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An audio postcard from the Superstition Wilderness

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

After months of temperatures above 100 degrees, it is finally cooling off in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. NPR's Brian Mann took advantage of the milder weather to trek in the Superstition Wilderness in the high mountains east of Phoenix. He found a hidden forest and sent in this audio postcard.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I'm setting off just about a half hour before sunrise, and it is kind of chilly out here. This is amazing. It's a desert, and already there's enough glow to the sky that I can see the cactus spreading every direction and the big mesas of rock. But down here, it's actually a little bit cold.

The first part of my hike, I startle a herd of mule deer. They scatter among the saguaro, their white tails flashing. In the dim light, there are birds everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

MANN: I'm watching the sunrise as I climb, and it just keeps changing everything. Vast cliffs will catch the sun and start to glow, bright red berries on the bushes and the sweeps of really lush, buttery yellow flowers.

Soon, I come to a stage of high rock that looks out across a river valley to distant mountains. They're so craggy, so knife-edged they look unreal.

I think if you saw this painting, you know, in a museum, you would think that some early painter of the West had just let their imagination go crazy.

I hike on, dropping down steep trails into the valley, where I can see a vein of bright green forest surrounded by desert. Hour by hour, the heat rises.

The sun dominates everything now. There's not much shade at all.

I'm carrying crazy amounts of water. Even now, on a relatively mild day, it's essential.

I'm walking over river stones. There's a dry riverbed, kind of a forest world down here.

In the deepest part of the valley, where water sometimes flows, the forest is lush with deep pools of shade. As far as I can tell, I have this vast valley to myself. For a long time, I just sit under a shimmering tree. There's no cell service, no voices, just silence. It's hot, in the high 90s, when I finally start for home. The trail smells of dust and sage and my own sweat as I climb.

I've made it back up onto one of the high buttresses of rock that sits above this valley. It's just empty. The solitude is kind of vast. It's really magnificent here. Brian Mann, NPR News, in the Superstition Wilderness.

(SOUNDBITE OF GNOSS' "GORDON'S") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.