The weekend before Charlotte was scheduled to show up was a restless affair. Katie and I had spent months working our way through massive todo lists, checking and cleaning and buying and assembling and sorting, getting ready for the new baby and for my parents to visit and judge our rudimentary home-making skills. And now, the weekend before Charlotte arrived, we had everything done. Knowing that our lives were about to be upended yet again, and that time with the boys was a precious commodity, I decided to take them for a hike up in Cave Creek Regional Park.
This was a bit of a haul from our house in south Gilbert, over an hour driving up the length of the Phoenix valley. It was a bit selfish on my part. The boys seem to be just as happy hiking on South Mountain or San Tan, both of which are within thirty minutes; I'm the one who thinks walking the same trails while dodging mountain bikes is tedious. We made it to the park shortly after the sunrise, paid the entrance fee, and parked at a spur of Go John trailhead to get started.
After a false start up the wrong end of Go John trail we got on the right path. I blame the trailhead - one end of the loop is clearly marked with huge signs and trashcans while the other end starts in between parking spaces and winds through picnic benches. We weren't doing the full Go John loop today, only leveraging the southern half to make a smaller loop, and so it mattered which end we started on. The Go John Loop is over five miles long and goes up and down 1200'. We were doing the more conservative circle of three miles that included Go John, Quartz, and Slate Trail.
Our path was wide and easy, passing under a few trees as it wound a way next to a wash. A few signs along the trail showed us names of the desert flora. Speaking of, everything was crazy green. We weren't that much higher up than normal, less than a thousand feet above our house, and things were so much more verdant. Plus there was almost no traffic on the trails. I was enjoying this park much more than the brown San Tan hikes, and the boys seemed to be as well.
Thomas has been developing an affinity to sticks. He'll wander off-trail to find them, use them as clumsy walking aids, and even collect entire arm-fulls for some unknown use. It makes for cute moments and lengthy delays. Noah seemed to be in a bit of a rush so I talked to him about being patient. I enjoyed this subject, because it's not easy for me to adjust my rushed hiking pace to either boy's slower meander.
The trail crossed over the wash and began to climb in earnest, making it's way up to a saddle ahead. Thomas needed some encouragement to keep moving up the hill. When we crested it I gave them each a small snack before we turned and continued going up. It's a 250' climb to reach the highpoint on this segment and it was tough for them. The rising sun in our face probably didn't help. We made it to the highpoint and enjoyed some limited views of the 'burbs north of Cave Creek and New River Mesa beyond.
Noah is all-in on the questioning phase and began asking me what was 'down there', below the trail. There were some deep cuts between the hills from seasonal rains so I explained how washes work, how they are like creeks that don't have water, and also how desert creatures (spiders, scorpions, and snakes) live down there. After that washes became 'very scary' for him, which was fine by me, because I'm not ready for them to be wandering off-trail yet. Shortly after we turned south on the Quartz Trail we crossed an overgrown wash, giving Noah a close view of a very scary place.
Beyond the wash was a short climb to yet another saddle and almost the highest point of today's hike. It was about time for another break. I sat the boys down on a bench and we broke out some snacks and water. I was hoping for a good view of the Mazatzals at some point today, being so far north and all, yet all I could see was a mediocre, half-hidden Four Peaks. Them Mazzies had snow on them, a lot of it, and I would have loved to see it.
Once the snacks were gone and a few groups had passed us by it was time to continue. We had over a mile of mostly-downhill walking to do on Quartz Trail before the final leg of the loop and I was itching to get moving. The trail narrowed a bit, with a very steep drop off the one side, and I made Thomas hold my hand for much of it. Noah I can trust to stay away from the edge, but Thomas is young and bull-headed enough to tumble right over. We passed a few older groups and a couple with dogs on the way, then another trail junction that connects to a preserve in the east, and then started down a mostly-shaded slope.
Thomas was getting tired by now. He's a real trooper for being only two, doing desert hikes with his dad and older brother, it's just that two miles is a lot for him. Two miles, a lot of up-and-down, and plenty of sticks to pick up and carry. I didn't bring the carrier for him, although if I need to I can always just pick him up and carry him in one arm.
Along our route rose a small outcropping of quartz that gave the trail its name. I paused here for a few quick pictures under the partly cloudy skies, though I didn't dare linger or crawl up for a closer view. Both boys were moving at a good clip and the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt the momentum.
We were nearing the final section of trail, Slate, which would take us back to the parking area. An interesting rock showed up a few feet to the side, eroded in thin sheets to look like a washboard, so I plopped down for a few close photos. A few seconds later and Thomas fell down next to me, only he landed too hard on his hand and sliced it open. Like, sliced it open real bad. Going into half-panic, half-trained mode, I whipped out a first aid kit and started applying pressure to stop the blood while trying to convince Noah to open up band-aids. It took ten terrifying minutes to stem the flow, assess the cuts, clean and bandage, and then clean up our bloody mess.
He had at least one deep cut across the base of his thumb and then several smaller lacerations that would be more hassle to bandage than anything. I had it covered with a mixture of band-aids and tape, and I wasn't sure if a hospital visit was worth it or not, so I carried Thomas (he got a free pass now) while calling up Katie to discuss. We decided to bring him home first and then determine if a trip to urgent care was worth it or not.
The last mile or so back to the car was a bit dreadful. Thomas was cheerful enough, chattering about his owie and doing good not to touch it, but Noah was sullen from the lack of attention and dragged his feet. Eventually I gave in and carried both of them, one in each arm, fueled by adrenaline and manliness. I just wanted to get them home. Getting back to Katie was the main driver, to both add some sensibility to any decisions and help with the children. There was some confusion near the end, as Slate Trail ended south of where I parked and I had to take Overton and a few paved roads to get back, but we all made it back in one piece.
We did end up going to urgent care, though the doctor merely washed it out good and put some steri-strips to keep the larger slice closed. Thomas would have been fine either way. He's been good about the hand and it was all healed up within a week. I felt bad about being the parent who got him injured, though I guess that's part of hiking. At least we had a first-aid kit with us, and Noah was a bit of a help, so I guess things turned out as well as could be hoped for.