Thursday, February 3, 2011

White Tank Mountains

As often as I can, and with a clear conscience that my business trips do not appear to resemble boondoggles of any sort, I try to work in a hike or two after the end of a business travel day. In my luggage is packed a collapsible hiking stick, hiking boots, socks, appropriate day hike gear (a single bottle lumbar pack, flashlight, trail bar, compass, etc.) wicking shirt, jacket and a hat. Generally, I will check online a day or two before I leave for trails near where I am staying or working. But on this trip to Arizona, a co-worker recommended a visit to White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Maricopa County. Thank you, Stephanie for pointing the way to this interesting place.

The Regional Park is comprised of 30,000 acres of sharp rocky ridges, alluvial fans, saguaro cactus, flood-carved canyons and hundreds of petroglyphs. The north-south aligned White Tank mountains rise to 4,000 feet with most of the park facilities on the northeast section of the range. A small but diverse handful of shared use trails have been established, affording hikers of all levels to enjoy the area. Semi-developed (no electrical or water hookups) campgrounds are available for groups and individuals. Backpacking is permitted to a number of backcountry camping spots.

The park’s entrance is equipped with a modern and welcoming nature center staffed with fulltime and volunteer rangers who can direct you to trailheads and point out many of the park’s features which include flush toilets, guided tours and talks, playgrounds, ramadas complete with picnic tables and barbeques. The nature center also offers gifts, water and snacks for visitors. It shares a roof with classrooms and a public library. The building is adorned with public art, educational outdoor displays, a labyrinth and vista viewing benches. The park has something for anyone who enjoys being outdoors.

Since time was short and shadows were becoming longer, I elected to primarily hike Waterfall Canyon with a few side jaunts added to check other trailheads and vistas. It’s a short 2 mile walk into a canyon worn from centuries of flashfloods to one of the many “tanks” found in the area. These shallow granitic depressions are carved out at the base of steep water draws, creating natural pools or tanks that are no doubt frequented by wildlife all year.

In addition to viewing one of these ponds, the trail is lined with hundreds of ancient petroglyphs. Pamphlets and ranger talks help to enlighten visitors of their meaning and historical significance. Fortunately, these marks of ancient peoples have been treated with respect as little vandalism is apparent anywhere.

The park is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Phoenix area. Though there is only about 25 total miles of trails throughout, the elevated views of the valley floor make for an impressive sight and a nice payoff for your hiking efforts. The saguaro, cholla and other cactus are very impressive with their abundance and softening texture to an otherwise barren landscape. The facilities are clean and well appointed throughout. Maricopa country should be proud of the good work they’ve done to make the park a destination for visitors and residents alike.

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