Guided treks lure outdoor enthusiasts to trails - East Valley Tribune: Arizona Getaway

Guided treks lure outdoor enthusiasts to trails

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Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 11:07 am

As fall arrives, the picturesque desert landscape in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve becomes an urban refuge for Valley hikers. And each hiking season, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and a few other conservation groups offer free guided treks through the mountain preserves.

But the educational excursions provide more than just exercise.

Experienced guides lead hikers to some of the preserve’s unique spots and conduct trailside discussions on everything from the geology of the mountains to the history of old mines.

“People come out and go out on a guided hike, then if they’re comfortable, they can come back on their own,” said Carla, her legal name, executive director of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. “But our hike leaders share so much information, folks come back on our hikes over and over again, too.”

In the last few years, the program has become extremely popular, Carla said. This fall, the conservancy is offering 19 free guided hikes. For a complete list, visit or call (480) 998-7971.

A Geology hike

While hiking through the rocky terrain, guides explain the geology of how the McDowells and surrounding mountains were formed. The 5.7-mile trek on Amphitheater Trail leads to an interesting rock formation formed 2 billion years ago, as well as places where evidence of volcanic activity can be seen. “Arizona has extremely unique geology,” trail guide Dan Gruber said. “And a lot of these unique features are visible in the preserve.”

WHEN: 8 a.m. Oct. 21

WHERE: Meet at the end of Alma School Road north of Dynamite Road

INFO: Three-hour hike, mild incline

B Wildlife hike

Besides being home to saguaros and pristine desert, the preserve is also considered the most significant wildlife habitat in the Valley outside of the Tonto National Forest, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Culture Fest, a local naturalist will teach hikers about some of the preserve’s inhabitants, including mountain lions and coyotes, on a combination lecture hike at the Lost Dog Wash Amphitheater. After the lectures, hikers will be guided through the scenic 2.8-mile Ringtail Loop trail.

“You’ll get the entertainment of a naturalist first,” said Carla, her legal name. “And then get to go out and experience the actual land that’s being talked about.”

WHEN: 1 p.m. Nov. 4

INFO: Two hours, mild incline

Trailhead RESERVATIONS: Required. (480) 998-7971 or

124th St. C Ranching hike

Remnants of Scottsdale’s western history can be experienced at the site of a oncesuccessful cattle ranch in the preserve. Brown’s Ranch was closed decades ago, but hikers can still visit and see the working areas on a four-mile round-trip hike. “The old house foundation is there and the stock tanks are there,” Carla said. “It’s just a very interesting historic area.”

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. Oct. 8

WHERE: Meet at the end of Alma School Road north of Dynamite Road

INFO: Two hours, mild incline

D Mining hike

Before becoming one of the largest urban preserves, the McDowell Mountains were used by early settlers for mining. Hikers can learn more about the history of the Dixie Mine on a 5.5-mile round trip to the former mine site. “No mines in the McDowells actually panned out very well,” Carla said. “But this one has been closed over professionally and is now used as a bat habitat that Arizona Game and Fish monitors.”

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Nov. 12

WHERE: Meet at the end of 128th Street north of Via Linda

INFO: Four hours, slight elevation gains but lots of ups and downs

E Human McDowells hike

From cavemen to American Indians, people have called the McDowell Mountains home for thousands of years. Today, evidence of human inhabitation can be seen through different historic areas of the preserve. Through a three-mile trek along the Verde River, hikers will be taken to several historic and prehistoric sites including a Hohokam ball court and ancient trash mound. “We’ll actually discuss the history of the various groups of people who lived on that land from 6000 B.C. to present,” said hike leader Leonard Marcisz.

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Dec. 16

INFO: Three hours, mild incline only

RESERVATIONS: Required. (480) 998-7971 or" class="content-link" target= "908">

Hiking tips

Some of the trails are rocky and uneven, and hikers should wear sturdy, covered shoes or boots.

Hikers should bring adequate water and hats. Sunscreen and snacks are suggested.

Participants should arrive at meeting place about 15 minutes before departure time.

Some hikes require reservations. For more information or for detailed directions to the meeting places, visit

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