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Tuesday, December 26, 2017


HOLBERT TRAIL, South Mountain Park, Phoenix
Dobbins Lookout
On clear evenings, the beacons on Mount Suppoa that bleep and flinch above an array of communication equipment are visible from many parts of the Valley.  The spindly forest of red-lighted poles marks the highest point in South Mountain Park.  The 2690-foot summit is off limits to the public but equally swell sights can be had at nearby 2330-foot Dobbins Lookout.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
Dobbins Lookout
You could drive up to this Depression Era observation deck, but for those who prefer to sweat for it, the Holbert Trail provides a moderately difficult slog and rewarding discoveries all the way up.  The hike is as much a trek through history as it is a respectable workout.  The trail winds up the north face of the Guadalupe Mountain Range---one of the three elongated ridges that make up South Mountain. The others are the Gila and Ma Ha Tauk ranges.  The first history lesson comes within a half-mile of the trailhead where the route cuts through a box canyon of pre-Cambrian stone that’s older than primordial ooze.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
The rocks that predate all life on earth have survived eons of change, and their disintegrating, sun baked surfaces have served as canvas for the etchings of ancient inhabitants including the Hohokam people who made many of the intricate symbols visible on boulders and cliff faces throughout the hike. While images that look like water birds, turtles and sheep might be easy to understand, the meaning of artful spirals, crosses and cryptic figures may never be known.  Be sure to scope out the surroundings as petroglyphs seem to pop up in the most unexpected places.  As with all heritage sites, be respectful by not touching, rubbing or (gak) altering with graffiti or adding chalk to make them more visible. Sadly, many of the irreplaceable images have been lost or damaged by careless visitors.
Beyond “petroglyph alley” the trail begins a steady climb over wide switchbacks that move between canyon-bound passages and edge-clinging escarpments.  The trail ends at Telegraph Pass Road, but a more interesting option is to skip the last 0.3-mile and instead take the spur trail that leads to the lookout.  The native-stone-and-concrete structures as well as many of the park’s more than 50 miles of trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1940.  An exhibit at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center gives insight to the program and the historic structures located within park. 
Downtown Phoenix seen from the Holbert Trail
At 16,000 acres, South Mountain is one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.
Dobbins Lookout
The wear and tear of generations of use by outdoor enthusiasts has taken a toll on the park’s condition. Many of the old trails were not built to modern sustainability standards and structures such as picnic ramadas no longer suit contemporary needs. That’s why the park is getting a major facelift that will include new facilities, stabilized trails, some new trails and improved parking. The first phase is nearing completion at the Pima Canyon trailhead.
Ascending the Holbert Trail
Compass at Dobbins Lookout
Valley views from Dobbins Lookout
The Dobbins Lookout provides a platform to contemplate what a treasure South Mountain is to our community. A compass post overlooking the Valley points to local landmarks, mountain ranges, farmlands, cities and suburbs that have grown up around the park.  Just as these surrounding elements have morphed and bloomed over time, so South Mountain Park adapts to accommodate.
Petroglyphs on Holbert Trail
LENGTH: 4.8 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,350'-2,330'  
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables, covered ramadas
GETTING THERE: Holbert Trailhead, 10919 S. Central Ave.
From central Phoenix, follow Central Avenue south all the way to the end where it flows into South Mountain Park. Just past the park entrance gate, turn left into the Activity Complex. Drive past the Interpretive Center and go all the way to the end of the road near the restrooms and park. The signed trailhead is directly across the road. Trailhead gates  are open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Trails remain open until 11 p.m.

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