Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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It was 10 degrees below zero in Steamboat Springs on Monday morning, and the ski area had just blown by 400 inches of snowfall for just the sixth time in 28 years. But somewhere, the wildflowers were beginning to bloom.
You can go there if you want to and still return in time for plenty of spring skiing.
The weather in Steamboat and Phoenix this week is strikingly dissimilar, but the two cities have something notable in common. Residents of both communities have access to outstanding mountain hiking trails right inside the city limits. Some of the hiking is even in city parks.
If you like Steamboat's climb up Emerald Mountain, with its outstanding views of Sand Mountain and Storm Peak, the equivalent in Phoenix is South Mountain, where there is technical mountain biking on the National Trail. South Mountain includes 51 miles of trails on 16,000 acres. Many of those acres are closed to hiking and cycling to protect the fragile desert plants.
The corollary to hiking to the 9,080 summit of Thunderhead in Steamboat is the 1,300 feet of vertical from the bottom of the Cholla Trailhead to the summit of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.
If anything, this desert hike is more strenuous - there are numerous places on Camelback's upper reaches where rock scrambling is required.
In Phoenix, the system of mountain parks and preserves is managed by the city, not unlike the way the city of Steamboat Springs manages trails above Howelsen Hill.
The big difference right now between hiking in Steamboat and on South Mountain can be summed up by wildflowers - Mexican gold poppies, diminutive desert lupine and the ominous sounding but delicate scorpionweed.
I don't need to check the calendar to know that lupine won't be blooming in the meadows surrounding Steamboat until June. You can escape the snow for a few days and be in Phoenix in a few hours by plane, or in a comfortable day and a half of driving.
The city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department is predicting that through March, desert wildflower viewing will be the best it has been in many years. The bloom was far from peaking on Feb. 28.
The most evident flower last week was the Mexican poppy. When they peak, the desert floor beneath the saguaro cacti should be carpeted in gold.
Throughout March, park rangers will be leading hikes in the Phoenix mountain parks. They have names like "Fiery Sunset Critter Hike," "Ancient Inhabitants of South Mountain Park," and "Hidden Valley Full Moon Hike. Fees are $5 for adults and $1 for children and seniors.
You can find wildflower viewing tips at www.phoenix.gov/parks.
We buzzed down to Phoenix using Delta Airlines' service from Yampa Valley Regional Airport to Salt Lake City. The flight to Salt Lake was just more than an hour, and the connecting flight to Sky Harbor International Airport was less than 90 minutes.
If airline tickets aren't in the budget this spring, you can drive to Flagstaff, Ariz., from Steamboat in a long day. Sleep in the next morning and leave refreshed for the two-hour plus drive into Phoenix.
Don't forget your hiking shorts.