Originally from Bisbee, my first serious hike was Miller Peak in 1968 with my Dad and “little” brother. We failed to reach the summit on our first attempt due to snow but returned that summer to hike through flower-filled meadows.
Hiking prior to high school was generally a family affair in Oak Creek Canyon and National Parks across the West.
My Dad liked car-camping and long road trips, sometimes for weeks. It’s a wonder my Mom survived but one of my fondest hiking memories was with Mom on Squaw Peak near our home in Phoenix.
As high school approached, things turned more serious with our first Rim to Rim hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon along the North Kiabab and Bright Angel trails.
My Dad then “pushed” us to join a wilderness training program associated with the YMCA and a private group called the Pateman Akin Kachina Foundation. They introduced us to a wide variety of wilderness skills: backpacking, rock climbing, desert survival, wilderness navigation, spelunking, rafting, snorkeling, biking, and ski touring. A couple of years later, my brother and I began serving as student leaders on our monthly outings.
A student on a desert survival trip asked me, “What’s your favorite wilderness ‘sport?’ Is it backpacking, or rock climbing, or skiing or?” I responded with “wilderness.” As long as it was a remote place with a healthy dose of risk, that was my choice.
That’s when I began hiking solo, encountering everything from escaped convicts to mountain lions and bears. I also began leading adults on hikes through several community colleges and municipal parks and recreation departments.
I began college with an ever growing hunger to know more. I wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors, so I studied Natural Resource Management at ASU.
In order to understand the land, you were expected to know what lived there and Arizona Flora was a required class. I was hooked, discovering that “plants rule and animals drool.” I then worked on a Flora of the Graham Mountains in southeast Arizona and got my Master’s Degree in Botany in 1988.
Being a teacher at heart, I decided to apply this knowledge of the outdoors in the context of the library. I got my Master’s in Library Science then went to work for Texas Tech as a science librarian.
Growing homesick for Arizona, I returned to ASU East as a science librarian then found that the best way to connect with people and the land was through the public library. I have worked at Chandler, Maricopa County, Scottsdale, and Prescott Valley public libraries conducting a wide variety of workshops on hiking related topics like edible plants.
I hope to help people enjoy their time outdoors by introducing them to some great places to hike, especially if they are new to the area. This might include improving their skills, such as with wilderness navigation which also builds their confidence.
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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