Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shaw Butte

North Mountain Park
 Endeavoring to explore more of the local hiking trails in Phoenix, I visited North Mountain Park yesterday and hiked the 5 mile trail #306 around Shaw Butte. This area features typical lower Sonoran desert ecology with plenty of creosote, cacti, and palo verde. Like the rest of the Phoenix Mountains, the terrain is extremely rocky and rugged, and right off the bat I spotted a large outcrop of greenstone which contrasted nicely with the predominantly brown landscape. The geologic processes that formed the Phoenix Mountains must have been pretty spectacular because the rock is so diverse in size, shape, and color.  I find the rocks to be one of the more interesting aspects of these mountains. 

Outcrop of greenstone
 Another point of interest on this trail is the remains of a 1960's era restaurant called Cloud 9. You can find the ruins on the south side of Shaw Butte near the top. Built right into the side of the mountain, the restaurant would have provided its patrons with a spectacular view of downtown Phoenix and the central valley before it burned to the ground in 1964. The restaurant was also home to its eccentric owner and builder Richard Barker and featured a swimming pool, a Cold-War era bomb shelter, and apparently held illegal poker games for its high profile guests. You can read more about Cloud 9 here.

Ruins of Cloud 9 overlooking Phoenix

Just passed the ruins of Cloud 9 is a series of switchbacks that lead to the top of Shaw Butte. I decided to skip the summit because it's covered in antennas and radio towers, and I wasn't really feeling an overriding urge to see them up close. Plus, even though the temps were only in the 90's, the sun was mercilessly beating on me, and it was affecting me more than usual, probably because I haven't hiked in about a week.

Cactus Wren (Arizona state bird)
 Overall it was an okay hike. I didn't see a lot of wildlife, and it was so close to the city that I couldn't escape the noise of traffic anywhere on the trail, which I found distracting. To me, North Mountain Park is the least pretty area in the Phoenix Mountains that I've visited. Not that It isn't worth a visit, or that I'm not grateful that it's preserved and available to hike. I just think that it doesn't compare with the main body of The Phoenix Mountain Preserve near Piestewa Peak, which is bigger, and offers more solitude, higher peaks, more dramatic rock formations and desert plants, and has more animal life. Well, thanks for reading. Until next time.

What passes for a high point in the desert

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hail the Hypocrites!

When I signed up to write about Human Rights for Blog Action Day 2013, I had no idea what I was going to write. I of course waited until the day it was due to even begin, but I came up with something that I hope will provoke thought and discussion among those of you who read it. Please feel free to comment below if you have anything at all to say, even if you think I'm full of crap. I can take it. - Mike

I don't think any discussion of Human Rights can begin without an understanding of what these so called rights even are. All I knew was that Human Rights are simply rights that all human's should have, but what these rights were, I did not know. A Google search directed me to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. This declaration, written on the heels of the most savage war in human history, presents a specific set of rights inherent to all humans, much like our own Bill of Rights. Reading the 30 articles, I was struck by one overpowering thought that drowned all others. 

In the United States, our political leaders and public figures, as far back as I can remember, have stood high on the mountaintop of morality and extolled the virtues of human rights with the fervor of a southern baptist preacher on Sunday morning. Everyone deserves freedom we are told. All people deserve basic human rights they say. 

But these same people who speak so passionately, and so assuredly... These same people who build schools in Africa, and send food to North Korea... These same people who chastise the "unenlightened" nations for their treatment of women, and suppression of free speech and religion... These same people to whom human rights are so important they wage war so that others may have them... These same people piss on our own rights here at home.

Make no mistake, this isn't a political rant. I'm no republican or democrat. I haven't cast my lot with any groupthink ideology or philosophy. I've cast my lot with humanity... With my country.

Our leaders point their fingers at the world and lecture from plastic pulpits about the ideals of freedom and democracy, while at home they tighten the screws of the control machine. Our celebrities and affluent philanthropic do-gooders shovel billions into non-profits that work to ensure and protect the human rights of others around the world, while ignoring the mounting human rights violations that are happening here at home.

All hail the hypocrites I say! For even as laws and presidential orders systematically strip our rights away, we apathetic masses shuffle happily about our daily routines ignorant and oblivious... The greatest swerve in the history of mankind, sure to be admired by the masters in deception of ages past, and emulated by future tyrants the world over. Obediently we sit, content with our iPhone's and flatscreen TV's. Plugged in, but tuned out...

In a time of unprecedented government control, I'm curious if I even have the right to write this blog? Will I be considered an enemy of the state for what I've said, or be placed on some kind of government watch list? Will my emails be read, and my cell phone taped? Will I be arrested, and if so, will I be allowed an attorney, and the right to a speedy trial? Will I even be allowed a trial at all? If I'm considered a threat, will I be assassinated? Will our Bill of Rights remain law, or merely a novel museum attraction to be undermined and ignored?

