Sunday, January 22, 2012

Birthday Buckeye Beauty

Last week, I spent my birthday as I prefer to spend it, hiking.  I've taken the day off work on my birthday for most of the last 2 dozen years, whenever travel and work-load have allowed it.  This year I headed 25 miles to the south west of Phoenix, to Buckeye Hills Regional Park.  Though the peaks are just under 1800 feet there, what drew me to Buckeye was the concept of "primitive conditions, no designated trails".  I really am not one to travel the "beaten path" and enjoy it.  There's little adventure, no creativity, and almost nothing to discover on a well worn foot path that hundreds or thousands of other people have also walked that same day, week, or month.   The path less taken, is usually my preference.   (links here and here)

I got a late start to the hike, puttering around on email and my playing scrabble online until almost noon.  I then filled 3 nalgene bottles with water, grabbed a bag of salted almonds and my Kelty hiking shoulder pack, and headed down I-10.  It was a beautiful day at 65 degrees, mostly clear skies, and the air pollution index lower than it'd been all year so far.  I left a note for Dr Desert Flower so she'd know where to look for me if something unexpected happened. 

Wash covered in animal tracks near the western edge of the park.

Buckeye Hills Regional Park is about 8 miles south of I-10 on AZ85.  The last time DDF and I were on AZ85 was coming back from San Diego 3 years ago, when AZ85 was a one-lay-each-way highway. heavily traveled with truck traffic.   This year, it's a inter-state like divided four lane highway, with just one stop light between I-10 and the park entrance.  Buckeye Hills is also the home to the Buckeye Gun Club's shooting range and the Maricopa County Sheriff's shooting range, that use a 1800 foot mountain as a backdrop on the south end of the park.  Since it was a Federal Holiday (MLK Day), I figured that the range would be closed - I figured correctly.  My hike was not punctuated with the sound of intermittent gun fire - which was most reassuring. 

From 1pm to 5pm I hiked about 6 miles horizontally, and climbed 3 1800 foot peaks.  I did not see a single human being the entire hike, except for a wandering black SUV along one of the dirt roads leading to the edge of the park.  I DID see and hear an impressive pair of red tailed hawks when I got to the summit of the first peak.  A LOUD Colbert-Show-Opening-Like SCREECH was blasted at me from over-head.  Shielding my eyes, I looked up to see 2 hawks flying to the south from about a 100 feet above me.  It was a magnificent sight to witness these two beautiful raptors riding thermals, circling over the park, until they flew over the next range to the south and out of view.  I was so awe-struck, I did not even attempt to get out my camera.  Each of the summits' south faces were Very Wind Blown, so much so, that I nearly lost my hat several times.  But the north faces were shaded and calm.
On the far West side of the park I walked along a wash creek bed that was full of animal tracks.  Bobcat, coyote, desert hare, pack rat, javalina... I did not see any mountain lion tracks, but there were so many critter prints, it's possible that others could have occluded a big cat's prints. 

At the top of the 3rd and most Southerly peak, I called my mother to thank her for having me - it's something I try to do every birthday to show my appreciation, and knowing that we're all mortal, she won't be around forever.  After the call I began the northerly trek back to my car which was parked a few dozen yards away from a Breaking Bad mobile meth lab RV at the end of Robbins Road.  When I began my descent, I mistakenly placed my foot and the majority of my weight on a torso sized rock near the summit.  The rock was not solidly part of the mountain and I took a rather nasty fall down the slop for about 10 feet vertically and 5 or 6 feet horizontally.  My lats. right forearm, and right hip took the brunt of the impact and slide.  Very good I was hiking in jeans and not shorts.  As I watch the Giants / 49ers game this evening, only my forearm is still green-and-black bruised.  I'll know better next time, not to put any significant weight on a rock whose solid foundation is not verified.   

I left no physical trace of my hike, other than the occasional foot print - though I did try to walk on rocks that were without lichens as much as possible - and the small land slide I caused accidentally. At each of the summits I did make a small stone pyramid using existing loose stones.  At the beginning of the hike, I saw several randomly discarded plastic bottles, broken glass bottles, rusted metal cans, and shattered clay pigeons.  But as I scaled the more difficult summits, no sign of a previous human presence was notable.  No scratchings, no graffiti, no garbage, just piles and piles of bobcat droppings, bleaching in the sun, marking their territory. 

 Buckeye Hills park has gravel roads that are well graded and maintained.  Their map shows rest rooms at the end of Robbins Road, but that is inaccurate.  There ARE rest rooms at the "Country Club Circle" but they looked Very primitive and more than a little questionable, especially since I was completely alone.  I didn't want to find a napping rattlesnake, or stumble into a "gimp trap" in the door-propped-open primitive rest room. 

The next time I go back to Buckeye Hills, I will take a large trash bag with me to collect the careless discards of others, and help clean up the park.
As the sun began to set nearing 5pm, I took a picture of my shadow, that was nearly 75 feet tall.  I was back home and showering before the sun fully set.   Naproxin Sodium for the aches and pains, Red Bordeaux wine to help me forget that I'm in the 2nd half of my finite mortal life span, even by optimistic actuarial tables.
The only flowering cactus I saw all day

Paolo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, to the West of Buckeye Hills


  1. Happy birthday! Looks great. The fall sounds nasty -- yikes.

    1. The fall was temporarily frightening, and generated a plethora of repeatedly snarling "S.O.B!" from my lips, but has not had lasting effects. Hip scabs are gone and arm scabs nearly healed. Soreness has abated. 20 years from now, I may have broken a hip (landed RIGHT on hip, lat, arm sideways), but I am hoping staying in shape will delay becoming decrepit for a few more decades.

      Thanks for the birthday wish. It's another year that I've avoided death =)

  2. If you'd broken your ankle, was there cel phone signal? Or would you have been eaten by coyotes?

  3. There was indeed still a cell phone signal - as I had called my mother a few minutes before - but I would have done everything possible to not use my cell. I carry a walking stick as a contingency that it could be used as a crutch, it a worst case scenario.

    Also, coyotes are harmless, scared, feral dog-like scavenger creatures. Only rabid ones are of any concern to humans. Mountain lion - or motherly mountain lioness teaching her cubs to hunt a slow, awkward, injured, bipedal mammal - would have been more of a concern, but luckily all the scat I saw was bobcat and not mountain lion scat.

    When there's no other humans around for many miles, and just the sound of the wind whistling through the palo verde trees, these are the kinds of things I think of. =)


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