April 14, 2017

a morning stroll...

well, not exactly just a stroll.  The towns around here oftentimes have a 'letter' on them that you can see from miles away... there's "A" mountain near the ASU campus, there's a large 'Phoenix' with a huge arrow that points west toward the city, there's an "M" on Pima Butte outisde Maricopa, and there's a "CG" right outside Casa Grande, which is the town where we live now.   (not sure how they do it, but I'm guessing they paint the rocks in the shape of the letters.)

Actually, this link is to a local news story about how the M got onto M Mountain... kind of cool!

Anyway, the CG is on a mountain just south of town and it's a large city park (1000 acres) with miles of trails.  Last Sunday we got up early and decided to go for a spur-of-the-moment hike.  The main trail we saw goes up to some radio antenna towers, and there were quite a few other people out there already; it was a beautiful morning for a hike!

the view back down the trail, from about 1/3 of the way up.  Our car is down there somewhere!

The radio towers... 
a good part of this trail is paved, but that didn't really make it any easier- 
it's a pretty steep grade, and hurt my thighs to walk at an angle like that.

it was even too steep here for a straight trail the whole way up, so they had to add a couple switchbacks- there are some people down there on the trail, if you click to make it larger. 

it was a beautiful morning!  Once we got up to the radio towers, we thought we were done.  But we ran into a couple ladies who said 'oh, no...  the flag is about 3/4 of a mile that way-- it's a really pretty trail; much nicer than the trail you came up on.'  So we went on...

and we found this!  the trail goes through a grove (?) forest (?) ...not sure what you call it, if it's cactus-- of cholla cactus.  These are the famous 'jumping' cacti, so-called because the segments are really 'loosely connected' and the spines are so thick that all you have to do is brush up against them and they. are. stuck. (notice all the small loose pieces littering the ground around the main cacti plants.  It felt a bit like we had the whole place to ourselves for a while, here... there were a few other people now and then, but not too many.)

there are other plants and cacti, as well-- blooming ocotillos, saguaro, fishhook barrel cacti (the round cactus on the right with the pink hooked spines), creosote bushes, and other small cacti.  (click this photo to make it larger; the fishhook barrel cactus really is neat looking.)  It really was beautiful! (although we did have to watch where we were going; the trail isn't wide, and it goes RIGHT THROUGH all of those cacti.) 

once we saw the flag, it didn't seem to be getting any closer for quite a while, lol!  But we finally made it there.  According to the city parks website, the flag peak is the high point in the Casa Grande mountains, and is 2,350 feet above sea level.  It made for quite a view!

Tom, at the flag.  We finally made it!  

The trails did continue on from there, but we turned around to head back the way we came- it was getting warm, and we really weren't outfitted for an entire day out in the mountains. 

a photo of one of the 'jumping cholla' babies... you can see that the individual segment roots itself into the dirt, and eventually starts to grow another entire plant!  

back down the trail near the parking lot, there was a forest of a different species of cactus, the chain-fruit cholla.  It's called that for obvious reasons, lol.  The fruit hangs down from the branches like bunches of grapes.  This was a really impressive-looking specimen!  

me, standing next to another one of them, just for a size comparison.  They're not small cacti, at all!  Chollas are sometimes used as living quarters for doves or cactus wrens--  a predator would have to be pretty desperate to go in one of these after eggs or baby birds!  This one seemed to be vacant.  (Or if anyone WAS at home, they weren't making any noise at all.)

and, one last picture that proves the whole 'jumping' thing isn't just a myth... 

All I was doing was standing next to it! I got just a bit too close, and one of the loose segments was stuck to my shoe-  not just 'to' my shoe, but actually IN my shoe!  Those spines are long, and they are SHARP!  Tom had to use a couple rocks to very carefully take hold of it and pry it away from my shoe.  

(I was contemplating bringing one of them home to plant in our yard, but not quite like that, lol!  And after seeing just how dangerous they are, I think I'll leave them right where they are.)

Tom did some research after we got home, to figure out just where all we had gone on the trails.  According to the info he found, we hiked about 6 miles round trip.  (I don't remember what he said about how many hundreds of feet up in elevation... I just know that my ears popped a couple times on the way back down the trail.)

It was a really fun experience, although I did have to do some obligatory whining about how much my legs hurt... and I did have a tough time getting up for the next couple days, lol!  We did see a couple other trails we'd like to explore, too;  problem is, it's getting warmer pretty quick, so there's not really much time to do it in.  We'll see how ambitious we are this weekend! I think the odds are about 50/50, honestly... we'll see.  

If we DO go, I'll be sure to take some pictures!  (I'll also be sure to stay away from the jumping cholla cacti!!)