Trails and Paths, Here and There

The trail system surrounding our new home in the Village of Oak Creek is utterly extraordinary. There are popular, sometimes-crowded hikes close by, yes, but also some amazingly high-quality, strong return-on-time/effort-investment routes within a 10-minute drive of our house where we’ve seen virtually nobody, while achieving world-class views. The trails are well mapped, maintained, and marked, which is always helpful as we’ve been exploring our surroundings more, now that the house is mostly unpacked.

But as a person who’s highly aware of my surroundings, and as a map nerd who likes exploring the spaces between the spaces, I’ve also noticed a good number of trails that do not show up on official hiking maps, and do not bear official names and trail markers. I’ve come to refer to such routes as “paths” to distinguish them from the “trails” that are marked for easy access and navigation. Occasionally, I can look at an aerial view and see where such paths go, but sometimes there’s just a clearly-trod trailhead (or “path-head,” I guess, to be consistent) heading away from a road or a main trail, and it’s not real clear exactly where it’s going to come out.

The first such path I noticed is literally right down the street from us, about four houses away. It’s a clearly well-trafficked route heading west toward the “official” Transept Trail, but with a big “NO TRESPASSING” sign at its head. Hmmm. Asking around a bit, all of our neighbors noted that the sign is to keep anybody from coming into the neighborhood, parking and hiking, but that for folks who live here, it’s the way we can get to the main trail system without having to drive anywhere, and the home-owners whose properties abut the path are good with “locals” using it. So, of course, last week we did so, and were rewarded to discover an old abandoned dam in a dry creek bed, a beautiful wild rocky meadow surrounded by red rock walls, and a quick access route to the point where we can look down and see our house from the nearest rocks to us. Great success!

(Note for the Record: I am acutely aware that blazing my own paths and trails can damage fragile ecosystems, and I never do so, only walking routes that I can clearly see are established foot paths and/or feature regular mountain bike activity. If an established path had an “ecosystem reclamation” marker on it, I would also turn back. I’m not down with destroying the natural regions around us, at all).

We found another path a couple of weeks ago by accident, literally making a wrong turn off of the Made in the Shade trail, and following a well-worn walking route until I realized that we were not going the way we intended to go, and we backtracked and returned to the plan for the day. But we both felt that accidental path merited further exploration, so we returned to push it further, discovering that it eventually climbed up to a natural shoulder between two rocks with fantastic views. Here’s looking to the east, toward Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte (you can click on this and other images for a larger view, if interested):

And here’s looking to the west . . . down at our neighborhood!

It was great to realize where we were standing, because here’s the view from our back deck at home. The clearly-defined notch we look at from below is the very same shoulder we looked down from above:

We approached that notch from the far side on our first ascent, and we returned down that way as well. But it sort of nagged at me as to whether there was a path down on the side facing our home, making for easier and quicker access. Yesterday, Marcia went to play her first round of golf at a local course, so I decided to explore the area further. Having climbed to the shoulder via the path previously taken, I did find a going route that continued north on the far side of the rocks (further exploration required), and also a route that descended onto our side. It was a bit strenuous, I must admit. Here’s the view from below of one of the notches I had to clamber down to get to a more moderate segment; it’s hard to capture elevation and grade in a photo, but suffice to say this was entirely hand-work, and close to vertical:

While I could climb back up it, I’m not sure that I will anytime soon. It’s satisfying to know that the option exists if I want it. While making my way back down to the road on this side of the shoulder, I noted several other paths winding around the closer rocks, so I’ve got more exploring to do there, and that will probably tide me over for a good while yet!

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