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Wednesday, January 4, 2017



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Windgate Pass
In the highly competitive, (oft embellished) sphere of hiking lore, there are precisely two loop circuits in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve that have earned the title of “epic”.  They are the Tom’s Thumb-East End-Bell Pass Loop and the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop. Both are beautiful. Both will kick your butt. Before tackling the 13-mile, 2,205-foot Tom’s Thumb slog, you might want to do a warm up trek on the later. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the “measly” 1,484 feet from the circuit’s base to its highest point bellies the fact that the mountain’s dips and dives reclaim much of what you gain, multiple times. There’s a 600-foot loss between the two passes alone.  These two ambitious circuits are staples on the training programs of hikers preparing for Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trips or long distance hauls on the Arizona Trail.  
Bell Pass
Whether you have eyes on bigger prizes or are just looking for a challenging day hike, the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop satisfies both the urge for a good workout and the desire to wander among the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The hike begins at the famously busy Gateway Trailhead. A brief walk over a metal bridge leads to the first leg of the circuit which follows one of the preserve’s most popular routes: Gateway Loop. Beyond this 1.6-mile segment, the crowds begin to thin out where Bell Pass Trail veers off and heads uphill. From this point, a relentless series of ups-and-downs through cholla and ocotillo tops out at Bell Pass.
Sonoran Desert beauty
In the shadow of 3,969-foot Thompson Peak, the breezy pass showcases views of Four Peaks, the Verde River, the town of Fountain Hills and an overview of the route snaking through a valley below. This mile-long descent ends at the Windgate Pass Trail where you’ll turn left and earn back all the lost elevation to reach another wide saddle with equally gorgeous vistas.  With the major climbing complete, head down the opposite side of the pass knowing that it’s mostly a downhill trudge.

From the trailhead, follow the main access path and Saguaro Trail 0.4 mile to the Gateway Loop junction. Head right and follow Gateway Loop 1.2 miles, connect with Bell Pass Trail and hike 2 miles to the scenic mountain pass. From here, continue 1.3 miles and veer left onto Windgate Pass Trail and climb 0.9 mile up to the pass. Next, descend 2.5 miles to the Gateway Loop junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9.6-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  1,720’ – 3,204’
Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Rd. Scottsdale, 85255.
City of Scottsdale:
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Summit of Schuerman Mountain
An old dandy standing tall above a hub of new trails in west Sedona, Schuerman Mountain Trail is the gold standard of the bunch. With the opening last year of the Scorpion-Skywalker- Pyramid loops, this moderate trek up an extinct volcanic mound pads it resume with birds-eye views of its newborn siblings and a chance to glimpse Sedona and Verde Valley landmarks from an easy-to-conquer mountain summit. The first section the trail follows an array of solar panels on the edge of Sedona Red Rock High School then passes a junction for the Scorpion trail before turning upward along a thin, cypress shaded path pecked from the mountain’s east slope.
A dusting of snow in December
On the way up, look for the dominate sandstone dome of Capitol Butte and the flat, pine-coated crown of Wilson Mountain.  At the 0.3-mile point, veer left at a signed junction for the vista spur and make the 0.3-mile hike up a boulder cluttered ridge that culminates at a promontory hovering above the distant profiles of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. On the near horizon, the isolated plateau of Airport Mesa hosts a continual stream of planes coming and going overhead. To the west, Mingus and Woodchute Mountains rise to over 7,000 feet at the edge of the Verde Valley. Once done gawking at the landscape, descend to the junction and jog left to continue 1.7 miles through high desert grasslands and pockets of juniper to where the route intersects the Lime Kiln Trail that connects Dead Horse Ranch and Red Rock State Parks. From this point, there’s no real option to make a day hike loop unless you’re happy to walk on roads or have parked a car at one of the parks. That’s why many hikers approach this trail as an out-an-back trek.
Capitol Butte on the horizon
LENGTH: 2.6 miles one-way (with summit spur)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4450’ – 4900’
Mingus and Woodchute Mountains
From the State Routes 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west (left) on 89A and turn left onto Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Continue 0.2-mile to the high school parking lot on the right. Park at the designated trailhead lot only.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest