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Goat Canyon Day Hike
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
February 24, 2018
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map 
by Dave French
Making preparations for the big hike. [photo by Tom]
21 Arizona Trailblazers gather at the Goat Canyon Trailhead. [photo by Quy]
Front Row: Quy, Tom, Li, Dave, Molly, Michelle
Middle Row:  Debbie, Sandy, Linda, Billie, Chris, Katie, Chuck
Back Row: Michael, Kevin, Becky, Ramona, Charlotte, Dan, Janet, Darrell
We go over the trail map and discuss critical trail details. [photo by Quy]

First of all, boys and girls, I would like to briefly touch on one of everybody’s favorite topics—geology, especially in this case as it pertains to Arizona’s White Tank Mountains. In geologic terms, the White Tank Mountains, along with the Harquahala and Buckskin mountains to the northwest and South Mountain and Picacho Mountain to the southeast, are all classified as metamorphic core complex ranges. I know, I’ve never heard of it before either. Sounds pretty darned complicated though, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either.

But if you remember your basic geology, virtually all rocks on Earth fall into one of three major classifications: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. A metamorphic core complex is a dome of igneous or metamorphic rock, with an outer shell of intensely deformed (typically stretched or sheared) metamorphic rock that underwent unimaginable forces millions and millions of years ago. The core of the White Tank Mountains consists primarily of gneiss and granite, as do both the eastern and western slopes. And just what classification of rocks do gneiss and granite fall under? Metamorphic, of course. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Congratulations! You have just passed Geology 101 and are now one step closer to being a geologist.

Hiking west from the Goat Canyon Trailhead. [photo by Quy]
Trailblazers pick their way through a boulder-filled wash. [photo by Quy]
Dave carefully navigates the boulder maze. [photo by Quy]
This is where the Goat Canyon Trail starts to get serious. [photo by Quy]
... and even more serious, as the big climb begins. [photo by Quy]
Looking back down the trail toward the vast Phoenix Basin. [photo by Quy]

Now we can proceed with the regularly scheduled Arizona Trailblazers trip report. The time is 8:45 AM on a gorgeous “winter” morning in late February, as 21 Arizona Trailblazers strike out from the Goat Canyon Trailhead in the rugged White Tank Mountains, sitting at the far western edge of the sprawling Phoenix Basin. Under brilliant clear blue skies that southern Arizona is famously noted for, this morning actually does feel a bit like winter for a welcome change, with the temperature hovering around 45 degrees at the trailhead. Especially considering the unseasonably warm weather that we’ve been experiencing these past several weeks, with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above normal. This past week has seen a couple of major winter storms move across the state, leaving large cold air masses behind in their wake. When this happens, cold air will often hang over the Phoenix metro area for days and days at a time.

Just how much steeper can this trail get, anyway? [photo by Tom]
That’s the trick. Lean into it, Trailblazers!
[photo by Kevin]
The first mile and a quarter of the Goat Canyon Trail is fairly level, with only a gradual incline. So we dispatch that stretch of trail in record time, before we start hiking the section designated on the official White Tank Mountain Regional Park map as Rough Section—1.5 miles. Narrow spots; loose rock; steep uphill.

Although not too bad at first, the trail gradually becomes steeper and steeper as we continue hiking, with increasing numbers of large rocks and small boulders strewn across the path, high rocky steps to navigate, and steep drop-offs along the edge of the trail. If a hiker accidently lost his or her footing along some of these rougher and steeper sections of trail and went over the edge, they would likely not live to tell the tale.

From the ominous-sounding description of this 1.5-mile stretch of the Goat Canyon Trail, I had some initial misgivings about such a large group of hikers tackling this trail. But once we were well along that particular stretch of trail, I realized the description was actually a bit overrated and, more than anything, probably meant to discourage less experienced hikers. Although there’s no question that hiking can sometimes be a bit risky and, very rarely, even deadly (typically for less experienced or perhaps even foolhardy hikers), for the vast majority of hikers the benefits of hiking far outweigh any potential risks. All of us face a much higher degree of risk every time we slide behind the wheel of our vehicles and drive just a few miles down the road.

Passing Mile Marker 3 on the Goat Canyon Trail.  Only 9 more miles to go, people. [photo by Quy]
Dave, Billie
Dave and Billie on a level stretch of trail. [photo by Quy]
Darrell leads the way along this stretch. [photo by Quy]
As Ted would say, the lichens have definitely taken a liking to this boulder. [photo by Quy]
Now that’s one really big hunk of quartz! [photo by Kevin]
A nicely backlit staghorn cholla stands guard over this stretch of trail. [photo by Quy]
Monster head profile. But which monster? [photo by Kevin]
Tom pauses for a quick picture along this stretch of trail. [photo by Kevin]
Katie appears to be having a great time.
[photo by Kevin]
Roughly two miles into the hike, while we’re still working our way up through the rough section with loose rocks, I overhear someone behind me remark “He finally made it!” As I turn around to see what prompted that comment, I spot a new hiker in the group. “Is that you, Jim?”

Yes, it is. I had several phone conversations with Jim back at the trailhead. The rest of us were already there, but Jim was running late. He still needed to stop for gas and then had to take a couple of business calls as well. He told me to go on without him, that he didn’t want to hold up the group, and he would just catch us on the next hike. This guy is obviously a fleet-footed hiker since he was able to catch up with us after we got at least a 15-minute head start on him.

Welcome aboard, Jim! At this point we now have a total of 22 hikers in our group, as we continue to forge ahead—onward and upward. Once we finally get through that somewhat treacherous 1.5-mile section, the trail gradually becomes less steep and not quite as rough and actually levels off from time to time. This is where we can start hiking at a faster pace and make up some time. But we still take the time to enjoy the sweeping views along the way and appreciate just how high we’ve hiked above the distant valley floor. Although it’s fairly hazy looking out towards the distant horizon, we can still see far to the east across the entire valley and the Phoenix Basin to the Mazatzal Range and the landmark Four Peaks at its southern terminus.

