Phoenix Mountains in December
The month is creeping ever onward toward the end of the year, and in Phoenix that means the weather has turned pleasant enough to enjoy the local scenery. The past few days have brought welcome rain, and so I decided it was a good time to go out and see what the desert was up to. My destination on this hike was a solitary twin peak oriented north to south, which I attempted to summit last year (see 3.17.2011), but never completed due to a lack of water and terrain which is considerably more dangerous in snake season. These peaks are unique for their lack of trails, their steepness, and their height, which is why I was so eager to climb them in the first place.
The mountain is a good ways into the park, though, and the road there was beginning to bloom with the short-lived greenery which thrives after rain. Every crack in the rocks and patch of dirt on the slopes harbors some kind of moss or lichen, and it is this extreme contrast which makes such an event my favorite excuse to hike. Near the beginning of the trail a view of distant Four Peaks can be had, capped with snow from the same storm as the rain. Further in the broad valley rises up into craggy hills and formations, providing a playground for someone with my interests.
Before long I was at the base of the first mountain, which must be hiked over to reach the second, higher peak. The top of the first was as far as I had been, a tangled boulder field and imposing steepness turning me back. I was determined to make it this time, though, and found to my chagrin that while the scenery looks vicious from the first peak, in reality it is no more difficult than any other part of the hike. From the halfway point a formation on the higher slopes took the shape of a figure climbing upward, a smaller version of the famous monk of Camelback Mountain.
Once at the top, over 2000 feet in elevation, I took in the rare view of both north and south park, then had the honor of building the first stone cairn to mark my passage. That done, I picked my way down and over the west side of the slopes, treated to great landscapes awash in the afternoon sun. At one point I ran across a few patches of fossilized seabed, a special feature found in far-flung parts of the park, and the only sandstone to be found around the mountains in any form.
Once in the valley again I began the long trek out, following a wide trail which borders the deepest tributary of the main outflowing wash. From there I could see both my usual mountains on the northern edge as well as the larger range surrounding Piestewa, the highest mountain in the park. The shadows of that peak stretched all the way to my trail, reinforcing the coolness of the day.
I’ll try to get out again later this week, hopefully to explore more of the southern reaches of the park which have remained mysterious for a long time. Aside from that, I can only say that the whisper of a surprise from my last post must still remain a whisper, but it is growing and looking more promising by the day. Enjoy the holiday season, and check back soon for more photos!