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Elephant Mountain: Where everything is sharp and pointy and trying to kill you
posted by John : February 21, 2017


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Early mornings


Well, of course, I'm going hiking while visiting Arizona. It's not like I'm going to lay around a pool or anything. And of course I'm going to get up early to minimize the impact on the rest of the family. It's hard to believe they can cope without my glorious presence.

Speaking of glorious, there was this crazy glowing orb in the sky. It made my skin feel weird... like I was standing in front of a campfire. It was unnatural. Luckily, I was able to avoid overheating thanks to a creek crossing in bare feet. Phew. That was close.

Once I had my shoes back on it was a surreal walk through towering saguaro cactus. The recent rains had made everything green. In the Northwest green means soft and tender. In the Southwest, though, green means deception. The lush grass was sharp. The juicy fruit-like plants were covered in spines. Even the cute, fuzzy, furry plants were in fact wielders of a million tiny attacks.

I never got really hot and for that I was thankful beyond belief. My Northwest blood is great in cold weather, but gets way viscous in the heat. I'm far better suited for the snow than the desert.

Where I did get into trouble was where I went off trail. The trail led me only as far as the saddle between Indian Fortress and Elephant Mountain. The former is a minor hill with a trail up. Had I known there were native ruins at the top I would likely have run up. Especially after the fascinating visit to Tuzigoot the day before. Instead, I turned to the north toward Elephant Mountain.

There were a number of sketchy little trails winding through the brush and cacti. At least I think they were sketchy little trails. You see, I suffer from Westsider's Syndrome.

I've grown up in the dense undergrowth of the Pacific Northwest. Here, if you can see the dirt it's almost guaranteed to be a trail. Whenever I adventure in a drier climate I'm see trails that aren't really there.

I see trails.

Usually this means I do some random wandering and maybe a little backtracking. In the desert it means lots of "OUCH!" and "WHA?" and probably some "DAMMIT!" The abundance of "trails" heading up the ridge had me traipsing all over. Thankfully, good beta kept me on the right side of the first big rocks and after that it was hard to get really lost. The crux was a pile of rock stretching all the way across the ridge. Easy enough to cross in "winter," but I wouldn't want to be reaching for those rocks when there are snakes out.

On the summit I had views south into Phoenix and north into the Tonto National Forest. If anything says, "You're not in Washington any more," it's a National Forest full of cacti.

I finished the loop back to the trailhead seeing only a handful of other people in spite of the perfect hiking conditions. I picked up a couple of hitchhikers that attached themselves to me with spines. Usually when I step in something it just sticks. I'm not sure if this is better or worse. It's more painful, but less stinky.

Back at the car I took stock. I was scratched and punctured in a couple of spots, but all the spines came out. I wasn't too much more red than when I headed out so the sunscreen must have done its job. Most important, I got a taste of what makes this part of the world unique and special. It's pretty cool, even if the trails don't seem to go anywhere.

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