Adventures from Back of Beyond

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Spine of the Camel

Rising from the middle of Phoenix is a famous and prominent landmark, Camelback Mountain. Two steep trails lead to its summit -- Echo Canyon from behind the head on the west, and up along its tail and spine, Cholla Trail from the east.

One January day, as a winter storm was clearing, we spontaneously decided to climb it via the
Cholla Trail. Fortunately, the day was cool and moist, making for superb hiking conditions. In
fact, a very unusual fog enshrouded the top.

Here, where days commonly can reach triple digit temperatures and single digit humidity, we had 40s with 100% humidity. The brown cloud of pollution, which normally envelopes the city, was completely gone. Climbing the 1,400 feet to the top, we savored breathing in the clean moist air.

Whatever lives in this harsh dessicated environment you can be sure has mastered the art of desert survival. Some adaptation enables it to survive. It may be skin tough as leather, or an exterior protected with sharp spines. It may simply go dormant during the hottest part of the year. On this day of rare humidity, we found delicate moss growing on the north side of boulders and slopes. Usually this stuff looks tough, black, and shrunken; not like moss at all. Today it was instead making the most of the infrequent moisture. We found the moss plumped up fat like a sponge, glowing a delicate green, full of life.

People were making the most of it as well. It's quite normal for people to be uncommonly friendly on hiking trails. But today, it seemed almost everyone we met was genuinely happy, greeting us with a "hello" or "good morning", stopping to chat about the trail or weather. Where else will you find that from total strangers in a big city?

And what's there not to be happy about. The Cholla trail up Camelback has to be one of the city's very best hiking experiences.