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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


Monday, January 20, 2014


City of Glendale
Highpoint on Arrowhead Point (H2) Trail

With over 14 miles of trails spread over a 1,185-acre preserve, Thunderbird Conservation Park offers easy access to desert hiking. The park’s eight trails weave around Hedgpeth Hills---a chain of peaks capped with black basalt boulders tucked among subdivisions and bustling roadways. Bisected by 55th Avenue, the park's east and west sections are connected by a pedestrian bridge. Three of the trails ascend to summits with cityscape views while others wend around ridgelines and a wetland area with wildlife viewing blinds. Although the trails are currently identified by a nondescript number system (H1, H2, etc.), proposed new names are much more colorful and speak to each route’s distinct character. For instance, Flatlander (a.k.a. H1A), is---well, flat and sweat-free, while Chuckwalla Trail (H5A) meanders through the park’s prime “fat lizard” territory.  A good way to sample the trails and get an overview of the area is to hike  up to the flagpole on Arrowhead Point Trail (H2) and loop back on Coach Whip Trail (H1) with a side trip to the wetlands. This trek begins at the Pinnacle Peak Road trailhead and climbs swiftly to the 0.75-mile point where an American flag anchored in a pile of volcanic rubble denotes the park's highest point. While on the summit, see if you can spot the  dome of  University of Phoenix Stadium, which will be the venue for Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. From here, the trail descends down to a junction near some ramadas.  Go left to visit the lake, then backtrack for a 4-mile out-and-back trek.

8 trails ranging from 0.25 to 5 miles.
RATING: easy to moderately difficult
ELEVATION: 1400'- 1862'
HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily
FACILITIES: restrooms, horse staging, shade ramadas
North Entrance (as described here): Pinnacle Peak Road between 53rd and 55th Ave. Go north on I17 to the Pinnacle Peak Road exit 217 and drive 3.5 miles west to 55th Ave. 
Main Entrance: 22600 N. 59th Ave., Glendale