One of my favorite spots for hiking is the Sonoran Desert Preserve and Cave Butte Recreation Area, just North of town. Of course, I only hike in the winter, and when I do, it always amazes me how green our desert is.
While in the summer months I keep dreaming and planning of moving away from Phoenix, when winter comes, I forget all of those plans. There is no better place to enjoy the outdoors in the winter than in my own backyard, so to speak. It helps that I don’t ski and was never a good ice skater, so I don’t miss the winter activities. And definitely don’t miss the cold. When temperatures get down to the 60s or 70s, it is cold enough for me. And it is the perfect time to take a hike.
There are more hiking trails within the city limits of Phoenix than any other place I know. I have a few favorites, some of them because they are close, others can take me away from the city even while I am in the middle of it.
Desert Vista Trailhead
This particular weekend I decided to join my husband on a hike on the Desert Vista Trail, in the Sonoran Reserve and going through the Cave Butte Recreation Area. Located in the Northernmost part of the city, the vistas take me from a view of the city to an area that feels hundreds of miles away, with no sign of civilization. In less than three miles.
Since I am out of shape, I prefer not to hike up the mountains in the area. If you’re in search for a long hike, you can walk up to ten miles in this preserve. For me, at least now, it was enough to hike about three miles, with little elevation gain.
We drive to the Desert Vista Trailhead, which is not far from our home. From there, we have a few choices of trails, from easy to moderate to very difficult. They all start at the same spot and we set off, deciding for the next step at the different divergent trailheads.
I end up hiking the Desert Wren Trail, a moderate, but mostly flat and wide trail that connects a few shorter ones.
Even for Short Hikes, I Grab A Waterbottle
For short hikes, I prefer not to take my Camelpak. However, I fill one of my water bottles. It is still the desert, after all, even if temperatures are perfect. Humidity is very low, so it is very easy to get dehydrated.
We don’t have plastic water bottles in our house, and I stay away from them. I also tell my kids and everyone I encounter to do the same. It is easy enough to buy a reusable water bottle and remember to fill it up. Yes, I know, tap water is not the greatest in our city, so we have a water purifier system installed, in addition to a smaller filter that we use for drinking water. In the long run, any of these filters pay for themselves, if you count the amount of water bottles you would buy otherwise. Especially if you live in the desert. Not to mention your impact on the environment.
Although it is winter and I don’t need it as much as at other times the year, I grab my insulated water bottle. This way, I don’t even need to add ice.
Hiking on the Desert Wren Trail
The beginning of the trail seems the most strenuous, since it is climbing on a steep angle. We are on the Hawk Nest Trail here, but soon take the Desert Tortoise Trail and the Valle Verde Trail before connecting with the Desert Wren Trail.
After the first moderate climb, the trail evens out, and I have a great view of the city below. On a good day, it looks nice. Most of the time, we see the smog that is settled on the city. We always notice that the area we live in is relatively clear. I don’t know for how long. But in these pockets of wilderness, the air is clean. When we are out here, we can escape the pollution for a short time.
As I continue on the trail, the city disappears. Instead, I enjoy the green desert surrounding me.
The teddy bear cholla looks cute and fuzzy in the morning light. I feel an urge to touch it and if I didn’t know better, I would. It is still a cactus variety. Those cute fuzzies would hurt if stuck in my fingers, which they would. And they are hard to remove. Since I know this, I resist the urge. I take a few photos of them instead.
Giant saguaros surround me. They are the symbol of our desert, and we have plenty of them in this area. In some places it reminds me of Saguaro National Monument. Since it finally rained recently, they look healthy and green. Some have many arms, twisted and pointing in all different directions, but most are younger and only have a few of them.
I still enjoy walking through this landscape, twenty-some years after I fell in love with it. I’m still amazed of the hardiness of this environment, where so many species of plants and animals live. They adapted to some of the harshest environments on the planet, surviving without water for months. then as soon as they get some rain, they look happy and healthy.
Back to Town
The trail eventually takes me back to the neighborhood it started in. I walk above some of the homes, and I think I might like to live in one of them. I’d like to be able to walk out into the wild every day, without the need for a car ride, to wake up looking in my backyard and seeing the desert, instead of other homes. But I realize that I like my privacy too much for that. Anyone on the trail could look down into my back yard, and they would, because it is the way the trail goes. Still. The homes are in a great spot, right under the trail.
I encounter more hikers on this last stretch of the trail. While a few of them are locals, I realize that most are snowbirds, retirees who live here seasonally, in the winters. They get the best of both worlds, perfect weather year round. I think it is what we want to do when we get older. Not a bad nickname, either. My ancestors were nomads, I could be one, too. At least migratory, like the birds.
As I get back to the car, I realize that I feel great. The crisp air, great desert vistas, and the hike itself gets me ready for the rest of the day. It’s just another beautiful day in the desert, reminding me why I live here in the first place. I didn’t go out-of-town for a change, and didn’t feel the need for it.