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Saturday, November 30, 2013


McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Balanced Rock

Even in a terrain replete with natural sandblasted granite sculptures, Balanced Rock stands out.  Located in the heart of the newly opened Brown’s Ranch cluster of trails, this massive mushroom-shaped behemoth stands tall and precariously exposed atop a weathered slab of igneous stone. Flanked by a complement of lesser boulders and a wind-tortured juniper, the hows and whys of the monolith’s predicament are fodder for inquisitive minds.  The path to the rock is a short detour easily accessible via connecting trails. Although it is popular as a side trip off longer loop treks, the rock can be reached most directly by hiking 1.2 miles on Powerline Road to the Balance Rock Trail junction.  From here, it’s 0.9-mile to the rock and 1.6 miles to trail’s end. A map at the trailhead shows other hike combinations. 

Balanced Rock Trail

LENGTH: 5.6 miles roundtrip (or 4.2 to the rock and back)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2570’ – 2646’
GETTING THERE: Granite Mountain Trailhead, 31402 N. 136th St. Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit #36 and go 6.5 miles 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. Trailhead is open sunrise to sunset.  No facilities.
INFO & MAPS: McDowell Sonoran Preserve


Yes---it's open.

Located at the southern end of the new Brown's Ranch extension of Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Fraesfield trailhead provides plenty of paved parking and access to dozens of  trails, but no other facilities.

From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Princess/Pima exit 36.  Go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Blvd.(which will turn into Rio Verde Dr). Turn right (east and continue 5.6 miles to the trailhead on the left.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Google Field Trip App

During my hike near Cave Creek today, I fired up the Google Field Trip app. As you can see---it's now super easy to locate nearby trails, restaurants and other places of interest.
feed at Fraesfield trailhead
feed in downtown Cave Creek

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shadow Mountain

Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Summit of Shadow Mountain

This under-appreciated gem of a mountain in the least traveled corner of Phoenix Mountains Preserve  offers hikers a straight-off-the-suburban-sidewalk entre into a pristine pocket of Sonoran desert. The summit trail is unmitigated by switchbacks, ascending the peak on upright rock faces and loose gravel with dizzying exposure---it's not a trek for acrophobics. 
Those who brave the climb will find views of ball-field-checkered neigborhoods creeping up against an undeveloped swath of cactus and brittlebush.  An unusual-looking reservoir and high-rent properties fill the foreground of a 360-degree  cityscape panorama ringed by mountains, cotton fields and hazy spaces.  Even without making the woozy climb, hikers can enjoy this desert haven by following the lazy loop trails circling the base of the peak.
Lookout Mountain in the distance

Big Loop: 1.6 miles
Small Loop: 0.8 mile
RATING: moderate/difficult
ELEVATION: 1550' - 1645' or 1810' (with summit spur)
HOURS: sunrise to sunset or 7 p.m. whichever comes first
FACILITES: water fountain and horse water tank
Exit SR51 at Greenway and go west to Cave Creek Road.  Turn south and continue to Claire Dr.
Follow Claire past 25th St. and take the next right onto 25th Place (unmarked road). The trailhead is at the corner of 25th Place and Acoma. Park along the retaining wall. 
INFO: City of Phoenix, 602-262-7901

Monday, November 25, 2013

Piestewa Peak

Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Summit of Piestewa Peak

A famously fabulous and infamously crowded hike, the Piestewa Peak summit trail ranks second in elevation among the "Seven Summits of Phoenix. Camelback Mountain, at 2704' is the tallest. Because of its central location and easy access, the vertical, switchbacking route sees a lot of action.  Elbow-to-elbow foot traffic is common, especially on weekends when athletes in training and casual hikers alike jockey for position on the stony path worn smooth by years of heavy use.  Rising over 1200 feet, the strenuous trek rewards with sweeping views of  Metro Phoenix peaks and valleys. The mountain is named for fallen Arizona soldier Lori Piestewa who was killed in 2003 during the same Iraqi attack that wounded Jessica Lynch who became well known because of her dramatic rescue by fellow soldiers.  The base of the peak has been the site of memorial services that have been attended by Ms. Lynch and members of Piestewa's Hopi Nation to pay tribute to the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.

View from the Summit Trail

LENGTH: 1.2 miles 1-way
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  1,400' - 2,608'
FACILITIES: restrooms, water
NOTE: dogs and bikes are not permitted
2701 E. Squaw Peak Dr., Phoenix 85016.
From Phoenix, go north on SR 51 to Lincoln Dr exit.  Follow Lincoln to Squaw Peak Drive, turn left and follow the signs to the parking area.

INFO: City of Phoenix

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Descending along the south ridge

Known locally as one of the "Seven Summits of Phoenix", North Mountain National Trail #44 is an urban hiking treasure that's also part of the annual Phoenix Summit Challenge competition held each November.  Its central location, trailhead amenities and easy access from major travel routes contribute to this trail's popularity.  The ascent begins on a set of rough-hewn stone stairs worn ragged by the constant pounding of hiking boots and running shoes. This vertical segment deposits hikers on a cracked asphalt road hacked out of the mountain’s slope that climbs 600 feet in just under a mile.  Although the tower-cluttered summit is where many trekkers turn and head back the way they came, it's not the end of the trail. Beyond the hardware jungle, trail #44 continues down the south ridge through creosote, cactus and crumbling schist, descending steeply on a less crowded, unpaved path.

Looking north from the paved road

LENGTH: 1.6 miles 
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1490' - 2104'
HOURS: 5:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. (trails open until 11:00 p.m.)
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables
GETTING THERE: North Mountain Park, 10600 N. 7th Street, Phoenix (7th Street & Peoria).
Trail begins at the Maricopa picnic area.

INFO & MAPS: City of Phoenix, (602) 262-7901