The trail climbs higher and higher above the vast Phoenix Basin. [photo by Quy]
Tom consults his trail map, as Li and Molly look on. [photo by Kevin]
Looking down on a long stretch of winding trail. [photo by Quy]
Trailblazers approach a long ridge, bristling with communications towers. [photo by Tom]
Here we’re directly under the ridge and the towers. [photo by Kevin]
Katie, Kevin, Debbie, Molly, Ramona, and Li take five. [photo by Tom]
Looks like Darrell is in the lead once again along this stretch. [photo by Kevin]
A long line of Arizona Trailblazers on the march. [photo by Quy]
Taking in the surrounding scenery from a high point on the trail. [photo by Tom]

At almost five miles from the Goat Canyon Trailhead, the trail suddenly makes a sharp bend and begins tracking a northeasterly course to its junction with the Ford Canyon and Mesquite Canyon trails. This is where we plan to stop for lunch. But we still have another mile or so before reaching that point, and the trail continues to climb, although at a more moderate ascent. I think we’re all getting a little hungry and starting to tire out as well.

Trailblazers break for lunch at the junction. [photo by Kevin]
Linda, Chris, Katie, and Janet gather around the junction signs. [photo by Tom]
Tom must be telling another funny story. [photo by Quy]
Is Tom holding a bottle of pink vodka? Not really.
It turns out to be Debbie’s fruit punch in disguise. [photo by Quy]
Becky and Dan find the perfect lunch spot. [photo by Tom]
Jim, our newest hiker, and Sandy take a break. [photo by Tom]

But to borrow from one of the greatest military quotes in history, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” We can always rest during lunch. After about 6.3 miles of hiking, at least half of it uphill, we finally catch up with the lead group at the junction point and join them for a well-deserved lunch break.

The lead group sets out on the Mesquite Canyon Trail. [photo by Kevin]

I’ve often wondered how the Goat Canyon Trail got its name. Could it be that mountain goats once inhabited this range and were frequently seen scampering through what is now called Goat Canyon? Who knows for certain, but after hiking in the White Tank Mountains for a number of years now and finally getting the chance to hike this rugged trail, I think I can see how it came to be known as Goat Canyon. Because it helps to be a sure-footed mountain goat to navigate parts of this trail, especially the 1.5-mile stretch marked on the official White Tank Mountain map as “Rough Section—1.5 miles. Narrow spots; loose rock; steep uphill.” Anyway, that sounds like as good an explanation as any to me.

This helicopter seems to be searching for someone. Luckily it’s not any of us.
Wait. Is anyone missing? [photo by Quy]
We finally make it to the Willow Canyon Trail junction. [photo by Tom]
This would not be a good place to hang around during an earthquake. [photo by Quy]
But we don’t worry too much about earthquakes in Arizona. [photo by Kevin]
There’s lots of switchbacks along this stretch of trail. [photo by Quy]

After sitting down for too long on these longer hikes, it’s that much harder to get back up and start moving again. Older joints and muscles, in particular, simply start to freeze up and need longer to warm up and start working again. But we do need to start moving again if we ever want to get off this mountain and back to our vehicles. So after a long lunch break, we gather up our belongings once again and start heading to the northeast in a long loop on the Mesquite Canyon Trail, before heading due east on a somewhat convoluted and meandering path to the next junction point with the Willow Canyon Trail. Feet and joints, please don’t fail us now.

Yup—those tiny figures way down there are Arizona Trailblazers. [photo by Quy]
It’s all downhill from here. Easy on the heart, but tough on the knees. [photo by Kevin]
We’re getting closer and closer to the parking lot and trail’s end. [photo by Quy]

Most of the Mesquite Canyon Trail, especially after we pass the Willow Canyon junction, is either level of downhill. So we make really good time on this trail. Once past the Willow Canyon junction, our next and final junction is with the Waddell Trail. This is where we terminate the hike and look for our waiting vehicles in the parking lot at the end of Ramada Way Road. If we accidently blow by this junction we’ll go almost a mile out of our way to the Mesquite Canyon Trailhead. But we would have to be sleep walking (or would it be sleep hiking?) to do that.

The time is 1:50 PM when all Arizona Trailblazers are finally off the trail and back at our vehicles. We brush off the day’s trail dust, stow away all our hiking gear, and break open a few ice-cold brewskies to help celebrate the completion of another great hike. Dave suggests the Whiskey Cabin Restaurant at Northern & 99th Avenue for a post-hike lunch, so 15 of us head off in that direction, while the rest of the group decides to head back home.

Trailblazers hoist a few cold ones to celebrate yet another successful hike. [photo by Quy]
Clockwise: Janet, Chris, Kevin, Molly, Li, Dave, Michelle. [photo by Tom]
Clockwise: Chuck, Quy, Darrell, Becky, Linda, Debbie, Michael. [photo by Tom]
Quy tries to fist-bump Brownie, the brown bear, but he isn’t cooperating.
Meanwhile, the hard-nosed tin pig chooses to ignore them both. [photo by Quy]

With a starting temperature of 45 degrees, an ending temperature of 57 degrees, and bright sunny conditions all day, we couldn’t have asked for better weather on today’s hike. Mix in beautiful scenery and a terrific bunch of hikers, and how could it not be a great hike?

Dave’s Hike Statistics
Total Distance:10.4miles
Avg. Speed Moving:2.30mph
Avg. Speed Overall:1.96mph
Minimum Elevation:1,435ft
Maximum Elevation: 3,203ft
Total Ascent:2,129ft
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated March 4, 2018