The NGO sponsoring me in Ghana recently flew me to Phoenix for their annual conference, and they gave us Sunday morning off, so I took the opportunity to visit nearby Echo Canyon Park.
I departed the hotel at exactly 9:00 AM. I knew from a Google Maps search that the park was five miles from the hotel, and if I walked there I would have about just enough time to take one quick glance at the place and then turn around and head back. So I turned right on Cactus Road, then right on Tatum, and stuck my thumb out and almost immediately a guy in an SUV slammed on the brakes and offered me a ride.
I arrived at the park at 9:40 AM and immediately began ascending the hill. The first part of the trail of the trail was easy enough, with steps for our convenience.
The trail gets harder the farther up you go.
Indeed, for most of the way, the trail isn’t so much an actual physical trail as a theoretical construct. Much of it consists of dry washes, strewn with boulders the size of washing machines.
Most of the folks I encountered appeared young enough to be my sons or daughters, but I did pass the occasional white-haired old geezer.
I saw muscular, heavily tattooed young men with buzz cuts leaping from one rock to the other with the agility of mountain goats. I got the impression they were military, but I didn’t know for sure. I had no illusions about trying to emulate these guys. I used to be a Hell of a runner. Key phrase there was “used to be.” I continued in my plodding fashion, huffing and puffing, at times scrambling on my hands and knees. This would be a Hell of a place for a knee injury, I decided. There was no way they could bring a stretcher up or down this mountain. How the Hell would they get you out?
One of the residents of the hill, a chuckwalla, came out to greet me. The chuckwalla depicted in the Golden Nature Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians that I had as a boy was chocolate-brown, but this guy was light gray, with dark gray splotches.
By 10:30 I had reached a marker that said “7/8,” which I took to mean that I had walked seven-eighths of a mile, about two-thirds of the way. I would have loved to continue all the way, but I knew I had to get back. After pausing a few minutes to let my pounding heart return to its normal rate, I took one last look at the view and headed down.
I walked out to Tatum Road and stuck my thumb out and almost immediately a guy in an SUV (no, not the same guy) slammed on the brakes and offered me a ride. He told me that he lived right next to the park, and with no prompting on my part mentioned that frequently he would observe rescue helicopters coming to the aid of injured hikers.
I arrived back at the hotel feeling refreshed by my brief sojourn. My only regret was that I did not have more time to spend. We need our wildernesses, our Everglades and our Yellowstones, but we also need places like Echo Canyon Park, places we can get to without too much trouble and renew our acquaintance with some of the fellow creatures with which we share this earth.
All photos by author