a jumble of rocks. Uh oh, I’ve lost the trail. But a couple steps later, I saw it again. I guess my stature of five feet nothing was to blame for my limited vision.

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I never reached the end of the trail. After forty minutes, I decided I’d had enough for the day and turned around.

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I found coming down the trail more challenging than going up. Again, my trekking pole helped me keep my balance while stretching beyond my normal stride, and kept me from stumbling when my heel caught an outcropping or I landed on a lose rock and almost twisted my ankle. I made it back to the car in twenty-five minutes, taking few pictures on the way down because I needed to concentrate on my footing. (I ended up with a total of 95 shots!)

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I will definitely be going back, without my camera next time. I want to enjoy the hiking without any distractions. I am so blessed to be able to immerse myself in the beauty of the desert.

Hiking in Usery Park

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Hiking in Usery Park

A week and a half ago, my daughter Katie invited me to hiking with her in Usery Mountain Regional Park, part of the Maricopa County Park system. I’d never been there before, but I knew it was a favorite spot of a friend of mine, so I was happy to accept.

I’ve enjoyed my hikes in South Mountain Park, which I think is gorgeous, but Usery Park is much more beautiful, greener.

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As we entered the park, we asked the attendant at the guard house where to find an easy trail for beginners (for me; I’ve only been hiking once since my emergency gall bladder surgery in April, and I wanted level ground). She recommended the Merkle Trail, which circles around a small mountain. We started on that, and immediately came to the Vista Trail, which went up the mountain, followed the ridge, and went down the other side. We decided to try it. The photo above was taken at the top. You can see the Merkle trail on the lower level.

The trail was rough and rocky in spots, but not too steep. There was one short stretch that was strenuous enough to get my heart pounding, but it was doable for an old lady like me. I brought my Sony Cyber-shot instead of my “good” camera, but it did a reasonable job of capturing the beautiful terrain.

Lots of cactus (click on the smaller photos to enlarge):

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And we met a little friend. Katie thinks it’s a chuckwalla. I tried to walk around him and take a better picture, but he took off.

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Here and there were some big outcroppings of rock.

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Painted on the mountains in the distance is an arrow pointing the way to Phoenix. You can see it from the air on the way to Sky Harbor International Airport.

When we came down the mountain, we followed the Merkle Trail back to where we started.

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I can’t wait to go back again.

N is for North Mountain Park

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N is for North Mountain Park

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email:

Hi Andrea,
It’s me, Textile Ranger!  I am going to be in Phoenix the first part of next week, April 8 and 9, staying by North Mountain State Park.  I have stayed there before a few years ago, so you when you wrote about hiking at South Mountain, that registered with me.  It may be very far from your part of Phoenix to where I will be, but I just wanted to check with you about possibly meeting for lunch or an art museum visit or something on one of those days.  If you can’t make it, that is fine, but I didn’t want to come to Phoenix without mentioning it to you.
If you don’t know, Textile Ranger is the blogger behind Deep in the Heart of Textiles. I can’t remember how I stumbled across it, but I love it for the quilts Textile Ranger creates. She’s interested in (and writes about) everything textile, from fibers and dyes to antique clothing. She’s been weaving for decades. (She also has a nature blog, Little Wild Streak.) So, she’s something of a celebrity to me, and I jumped at the chance to meet her in person. And since I’ve been meaning to check out North Mountain Park, I suggested we hike there together before going out to lunch.
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We met last Tuesday at the Visitor Center. She gifted me with a nifty water bottle holder that clips on nicely to the shoulder bag I usually carry when I’m hiking. Now I have a free hand!

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Textile Ranger

And off we went. Ranger (she spent two summers as a park ranger at Big Bend) suggested a 2 1/2 mile trail that didn’t have any steep elevations. Perfect for walking and talking.
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The huge park has breathtaking desert and mountain views. We had some good rains a few weeks ago, and we’ve been rewarded with lovely wildflowers.
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Globemallow below:
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I want to call these buttercups, but I’m not sure that’s what they are:
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These flowers remind me of how little children draw flowers, just circles on a stem; I don’t know what they are–
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But there was an area that was literally blanketed with them:
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And the palo verde trees are just beginning to bloom:
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Closeup of a pale verde blossom:
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And the cholla cactus has these beautiful magenta blooms:
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Back at the visitor’s center, there is a water fountain that dispenses chilled water. Heavenly! And there are beautiful plantings by the building. Don’t know what this bush is:
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I think this is a pink globemallow:
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Cool sculptures:
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Which are the perfect backdrop for another picture of the Textile Ranger:
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I am so thrilled that Textile Ranger is not just a virtual friend any more, but a real friend whom I know face to face. We have lots in common. She’s also a former elementary school teacher, and she loves to read. I’m so touched that she reached out to me. Be sure to check out her blogs, Deep in the Heart of  Textiles and Little Wild StreakShe’s going to post her take on North Mountain Park on Little Wild Streak today.
North Mountain Park is a place I will explore in more detail in the future.
AtoZ2019tenthAnn

