02 February 2009

The Wind Caves

Last week, I decided it was time to try to hike up Pass Mountain in the Usury Park Recreation Area (UPRA) up in northeast Mesa. I planned it for Saturday morning, and asked Scott if he wanted to join. To my enjoyment, and with a minor amount of coaxing, he agreed.
Now, for those of you who know not why this mountain is interesting, let me provide some background. Pass Mountain is the largest mountain in the UPRA and has a great trail complex - something like 15 different trails ranging from less than one mile to Pass Mountain Trail, a 7.2-mile trek around the mountain itself. Nearby, also on the same land, is the Usury Park Shooting Range for gun enthusiasts, a large campground area, and an archery range. The only trail that goes UP Pass Mountain is the "Wind Cave Trail" - so named for it's destination, the Wind Caves, which are Anasazi-like structures carved out of the mountain's sedimentary-rock midsection by the wind. The caves are roughly 2800 feet elevation, and the trailhead is 1.5-miles long originating at about 1200 feet elevation. That's a nice steep climb. If one chooses, there is an additional summit trail from the Wind Caves to the top of the mountain, another 400 feet elevation or so. In addition to all of this, there are two geocaches on the trail - one about halfway up, and the other on the very summit of the mountain.
We began our journey about 9am when I picked Scott up at his place. We went to Bashas to get some lunch supplies - sandwiches, chicken, fruit, that sort of thing - and then to Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and breakfast. We reached the mountain at about 10am, paid our $6 park entrance fee, parked the car, grabbed our backpacks, and got ready to go. I made sure to bring a light jacket just in case it was colder at the top (it wasn't), my GPS, and LOTS of water. Before the hike:
Once we got started, we found out how well we were going to be able to take the climb (not being in much shape to begin with, both of us were forced to take frequent rest/water breaks). The 1.5-mile hike up the mountain ended up taking about 4 hours to get to the Wind Caves, but it was worth it! Scott on a break:Andrew on a break:Finally, though, we reached the caves. The view from the top is spectacular. To the north, Fountain Hills' fountain can be seen every hour on the hour spraying up into the air. That fountain used to be the world's largest, back several years ago. Every St. Patrick's Day, they dye the water jet emerald green. I grew up in Fountain Hills, and that's still one of my favorite memories! I may go back this year for that party! To the west, just below the mountain is a set of smaller mountains, including the one that says "PHOENIX" in white lettering on the side, which used to be a navigation tool for airplanes a long time ago. I'm not sure if it actually was, but that's the legend. To the south, the caves, and to the east, the rest of the mountain. In the picture below, Scott and I stopped here to have lunch in the outcropping on the left. On the right, in the valley below, is the area surrounding Ellsworth Rd. and McKellips Rd. in Mesa.We made it to the caves!: After lunch, at around 1:30pm or so, we decided to try for the geocache on the top of the mountain. This involves going on a rough and rather dangerous "trail" out past the caves. It is marked solely by faded spray-painted arrows on the sides of the boulders up there, and we lost the trail at least twice. Once, I even made the error of thinking we needed to climb straight up the face of a sheer rock wall when in fact, we had just not seen the arrows. But eventually, we did find our prize, about 30 feet off the "trail" and over some rocks. The view from the top was AMAZING. The valley floor stretched out to the west of us (and on a clear day like Saturday, we could see out past downtown Phoenix), and the empty desert of the Goldfield Mountain Range and the Superstition Mountain Range to the east of us. The contrast between the developed west side and the natural east side created quite the juxtaposition! This picture is of me with the geocache, aptly named "King Usury's Treasure":But, hey, all good things must come to an end. The sun was beginning to sink in the sky, and we still had a long way back to the car with our water supplies running a little low. On the way down, I stopped to pick up the second cache on the mountain, which required a bit of technical manuvering on my part over some VERY loose gravel. But hey, I only slipped and cut up my hands and wrists twice! No snakes or scorpions, though, so that was good! The trek down the mountain was about an hour long, as opposed to the four-hour upward hike and the extra hour on the summit trail. By the end, exhaustion had set in, our muscles were achy, and I wanted three things: water, shower, and sleep, in that order. The "after" photo:Overall, it was a fantastic hike. Scott was a great motivator, despite the fact that he nearly fell off the mountain, saved only by my mad shirt-grabbing skillz (yo), and he had to put up with my banter the whole day (ask my parents, they'll tell you THAT ain't easy!). My plan is to do something of this nature every weekend - maybe not a 3-mile hike up a mountain, but something! Next time, y'all should consider coming along if you're in the area!

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty sure we established that I was saved by (in order): 1) sheer luck, 2) my own mad skills, 3) your own bad belt grabbing turned shirt grabbing. Nonetheless I thank you.

    I am still very, very sore...and also very sick although I'm not sure if there is a connection. Maybe I DID eat a bug at lunch.