Nature Trail at Piestawa Peak

Lilia Menconi
This turquoise plaque wants to teach you about hummingbirds and ocotillo.
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Since it's been too dang hot outside to take a longer daytime trek, we've been stuck with hour-long jaunts in the evening.

Our latest outing was a trail that my mother, an elementary school librarian, has wanted to hike for many years: The Nature Trail at Piestawa Peak. We made it a family ordeal. My mom, my 8-year-old niece (who just started getting serious about hiking) and I set out on a Friday evening for some wholesome and educational hiking.

I admit it, I thought this hike was going to be lame, lame, lame. Of course, I was wrong.

The trail is interpretive -- there are educational plaques with text about the surrounding plant and animal life. This is how I learned hummingbirds can fly upside down. Crazy!

The 1.5-mile Nature Trail is a loop around a small mountain. We started from the west side, heading north.

To find the trailhead, pretend like you're heading to the Piestawa Summit trail via Squaw Peak Drive off of Lincoln Drive. Go through the gates and cruise to the very end of the parking lot. Trail #304 is your baby. Look to the left of the information sign (I recommend tracing your intended path here...you're the purple one) for a paved steep descent into a deep wash. After climbing out, you'll continue uphill on a fairly easy incline. It doesn't let-up for about a quarter mile. Which made a certain 8-year-old pretty grumpy.

Soon, you'll see guide posts that indicate you're on the No. 302 (the Circumference Trail that I'll review at some point). Just stick with it because the No. 302 and No. 304 share this portion until the No. 304 (your trail, marked with purple stickers on the posts) breaks off and heads east at about the half-mile mark.

This, and the many intersects from smaller nearby trails, can be a little tricky. When in doubt, find a perch and look around for the informational plaques -- they are bright turquoise and can be spotted from a decent distance. They'll indicate the general direction you want to head.

So we marched along and read about teddy bear cholla (the jumping cholla's fuzzy-looking cousin), saguaros (they grow an arm after 75 years, not 100), and ocotillo (this is a succulent, not a cactus). By the end, I was actually wishing for more plaques.

Lilia Menconi
The view from the saddle, looking south.

And, by the end, my niece was ready to throw in the towel.

About a quarter mile from the finish line, we had to climb up 130 feet.

It was easy but she wasn't having it. Thankfully, the beautiful view looking south from the saddle cheered her up.

The rest of the trail is a rocky descent -- not so great in the twilight. And, about 30 feet from the end of the trail, the kid ate it and twisted her ankle. I made the mistake of carrying her the rest of the way, which, I found out later, caused her to think that the hike "didn't count" because she didn't finish it herself.

She's a hiker from within, she is.

Distance: 1.5 miles

Time: 1 hour for adults, 1.5 hours if you bring a kid and an elementary school librarian

Elevation climb: 260 ft.

Hiker's Tip: Learning can be fun.

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