Most people would stop at "shabby" when describing Papago Park, but we think it's one of the coolest and most underutilized hiking areas in the Valley. Yes, the Phoenix city park is something of a faded dowager; yes, it's trashy; yes, the pea-green muckhole generously termed a pond looks as if it might spontaneously combust; and no, the hiking here doesn't require the technical skills of Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain. However, if you venture out of the more visited areas of the park, you'll find a lovely remnant of Sonoran Desert squeezed between ever-encroaching Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. You might even encounter a coyote, a diamondback or a Gila monster, and you're almost guaranteed to see a jackrabbit or a baby cottontail gallivanting through the scrub that dots the desert washboard. Perhaps most important, you'll be all by your lonesome, save the occasional mountain biker whizzing by on your left.
Oh, how we hate to give this away, but here's our usual route (which is, by the way, unmarked and unnamed): After parking at the landmark known as Hole-in-the-Rock, head west by northwest toward the Big Buttes on McDowell Road. After you cross Galvin Parkway and close on the Buttes, you'll strike a trail that takes you gently around them, or you can path-find your way over them, which is technically quite challenging and a heckuva lot more fun. Once past the Big Buttes, head due south toward Saddle Butte. Climb up to the saddle and then scramble down the other side. Head south by southeast across the washboard. Re-cross Galvin and head due east, where you'll soon find yourself in the Phoenix Zoo parking lot. Look to your left for the nuclear pond and follow its southern flank to another trail that borders the north side of the zoo. Your next landmark -- no, it's not a desert mirage -- is the odd-duck pyramid, situated incongruously upon a small butte, which houses the corpse of Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt. From the pyramid, look north toward Hole-in-the-Rock and set your star by it.
We usually finish with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Valley from atop the Rock, followed by a windows-down, moon-roof-up, stereo-blasting drive on Galvin, the Valley's only truly crooked street. Ah, but that's another story . . .