It's a quick jaunt, but it offers a little bit of everything that you're looking for when you're lighting out to the desert to spend an hour or two with nature. The Ahwatukee trailhead of South Mountain Preserve offers lots of options for the hiker -- from the flat Desert Classic (favored mainly by mountain bikers) to the arduous National (for the self-detesting) -- but the 1.5-mile Telegraph Pass is the clear winner when it comes to compromise.
Just to start you off easy, the first undulating half-mile is paved, rolling up and down in small sine curves until it empties out at the meeting point with the Desert Classic. Veer left and suddenly you're in flavor country -- a craggy but flat trail that creeps along the base of a long rock outcrop. At about the halfway point, things then take an interesting turn: upward. Now you're hoofing it into the sandstone, crabbing along an upslope and eventually hucking up ersatz staircases that have been hewed out of the hillside. And just as your pulse reaches cardio level, there you are: Telegraph Pass, right along a rise on South Mountain Drive. Sit on the bench and watch the lazy lunkers drive by. Then have a drink of water and begin stepping down into the flatlands, where your oven-hot car awaits. Now, aren't you glad you took that hour to commune with nature?