Rising above Phoenix
Each summer the same thought hits stupefied Phoenicians: How did this sun-baked stretch of desert ever get settled? (Expletives removed.) But a dawn hike through the quiet mountain parks just north and south of the city's concrete mass is answer in itself.
In summer, that may still mean temperatures in the balmy 90s, but that's a world apart from triple-digit afternoon highs. Some sunrises are greeted with a breeze―a small but spirit-boosting reward for your effort. These two early-morning hikes offer a more substantial reward: a great post-hike breakfast.
Cave Creek Regional Park
Explore the rugged, little-touched terrain of Cave Creek Regional Park north of Scottsdale on Go John Trail, a moderate but rugged 4.8-mile loop filled with cholla cactus, hummingbirds, and mountain views. Hike clockwise to get the challenging part―a short, fairly steep climb―over with first.
INFO: Cave Creek Regional Park ($5 per vehicle; http://maricopa.gov/parks/cave_creek or 623/465-0431) opens daily at 6 a.m. To reach the Go John trailhead, head north from Carefree Hwy. onto 32nd St. and continue into the park, following the road as it veers right, then turn left at Tonalite Dr. and left again into the trailhead parking lot.
BREAKFAST TREAT: The bustling Bakery Cafe in El Pedregal Marketplace has moist, low-fat banana bread and iced lattes, plus a shaded patio with a waterfall. $. 34505 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480/488-4100.
South Mountain Park/Preserve
South Mountain Park's 16,000- plus acres rise around the bottom half of Phoenix like a red, cracked cup. Only when you're inside the park do you discover just how green and alive the desert can be. For solitude skip the busy National Trail and hike the quiet, moderate Ranger Trail, a gradual 2.8-mile round-trip climb that delivers vast views of Phoenix waking up.
INFO: South Mountain Park Preserve (free; www.phoenix.gov/parks/ hikesoth.html or 602/534-6324),open daily at 6 a.m., is 1 mile south of Baseline Rd. on Central Ave. in Phoenix. Turn left just past the ranger station, right before the 1-mile marker, to reach the Ranger trailhead.
BREAKFAST TREAT: Phoenix Ranch Market is a Hispanic cafe and grocery that bakes its own fragrantly yeasty pan dulce―sweet, fat pastries. Wash them down with a coconut or tamarind agua fresca at the fruit-water bar. $. 5833 S. Central Ave., Phoenix; 602/276-3800.