When I think of all the hikes I’ve taken over the years, circles and cycles
turn ’round in my head. The dials spin ever faster, adding up the numbers.
Today’s hike, Pass Mountain Trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park, adds one
more outing to the hundreds I have taken, seven more miles to the thousands I
have traveled before, and adds immeasurably to a treasure chest overflowing
with millions of priceless memories.
I’ve always favored loop hikes ... and I’ve often wondered why. To
get the maximum amount of unique scenery, of course, but there is also a certain
satisfaction in returning to one’s starting point from a different direction.
Each little journey is an odyssey, each journey’s end is a return home.
Pass Mountain Trail is one such loop. We pick up the loop at the Wind Cave
trailhead, and I choose to do the hike in the clockwise direction, always
keeping the mountain on our right. As the trail turns, it brings new scenery
constantly into our view. The Usery Mountains to the west, with their gigantic
sign absurdly pointing the way to “PHOENIX.” Red Mountain and the
Salt River to the north. Then, close in the northeast, the Goldfield Mountains,
strikingly rugged—I have never seen them before ... or perhaps I just never
noticed. More distant to the east, the dramatic facade of the Superstitions.
To the south, a view out over Apache Junction and the rest of the far-east
Valley. Other trails radiate off from ours, spinning off endless possibilities
for future journeys.
Two members of our group decide to turn around at the half-way point to avoid
the steep downhill section—anyway, the scenery is best on the first part
of the trail and they will get to see it twice. This will give them a different
experience than the remaining six of us, but who can say which is better? One
thing I have discovered is that even walking an identical path, everyone’s
experience will be unique—we each see the landscape with our own eyes,
filtered through a turning kaleidoscope of all we have done before.
The weather today is perfect for hiking, just a hint of a breeze. High in the
Himalayas, such breezes turn prayer wheels. Here, I offer up my own
silent prayers of gratitude: for health, for exercise, for the beauty of the desert,
for another fine day’s blue sky. As we hike, that sky turns above us as the
earth beneath our feet makes its daily round. It is a warm day, but the sun
stays in the southern part of the sky—a reminder that summer has turned
to autumn, as the earth continues its own odyssey around the sun. The seasons
change, and they change us ... with each trip around this merry-go-round, we
are a year older. At our lunch break, the talk turns to the rock climbing some
of us have done in our younger years. Despite its name, Pass Mountain Trail
does not go to the top of the mountain, but that is all right. There have been
countless other peaks climbed in the past, and as I age I take joy in different
kinds of peak experiences. There comes a time when ascending is best left to
the young; the passing from one generation to the next is another cycle of
joyful sorrow which, like the wheel of time itself, cannot be stopped.
Finally, the cliffs that hold the Wind Cave come back into view, which means we
have returned to our starting point and the circle is complete. As the group
breaks up, I offer another silent thanks, the most important of all: I am
grateful to have such fine companions. What makes the journey, even with all
its aches and pains, joyful is that we have others to share it. I’m glad
we’re all taking this hike into the future together.