Perhaps you read that last paragraph and are thinking that I've finally went off the deep-end in this blog post, but sadly, in today's United States of America all of those scenarios could actually legally happen, and as we silently drift through the information age oppressed, uninformed and uncaring, I can't help but wonder what the future holds for us if we don't act. What rights will our children have?

My call to action for Blog Action Day 2013 is to ask yourself a simple question... 

Am I really free? 

If the answer is no, then do something about it.

Educate. Vote. Protest. Petition the president and congress. Talk with your friends and coworkers. 

Perhaps more importantly, be vigilant about the words our leaders speak, and the dissemination of information by media. Doublespeak and propaganda flow freely from these pawns of disinformation, but like the truth itself, may be camouflaged and difficult to spot. Read multiple sources. Form your own opinions. Take everything you read with a grain of salt.

I'll leave you now with an excerpt from a speech by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce circa 1879

"...I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me."


Monday, October 14, 2013

Gear Review: StrongVolt Solar 7 - Portable Solar Charger

SrongVolt Solar 7

The StrongVolt Solar 7 is a lightweight 7 watt solar charger that will keep your devices running while you're on the go. From hiking to emergency preparedness, the Solar 7 is an essential piece of kit for the connected consumer of the electronic age, and will come in handy in a host of situations.

 The Solar 7 retails for $59.99, and consists of 4 laminated solar panels and one USB output at the end of a 6.75 inch cord.  At 11.45 ounces, the Solar 7's weight won't be noticed by anyone but the worst gram weenies, and even they would find the extra ounces worth it. Completely unfolded, my charger measured 7.5 x 20 inches. Two grommets (which appear to be stainless steel) at one end of the charger allow for easy hanging from backpacks or trees (or wherever). Folded up, my charger measures 7.5 x 4.25 inches, and doesn't seem much bigger area-wise than a woman's checkbook style wallet. A Velcro strip keeps the charger closed.

The StrongVolt Solar 7 is so portable that I carry it even when I'm not sure I'll use it. In other words I carry it "just in case". Folded up, it fits easily into my backpack's lid pocket for quick access. I've brought it with me hiking and fishing. I've carried it around town, to baseball games and parades, and other community events and festivals. 

Carrying portable power gives me piece of mind that I've never had before. Just last Saturday at my stepdaughters softball game, I brought the StrongVolt Solar 7 and charged my phone while I watched the game because I forgot to plug it in the night before, and the battery was nearly dead. By the time the game was over, my phone was fully charged. It is so easy to do too. Just unfold the charger, make sure the panels are facing toward the sun, and plug in your phone. Done.

StrongVolt Solar 7 lashed to my daypack.
The Solar 7 is easy to carry both folded, and unfolded while in use. Although easy to hang, having only two grommets limits the configuration possibilities. The best and really only way to attach the Solar 7 to your pack is by hooking it to the top of the lid, and letting it hang down the back of the pack, using cordage of some type to secure the bottom so it doesn't flop about. Although this configuration is secure, it does't allow the charger to face upward at the optimum angle needed to catch the maximum amount of sunlight possible while on the move. Instead, the solar panels (except perhaps the very top one) generally face the horizon while travelling on a flat surface. 

In Phoenix (aka The Valley of the Sun), carrying the charger this way didn't produce any noticeable decrease in performance of the charging capability. My phone always stayed charged, even while running GPS apps to track my location that would normally drain the battery faster. In all of my tests, the charging power was stronger than any drain created by continually running apps, so that when I returned to the trailhead the charge on my phone's battery was either equal to or higher than it was when I started. This ability to keep your phone charged on the go is what makes the StrongVolt Solar 7 so great for hikers, backpackers, hunters, mountain bikers, or anyone using GPS apps for route tracking and/or navigation. 

On the go with the StrongVolt Solar 7
That is exactly what the StrongVolt Solar 7 is great at, keeping your devices charged. No need to wait for the battery to drain completely. Keep it plugged in, keep it charging, just like you would at home. I did however charge my devices in the backyard from a dead battery just to see how long it would take. For my Nokia Lumia 920, it generally took 3.5 to 4 hours to reach full charge. My Microsoft ZUNE HD media player took 2 hours. Although the Solar 7 certainly can be used to charge a dead device, It's just more efficient to keep your device plugged in, especially if you are hiking, or camping, or even boating. There is absolutely no reason why your device can't stay plugged in... Unless you are charging someone else's device of course.

