With cooler temperatures hitting the Valley, the Sonoran Desert provides a recluse for Arizona hikers, and you don’t have to drive two hours away from Phoenix to enjoy picturesque views.
South Mountain Park/Preserve provides local residents with the opportunity to explore the wildlife in Arizona and join several outdoor groups, South Mountain Ranger Allyson Brennan said. Sixty miles of 20 designated trails cut through canyons and washes of the park, located in the Ahwatukee Foothills area, she said.
“Pima Canyon is probably the most popular,” Brennan said. “It’s a nice, local spot for hikers to enjoy.”
As the Valley’s temperatures begin to cool off this month, you can expect morning and evening temperatures in the mid-80s to low-60s.
Leah Wolf, a local resident and hiker, said she enjoys coming out in the fall to enjoy the wildflowers and mountain views. She usually hikes along Pima Canyon and the Mormon Loop Trail.
“It’s such a beautiful area for a short morning hike,” Wolf said. “You realize you’re in this amazing place that God made.”
Wolf has lived in Arizona since she was 8 years old, and grew up hiking with her parents.
“Pima wash is a nice workout for your legs, because the trail is all sand,” she said.
The Pima Canyon parking lot is located on 48th Street and Guadalupe Road. Additional parking locations are located at South Mountain’s other trailheads. There are also north-side roadways that allow you to drive up to three lookouts, Brennan said.
“We have a lot of hikers, runners, mountain bikers and equestrian riders,” she said. “We also get a lot of picnickers. Dogs on leashes are also welcome.”
If hikers bring dogs, leashes are required for others’ safety, and especially for the dog’s safety.
“An unleashed dog can more easily end up with a rattlesnake bite or a paw full of cactus needles,” Brennan said.
Mountain biking is especially popular, with over a dozen mountain bike trails to choose from.
Greg Bury, an experienced mountain biker, said he comes out to South Mountain at least twice a month.
“The trails are great and the hikers are courteous,” he said. “Hikers in other areas are not as aware of mountain bikers, so it can be a little frustrating.”
Many professional mountain bike riders, including Melissa Buhl, use the South Mountain trails for training, Bury said.
With the weather cooling off, South Mountain users begin to see a diversity of wildlife.
“We see a lot of javelinas and coyotes, as well as reptiles,” Brennan said. “We also have at least 50 types of birds.”
Many birdwatchers come out during the mornings, Brennan added. Birds prominent at South Mountain include roadrunners, quails, hawks and mourning doves.
Many hikers report seeing Gila Monsters crawling over boulders, Brennan said. What they most likely saw was the chuckwalla lizard, the second largest lizard in Arizona, she said.
“We also have scorpions, rattlesnakes, other non-venomous snakes and lizards – a wide variety of warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals,” she said.
Being aware of your surroundings is particularly important in the winter, Brennan said.
“In the early mornings, rattlesnakes will lay out flat trying to warm up, and will often not rattle its tail when hikers approach them,” she said. “They are still trying to warm up, so they are lethargic. You have to keep an eye out because you can’t hear them as easily.”
When approaching a rattlesnake, hikers should stay at least 10 feet away and never approach them, she added.
South Mountain also has “full-moon” hikes year-round, when the park is open to hikers throughout the night. This provides hikers with a chance to see a whole other range of animals.
“Typically before the sun comes up, we’ll hear the coyotes,” she said. “People get excited to hear them talk to each other.”
South Mountain’s main entrance is normally open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Now that it’s fall again, local hikers can come out and enjoy some Arizona sunshine in fall weather. Remember to bring plenty of water, wear proper hiking shoes, don’t go off the trails and respect the wildlife.
“It’s a pretty special place,” Brennan said. “Even with all the people that use the park, we still have a lot of animals. But we have to remember that we are in their home and need to respect them.”
For further South Mountain Park information, go to http://www.phoenix.gov/parks/hikesoth.html.
Mark Crudup is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a senior at Arizona State University.