Snowbirds, Spring Training (really – let’s face it, they are really exhibition games) and wonderful weather all collide as the year-round residents of central Arizona turn to nature to get away from the visiting crowds.
The town I live in is called Cave Creek. And there is actually a creek by that very name in the area. Thursday was a perfect day to check out the local trails, and visit our town’s namesake. Clear skies, low humidity and a cool breeze made for a great walk. Spur Cross is accessed through the main drag in town, Cave Creek Road (of course). The last mile and a half is dirt and rock. Just when you despair of ever finding the park, there’s gravel public parking just before the entrance. It’s a strange feeling of trespassing while driving up, since there are many private ranches (and a few horseback riding concerns) along the entire road. In fact, the prominent buildings in the backdrop to the park are all private.
Maricopa Trail is the main route through the park, and at its northern section it parallels and crosses Cave Creek. We were lucky in that the creek was actually running, so we could see it in action, such as it was. Yes, the water was cold! Back a hundred years ago, water flowed all year through the creek and at a pretty brisk pace, too. It was the main attraction for Native Americans, American settlers – prospectors, cattlemen and sheep ranchers – and the US Cavalry, making it a perfect place to settle down. There is supposed to be an actual cave that is the source of the creek somewhere, but it may be in the riparian area that is permit-only. There are actually lots of old mines in the entire area, and some of them are still registered and active. It’s not hard to imagine these people making their way through the area – their spirit is in the land, and in the shadows of the old saguaro, Ironwood trees and haphazard rocks that have been watching all the passersby through the years. Black Mountain dominates the area, and is another point that attracted people to settle in the area. It’s “black” on one side, and the other side is green – an unusual mix that makes it easy to pick out of the horizon.
At one point we were overtaken by a group of horse riders, all in cowboy gear, on a five hour guided tour. They were sure to have a lot of fun, judging from the animals on ground and in air that we could observe as we hiked through. For the poor hiker, that means keeping an eye out for the dung. But it’s snake season as well, so eyes work quick as the feet are in motion, avoiding trampling signs of havalina and other locals.
If you are a serious hiker you can easily make a good day of it and picnic along the way (as long as you don’t mind sitting on a rock or on the ground). Taking it a little slower allows a better view of the tiny details that make the desert such a great attraction – lava rock with lichen growing, decomposed saguaro and other cactus, and the tiny flowers that take advantage of the winter rain to bloom and add a blush of color to the desert floor. We’ll be back!