The only problem with the StrongVolt Solar 7 is that it does not store power. Something I notice every time I find myself resting in shade. Living in the desert, it doesn't pose too much of a problem for the majority of my hiking, since there isn't much shade, and it's rarely ever cloudy. That being said, if you do most of your hiking in shaded areas (in other words, you hike among tall trees or areas where overcast skies are common) you might want to skip this charger because it would not work. Literally the second the Solar 7 enters the shade, your device will cease to charge. StrongVolt does sell a small battery pack for $44.99 that stores power from the charger (which I have not tested). If the battery pack (which StrongVolt calls a "Power Bank") works as well as the charger it would be worth the investment, because you could literally save power, and charge you devices on sunless days. 

The StrongVolt Solar 7 also seems durable and very well made. The housing is a very tough canvas-like material, and after a month of use It's still in great shape. I certainly put it through its paces, and there isn't any loose threads or stitching, or any sign of wear other than on the laminate that covers the panels. During some off-trail travel through thick vegetation, the laminate suffered some damage in the form of small punctures, and scratches. Living in the desert, its not really surprising considering much of the plant life has thorns, barbs, spines, and other sharp defensive implements. If you are considering buying this product, I would just suggest stowing it before any major bushwhacking.

Overall, the StrongVolt Solar 7 Portable Solar Charger is an awesome piece of gear with unlimited potential. As long as you have sun, you can use it in any outside situation to charge your device, whether in the woods or in town, climbing the mountain or grilling out at the park. It is lightweight, compact, and easily carried. I love this charger. It has become an essential piece of my kit, and I would love to get my hands on that Power Bank.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with StrongVolt in any way. I received this item at no cost for reviewing purposes. My review is my own honest assessment of the product.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pinnacle Peak

Pinnacle Peak Park
I love when I get the opportunity to check out some of the many Phoenix area hiking destinations. There are so many! Stand on any local mountain top, and you can see The Valley of the Sun is dotted with, and surrounded by mountains. I remember all those mountains coming as quite a surprise to me when I first came down here. My image of Phoenix previously was of flat desert, but it isn't that way at all.

Pinnacle Peak
One of those mountains is called Pinnacle Peak, located on the outskirts of Scottsdale. This park has a lot going for it. For starters, it boasts a wide variety of desert plants that grow in very close proximity to each other, making this a very green spot for a low desert locale. The dense foliage supports a myriad of desert wildlife including snakes and chuckwallas, who have plenty of places to hide in the rocky boulder strewn terrain.

Pinnacle Peak

What the park doesn't have going for it, is that its way too manicured, covered with signs and barricades to prevent off-trail travel, and dotted with benches and man-made lookouts. Its like the park service is trying to make it too friendly, and too easy. To me, it takes away some of the wildness of the place. I understand the need to attract visitors to the park, but shouldn't the beauty of the place be sufficient?

Anyway, my friend Jim and I still had a fun hike through some very interesting terrain. We saw a lot of chuckwallas sunning on the rocks which was really cool. I love seeing wildlife, its one of my favorite things about spending time in the woods. Even though we looked for snakes we didn't see any. I'm going on a year-and-a-half of desert living without seeing a single rattlesnake. Its crazy! I really want to see one of those big daddy Western Diamondbacks I've heard so much about... Better luck next time I guess.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Quartz Ridge Traverse

Eventually after spending countless hours in your spot, you have to mix it up a little. In the Phoenix Mountain Preserve I've hiked most of the trails, some many times. I needed to keep my spot fresh. Needed to keep the fire burning so I didn't lose interest.
Looking southeast from Quartz Ridge. 
I came up with a simple plan: Climb Quartz Ridge in the north and hike south along its back until I came down the other end, then catch Trail #8 back to the parking lot. Since the temps have finally cooled some, I didn't have to do this hike in 100 degree weather. With temps in the high 80's, and a slight breeze blowing through the park, I hiked in relative comfort. 

Piestawa Peak
Standing on Quartz Ridge looking west
 Hiking along the spine of the ridge took a lot of scrambling and rock hoping. This area is full of jagged rock that I think is schist. Some areas on the ridge are literally stacked vertically with schist and extremely difficult to cross. Other than small lizards and a turkey vulture, I didn't see much wildlife. The park service claims that both Gila Monsters and Rattlesnakes inhabit this area, but I have yet to see any in a year of continuous exploring.

Try walking over that!
The toughest part of this hike was descending the south end. Of course there wasn't any trail, and the slope was covered in loose rock. Every step sent rocks tumbling down the mountain. I almost bit the dust on multiple occasions, but managed to catch myself just in time. 


Overall it was an enjoyable hike. I got to see a part of the park that I've never seen before, and am just really happy that I live so close to such an awesome hiking spot.