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Oct. 19, 2008 White Tank Mountains

(See the White Tank Mountains hike pictures in the Photo Album section)

On October 12, 2008 I woke up early to hike the White Tank Mountains in west Phoenix. The drive from east Mesa is a good hour. I arrived at the Park gate, which was closed, but I gave the required $6 entrance fee in an envelope and was on my way to the Ford Canyon/Mesquite Canyon trailhead.

I parked my car about 10:30am and began my hike on my counterclockwise trip around the 7.6 mile long Ford Canyon trail, which would bring me to an intersection with the 4.3 mile Mesquite Canyon trail. Continuing on the Mesquite would eventually bring me back to the trailhead where my car was parked at. I expected the hike to be about 4-5 hours long, with a couple of breaks and an average 3 mph hike speed. My resultant hike time was 4 hours, 45 minutes.

The morning began quite cool and comfortable. The Ford Canyon trail initially passed through some fairly flat desert, which included some hikes thorugh dried up washes. Then a few miles into it, it began getting interesting. The diversity of terrain in the White Tanks were impressive and very enjoyable! There were flat areas, washes, rolling hills, boulder scrambling, lifeless granite canyon-like areas, sandy patches, walls of rock and some very steep climing on sometimes very loose rocky debris where I lost footing on several times. There were plenty of areas that had shading from the incesant beating of the sun's rays.

The Mesquite Canyon trail seemed to be quite distinct in its terrain, for the most part, from the Ford Canyon trail. For one, there seems to be less shading from the sun on the Mesquite. Another difference, which I loved, was in an area of the Mesquite about 3-4 miles from the trailhead. This area's trail passed through rocky spires that, in some cases, seemed to overhang the trail as if making arches over your head and in other cases just straight rocky spires that appeared to pierce the cloudless blue sky.

There wasn't much in the way of wildlife encounters, with the exception of the occasional scat from coyotes and rabbits. I did notice, however, that there were innumerable mounds of black ants all over the place on these trails. They were swarming all over the place. The saguaros were also impressive in their majesty and numbers. I was hiking at elevations and temperatures that made these calm giants comfortable.

There were some differences in temperature with the change of time, elevation and shading, but overall not as much variation as I was used to experiencing on earlier hikes in the Valley. However, I tend to sweat a lot on my back and chest, even in cooler hiking temperatues, so this may have hlped in adjusting my natural thermostat.

There weren't too many people on these trails. Most were found around the trailheads and the intersections of side trails. A few dogs were encountered with their owners. The White Tank Mountains are the closest Park to Phoenix's Luke Air Force Base and so many hikers seemed to be of a military bent.

Some observations about gear and approach:

- I brought about 5-6 liters of water on this trip and only used about 3.

- I found that my running shoes held up well, with minimal pebbles entering during the entire trip, which surprised me considering much of the trail consisted of sandy areas and loose rocks. However, I am considering investing in some desert gaiters to prevent any future accumulation of pebbliness in my shoes.

- One thing I have noticed that has been bugging me lately is the fact that after hiking for several hours, my neck, upper back, and shoulders really begin to get sore. I am not sure what the main cause of this is. I believe my pack is being worn appropriately and the contents are positioned ok. I may need to work on strengthening my upper body a bit more to handle these items.

- Chapstick is needed! My lips at the end of the day were burning so much and felt as if they had sunburned. Chapstick would be very handy next time.

- Food: I had brought about 4 Powerbars/protein bars, a bag of Cornnuts, and a bag of trail mix. I only ate the bars and a little of the Cornnuts, the rest was unneeded.

- Hiking Poles: absolutely essential for me and probably one of the best investments I've made in my gear.

- Camera: I have a very bulky and heavy digital camera that is beginning to do some funky things. I need a new lighter, thinner digital camera more suited for backpacking.

Overall, the White Tanks were probably my most enjoyable hike in a long time, mostly due to the challenge and diversity of the trail. There is so much more to experience here then what I traveled through. For one, there is still the 6.3 mile Goat Camp trail in the southern half of the Park that I didn't even touch. There are also shorter and more interesting side trails that are inevitably a part of any Park that you wish you could pass through. For example, there is the 0.9 mile long Waterfall trail that, after a good rain, pours plenty of water down a ledge for all to experience.


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