Near the end of a dusty, 2 1 /2-mile hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 18 people gathered to learn about the medical benefits of the prickly pear cactus.
“If you had to find a first-aid kit in the desert, you’re looking at numero uno,” hike leader Bernie Finkel said as he passed around pieces with the spines removed. “If you had any kind of an insect bite, if you were bitten by a rattlesnake or an animal, this is what you would put on it.”
The prickly pear is just one of the 10 medicinal plants Finkel mentioned on Saturday’s guided hike, organized by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. Others included how a tea made from brittlebush is used to treat arthritis and the antibacterial benefits of the creosote bush.
Medicinal plants of the desert is one of the discussion topics on the free hikes.
Each Saturday and Sunday, the public is invited to join guides on the hikes that feature trailside discussion topics including Sonoran Desert birds and edible desert plants.
“It’s a great way to get outdoors, get exercise and experience the preserve,” said Carla (her legal name), executive director of the conservancy. “We try and keep it fresh, we try and keep it varied.”
The spring hiking season goes through April. The Lost Dog Trail hike to Taliesin Overlook is one of the easier inclines. Nancy Miller Kozeradsky, a visiting New Jersey resident, said she came on the hike to learn more about the desert.
“I think it’s fascinating,” she said. “I love to go on the tours and learn about all these plants we don’t have in New Jersey.” She said she goes every year when she visits her sister in Scottsdale. “It’s like anything — if you go into an art museum and you know a little something about the artist, you can appreciate it on more levels,” she said. “When you have the background of the desert, you can better appreciate it.”
But not all hikers came solely for the educational purposes. “The social aspect is nice,” said Scottsdale resident Judy Shongut. “You get to hike with a like-minded group of people.” Just being outdoors has many rewards, she said. “In some respects you can leave the civilized world out there and escape into the desert,” she said. “I find it very relaxing.”
Hikers should bring water and snacks, wear sturdy shoes or boots and be prepared to walk over rocky and uneven terrain. All guided hikes require reservations.
8 a.m. Saturday:
Sunrise Peak from 128th St.
8 a.m. April 8: Big Saguaro Loop. The new, five-mile trail begins along Little Granite Mountain.
9 a.m. April 9: Birding walk, observing and identifying Sonoran Desert birds.