Estrella Mountain Regional Park starts out civilized, but soon reveals its
wilder side. This Maricopa County park, about an hour's drive west of Phoenix,
is easily accessed from Interstate 10. After passing the entrance kiosk, the
park road curves around a grassy picnic area, then enters the desert.
From the dirt lot at the end of the road, several trails lead south across
open country into the rugged hills that form the north-west end of the
Sierra Estrella. For our group of 7 people and 2 dogs, the choice this day
was the Rainbow Valley Trail.
As we began hiking on this pleasant morning, the bee-hive like noise of the
adjacent Phoenix International Raceway gradually faded away. We followed
the trail through a low pass out into the broad Rainbow Valley.
Here practically no signs of civilization could be seen, the desert
stretching unbroken into the hazy distance. We found a sandy, shaded wash
for a relaxing lunch. Then we picked up our return route, the Coldwater
Trail, to make a 5-mile loop. The trail eventually turned into a gravel
road, which brought us back to the parking lot. Having grown accustomed
to the quiet, even the crunch of our boots on the gravel seemed like an
assault on our senses. But we each carried a bit of that desert silence
inside of us on our return to civilization.