Ok, except for my son losing his next-to-last baby tooth, it’s been a rather slow unexciting week since Ragnar last weekend. I took my legs for a two mile test drive around the neighborhood Tuesday just to be sure they still worked and they were ok, albeit a little tired. My muscles were wary of the exercise. “What’s going on here?” legs asked brain. “You better not be putting us through that hell again! I swear, we’ll give out right here in the Azaleas!”
“Relax,” brain replied. “It’s just a little two mile jaunt to keep you from getting lazy. If you’re good, I’ll reward you with a nice foam roll later.”
“Really? A foam roll?”
So that went well, but I took it easy for the rest of the week until Saturday morning. In lieu of some exciting adventure, I thought I would take you on a tour of the trail I ran.
Some new trails recently opened up at Skyline park including a couple of loops that, according to the map, were fairly level (an elevation gain of 280 feet over six miles). I woke up early to catch my legs unaware, hoping to get in a few miles before they knew what hit them.
From the parking lot, I took the Turnbuckle trail to the first loop, Granite Falls. The route would wind through the above pictured valley and intersect with another loop, Chuckwalla.
It started off nice and the elevation gain was minimal. However, soon there were deep washes to cross and small hills to climb. I had brief flashbacks to the Yellow Loop at Ragnar and broke out in cold sweats. My legs woke up, “What’s going on here? Hey! Where are we?” Brain was wise though and slowed the pace, walking the ups and running the downs and flats with about 200 breaks to take pictures. It was a gorgeous, cool November morning.
Take a look at the above two pics. One of the most fascinating things about the desert, to me, is how plants and animals adapt. Saguaro cacti, among others, often grow under a bush or tree such as the Palo Verde. The shade helps them survive the hot sun. Personally, I prefer a hat and some iced tea.
After almost two miles on Granite Falls, I crossed to the Chuckwalla trail. This is where things got interesting. As the trail took off into near unexplored territory, I found a dead body! The flesh had decayed and rotted away so all that was left was the skeleton. I could see the ribs and everything!
Yeah, it’s a Saguaro cactus skeleton. Did I have you going? When it rains, such cacti soak up the water into a fleshy center and the ribs expand allowing it to survive long periods without rain. The surface of the cactus, or skin, has a waxy coating to keep the moisture from evaporating. What a wise design!
The needles keep large prey away from the smaller critters who make the cactus their home. The hard white shell-looking thing with a hole is actually a scar that forms when birds such as woodpeckers dig in. It’s rare to find one like this, intact. Sometimes, it’s called a boot for the shape. Woodpeckers burrow the holes and typically stay for one season then move, leaving a vacancy for other birds. They used to have a timeshare type of agreement but that led to all sorts of lawsuits so now it’s more of a co-op. Here are some other pics.
Below is a petroglyph I found left by the Yavapai Indians of a studly warrior. Impressive. I bet he lost his other arm fighting off a bear or mountain lion to protect his tribe.
As for the wildlife, I didn’t see much running around, but I did see signs that they had been there. The sand in the washes had lots of tracks: coyotes, quail and below is a pic of a javelina hoofprint. They travel the trails at night searching for trail mix and popcorn dropped by unwitting tourists.
By now you’re saying, “Ok Doug, how much running did you actually do with all this picture-taking?” As I said, I took it easy and didn’t check my pace. Legs and brain worked out an agreement and everyone was happy with it.
Here is a field of Cholla cacti at sunrise, also known as Jumping Chollas. They strike fear into the hearts of all Arizona hikers and trail runners. You will be running by, minding your own business saying, “Oh, look at the pretty cactus holes” when all of a sudden Hah! one launches itself at you and digs into your leg. You will lose a pound of flesh getting that sucker out. Ok, well, they don’t really fly off the plant at you. It just seems that way. And the hooks on the needles will make you want to leave it in.
“That? Oh, that’s just a souvenir of my trip to Phoenix. I’ve named it Cholly.”
Here’s a picture of the Cholla balls (for lack of a better term). They are all over the place, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting passerby with tall white socks.
One brave critter that’s not afraid of these balls is the pack rat. They gather sticks and leaves to build a burrow then place these strategically around the outside to keep predators at bay. Tough little creatures. I once saw one with a patch over one eye and asked him how he got it. He said, “Don’t ask,” then flicked his cigarette butt at me. [shiver]
Towards the end of my run, I came across this structure (above). I got excited and thought, Cool! It must be an old prayer circle or maybe a famous tribal leader was buried there. I approached with reverence and wondered at the history of the site. Then I saw what was at the center.
It was a survey marker from the Army Corps of Engineers. So I didn’t feel bad about stepping all over it to get the shots!
And so Chuckwalla turned back to Granite Falls which connected once again with Turnbuckle and soon I was within a half mile of the parking lot. Rounding a corner, I swallowed the last gulp of water and let out a satisfying belch as two young girls came into view, jumping with surprise.
“It was a rat,” I said. “Watch out for the one with the patch.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe learned something about the desert. If not, I hope you had a nice nap.
Cool runnings, my friends!