Saturday, June 11, 2011
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Ahh, June in Phoenix. The heat is on, the monsoon rains are a month away, wildflowers have gone to dust and our beautiful desert hills look like parched moonscapes. So what’s to see on them thar hills during this dreaded month? Beans. Lots of beans. Most desert trees, including mesquite, palo verde and ironwood are in the legume (bean/pea) family. They paint desert washes and slopes with brilliant yellow, pink and white blooms from March through May—gradually transforming from things of beauty to sources of wildlife nutrition. Of course, this smorgasbord of protein brings out the rodents and birds that feed upon the arboreal buffet. And, where there are lil’ critters, snakes position themselves at the top of the food chain. One good place to see the bean show is Estrella Mountain Regional Park. With over 30 miles of trails ranging in difficulty from short and barrier-free to long and difficult, the park has something for everyone. Today, a friend with a shoulder injury suggested we hike the Baseline Trail because it appeared to be innocuous. The route proper is well-signed, but there are dozens of unofficial paths blazed in all directions---just watch for the “BA” signs to stay on course. A short distance in, the trail comes to a “Y” intersection. The right spur leads to a short (0.4 mile) sub loop with a nice vista point over looking the green farmlands of the Gila Valley, then swings around a pyramid-shaped mound to reconnect with BA. From here, the path undulates along the shoulders of boulder-strewn hillsides, dipping into a scenic valley before taking on its one steep climb before coming full circle back at the trailhead. Turns out, this trail was steeper and rockier than anticipated, but we still made it through without incident. Although we saw hundreds of rabbits, Harris Antelope squirrels, turkey vultures, lizards and a scrawny coyote, not a single snake crossed our paths.
LENGTH: 2.8 miles (3.9 with connector & viewpoint spur)
ELEVATION: 900’- 1,050’
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix,go west on I10 to the Estrella Parkway exit. Turn south (left) and go 4 miles south to W. Vineyard Ave. (watch for the brown park signs). Turn left onto Vineyard and continue to the park gate. To get to the Baseline trailhead—follow the main road (Casey Abbott Dr. North) less than 0.25 mile and take the first right past the Nature Center (Casey Abbott Dr. South). Continue about 0.2 mile to Ramada #6 (just before the amphitheater) and park there. Trail access is across the road.
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle. Free maps are available at the gate.
PARK HOURS: Sunday – Thursday: 6 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday – Saturday: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
INFO: Estrella Mountain Regional Park, Goodyear
(623) 932-3811, http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/estrella/maps.aspx