Column: Off the beaten path, ‘see the world in a grain of sand’

'Hiking Arizona'

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is part two of a two-part series discussing hikes off the beaten path. Find part one, ‘Secret’s out, hiking off the beaten path in autumn,’ online at dCourier.com.

She asked, “How do you decide where to hike next?” As Robert Frost wrote, “The path less traveled.” Hikers new to this area may be overwhelmed by all the options. Everyone wants to hike in scenic places with water and no crowds when the temperature is ideal. Since most want the same thing at the same time, something has to give.

Therefore, odd places, hikes where you can “see the world in a grain of sand” (William Blake) call out to me. Such places are unique, special, peculiar, and require more curiosity than stamina. You don’t need to hike far, since what you see up close brings into view the universe which is hitched to the grains of sand at your feet (John Muir).

Since I maintain a directory of hikes across the Southwest, I need to visit those sites occasionally in order to keep the directory up to date. I planned on being in Sierra Vista early in the week, so, swinging by notable hikes in the vicinity of southeast Arizona made sense: White Sands National Monument, among others. I’ve hiked Alkali Flat loop in October bare foot and thought my feet would go numb, the sand was so cold. This time, in September, the temperatures varied as I walked along. Feeling the temperature shift through my feet was a new sensation. I looked back and saw another hiker standing atop a dune like they were walking across the crest of a frozen wave. I slid down one “wave” and slogged up the next and looked back again. They were gone. There could have been a hundred hikers within a quarter of a mile, but you’d never know it. The silence was deafening. Hiking “off the beaten path” is easier when there is no path to speak of.

PINK FEET

That evening in camp, my feet hurt. As a hiker, I take great care of my feet, knees, etc. How about you? Blisters? Toenails? Footwear the correct size? Remember the book/movie, “Wild?”

“Perhaps sand was irritating them,” I thought, even though I had washed my feet at the end of the hike. Removing my shoes, I saw that my feet were pink from sunburn. I never thought to use sunscreen on my feet since I always hike with my shoes on.

Sights across the dunes varied like the temperature: ripple patterns, a lone tree, a spider. Just when you thought there was no life, boom it showed up at your feet. I never understood how New Mexico could be called the Land of Enchantment until now. Someone must have walked across White Sands under a full moon. That would be truly enchanted and is next on my list. Too far to go? Interested in hikes in or near Yavapai County. You’re in luck.

PURPLE THUMBS

Prescott Valley Public Library is offering a workshop on canyon hikes, Oct. 10, Tuesday from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in the Crystal Room. This free workshop requires NO registration and will cover five canyons (West Fork, Agua Fria, Bear Wallow, Sycamore Canyon, and Aravaipa). We will cover five hazards (e.g. getting lost and poison ivy) plus five edible plants (e.g. walnuts and blue elderberry). Questions? Call me at 928-759-3036.

Bring your taste buds, since you will have the opportunity to sample something from the wild. Find out how I got a pair of purple thumbs processing native foods found in these canyons and how to turn a popular destination like West Fork into a hike “off the beaten path.”

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.