One of the many highlights of my in-laws trip was an early morning hike with my two daughters and niece up Pass mountain, part of the Usery Mountain range. Pass mountain has really cool, cream colored "scar" running near the top. It is volcanic tuff--rock formed by ash. It glows orange in the evening when the sun is setting. Our goal was not to make it to the top of the mountain, but to see the Wind Cave, a section of the mountain carved out by the wind. Actually, you can go on, but there was a sign that said that the path became very dangerous and I really didn't feel like doing something dangerous with pre-teen girls.
We started our journey in the wee hours of the morning. I woke my neice and daughters up a little after six a.m. and loaded up the camelbacks, some fruit, cheese snacks and stuff we might need on the trial, like bandaids and hand sanitizer. I also remembered the camera. Woo Hoo!. With one extra long stop at Dunkin' Donuts for sugar and carbs and a bathroom break, we started on the trail somewhere around 7 a.m. Part of the delay is that I had to return a second time because the donuts that M and I had chosen were so horrible tasting, I had to return them. What is the point of consuming a thousand calories in fat and sugar if you don't enjoy it? I wouldn't recommend that particular Dunkin' Donuts to people. Note that in the first picture, the girls are wearing jackets. Yes, sixty degrees IS cold if you are in Arizona.
Wind Cave trail is a 1.6 mile trail with an 800 foot elevation gain. We started out with what looked like a dry river bed on one side. The reason it looked like a river bed is that it was a lower area and had a high concentration of Palo Verde trees whereas we were surrounded by various cati and scrub brushes on the other side of the path. In Arizona, trees don't shed their leaves in the fall, they shed them in the summer, when drought conditions do not give them enough water to be able to photosynthesize. Also, most trees have small leaves in the desert to minimize transpiration, which is the trees breathing out moisture with the carbon dioxide. As we passed by palo verde trees, I saw tiny, cute leaf buds emerging from the stems. It took us about an hour to climb to the wind cave. The fact that it is a cave should tell you that we didn't reach the summit of the moutain. There were a couple of times when the path turned sharply and we started going the wrong way. Fortunately, the wrong way soon became impassible, which caused us to look around for the real trail. A few times, we walked over large bolders that served as a bridge over a little crevice in the path. With the way they were tumbled together in just the right way to support each other, I wondered if this was engineered by the park service or an act of God designed to help hikers. The wind cave is part of the tuff, so that when we approaced the cave, we got to see the it up close and personal. There were bits of granite "marbles" embedded in the tuff as well as large tracts of...lichen. We made it to the wind cave in about an hour. We spent some time resting in the cave. Basically, it is an indentation carved out by the wind. We didn't stay long because there was some evidence of a bee hive formed in one of the crevices, which made at least one of the girls nervous. We ate the cheese and started walking down. Even though we carried camelbacks, which hold at least 64 ounces of fluid, one of the children had gone through most of her water on the way up. Therefore, I had to share some of my water on the way down. It took us about 45 minutes to get down, mainly because we took fewer breaks. By that time, the kid's camelbacks were all drained, which meant a stop at the potty before heading back home. We were home by 9:45 a.m., ready to go to bed, or at least rest ;-). The hike was made possible by Nana and Poppa, who had brought my boys with them for a sleep over the previous night. Otherwise, the hike would have been a bit more daunting, especially with a four year old. I think I will wait another year, or maybe wait until I have another adult, to go on this trail with my youngest.
The only thing that I was hoping to see was a little more wildlife. With cooler temperatures and the early morning hours,theoretically, we should have seen a lot more animals. However, with four chatty females acting as an early warning system for the animals, the only thing we really saw were birds, other hikers, and one baby rabbit. However, the rainbow made up for the lack of fauna. It "rained" that morning, and by "rained" I mean that water fell from the sky, though very little of it actually touched the earth. Seeing the rainbow as we started our descent was very inspiring. It was as if God were blessing our hike that morning. It must have worked, too, because, for once, my youngest daughter did not cry and whine at all about being too tired to go on. It was definitely an awesome hike!