Anthem, Arizona lies approximately 30 miles north of Phoenix and sits at the base of Daisy Mountain. A cactus studded lump of shale and quartz jutting some 1200 feet above the Sonoran desert. Since moving here, I’ve climbed it twice, but never reached the American flag that marks the summit. On two separate occasions I was chased off the slope by summer rains. Rain in the desert is not taken lightly.
The ground is hard, rock hard. And the storms, when they come, develop quickly into violent, lightning-packed thunder boomers that drop walls of water far too fast for the earth to absorb. From the hills, the trickles join to form boiling, brown, boulder-filled gully washers. But seeking the high ground offers no respite. The high mineral content here turns the plants into natural lightning rods. On two separate occasions last year I found myself standing amongst the iron-filled Saguaro, I could feel the electricity in the air on my skin. Great Frankensteinian bolts of lightning struck the summit. As spectacular as this was, it was also quite disconcerting. As such, given the last two days of similar weather, I postponed my adventure until today.
This morning’s sky was clear& blue. The temperature at was 7:00 was an invigorating 54 degrees. After a quick breakfast, I gathered my pack: sweatshirt, water, wide-brim hat, and granola bar. I wore a light-weight jacket, sturdy boots, and a knife on my hip. Before setting out, I called a friend and told her my plans. With all in order, I mounted my trusty stead (mountain bike) and headed off.
It was an easy 4 paved miles through town to the trail head, and the Monday morning traffic was light. Along the way I encountered a man walking three Bernese Mountain dogs. Attention was mandatory. Once on the dirt path that lead to the mountain, I found myself passing homes with the enviable backyard view of Daisy Mountain the surrounding desert. At first, the transition from suburban streets to dirt trail was subtle, but the closer I drew to the mountain, the more the trail grew in intensity. The easy dirt road gave way to jostling path of razor-edged shale and washed out 4×4 ruts. A more experienced rider would likely have swooped through the gullies and flown over the rises, but my last experience on such a trail was during my 8th year of grade school. I did my best, but often as not, I found myself pushing my bike along the trail. Finally I abandoned it all together. Locking the wheels with my cable and leaving it beside the trail. I’d not seen another soul, and thought the people here are all very kind, leaving the bike unhindered seemed foolish. If someone was going to steal it, I figured, they’d have to carry it out.
No sooner had I locked my bike and continued on foot than I encountered a fellow hiker with his yellow lab (more puppy attention). I discovered that he’d gone right at a past fork where I’d gone left. No matter. We exchanged pleasantries and soldiered on. By now my t-shirt was soaked beneath my jacket, but removing the jacket and riding in just the tee would have been a chilly experience. So I opted to remain in the jacket. In addition to warmth, the jacket also protected against the barbed tines of the cholla cactus. Known as the Teddy Bear, Bottle Brush or Jumping Cactus, the cholla is a rather nasty member of the cactus family. The limbs resemble a bottle brush and they easily detach (seeming to almost “jump” onto a passerby). The spines have clear, barbed hooks that imbed into the victim and are very difficult to remove. Best to avoid these fellows all together. Unfortunately, they are nearly as numerous as the sands. Keep to the path. To further my protection, I also wore gloved (that started to tear halfway through the day).
As I began the true hiking element of the day, I began to detect a pain in my left foot, located at the Achilles area. Upon examination I discovered a blister. I was wearing new hiking boots and thick socks. How could I get a blister? Of course I’d forgotten to pack my blister bandages. Oh well. At the advice of John Wayne, I lased my bots tight and kept going. The trail was much, much steeper now, but as I climbed I could now see the flag flittering in the breeze from the hill above. With each (painful) step, I grew closer and closer until at last, I stood beside the banner and beheld the sight of Anthem and New River below.
According to my “Map Your Run” software, I’d gone about 7 miles since my start and 3 miles since entering the trail. I’d climbed 1253 feet (elevation at the top according to my altimeter was 3116 ft). Around the base of the flag was a rather odd assortment of items. Someone had installed a solar powered spotlight for the flag (nice), but there was also a plastic coffee container (Folgers), a small sauce pan and sock. Go figure. I rested a bit, basking in my accomplishment, but as Edmund Viesturs (only American to summit all 14 of the world’s 8K meter mountains), getting to the summit is only half the trip. I still had to get back and now my foot was giving me issues.
As it turned out, the walk down did not aggravate the blister. The new direction called into play a new set of muscles and new area of the feet. Still, I went slowly and was glad to have my walking stick to assist. I found my bicycle and though I still walked it at several points, I mustered the courage (or stupidity) to brave a few of the gullies I’d cautioned on the ride in.
The ride out was a mix of ease and challenge, but once I found myself back on the blacktop, I stripped out of my soaking shirt and donned a dry sweatshirt for the trek home.
In the end, it took 3½ hours, I burned 1578 calories, and covered a little over 14 miles. Of course, I could have just driven to the trail head, but I really had no reason not to ride. Besides, the bike allowed me to transect a large, boring section at the beginning.
It was a good workout, and though I am feeling the ache in my muscles (and know I’ll be hobbling tomorrow), I am glad to cross this particular item off my bucket list.