Monday, July 21, 2014

Just for the record, there are no camels on Camelback Mountain near Phoenix, AZ, USA.  But there are plenty of urban hikers.  In fact, there are so many hikers that the only wildlife you are probably going to see up the trail are the strange people who seem to end up on one of the two trails that lead to the top of the desert mountain.

It is understandable that with any urban hiking you will find people that just shouldn't be on the trail.  We are used to hiking out in forests and more remote deserts where you have some space to call your own.  We were a bit amused that we had to share the small summit with 30 or so other hikers at that particular slice of time on that particular day.

Ahh...nothing like a nice quiet viewpoint moment at the end of the trail...with a bazillion other urban hikers...
Arizona is a good late fall or early winter escape for anybody depressed by the thought of crappy weather further North.  We headed down to a resort in Scottsdale just to find some sunshine.  So while it was 52 degrees and raining up North in Oregon we acted like sloths under the 82 degrees of sunshine on the valley floor, sipping our fruity rum drinks and cooling ourselves by the pool.  We rarely do such lethargic activities but after a summer full of activities, it was time to chill a bit.

Phoenix, AZ is ridiculously too hot Jun-Sep.  Stick with Oct-Dec or Mar-May. was hard to get motivated to even get up and go to the bathroom in this kind of setting.  Another fruity rum drink, please...

Feeling guilty about just laying around at the pool, we did plan a few outdoor excursions too.  Our first foray into the desert was mountain biking.  This wasn't something Jeanne particularly enjoyed because in Arizona, you really don't ride on the ground.  You ride on rocks on the ground.  The rocks are probably nestled on other rocks in the ground.  I'm not entirely sure if there is any ground other than rocks.  I suspect there may be because you do see desert dirt and sand around but it always just seems to be a light covering over more rocks.
Yes, it looks like a dry creek bed but is actually a mountain bike trail.
Even with full suspension, you eventually feel like you've gotten on some kids bounce toy as you bounce your way up with the bike flying through the rocks.  It only took about an hour to realize that this wasn't quite as much fun as we had hoped.  We didn't really want a challenge route from Survivor, we just wanted a nice cruising route in the sunshine.  The only place we were going to find that was getting chased around by angry golfers while we illegally ride their special golf cart paths.  Eventually even that gets old or you get arrested.  So it was back to the pool until our next excursion.

"Yep, I counted 7 million rocks on the trail too"
Our next excursion was practically right next to us.  Camelback Mountain is right next to both Phoenix and Scottsdale Arizona.  There are two trails up the mountain.  Echo Canyon is the more crowded while Cholla is the more obscure.  By obscure I mean that instead of several hundred people on the trail at any one time, it might only have 200.

You see the trail up this, right?

Being Arizona, these are barely trails. They are more like rock boulder scrambles.  Sure, there is some trail here and there and they have hand rails, fencing in some really steep areas but a lot of it involves climbing over one giant rock boulder to the next...and the next...and the next.

Eventually, you reach the summit (or run out of water and evaporate on some rock like a plant that has never been watered).  It isn't a long trail.  It's only 1.2 miles to the top but you do gain about 2,000 feet of elevation in doing so.  You may end up adding another couple of miles because while hundreds flock to this city trail every day, they've devised a parking lot for about 30 cars.  If you are a tourist, you might as well not even rent a car.  Just throw your luggage into the airport locker and start walking from there.  Sure, it's a long way but you won't have to deal with parking!

That's right, about 30 spots for 200+ hikers and rock climbers.
Fortunately for me, my wife's super power is getting ridiculously hard parking spots.  Sure enough, despite gridlock and angry visitors all competing for an elusive parking spot, she goes around the lot and somebody pulls out to leave right in front of her and we get one of the best spots in the place.  She could get a spot in front of the opening for the Olympics 20 minutes before it starts, I swear!

I had to strip naked and run around like I was insane in order to get this shot without people in front of me
Okay, back to the top.  It's a beautiful once you arrive.  You can see 360 around you if you can see at all.  For at the top is where you will find more people than the mall at Christmas time.  Camping at the top (which is probably not allowed anyway) would be like bringing your tent to a shopping mall and plopping it down right there on the walkway.

There was even a "Christmas Tree" with decorations at the top.

Sing along..."Deck the desert with old used ornaments, fa la la la la..."
If you want to truly appreciate the hike, here are some tips.

1.  Don't pretend you're in a Survivor challenge and try to run up it all geeked up in technology and hydration solutions.  You'll just look stupid.

2.  Know that you'll see droves of people in all states of fitness.  There are clearly people that shouldn't be on the trail in any kind of heat and they will fall down, hoot and holler, etc.  Just enjoy the quirkiness of it all.  Don't try to be all high and mighty and expect a wilderness experience.  You'll just be disappointed.

3.  Don't under estimate hydration.  Bring whatever works but make sure it's enough.  If you go up with nothing but a can of beer, you'll be sorry!

4.  Wear something that actually grips on steep angled surfaces.  Don't wear flip flops.  They have zero lateral support and some of the trail is pretty darn steep rock.  Bad shoes or flip flops will likely get you injured from a fall or rubbing your feet off.

Yes, you too can hike it in a wedding dress...but you may not stay married for long after this descent...

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