Four by Four

Four hikes in four days is my idea of how to make the most of a winter getaway to a warmer climate.  Not that Albuquerque isn’t a relatively warm place in winter, but it can’t compare to Phoenix, Arizona, when it comes to January temperatures.  And there are actually some winter rains in southern Arizona, making it more green than what we see this time of year in Albuquerque.

Our first hike on Sunday was near Sunflower, Arizona, starting at the Bushnell Tanks trailhead just off Highway 87 halfway between Payson and Phoenix. The trailhead is one of the access points to the Arizona Trail. We did a loop hike that started on an old dirt road along Sycamore Creek before ascending up to meet the Arizona Trail. We were pleasantly surprised to encounter running water in a creek that had enough flow to make for a couple of tricky stream crossings–certainly not something we would see around Albuquerque.

Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve was the location for our Monday hike. Since it was a holiday weekend the visitor’s center was quite crowded. A very helpful volunteer loaded us down with maps and enthusiastic recommendations for hiking trails that soon led us up and away from the crowds. These hillsides had plenty of the quintessential Sonoran desert cactus– giant Saguaros that you don’t get to see anywhere but Arizona.

Tuesday’s hike was our favorite of the four. And it was the only one that required a 10 mile drive down a rough dirt road, instead of just Phoenix streets and highways that got us to the other hikes. But, I suppose, driving on rough dirt roads is one of the requirements for getting to the best hiking destinations. That certainly seems to be the case in New Mexico. And it was the steepest climb of the four, too, which is obviously a requirement for getting the best views. We were in the Superstition Mountains on the Peralta Trail and not only were there great views but there were also green areas along the creek up the canyon surrounded by looming boulders and cliffs of volcanic rock. The turnaround point was at Fremont Saddle which provided a view of Weaver’s Needle, an eroded column of volcanic rock.

South Mountain Regional Park, managed by the city of Phoenix, is the largest municipal park in the country. It was a fitting end to our four days in Phoenix. After a mile of climbing up with a 700 foot elevation gain we were able to enjoy numerous views of the sprawling, busy Phoenix metro area spread out below while we meandered up and down the rocky hillsides on the trails that were being enjoyed by mountain bikers, as well as hikers.

We have still only scratched the surface of all the hiking opportunities in the Phoenix area. Since it’s only a day’s drive from Albuquerque, I’m sure we will be back again to enjoy more time in the warm sunny climate of the Sonoran Desert.

Big Bend

Most people have heard of Big Bend National Park, but fewer people are aware that there is a Big Bend State Park (actually, it is Big Bend Ranch State Park). Until Lee researched hiking in the Big Bend area and suggested we visit there, I didn’t know it existed. It has only been a park since the early 90’s, fully opening to the public in 2007. At 300,000 acres it is the largest state park in Texas.

Geographically, both parks are in the huge section of southwestern Texas where the Rio Grand River makes a 100-mile loop around the Chisos Mountains as it heads towards the Gulf of Mexico. Big Bend National Park encompasses the Chisos Mountains, making for awe-inspiring vistas and many challenging hiking opportunities. We experienced some of those in our 2016 visit.

The Big Bend Ranch State Park is upriver, northwest of the mountains, but still contains beautiful scenery, accessible spots along the river, hikes through canyons and over mesas and miles of trekking across Chihuahuan desert terrain. Because it is less well known than the national park and is less developed it is ideal for getting away from civilization. The first day there we did two short hikes and then yesterday a 7.5-mile hike out and back on the Fresno Divide Trail.

Photos from Monday hikes

As we head east today we will pick another place to hike in Big Bend National Park, saying goodby to this quiet, remote area and joining the larger groups of tourists who visit Big Bend National Park.