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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Brown's Mountain


Brown's Mountain seen from the Brown's MtnTrail

The can’t-ignore centerpiece of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a magnet for hikers.  When viewed from the miles of trails that weave around its base, the prominent mound might appear slightly intimidating, but if you’re like most trekkers, sooner or later you’ll climb it.

Switchbacks on the Brown's Mountain Trail

Whether you use a direct approach or long loop to access the preserve’s loftiest perch, the effort rewards with outstanding views and if you’re lucky, a peek at an aerial bird show.

Ravens soar around Brown's Mountain

The distinctive flat-topped mountain with colorfully-layered flanks sits in the preserve’s north sector among acres of yucca, cacti and desert trees.  Hikers aren’t the only ones that are attracted to this place.  Ravens have claimed the craggy cliffs below the mountain’s summit as prime nesting territory.

Ocotillo and cholla on the summit spur trail

The large, croaking and glossy jet-black birds are easy to hear and see against ocher cliffs and blue skies along the hike up the mountain.

A rocky section on the summit spur trail

While common ravens sometimes build nests in trees, they tend to favor jagged rock walls like those on Brown’s Mountain.  February through May is the best time to observe the birds’ dramatic mating rituals that include aerial dances with males and females swooping, diving and roosting to preen before building platform nests in stony cracks. 
Ravens mate for life and share parenting chores.  Females incubate eggs for 3 weeks while males provide care and feeding.  Chicks take flight about five weeks after hatching.

View of Pinncle Peak & Cone Mtn from summit

The most direct route to view the ravens in action and get to the summit begins at the Brown’s Ranch trailhead with an easy 0.6-mile walk on Brown’s Ranch Road.  Take a left onto the Brown’s Mountain Trail, and follow the moderate route as it ascends 0.7-mile along the mountain’s geologically-complex flanks where the ravens play around the rugged stone jetties that protrude from the mountain’s northeast slopes.  Once through a bare-rock chute, the route meets a saddle with a scenic overlook where the summit spur heads up the hill’s east face. 

The rock chute on Brown's Mountain Trail

The 0.2-mile summit spur ascends in tight, steep switchbacks with a short segment of blocky rock scrambling near the top.  All but the shortest hikers can get through this jumble without the need for a handhold.  The small, rocky summit offers unobscured, 360-degree views of the Valley, the preserve layout and distant mountain peaks. 

Hikers on the scenic overlook below Brown's Mtn

Several artifacts including concrete slabs inscribed with names from 1958 and a chopped wood power line pole add elements of history to the isolated peak that stands 550 feet above the desert floor.  From this high platform, the air antics of ravens take center stage. 
The saddle below Brown's Mountain

Sometimes swooping closely overhead or croaking from nearby outcroppings, they serve as loud, convincing reminders to stay on trails and not disturb nesting habitats and fragile terrain. 
Nearing the saddle below Brown's Mountain

View from the summit of Brown's Mountain

While on top, review the preserve map to scope out your return route or simply retrace your steps for a second look at the cliff-side raven drama.

LENGTH:  3 miles round trip to the summit and back

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION:  2,703 – 3,253 feet


Brown's Ranch Trailhead: 30301 N. Alma School Pkwy., Scottsdale.

From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess exit 36. Go 6.5 miles north on Pima to Dynamite, turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Alma School.  Turn left and go 1 mile to the trailhead. There are restrooms, water and maps at the trailhead.  The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily. No fees.



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