When I chose “Verso L’alto” or “Higher, toward the top” as one of my themes for this year, I kicked it off with a challenge of hiking every day for a month. Part of the reason behind this challenge was to get me out of my normal hiking routine and explore new trails and new mountains! I thought maybe my theme for the year of hiking wouldn’t really count if I wasn’t always going new and flashy places. And it WAS wonderful to explore so many new areas, and I will continue to try and do that, but I have fallen in love with the Phoenix Mountain preserve and while I thought returning there again and again might get boring, I learned during that 31 day challenge that it is anything but… and that realization has only gotten stronger int he months that followed, so today I wanted to expand on that and share a few reasons why hiking at the same mountain preserve over 50 times in less than a year still remains anything but boring….
Going to the same preserve, especially during the peaks of COVID when the whole world felt like it was in ever changing chaos, felt comforting. In time, it came to feel like a second home. So much so that as we started to look at moving my top priority, after a neighborhood that felt safe to take a walk with the kids, was that we stay close to these mountains so I could easily keep visiting on weekdays when the weather allowed. I believe it has come to feel that way to my kids too, who have joined me on several hikes here. My middle kid refers to one trail as her “birthday mountain” because we have hiked it for the past two years on her birthday and it is a tradition she would like to keep.
That is another reason why returning again and again is anything but boring-It brings up significant memories- not just of birthday traditions but of hiking with specific family or friends, or where I had special moments. I can tell you the trail I was on when finding out important news, the rocks I stopped at to pray for important things, the cacti I photographed while being moved to crying by a podcast or piece of music, and so many more individual memories and lessons I learned on these trails. Many of these memories were created because I knew the area well enough not to stress about where I might park or how long it would take me to get there and back, things that I almost always have to take into account when visiting other trails, even if they aren’t that far away!
Some of the trails within the Phoenix Mountain Preserve I have hiked far more than others. Part of that is because they are the most easily accessible from where I like to park, part of that is because I love the views, and part of it is intentional because It helps me see progress. Tracking the same route on Strava means that I”ve been able to see trail running improvements in a very numerical concrete way. The most incredible impovement though comes simply through perceived exertion. Some trails used to be so hard they felt almost impossible and I had to slow way down to keep going. Now some of those same sections just feel like a good push within my hike, maybe even a part I look forward to because I know they will lead to some of my favorite views.
And even though I know the shape of the trails, they always seem to be changing. I swear I have seen the same section of a trail over and over again but it looks incredibly different depending on the time of day and the way the sun hits it. It is even more different depending on the time of year- revisiting the same trail has allowed me to open my eyes and notice the changing colors of the trail as we move from fall to winter to spring. It has allowed me to discover different animals- my kids especially love finding quail and bunnies and squirrels (usually not snakes thank goodness! I’m happy to keep that a rarity) We also look for the first flowers to bloom on the cacti or the wildflowers along the trail.
Finally, even though I have been to this preserve more than 50 times, I still find that there are more side trails to explore. I try to be cautious as I’m not sure which are official trails and which were mostly forged by mountain bikers bushwhacking their own path until it became well established, and I don’t want to contribute to hurting the wildlife that needs specific space to grow, but there are still enough ways to make the many established trails criss cross and connect that it can feel like a new experience when I want it to.
I still have many other mountains to see, even within easy driving distance from me, and I look forward to exploring them more. But I am perfectly content to have many more adventures on the same mountain and can’t believe I am lucky enough to live so near such a beautiful haven of nature in the midst of my busy desert city.