Hiking in Thunderbird Park
Last school year, I put a real emphasis on being out in nature as much as possible. It’s still a priority for me, but we’ve just finished our 5th week of school, and we had not yet gone on a “nature outing,” as we call them.
Here in the Phoenix area in early October, it’s still very warm — hot, by most standards; today’s high is supposed to be 95 degrees. So, ideally, we would head far out of the city and go somewhere higher in elevation. However, I have a church event to attend early this evening, so we really couldn’t go far and be gone all day. But, we had to go somewhere.
So, I chose Thunderbird Park (which, apparently, has been officially renamed as Thunderbird Conservation Park) which is only about 5 miles from our house. Our family nickname for this 1,185 acre facility is the “mountain park,” although, technically, they’re not mountains; they’re the Hedgpeth Hills. It’s an ideal place to take young children* for hikes, because many of the trails are very short, and the payoff is quick: though one only gains a couple hundred feet in elevation, the view is fantastic. Also, the trails are well-maintained, usually don’t have too much hiking traffic, and at least from the north and west sides of the vast Phoenix valley, it’s not too far of a drive. (When it’s rained very recently, water runs through the wash that meanders through the picnic area that’s adjacent to the 59th Ave entrance — it’s a very nice spot with a real sense of the desert outdoors.)
I’m partial to the park entrance off of 67th Avenue, which is about 3/4 of a mile north of Deer Valley Rd, across the street from Mountain Ridge High School. The trailhead at this western edge of the park has trails that are short and relatively easy.
We’ve hiked quite a few of this park’s trails many times, but this was the first time we made it up to any of the numerous summits. I’m not certain I have all the trailnames correct, but we traversed H5 to H5-a to the eastern section of H4-a, then the southern section of H4, which ends at a hill’s summit, giving wide views to the south, where one can see all the way to South Mountain and even downtown Phoenix. It was a little hazy this morning, but we could still make out both.
A friendly fellow hiker snapped this (Audrey had a hat, too, but kept pulling it off):
Here’s Grant, with a view to the south:
18 month-old Audrey is a little too big for the baby carrier I have for her, and the last hike we went on (in Colorado, to the Piedra Falls, which I keep meaning to blog about), she did spectacularly. This time, not so much. About 10% of the way in, she decided that she simply would not walk. So, up the hill, I carried her most of the time. Down the hill, she walked about half of the time. It made for a heavy load: a backpack full of water, snacks, my bird guide, my flower guide and some binoculars, and then Audrey on my hip… I got lots of commiserations from fellow hikers, but really, it wasn’t too bad. And even though it’s a small summit, I’m so glad we made it to the top!
Eight-year-old Grant could be a trail-runner. With boundless energy, he’d burst ahead, and then check back and I’d hold up my hand in a “stop!” sign, and he’d wait until we all caught up, then run out ahead again. Wesley, who is six, got a little discouraged about halfway up, but when we neared the summit, he became energized, and even took a steeper little shortcut (with Grant) to the top, and did great all the way down. My oldest, Ethan, would complain nonstop about everything if I let him, so I didn’t. 😛 And, he did fine.
I don’t have a GPS unit (it’s on my Christmas list), so I’m not exactly certain how far we hiked. It felt like a mile out (then a mile on the return), but when we got back to the trailhead, I consulted the map that’s posted, and as best as I could make out, it appears that we covered a mile and a half out. So, total, it was somewhere between 2-3 miles, and it took us two hours. (Lots of stops with little ones!)
I didn’t get any wildlife pics, but we saw a whole bunch of little chipmunks, several lizards, several cactus wrens, a black-throated sparrow (and an assortment of doves, but they don’t count!).
As an aside: When hiking in Phoenix, TAKE WATER!!!!! I don’t care how short the hike is, or what time of year it is, you need water. On our way down, we crossed paths with a family — by their conversation, I think they were Swedish — with a dad and three little ones, the oldest of whom was six, max. They had no water on them at all. I was quite startled, and almost warned them… I would have given them extra water if I’d had any, but we’d just drained our last drop, and were looking forward to the extra water bottles I keep stashed in the truck. I was relieved to see that they must have turned around (though taken a different trail) right after we saw them, because both our families returned to our respective vehicles at about the same time. Still, though. It’s incredibly unwise to venture into any part of the desert without any water on you.
*Note: None of the park’s restroom facilities work, except the one right close to the 59th Ave. entrance, so make sure your little ones have a potty break before you leave for the park, especially if you plan on parking on the western side, as you can’t drive your vehicle to the other side, and it’s a long walk from there to the restrooms. Or, you can find a handy park ranger, like we did, and he’ll run your little one over to the facilities in his little golfcart.