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Thursday, December 5, 2013


McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Just a few odometer clicks and 1000 feet in elevation north of downtown Phoenix, is a desert rangeland with enough fresh air and open space to expunge the mind-numbing pressures of city living.  Here, a 6-mile trail around 3526' Granite Mountain transports hikers through a rugged habitat of survivalist native creatures and landforms.  There's little moderation here.   Summer heat is brutal, it freezes in winter and the area's 12" of annual rainfall arrives in episodic lusty torrents that turn bone dry washes and
Sculpted granite
canyons into raging rivers within minutes. But for a few months between the extremes, this desert preserve is a balmy, blooming paradise. The best time to hike here is from late October through early May, when temperatures are mild and wildflowers color the land like splattered paint. Hikers will get a kick out of the acres of granite masses scoured into fanciful forms by eons of geological calamity. As unforgiving elements peck away, molecule-by-molecule, the rock erodes into the embodiments of giant mushrooms, dragons, serpents and goblins. One hiker saw the profile of the Quaker Oats guy. Whatever image the nature-whittled granite conjures is a personal journey.
Although there are more direct routes to connect with this loop, going by way of Bootlegger Trail exposes hikers to some exceptional geological jumbles such as narrow passages and cave-like enclaves that would have made handy hooch hideouts for brewers evading prohibition patrols.
To take this trip, begin on Bootlegger trail and hike 0.7 mile to Saddlehorn Trail.  Follow Saddlehorn 0.2 mile (can you spot the eponymous rock formation?) and connect with Granite Mountain Loop.

LENGTH: 6-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2570' - 2780'
HOURS: trails are open sunrise to sunset
Granite Mountain Trailhead, 31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale. From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit 36 and go 6.5 mile north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd./Rio Verde Dr.  Turn right and continue 5.9 miles to 136th St., turn left and go 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left.
No facilities.

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