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Monday, November 27, 2017

Tour de Rock

Tour de Rock
Cathedral Rock
Tucked between the golf greens and suburban communities of North Scottsdale and the rugged wilds of Tonto National Forest, McDowell Sonoran Preserve is an approachable, precious space of pristine desert.  Laced with over 180 miles of hiking, biking and equestrain trails, the preserve protects 30,000 acres of indigenous plants, sensitive habitats, historic artifacts and spectacular geology.
Yuccas are common along the trails
Up-close details are backed with epic views of surrounding mountain ranges and rich valleys carved by the Verde and Salt Rivers.  Eons of exposure to the erosive forces of wind and water has created a plethora of geological curiosities throughout the preserve.  The site's igneous core is anchored by the lumpy mounds of Granite Mountain and Cholla Mountain, but hidden along the perimeter of the latter are three impressive natural rock formations that can be visited in one day-hike length sweep. There are myriad ways to get to the stony attractions. Trails within the preserve are well-signed and maps available online and at the trailhead are excellent tools. However, if your goal is to hit them all in an afternoon, here’s the “Tour de Rock” plan.
Cathedral Rock
The Amphitheater
From the trailhead, follow Brown’s Ranch Road 1 mile north to the Maverick Trail junction.  Hike 0.8 mile on Maverick and go right at the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail. Follow the signs 0.3 mile to The Amphitheater.
Cathedral Rock
This slick rock arena includes natural seating and a giant mass of granite sculpted into a sea serpent form. From here, continue one mile to Balanced Rock. Towering above a flat expanse of cactus and creosote, the cone-shaped behemoth teeters on a granite slab surrounded by rare desert conifers.
Balanced Rock
After posing for the requisite I-was-here photos, retrace your steps to the Cholla Mountain Loop, head north and continue 2.2 miles to Cathedral Rock.  
Views of the Superstition Mtns: Weavers Needle on horizon 
Although the collection of tilted monoliths and jumbled grottos doesn’t look like much from a distance, up close, the site reveals chapel-like windows, crags and a set of metates (grinding holes) used by ancient inhabitants of the area.  Once done ogling and exploring, hike another 0.4 miles back to the Maverick Trail and backtrack to the trailhead.
Amphitheater Sea Serpent
LENGTH: 8.5-mile circuit
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2710’ – 2972’
Browns Ranch Trailhead.
30301 N. Alma School Pkwy., Scottsdale.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36, travel 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite Road.  Turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School, turn left and drive 1 mile to the trailhead. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset daily.
INFO: McDowell Sonoran Preserve
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

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