Revisiting “A” Mountain

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Revisiting “A” Mountain

Three years ago I hiked nearby Hayden Butte, also known as Tempe Butte and “A” Mountain for the big “A” on its face (for Arizona State University). I made it most of the way up, but turned back before reaching the top, because after negotiating what was for me a very challenging rocky area, I came across another patch like it and didn’t want to press my luck.

But recently I bought a nice pair of hiking boots and a trekking pole, and I’ve committed myself to hiking regularly, and I thought maybe I could try “A” Mountain again.

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It’s a little hard to see the “A” from this angle. Also, it’s a lot larger than it looks–60 feet tall!

I took the light rail to downtown Tempe. There are two stops at the foot of the butte. I got off at the Veterans Way/College Ave stop.

The first part of the trail is a gravel path which is sometimes a gentle slope, but mostly steep steps reinforced by wooden railroad ties. I stopped often along the way to take pictures.

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The light rail train approaching the Mill Ave/3rd St station.

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Hayden Mill, an historic landmark

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The lovely Tempe Mission Palms Hotel.

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Always construction in Tempe and on the Arizona State University campus.

This is the desert, folks, as you can see from the landscape along the trail.

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Pretty desert wildflowers (click on the smaller photos to enlarge):

 

A little-bit-better view of the “A.”

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After a while, the gravel path connects to an asphalt one, which is rather steep, but has a hand-rail. It ends at a level area with benches and a trash bin, a good spot to take a break and snap some photographs. Then we’re back to an unpaved trail.

It seems to me that the trail has deteriorated a lot in three years. The soil has eroded to such a degree that some of the steps are almost three feet high, challenging for a little old lady like me with two artificial hips.

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Here’s a hazy view of Sky Harbor Airport (upper left; control tower center) and the Phoenix skyline.

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Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium is nestled right next to Hayden Butte:

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Eventually you get high enough to see what’s on the other side of the butte: State Farm Insurance’s new headquarters and the Tempe Town Lake, built out of the dry Salt River bed.

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Also, by this time we are on the stretch that caused me so much distress last time. The path is steep, uneven solid rock with lots of nooks and crannies. I think I wore ordinary sneakers last time; hiking boots are much better on this kind of terrain. I carefully watched where I put my feet so that I wouldn’t turn my ankle.

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Because my eyes were down, I didn’t notice that the handrail on my right, which I was hanging onto for dear life, abruptly ended. Unfortunately, another handrail, to my left, would not be within reach for two more steps. In my surprise, I awkwardly swayed on my steep footing until I could maneuver my trekking pole into service. Can you make out the gap between the handrails in the picture below?

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Despite the posted policy requiring hikers to stay on the trail, some find lofty vantage points to check their phones:

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After that point, there was one (or maybe two) tall staircases fabricated out of concrete. Then there was another stretch of uneven solid rock. It was there that I turned around last time. This time I continued onward and was rewarded by a lovely view of Camelback Mountain (near the left horizon; from a different angle, it is easier to make out the camel’s head, neck, and hump; in this picture you really don’t see them unless you know what to look for).

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After that rock path, there is a short, maybe 6-step staircase made of concrete; a small level area with a trash can; and to the left another short staircase leading to a chained and padlocked gate. That’s as far as you can go. There’s no platform at the top to relax and take pictures; you’re better off stopping just before you get to those two little staircases. (This picture doesn’t capture it very well. I took it after I’d already started down. But you can see the handrail to nowhere.)

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It took me about 35 minutes to go up, taking photographs along the way, and about 25 minutes to come down. A lot of people, especially college students, passed me coming and going, so it is possible to do this hike in a significantly shorter time. You use different leg muscles coming down, and it’s steep, so I walked with care. I decided to take the asphalt path all the way down and bypass that first stretch of railroad tie steps. I ended up having to wander a long way around the base of the mountain to get back where I started.

