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Quartz Peak Day Hike
Sierra Estrella
February 9, 2003
by Joe Orman
Trailblazers set out to climb Quartz Peak. [photo by Chuck Parsons]

Arriving at the trailhead parking lot, it seems like we have come to the end of the earth. Many miles of freeway, highway, and dirt road have brought us to the western foot of the Sierra Estrella. Although on the other side of the range a metropolis of millions sprawls, here is only open, empty land. As we follow the trail up a ridge, the desert floor drops away and my gaze follows it into the distance. I begin to see that the range we are ascending is an island in a fathomless sea of sand. The trail is a slender thread, winding along the ridgeline – up, relentlessly up. The thread frays and then is broken, and we must find our way among the boulders. Routes fragment and disappear, just as the rock of the ridge is fragmenting in geologic slow motion. Each of the boulders that we scramble over is doomed by gravity and weathering; it is just a matter of time. Always leading the way, hanging above us like a lighthouse beacon, is the white block that forms the summit of Quartz Peak. At that point, space and time converge. Only at this particular instant in geologic time does this nubbin of quartz boulders cap the range; only at this particular hour of the day are we ascending it.


All nine of our group make it to the peak, there to relax among the milky boulders and enjoy lunch and magnificent views. The sunlight is warm, but to the touch the deep coldness of the quartz reminds us that this is still winter, and at 4000 feet comfortable temperatures are brief. A black vulture eyes us. To him we are fleeting phantoms, for this is his home and we are only here for a short time. The clock of the sky moves steadily on; there are only so many hours of light left, and miles of trail to descend. So away we must. Goodbye, Quartz Peak, goodbye vulture – our future lies back down that trail, down that dusty road, back to the city where free time and open space are rare. But we will remember.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated December 30, 2019