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Monday, November 12, 2012

Edge of the suburbs desert hike

McDowell Sonoran Preserve-McDowell Mtn. Regional Park
Boulders near Rock Knob

With a glinty grainy tread way of decomposing granite underfoot and haze-muddled views of the Mazatzal, Superstition and McDowell Mountain ranges hugging the horizon, this spectacular loop hike in a shadeless basin of Sonoran Desert showcases a lot of what we love about our local landscape.

Cradled between a preserve area and a county park, this swath of boulders and cholla is a stubborn holdout amidst garrisons of swanky golf communities lapping at its fringe.  Thanks to the foresight and persistence of concerned citizens, this precious local gem remains closed to development and open for climbing, hiking, biking and equestrian activities.  Although its proximity with the red-tile-aqua-pool suburbs of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills puts a mild pox upon the wilderness experience, the up side is easy access to the great outdoors.  My favorite part of this thrown together trek is the geology and the big-sky views.  The route passes by the jumble of granite known as Rock Knob, the lower end of Marcus Landslide and numerous stone "sculptures" and "mushroom" rocks.  As the terrain is rather flat, there are unobstructed vistas---look for Superstition Wilderness landmarks Weaver's Needle and the Flatiron in the east and, if you hit the trail at the right time, you'll get a peek at the famous waterspout in Fountain Hills. A spur path on the return leg of the loop leads to a lookout spot with an interpretive sign identifying these key features.
Saguaros on the Boulder Trail

HERE'S THE HIKE PLAN:  from the trailhead, hike 0.3 mile east on the Marcus Landslide Trail to the junction for Rock Knob Trail.  Follow Rock Knob 0.5 mile to the McDowell Mtn Park boundary where you'll need to deposit $2 and secure your permit.  Continue another 0.6 mile on Rock Knob to Pemberton Trail, turn right (southeast) and hike 1.1 miles to Boulder Trail.  Pick up Boulder and continue 1.1 mile to Marcus Landslide (back in the preserve), turn right (north) and trek 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  5 miles according to park maps; 5.4 miles by my GPS track
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 2,800' - 2,280'
FACILITIES: restroom at trailhead, no water
FEE: $2 per person to enter McDowell Mtn Regional Park (exact change req)

Tom's Thumb Trailhead:
From the loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and continue 5 miles north on Pima to Happy Valley Road.  Turn right (east) and go 4.1 miles on Happy Valley to Ranch Gate. Turn right on Ranch Gate, follow it 1.2 miles then turn right onto 128th St. and continue 1 mile on 128th to the signed trailhead. Roads are paved all the way.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just finished a first-time visit to Phoenix (for a meeting, but with some free time and a colleague who likes hiking) and I can't thank you enough for your excellent, descriptive information: We managed to hike both the 5+ mile "Edge of the suburbs desert hike" hike at McDowell Preserve and the "Limestone Loop" at Spur Cross.

We thoroughly enjoyed both hikes (what a fab new park you have at McDowell!), my first ever in Arizona. The copious options you list, along with your excellent writing, made it fun to browse and settle on a few choices beforehand.

Many thanks,