Here's another paper I wrote to inspire my Ashford students. It's a 'description'. I'm not overly fond of descriptions. I think I prefer narratives. My next class is a research class. I know I don't like research papers, because I almost never find when I'm looking for when I research. But I'm rambling. Enjoy!
A Treasured Escape
Soon after moving to Mesa, Arizona almost 10 years ago, our family attended a cub scout breakfast and hike at the Usery Mountain Regional Park just east of town. After a yummy breakfast we had our first opportunity to hike the Wind Cave Trail. My husband and I with our very young family made it almost half way before it became too difficult, and we very reluctantly had to turn back. I’m not sure if it was love at first site (Pun intended. It’s a great site!) for me, but I knew even in that brief visit that we would be back. Since that visit the Usery Mountain Regional Park has become a treasured escape stretching our endurance, building family memories, and bolstering our connection to the Natural world.
Most often we have hiked this trail in the early mornings. At that time of day and climbing the western slope of Pass Mt up to the wind cave near the summit, we could spent most of our time in the glorious shade. The trail blazes straight up the mountain for just a short stretch, passing through a pedestrian gate, before beginning its myriad of switch backs up the side of the mountain. Two of them pass through a wash, some of them meander easily upwards, while others push one’s endurance to rise the full 800 feet to the cave, though it’s really not more than a hollow blown out by the wind. At the tops we scatter among the rocks at the edge of the cave for much needed rest and refreshment, enjoying the view of the desert and the various cities in the Valley of the Sun and even much of down town Phoenix. Somewhere along the way down, the sun finally rises above the peaks and we step into the sunlight as we meander back down the switchbacks. The physical exhaustion is coupled with the exhilaration of having reached our goal as we load back up into the car for the half hour drive home from this treasured escape.
Finding affordable and worthwhile activities to do together as a family can be a challenge. Hiking with children can be a challenge, but we also found it to be a fun opportunity to build memories together. Through the years we lived there, we named the various landmarks. The first one was Family Rock, named for its ideal family picture taking qualities. One root reminded us of a baseball mitt, even though its location in the middle of the trail made it a casualty of erosion. We also looked forward to crossing the ‘bridges’ of large boulders in the trail and the cement bench not far from the Wind Cave. When we had a dog, they joined us along the trail, and at least 3 of our children were carried in baby carriers to the summit as well. We very much treasure the memories our family has of hiking this trail together over the years we lived in Mesa.
The trail also provided me with opportunities to connect with nature. Growing up in Phoenix I already knew many of the cactus names and some of the shrubs and trees. Hiking this trail gave me an opportunity to learn the names of more plants other than the dreaded cactus. With my family and on much needed solitary ventures, I began to study the other plants along this beloved trail. I learned to recognize Triangle bur sage and brittle bush, which were the most prevalent plants. I pointed out the palo verdes, creosotes, and jojobas to my children. In the spring I reveled in the abundant wild flowers including: flat top buckwheat, desert marigold, wild heliotrope, dainty desert hideseed, white tackstem, mustard evening primrose, owl clover, globe mallow, Mexican gold poppy, and desert hyacinth. I faced the sometimes overwhelming challenge of identifying each specimen in the books or field guides I had and came to know and love the desert more through my treasured escapes.
We moved out of the Valley of the Sun over a year ago, and I think our family will always treasure the memories of our time hiking the Wind Cave trail. Furthermore, as we return to visit family and friends, we will also look forward to visiting this beloved trail together. We will always return when we can to renew our connection to the physically challenging, family bonding, and nature connecting escape of hiking the Wind Cave Trail on Pass Mountain.