If you’re interested, a very well-written online review details hiking the butte with kids.

 

Hole in the Rock: Papago Park, Phoenix AZ

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If it weren’t for the cacti and other vegetation, you might think you were on the moon, due to the unearthly sandstone formations scattered about Papago Park, a unique hiking destination minutes away from downtown Phoenix.

The property that is now Pagago Park was designated a reservation for the Maricopa and Pima tribes in 1879. In 1932, a bass hatchery was located there as part of the Works Progress Administration projects following the Great Depression.

From 1942 to 1944, Papago Park housed a World War II prisoner of war camp, where over 3,000 mostly German soldiers were detained. On December 23, 1944, 25 prisoners escaped. After a few days trying to survive in the desert, they turned themselves in.

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One of my biggest surprises, when we moved to Arizona nearly 30 years ago, was that the desert is quite green. Not only do cacti grow there, but also bushes and trees.

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The picture below shows a view of the iconic Camelback Mountain in nearby Scottsdale. See the camel’s head and hump?

Haze hangs over the city (just barely visible on the horizon, below) due to “inversion,” which causes particulates (dust) in the air to be trapped near the surface because of the surrounding mountains.

Throughout the park, scattered ramadas shelter picnic tables.

How does a bush grow right out of the rock?

The roads and parking in the park are well-planned and partially hidden by vegetation in some places. You don’t have to walk very far to feel all alone in the desert. Two other major attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, are also located in the park. Literally hundreds of people come to the park every day.

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Hmm. Fred Flintstone’s couch?

The trail up to Hole in the Rock. I have hip issues, so I didn’t go all the way up. It’s not too hard, but it’s a little steep for an old lady not at her best.

Remember about ten years ago when everyone was worried about the killer bees coming north from South America? Guess where they settled. Yep. Arizona became home to a large percentage of the unwanted immigrant bees. They’ve interbred with the local bees and are less threatening now than they used to be. I haven’t heard of a death in a long time, but for a while, a few people and dogs were severely stung every year.

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See the little triangle shape at the top of the hill below? George Hunt, Arizona’s first governor, is buried in the pyramid-shaped tomb.

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One of the favorite attractions in the park is Hole in the Rock, pictured below. The ancient Hohokam people who lived here before the time of Christ used this structure as a solstice observatory, keeping track of the sun’s trajectory by making marks in the sandstone. Two and a half miles to the southeast are ruins of a Hohokam village know as Pueblo Grande, where there is a ceremonial mound. Atop the mound is a building with a door in the southeast corner which lets in the rays of the summer solstice sunrise, and the last rays of the winter solstice sunset. The door also is in perfect alignment with the Hole in the Rock. Coincidence, or a sophisticated feat of engineering?

 

Solitude in Nature

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I’ve written before about hiking in South Mountain Park. It’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve been there, and I miss it very much. Truth be told, I just started taking walks again the beginning of October—it’s just been much too hot around here. Also, between being wary about Covid and needing to help my husband, I just haven’t gotten out much. But I’ve started venturing out a little as of the middle of September.

Moving your body is a good thing at any age; staying active as you get older is especially important. Besides being wonderful exercise for the body and the brain, hiking also has benefits for emotional and mental health. Walking and hiking have a meditative element to them. As you stride, you notice what is around you. You are present in the moment. But you can also let your mind work on your problems—or forget your problems entirely.

Ideally, you should have a companion with you when you hike. But I’ve also hiked by myself. I wouldn’t recommend hiking an unfamiliar trail on your own, but I’ve done exactly that. There is something to be said for being alone in the wilderness.

When I first took up hiking, everything was new to me. I did a little online reading about the trails in the park. I bought some hiking boots and was delighted to find out I was more sure-footed in them than I had been in sneakers. I bought a trekking pole and found it to be very helpful for maintaining balance when forced to make large steps or walking on rocky surfaces (be sure to keep the pole in front of you).

When you’re on your own, you’re forced to be self-sufficient and make your own judgment calls. In most parks, you’re required to stay on the trails. But sometimes you can’t quite tell where the trail is. If the trail gets steep, you may have no clue where to put your feet. Hiking alone tests your mettle.

My very first hike in South Mountain Park, I went by myself. I was having a great time walking at my own pace. I hardly saw another person, and I was all right with that. After half an hour, I reached the top of a hill, and then I couldn’t tell where the trail went from there. So I turned around, feeling maybe it was time to head back. But from the top of the hill, I literally could not figure out how to get down. It looked way steeper going down than it had looked going up, and I could not identify what path I had taken to get where I was.

