intimate desert

I really, really love hiking in and around the baby mountains in Arizona. They are so accessible.

I call them baby mountains because they are not like the majestic rockies or the towering tetons, craggy and snowcapped almost touching the sky. Instead, they are scratchy, greenish – red bumps in the desert.

Some, don’t even look inviting.

All along the trails, there are giant, imposing, spiny saguaro cacti guarding the sun-baked land. Remnants of dried up river washes litter the path with carelessly strewn and piled river rock, waiting to twist your ankle should you misstep. And if you do misstep, perchance to fall – your fall might be broken by a low lying prickly pear or beavertail cactus. Hello free acupuncture!

Ahh, but there is reward. The Sonoran desert trails in Cave Creek, Arizona have a sublime and rugged beauty. Hiking the “lost dog wash trail” reminded me of being at the bottom of the ocean – without water. This trail twists and turns through bowls and valleys, then gently climbs to a lookout about 2000 feet up. Fill it with water, and one could easily imagine all of the flora undulating with a current, while sea creatures bob and weave as they go about their business. There is a sense of “a land before time” here.

Solitude. Big sky. Big land. Wilderness. Absolute quiet.

Except for the crunching of gravel beneath my feet, and an occasional bird cry from somewhere in the distance, the desert softly whispers desolation.  “Out in the middle of nowhere” is a fearful and fleeting feeling. It’s hard to relax into the awe inspiring scenery of this uninhabited chunk of potentially harsh Earth. Each footstep must be carefully considered and placed, as the consequences could be severe and unforgiving.

There is the lull of dreamy reverie tugging at one’s spirit on the hike. Concentration and “in the moment” must win out. The beauty is both subtle and naively dangerous – the untouchable greens growing out of the slippery red sand and rock, an occasional flower blooming brightly, careful – it’s on top of a needle-y cactus, with inches long, barely visible spines. Then there is the rock, with it’s colorful camouflage striations, sun warmed and generously scattered everywhere – look but don’t move, rattlers live here.

I am most impressed with this trail because the guideposts are occasional – just when you think they forgot about you, one pops up, affording privacy and intimacy with the surroundings.

I love the desert with it’s hint of a spiritual viriditas. I am grateful for the ability to walk through it, guided by the hand of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.



 Sonoran desert, Cave Creek trail –  saguaro cactus, cholla and beavertail cactus


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