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White Tank Canyons Day Hike
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
January 30, 2010
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map 
Twenty terrific Trailblazers hit the trail.

With cameraman Glenn behind the lens this time, 19 additional Arizona Trailblazers gather around the Mesquite Canyon Trailhead sign before the start of our loop hike into the heart of the White Tank Mountains, lying at the far western edge of the valley. From left to right in the picture: Barry, Lisa, Kim, Maureen, Michael, Wendy, David, Barb, Bobbi, Ted, Chuck, Cyd, Mike, Sandy, Hely, and Ajay; with Kay, Eileen, and Gary kneeling in the front.

This is one of the largest groups of hikers that we have had in quite a while. It’s been several years since we last hiked in these mountains and many of today’s hikers have never been here before, which may account for such a big turnout.

The rugged White Tank Mountains form a natural barrier that separates the Phoenix Basin from the vast Hassayampa Plains stretching to the far west beyond the mountains.

If you continue driving west on Olive Avenue past the town of Goodyear, past the town of El Mirage, and even past Luke Air Force Base, the road will eventually deposit you inside the White Tank Mountain Regional Park and you soon find yourself heading north on White Tank Mountain Road.

The wash in this picture is filled with a number of the namesake “tanks”, or natural basins, this area is named after. Hundreds of these tanks, scoured out of solid rock by the power of rushing waters over eons of time, are scattered throughout White Tanks. With the abundant rains this January, most of the tanks are brimming with water.

Natural basins in the White Tanks [by Cyd Cassel]
Tanks close-up [by Wendy Rennert]

Right out of the starting gate we begin a steady ascent up the Mesquite Canyon Trail through rugged and picturesque desert and canyon country.

With beautiful scenery surrounding us, we have to be careful not to become so absorbed that we don’t stop occasionally to smell the roses along the way and appreciate some of the smaller things that many people often overlook. The rainfall has brought previously shriveled mosses and lichens back to life, covering numerous rock surfaces. Thousands of tiny plants become reenergized with rain and appear lush and green once again.

Interesting patterns of quartz, gneiss, and eroded granite common along the network of trails in these mountains are collectively classified by geologists as metamorphic core complex.

moss quartz
Moss and quartz display intricate patterns along the trail [by Ted Tenny].

There’s a bit of confusion at the first major trail junction, with everyone consulting their small trail maps that I had passed out at the beginning of the hike. The hike leader was even a little confused at this point, with the new trail signs now in place from recent trail renovation work. It’s almost a case of trail sign overkill, with a little too much information. Apparently Maricopa County Parks & Recreation had a little extra money to dispose of last year, and someone decided to spend it all on signs. But it didn’t take us too long to clear up the issue and continue on our way down the Mesquite Canyon Trail.

moss quartz
Which way?? Huh?? Anyone?? [photos by Wendy Rennert].

Maureen, Lisa, Kim, Ajay, and Hely stop for a short rest break along the trail. We have already gained quite a bit of elevation just hiking to the beginning of the loop trail, and then even more to the junction with the Ford Canyon Trail, with lots of ups and downs along the way. You definitely get a good aerobic workout on this hike. But the weather has been perfect for hiking today, with a cooling breeze and temperatures in the mid-60's under partly cloudy skies.

Hikers taking a break at trail’s edge [photo by Eileen Root].
We found an idyllic picnic spot by Willow Canyon [photo by Ted Tenny].
Stopping at last for lunch [photo by Eileen Root].

After a little more than four miles of hiking and gaining about 1,400 feet of elevation, we decide it’s about time to stop and enjoy a little lunch. Besides, we’ve just about run out of fuel by now and need to re-hydrate and reenergize ourselves for the rest of the loop hike back to the trailhead.

We still have over four more miles of hiking to go, but we have most of the climbing behind us now.

Gary gives the thumbs up, with Cyd to the left
[photos by Wendy Rennert].
Barry, Glenn, David, Eileen, and Chuck share the perfect slab of rock for sitting and relaxing.
A hedgehog sprouts from lichen-covered rocks.
Rocks in holiday colors brighten our journey.
Trailblazers visit the site of a ranch [Ted Tenny].

After lunch we start hiking east on the Willow Canyon Trail as we make our way back to the trailhead.

A small spur trail leads to a dilapidated and long-dry stock tank and a crumbling stone wall, all that remains of a long-abandoned ranch site in the White Tanks.

Natural tank filled with water [Ajay Kak].

A bit farther down the spur trail, we come to a natural tank holding the muddy waters of recent rains that pounded these mountains, as well as most of the desert, when a large winter storm recently slammed Arizona.

Willow Canyon Trail meanders for 1.7 miles between Ford Canyon Trail and Mesquite Canyon Trail, contouring along the canyon wall high above rugged Willow Canyon.

Most of the canyon floor is dry, except for the numerous tanks that are filled with water from recent winter rains.

Willow Canyon
I can see why they built the trail high above Willow Canyon [Ted].

Mesquite Canyon Trail threads a serpentine passage through the White Tanks as it carries us back to the trailhead. At 4.1 miles (from the Trailhead Staging Area), it is the third longest trail in the White Tanks, behind only Ford Canyon and Goat Camp trails. The loop trail we are hiking today includes most of the Mesquite Canyon Trail, a small segment of the Ford Canyon Trail, and the Willow Springs Trail. Total hiking distance is 8.2 miles.

Willow Canyon
Is that our trail? [Cyd Cassel photo]
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updated December 31, 2015