While I was standing there wondering what to do, an older couple crested the hill from the other direction and began making their way down without any of the hesitancy I was feeling. I watched where they stepped and followed them. They stopped as if they were waiting for me, but I said, “No, go on ahead—I don’t want to slow you down.” I actually caught up to them a while later where the ground was more level.

Maybe a year later I took a trail that was new to me, that a hiking website has designated as “easy” (warning—an “easy” label does not mean that a fairly new hiker will find it easy). It was the most challenging trail I’d ever been on. Lots of up and down, lots of very rocky sections. I approached a section that I knew intersected with a much easier trail that I was familiar with, but the easy trail was a good thirty feet below, and the three possible ways down the ridge were all very steep. I had seen other hikers pass me and drop of out sight, but I had no idea which way they had gone. When I looked down one path, I saw a woman hanging by her hands. I walked away because I didn’t want to make her nervous.

I walked from one path to another, and couldn’t figure out how to traverse them. While I was trying to decide, other hikers came up those paths, but I was too far from them to see how they did it. I considered turning back, but it had taken me one and a half hours to get to where I was; I know the easy path was only half an hour from the trailhead. I had to go forward. After a good twenty minutes of considering my options, I picked the least harrowing path of the three. I sat on the edge, dangled my legs, and carefully skootched myself off, about a six-foot drop. I didn’t kill myself! That was my scariest hiking experience, but it energized me to get past it all by myself.

What am I trying to say? That being by myself in the wilderness helps center me. I’m awed by my surroundings. I’m gratified that I can be resourceful when I have to be. I feel closer to God, closer to the earth, unhurried, undistracted.

Six Years of ARHtistic License

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Six Years of ARHtistic License

June 3 will be my 6th blog birthday! To celebrate, I’d like to take a look back at these first five months of 2021 and see what I’ve accomplished.

I currently have a few over 1200 subscribers. That’s a 28% increase over this time last year. I’d be happy with that growth, except that the previous year’s increase was 38%, so it almost feels like a loss . . .

I’d love to have 2000 followers by the end of this year. Could that happen? Yes, but only with your help. If you don’t yet follow my blog, but you like what you see, please subscribe! And if you read a post that you like, please click the “like” button. It makes me so happy, and it supplies valuable data about what my readers like.

My most popular posts of 2021 so far, according to number of views:

  1. When Blogging Becomes Expensive
  2. Back to South Mountain Park
  3. Ideas for Valentine’s Day During the Pandemic
  4. Smell the Roses
  5. Review of Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza
  6. Creative Juice #236
  7. 19 More Best Zentangle Sites on the Web
  8. Flower of the Day: Yellow Mystery Flowers
  9. Which Way: Hikers on the Trail
  10. Midweek Madness: Church and Chapel

Numbers 8-10 are responses to photography challenges; numbers 2 and 4 are photo essays. Many of my readers are amateur or professional photographers who are very generous about checking out photography posts. Photographers are a supportive community. I’ve been meaning to work on my photography and post more pictures, but my time to go out and shoot is limited right now.

My most popular posts of 2021 so far, according to number of “likes”:

  1. Back to South Mountain Park
  2. Weekly Photo Challenge: Small Creature
  3. Wordless Wednesday/ Flower of the Day: One Perfect Vinca
  4. Smell the Roses
  5. A Photo a Week: All About the Scenery
  6. Wordless Wednesday/ Flower of the Day: Cat’s Claw
  7. Flower of the Day: Poppies
  8. Wordless Wednesday: Whirligig
  9. Creative Juice #236
  10. When Blogging Becomes Expensive

Unsurprisingly, there is some overlap. Also unsurprisingly, eight of these are photography posts. I’m beginning to think photographers are my peeps. Maybe I should stop pursuing writing and art and music and dance and just concentrate on photography. That’s a thought. Except I like all the arts.

I’m not as enthusiastic about blogging as I have been in the past. Part of it is my life is very fragmented right now, a situation that is unlikely to change soon.

But by the same token, it’s easier to write blog posts than novels in the small bits of time I have. Nevertheless, I’m giving myself permission to skip a day every now and then.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite parts of ARHtistic License? Was there a recent post you especially liked? What would you like to see more of? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sports

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Mountain biker in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

More picsoftheweek.