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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.


Phoenix Mountains Preserve

One of the greatest benefits of living in the Valley of the Sun is its plethora of  parks and recreation sites.  Phoenix is already home to many municipal parks and on going acqusition of additional lands for public use demonstrates the city's commitment to providing residents and visitors with superlative access to outdoor activities.  The current 35,000 acres of parks and preserves is laced with more than 100 miles of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from grueling to painless. In the painless category is the Penny Howe Nature Trail.  Fully paved and built on a joint-friendly slope, the trail is set at the base of craggy North Mountain with close access to water, shade and restrooms.  The stroll is enriched with informational plaques spaced at convenient intervals along the walkway. Each plaque on the self-guided tour  adds  educational tidbits about  desert flora and fauna to an easy leg stretch that's accessible to all.

LENGTH:  0.3 mile
RATING: paved, barrier-free
ELEVATION: 1420' - 1380'
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, shaded picnic ramadas
GETTING THERE: North Mountain Park, 10600 N. 7th St., Phoenix.
(7th Ave. & Peoria)
Trail beigns in the northwest corner of the Havasupai parking lot.
INFO: City of Phoenix, 602-262-7901

Sunday, December 1, 2013


McDowell Sonoran Preserve

With its boozy moniker and fresh-cut course, this trail, which departs from  Fraesfield Mountain trailhead, is an intoxicating trek.  Meandering through a seemingly endless expanse of yucca-studded “horse country” the well signed network of trails enables carefree hiking for experts and greenhorns alike. Whiskey Bottle begins with a brief climb along the east flank of Fraesfield Mountain.  Below, a yawning vegetation-rich wash where rain lingers in mud-fringed pools is a favorite “pub” for thirsty bands of local deer, javelinas and coyotes.  The trail’s high point provides a platform to wrangle your bearing by checking out views of surrounding mountains---Four Peaks to the east, white “golf ball” topped Humboldt Mountain to the north and to the distant southeast, the iconic spire of Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Wilderness cuts a muted lavender silhouette.  The trail scoots along the preserve’s southern boundary passing an upscale golf course near the Dixileta Trail junction.  Although the route’s name suggests otherwise, the only relic of trailside imbibing is a rusted can of Modelo lodged in the roots of a mesquite tree.  However, members of the golf community might get a Manhattan at the club after 18 holes.

Jiding Javelina

LENGTH: 5.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  2540’ – 2764’

GETTING THERE: Fraesfield Mountain Trailhead,
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 go 5.6 miles to the trailhead on the left. No facilities or water. Trailhead is open daily from sunrise to sunset.