Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last Week's Adventures: San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Winter is the time to go on adventures in the Phoenix area. The weather is beautiful all day long (highs in the 50s and 60s, lows in the 30s and 40s--you know, spring and summer weather in many other places lol) and it's still sunny and clear just like every other time of year. Last week, I went on two outdoors adventures.

The first was San Tan Mountain Regional Park. I'd never been there or heard of it before. I was just looking to explore somewhere different. It seems to be a park that isn't very well known. Barely any information is listed on it anywhere. The only facts I can seem to find about it are that it is 10,200 acres in size and that it is a good example of the "lower Sonoran Desert." I kind of laughed about that  because the Sonoran desert extends down into Sonora, Mexico, which is quite a bit further south than Queen Creek, Arizona, so I'm not really sure what is meant by "lower Sonoran Desert." I spent some time researching and I can't find that phrase written anywhere else when describing different areas of the Sonoran Desert region. Maybe it refers to the range of plants found at this particular elevation? I'm not sure. I guess it will remain a mystery for now.

Anyway, back to my adventure. I drove down to San Tan Mountain Regional Park in the afternoon so I could catch the sunset. When I stopped to pay the fee at the front of the park, I told the woman at the gate that I wasn't looking for any trails in particular. She remarked that I was just "looking for an adventure." She knew! lol.

San Tan Mountain Regional park is not set up in a loop with several trail heads like you may see in some of the other Maricopa County Parks. Instead, it appears that there is one main parking lot at the entrance where you can access most of the trailheads. If you want to access other trailheads or start the trails from the opposite direction, you have to exit the park and drive around it to the other parking lots. I decided to park at the main entrance. I looked at the trail map and picked the Goldmine Trail. You'll see why by reading the description that was on the back of the map:

Trail Length/Distance: 2.4 miles
Trail Rating: Difficult
Description: If you desire adventure, then you will love the Goldmine Trail as it takes you to the highest point on any trail at roughly 2,300 feet in elevation. The trail begins at the San Tan Trailhead near the visitor center and ends at the Goldmine Trailhead located near Skyline Drive near on the north side of the park. Enjoy a nice workout with breathtaking views from Goldmine Mountain. Don't forget to visit the graves of two miners Mansel Carter and Marion Kennedy, buried near the Goldmine Trailhead as you learn about their unique way of life.
There was more factual information about the park listed in that hiking trail blurb than on anywhere on their website! I always know to take it with a grain of salt whenever any Maricopa County Park lists anything as "difficult" or "steep." Generally, their trails are only "difficult" or steep if you've never hiked a day in your life. Turns out, I was right (not that I was complaining lol).

The trail map. "GM" stands for goldmine.

The trail near the beginning stretch. It's really well established and used by horses often.

Some "horse puckey" as my dad likes to call it. I took a picture because I was perplexed by the rocks on top. Any ideas?
The view of San Tan Valley from the park. The air in Phoenix has been very dirty during the last couple of weeks.
Some cholla hanging out in some volcanic rock.

It was nice and cool outside, but the late afternoon sun was still blazing!
I'm not sure what these are, but they were all over the place in among the tiny blades of grass.
I will say, it was kind of a grueling climb up this hill. It wasn't too steep or treacherous, just a long ascent up the hill with few places to rest. This is the view of Queen Creek and the Superstitions to the north.

I made it up the hill just in time to catch the sun beginning to set over the San Tans. It was a race!
A 360 panoramic view from the spot where I was standing. The farthest right section of the picture is where I just hiked from.
More sunset.
The last bit of light before the sun disappeared completely.

After the sun began to go down, I had to turn around and head back to my car before it got too cold. The air here is very dry and does not contain enough moisture to prevent the temperature from fluctuating dramatically from day to night. It was about 70 degrees when I started my hike, but dropped to about 55 degrees by the time I returned to my car. The low that night was 40 and the lows a couple of nights later were in the 20s. I'd definitely like to go back when I have more time. I want to see the miners graves and the other side of the park. 

Check back later to hear about my adventure with Bill in the Superstitions!

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