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White Tank Mountains Day Hike
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
February 24, 2007
by Chuck Parsons
 Trail Map 
Eric, daughter Shanice, Doug, Dan, David, Beth, Rudy, Rob & Sophie, Michael, Debbie, and
Eileen, with photog and hike leader Chuck Parsons hiding behind the camera lens as usual.

On a sunny and delightfully cool Saturday morning in late February we are about to embark on a scenic 7.5 mile loop hike through the very heart of the White Tanks. Before starting we pose by the Mesquite Canyon Trailhead sign in White Tank Mountain Regional Park, located at the far western edge of the valley. Sophie is anxious to hit the trail running on all four legs.

You gotta be kidding!
We have to hike all the way up there?

About two-thirds of the way through the Mesquite Canyon Trail we struggle up a steep, rocky section, prominently marked on the trail map as “not suitable for equine use”. OK for us hikers, but apparently a bit too treacherous for horses, thank you.

The orange fencing material about half-way up the trail on both sides marks a new trail being cut through this section and is clearly marked with large “Warning – Keep Out” signs.

We observe several new trails on today’s hike in various stages of construction, opening up brand new areas to explore on future hikes in the White Tanks.

You can do it Michael! [photo by Chuck]

Nearing the top of the ridge, Debbie beckons the rest of us onward and upward with an encouraging wave.

At the ridgeline we take a short breather, before continuing on for another quarter-mile to the Ford Canyon Trail junction, where we will break for lunch and a long rest.

The junction of the Mesquite Canyon and Ford Canyon trails marks the highest elevation (2,620 feet) on this loop hike. Having hiked a total of 3.2 miles from the trailhead, we have gained 1,230 feet of elevation. That may explain why we are all getting a bit tired and hungry. Time to pull up a big rock and chow down, boys and girls!

Somewhere along the Willow Canyon Trail, Michael and Rudy examine the rusted remains of what we assume to be an old mining site, complete with twisted coils of rusty barbed wire and an old iron bed frame, half-buried in the rubble.

After a lot of speculation, Michael finally concludes this was either a trap for the mysterious and elusive White Tanks Jackalope, purported to be the size of a large javelina, or some sort of contraption for hauling barrels or drums of water and other supplies.

A beer barrel hauler, perhaps?

Only the nearby giant saguaros and surrounding hills know for certain, and they are not speaking today.

What do you suppose this was, Rudy?
C’mon, Michael, I can’t hang on much longer!

As we continue making our way east along the Willow Canyon Trail, Debbie spots this huge boulder and decides it would make a great vantage point to search for the elusive white tanks.

She slowly scans the area in vain, looking for any sign of the tanks, before Michael comes along to assist her.

A serene reflection pool lies deep in the heart of the White Tanks.

“Where the heck are these white tanks anyway, Chuck? I still can’t see a darn thing, even from up here. Maybe they should re-paint them, so they are easier to spot.”

At last, we find the real thing: one of the signature pools of water or “tanks” that these mountains are named after.

Created over countless eons of time by the powers of weathering, erosion, and monstrous flash floods, raging torrents of debris-laden water roar over high cliffs, smash into the rocks below, and slowly scour and carve out solid rock at their bases.

The larger tanks can be up to ten feet deep and may hold water for most of the year, creating a lush mini-oasis such as this one, surrounded by hot, dry desert. We take a short break and photo opportunity at this cool oasis, before continuing on the last leg of our journey back to the trailhead.

The urban sprawl of the far western edge of the valley lies below the return trail, slowly inching westward like an advancing sheet of ice that stretches all the way to the mountain ranges on the far eastern horizon, some still capped with a fresh mantle of late winter snow.

Civilization creeps closer and closer to the base of the White Tanks.

What was raw virgin desert only a few years ago has since been bulldozed into oblivion and manicured into neat, tidy rows of streets, sidewalks, houses, apartments, offices, and shopping centers. This vast, seemingly endless desert of our grandparents that contained small pockets of development has gradually and tragically become a vast, seemingly endless urban sprawl that contains small pockets of natural desert.

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, one of the premier deserts of the world, is currently vanishing under a sea of concrete and asphalt at the rate of over 10,000 acres per year. Pictures, videos, and a few scattered parks and preserves will be the only reminders for future generations of the rich natural environment that once dominated southern Arizona.

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updated August 31, 2015