Ducks in the Desert: Hiking in Phoenix

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The sun is out and so are the hikers, bikers and sightseers at Phoenix’s South Mountain, the largest municipal park in the nation. It includes more than 16,000 sprawling acres in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

“We only get an average of 7 inches of rain a year, so our vegetation here is very unique,” said park ranger Erich Braun.

The desert’s unique vegetation is what makes the beauty there unique.

“It’s kind of an acquired taste, I guess,” laughed Curtis Busby, who was there with his family. “There’s lot of beauty if you look for it.”

The tree-covered mountains we’re used to are replaced by jagged rocks, jutting from the desert floor. The pines, firs and maples from back home are shrubs and Saguaro cacti here.

“[That] can withstand extreme temperatures and yet they blossom and bear fruit,” said Busby, pointing to an example of the park’s beauty.

“This is one of the most lush, green deserts,” Braun said. “The Sonoran Desert is the lushest of all deserts because it has two rainfalls a year.”

Dozens of trails in the park let you decide how hard you want to work for the spectacular views. Like Eugene’s Skinner Butte, you can drive up to some vistas that overlook downtown.

“It’s a great location to go if you want to see the lights of downtown Phoenix, particularly at night,” said Braun. “We also have great sunsets, so visitors like to drive up to the top of the mountain and view the sunsets.”

If you’re looking for something that more closely resembles the climb up Spencer Butte, try out Telegraph Pass, easily one of the park’s most popular trails.

“It’s always clean and everybody’s really nice,” said Elisa Kawan, who decided to hike up the trail to celebrate her birthday. “A lot of fun people out.”

Added Busby: “It’s a nice little hike. Just nice to be outdoors.”

That’s a sentiment Western Oregonians certainly agree with — especially when they don’t have to contend with Western Oregon’s weather.

“It’s the best time of year,” said Kawan.

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