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Saturday, January 25, 2014


McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Granite Mountain Loop

Sandwiched between palm-tree-caressed swaths of upscale homes, sprawling ranches and a wall of 7000-foot-high mountains rising over the Verde River Valley, Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a refuge for marauding herds of javalina, deer and city dwelling hikers, bikers and equestrians looking to unwind. It's an open, airy place reminiscent of Montana's "big sky county" replete with far-reaching views and western character. The Black Hill Trail delves into the guts of this natural sanctuary, following a wide, decommissioned dirt road lined with jumbo saguaros and thickets of yucca.
Smothered in desert plant life, the area's myriad wildflowers and blooming shrubs erupt in brilliant waves beginning in January when blood-red chuparosa flowers and shock-yellow clusters of desert rock peas serve as opening acts for a riot of color that ends with the annual show-stopping blast of creamy white saguaro blossoms in May.
Black Hill Trail ends at Powerline Road where a battalion of electrical towers strung together over the desert reminds that civilization shares this space.  At this point, a network of connecting trails makes for endless hiking combinations. One to try is the 4.2-mile Granite Mountain Loop, which begins directly across the road. The trail's highest point is 2,780-foot "Scenic Overlook". Here, a patchwork of homes in the valley below mingles with pristine desert and the muted silhouettes of the Superstition Mountains on the southern horizon. Added goodies on the loop include a noble crested saguaro near the Branding Iron trail junction and an optional side trip to geological wonder, Balanced Rock.

Black Hill Trail

LENGTH: 8.8 miles (9.6 miles with Balanced Rock)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  2540' - 2780'
HOURS: open daily sunrise to sunset
GETTING THERE: Fraesfield 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.

Desert Rock Pea

INFO & MAP: McDowell Sonoran Preserve


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