One can only read so much in Runner's World about trail running before you finally get the bug to get out and give it a try. All those articles about strengthening ankles and improving balance were the catalyst for our recent group hike out to the Wind Caves in northeast Mesa.
Tucked inside the Usery Pass Recreation Area, off Ellsworth Road and north of McDowell, the Wind Caves trail is easy to find. You drive straight past the Usery Rec Area guard shack entrance and stay straight for about a mile-ish, maybe less, then turn left on Wind Caves road. The trail begins here in the parking lot and you can pretty much see your destination right in front of you, the towering mountain blocking the sun.
The trail alternates between smooth red dirt and craggy rocks, and steadily climbs to the "caves" providing a scenic view of Mesa, and in the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. It's only 1.5 miles to the wind carved hollows that give hikers a place to stop and rest and enjoy the view. I'd call this more of a rest area, not a destination.
The real challenge of the hike is the next half a mile, which winds up to a steeper incline of rocky peaks for a 360-degree spectacular view of the entire valley. This little stretch of the trail is a must-do. But it helps to take a friend who knows the way up to the top as the trail is confusing and sometimes difficult to follow.
The first time I climbed to the peak, Apache helicopters from Boeing flew below us out on a combat drill exercise. The second time, I tried to lead the hike and lost the trail that leads to the summit. However, the views were still amazing and all of us got in a great workout.
This trail is easy, until you attempt to climb above the wind caves. The lower portion of the hike is doable for kids of all ages and is a nice cross training 90-minute workout. I spotted plenty of regulars, who must do this trail several times a week. And I began to run as the trail flattened in the final stretch home.
Overall, it's a nice way to spend a morning, either with family or after your drop the kids off to school for a little workout on your own. Don't forget water, your Tonto Pass and/or $6 for parking. Call some friends, the pace uphill can be pushed or relaxed -- it's up to you.
And since it's up to me, I'll be heading back real soon.