This Phoenix hike shows how water carves up the desert

For Arizonans especially, the fear of running water should rank right up there with snakes and heights. Although storm water raging through usually-dry channels solicits choirs of oohs and ahhs, the flows are definitely not something to mess with. If the human brain has a “dangerous things archive,” an image of a roaring desert wash ought to be seared into it.

They can go from trickle to torrent in minutes. Driving, riding or hiking through them is extremely risky and potentially deadly. Need more evidence? Next time you’re hiking by a creek or wash, look up into the trees. Those wads of debris dangling high above mark where raging water once was.

That’s why it’s always smart to steer clear of trails that cross waterways until the swells subside. It only takes a day or two for the trails and crossings to dry out enough to pass through safely. Also, not using trails when they are wet and soggy helps prevent the kind of damage that ruins drainage systems, creates dangerous conditions and encourages the blazing of “work around” paths that destroy native vegetation.

A good place to observe the force of water in a desert landscape is in the north sector of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. Hedged between Carefree Highway and Sonoran Desert Drive east of Interstate 17 in north Phoenix, the chunk of pristine desert holds many surprises.

The trails here offer a diverse menu of options including moderate ridgeline rambles, barrier-free strolls and easy explorations of the wily water alleys that permeate the area. A hike on the easy-rated Badger Brawl-Cliff Walk-Esplanade loop on the preserve’s far east end is one of the best ways to explore the transformative powers of water.

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