Page 4 of 5

Echo Canyon has as much Phoenix tradition as Squaw Peak. Gil Gilbert remembers riding there in his family's horse-drawn buggy in the 1910s for after-church picnics. "Coyotes would howl, and if people were close enough to hear, we'd move," he says. When he was courting his future wife, Dottie (one of the founders of the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council), he took her scrambling up Camelback on her first visit to town.

"There was nothing there but rattlers," she recalls.
"Those were crickets," he corrects.
Paul Dief, as Diefenderfer calls himself for brevity, first bought railroad ties and terraced the lower reaches of the trail that rises out of Echo Canyon Park. After three and a half years, he's rebuilt three-quarters of the way to the summit.

It's subtle work, a pointed rock buried at an uninviting angle to discourage footsteps at the base of native plants, cholla cactus placed strategically in the middle of a switchback. "Cholla is a great people manager," he says.

For all his volunteer work and loving attention, Diefenderfer is at loggerheads with the Parks Department. Though he seems a reasonable man, he apparently suffers from attitude sickness in the presence of Parks officials. He abrasively calls their attention to shortcomings. He lobbies against the damage that commercial stables cause in the preserves. He complained that Parks personnel were driving their ATVs over native plants on their way to water revegetation projects. He had bid on the contract for the Squaw Peak renovation and has personally voiced his distaste for the work that has been done. "That's not a trail, it's a road," he says. And though the mention of his name raises hackles in some circles, "Most of what he says is correct," Ron Borkan admits.

Diefenderfer's stone masonry in the red canyon below the Camelback summit is a masterpiece of subtlety. He combs the washes for stones and hauls them up to piece them into a jigsaw-puzzle rock staircase. The cement is hidden beneath and rubbed with red dirt to resemble the surrounding rock. Only near the top of the canyon one notices the natural state--undercut rocks, loose dirt where Diefenderfer has not yet been. "It's too bad this section isn't as strong as down below," calls a middle-aged hiker when he notices Diefenderfer's scrutiny.

The quality of the work is lost on the day-to-day hikers. Sometimes when Dief straps on a tank and hikes up Camelback to water the cactus and creosote he planted there, passersby on the trail assume he's spraying for bugs. They thank him that somebody's finally taking care of the insect problem on Camelback. Next: air conditioning.

Even as he relates the story, a Walkman-topped yuppie crusader brushes by, elbowing him in the stomach without so much as an "Excuse me." The trail is at least ten feet wide, with plenty of room to go around, but the crusader clearly has a territorial route. And before anyone can react, his lady friend pushes through on the same course, her blond ponytail slapping her shoulders with each purposeful stride.


@body:Arlynne Eisner is the queen of Saturday morning at Squaw Peak, and as she leads the way up the trail, she greets every third person coming down by name. She's cheery and personable and it's clear that this is her regular beat. Eisner is tiny, but she's got great legs and great fingernails--the former short and tan, the latter long and red--and you have to admire anyone who can hustle up and down Squaw Peak, build a rock wall while she's up there, and still have enough breath left to light a cigarette.

A half-mile up, the route traverses the backside of the mountain. The loose talus that runs downhill and piles against trees below is evidence that the trail has been sliding four or five feet a year, sloughing off like so much dead skin. Just downslope stands a tall saguaro, brown on its trail side and pockmarked from rock throwers.

This is the site that started Arlynne's television career as a Squaw Peak activist. And in fact, because of her efforts, within two weeks the offending "road" will be shaped into terraced checks built to Borkan's specifications. Arlynne and Roger Maki and friends will have chipped in by planting a couple hundred cholla balls to discourage off-trail rambles. Jim Burke of the Parks Department has promised as well to rip out the concrete on the trail below and to insist on more use of natural materials on the trail above. No matter; it will be trampled into dust in time.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Kiefer