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March 10: Mesa, AZ - Day three

This report of the day's activities from Glen: "Nyssa and I hiked up Wind Cave Trail, the most popular trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park. The trail started out flat amidst the desert scrub, before beginning its slope up toward Pass Mountain.

A screen shot of Glen's Garmin track shows how zig-zaggy the Wind Cave Trail is.

After about 20 minutes of hiking, we heard a rattling sound and realized we had walked right past a large western diamond-backed rattlesnake. After taking a few photos, we stood by to alert other hikers, since the snake was right on the edge of the trail. After a few hikers passed by cautiously - and one hiker running for her life - the snake continued on across the trail and into the rocks.

According to our friend, Terry, if the ring on the snake closest to the rattle is black, the snake is a western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

"We continued our hike, with the trail getting progressively steeper. The trail became quite a scramble, with large boulders and many switchbacks. Over the last half mile, the elevation gain was a little over 800 feet.

"The trail wound up to the base of the cliff area, where there were immense expanses of blooming poppies. The flowers were quite spectacular. The steep, almost vertical cliffs are comprised of tuff (a type of volcanic rock).

The California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) were the star of the show on the hike.

"The cave for which the trail is named is located in a layer of more eroded rock above the steep cliffs. This area provided a cool, shady place in which to recover from the sunny, hot, strenuous hike up. Nyssa cooled off under a rock outcropping.

"The hike back down was much easier and more pleasant, taking about a third of the time of the ascent. No more snakes were to be seen, though we were very alert and on the look-out. Seeing the poppies made the strenuous hike worthwhile."

Tonight, after a meal including some of this summer's homemade pasta sauce, we walked around the campground, watching the sunset. The alpenglow on the west facing Pass Mountain was particularly rosy, and the cloud formations to the west made for an excellent sunset.

Good night from our last night in Mesa, AZ.

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