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Monday, November 12, 2018


The Pyrite trail traverses several ridges & high passes.
One of the most striking features of Skyline Regional Park’s Pyrite Trail is its quiet atmosphere.  The fresh-cut route is one of the newest trails in the 8700-acre park located 2 miles north of Interstate 10 in Buckeye. 
Sierra Estrella Mountains on the far horizon.
The moderate-rated path begins 1.4 miles from the trailhead and can be harnessed into several loop hike options.  Exploring the park’s western edge, the trail spins off the heavily-travelled Granite Falls-Chuckwalla-Turnbuckle circuit and heads into a cloistered wilderness of sound-stifling mountain peaks and scoured washes.
Creosote bloom along the park trails.
View from a high pass on Pyrite Trail.
The muffled sounds of wind, wings and scampering critters dovetail nicely with the desert solitude.
Washes and mountains muffle noise.
Like a great actor in an even better play, the silence here is the character that anchors the storyline without disrupting the plot.  The “plot” of this adventure is how the trail mitigates a 700-foot climb to a climatic summit by way of deceptively intimidating switchbacks.
Milky quartz spills from fractured cliffs.
Just under a mile into the trail, a set of climb-calming zig-zags take on a ragged ridgeline of mineral-stained volcanic and metamorphic rocks.  Although the switchbacks look imposing from a distance, the climbing is only a moderate slog. 
The final set of switchbacks visible below a peak.
On the way up the ridge, chunks of milky quartz that somestimes occurs with pyrite-- an iron sulfide mineral commonly known as "fools gold"--cascade down the escarpments settling in shiny heaps at the bases of barrel cacti and cholla. As the trail gains elevation, views to the south feature the peaks of the Sierra Estrella Mountains and the sprawling Gila River drainage basin. After roughly a quarter-mile, the trail comes to a pass where the foothills and valleys of the southern White Tank Mountains roll out to the north. Ahead, another set of switchbacks creep up a steeper ridge with several sheer drop offs and scenic vista points. 
Chuckwalla Trail return route visible in the valley below.
Pyrite Trail ascends the ridgeline in the center of photo.
The slightly more vertical and precipitous segment culminates at an airy gap overlooking the park’s trail-rich midsection (those squiggly lines below are the return routes), green farmlands to the southwest and a glimpse of the remainder of the trail as is snakes up a bluff on a scary-looking edge to the trail’s highpoint.  Again, it’s not as bad as it looks.
Switchbacks appear more difficult than they are.
Desert lavender grows in washes along the trail.
At the top, the optional 0.6-mile roundtrip Pyrite Summit spur trail wanders out onto a queasy lookout point for rewarding 360-degree vistas.  From the highpoint, the trail then makes a 0.4-mile descent to connect with the Chuckwalla Trail where heavier foot traffic and swooping bikes mark the end of the nature-insulated hush. For a 6.7-mile roundtrip hike, go right at the junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead or use the park maps to build a longer trek.
Trailhead in distance seen from Pyrite Trail.
LENGTH: 6.7-mile loop (as described here)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1500 – 2200 feet
Skyline Regional Park, 2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye.
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit 117 and go 2 miles north to the park. Roads are paved.
Pyrite Trail spins off busier park trails.
There are restrooms, campsites and picnic areas at the trailhead. No day use fees. Camping is by reservation only.
HOURS: Trails open daily from sunrise to sunset. Gates close at 10 p.m.

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