2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  EXPLORING NEW TRAILS @ McDOWELL MTN. PARK

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26

 
"Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness;
it is generally the by-product of other activities."
~-Aldous Huxley
 
 
Yesterday I had a hike with a little bit of running that made me very happy. It exceeded my expectations. The terrain was hillier and rougher than I expected (or really should be doing with bad knees) but the trails were new to me -- I love to explore new trails -- and the scenery was much more interesting than I thought it would be.


Jim and Cody on the Dixie Mine Trail, heading toward the McDowell Mountains

It was a splendid way to share a late December afternoon with Jim, Cody, and dozens of other people -- and their dogs -- who wanted to enjoy the warm Phoenix-area sunshine. I was surprised so many folks were out walking, running, and cycling on the trails.

It was Christmas Day, after all. Obviously, not everyone was at Grandma's house!

LET'S GO CHECK OUT DIXIE MINE

Below is the close-up of the southwestern corner of McDowell Mountain Park again. It shows several trails that have been built in the last year or two inside the park (right side of map) and in the adjacent McDowell Sonoran Preserve (left side).

The city of Scottsdale, which has already preserved half of its proposed 36,000+ acres of open space, intends to eventually have a network of 150 miles of trails in that area. Or so I read in the 2010 Arizona/New Mexico Travel & Recreation Directory we picked up somewhere (p. 30). You can see a .pdf map of existing trails on the Scottsdale city site for the preserve.

One hundred fifty miles!!! If I lived in the area I'd be drooling about the possibilities!


View west on Windmill Trail to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Meanwhile, back in McDowell Mountain Regional Park . . . Jim has ventured further into this corner of park than I have. In January he ran out-and-back from the Pemberton loop (PB on the map) on the Dixie Mine Trail (DX) but he didn't see the mine from that direction. See the symbol for the mine on the park boundary above? He also couldn't remember if the trail was smooth or rocky.

I've never been on the Dixie Mine Trail or any of the other new trails in that area. I wanted to explore some of them but just getting to and from that area of the park on the Pemberton Trail from our campground is over an eight-mile run or walk.


Intersection of Dixie Mine Trail with Pemberton Trail; McDowell Mountains in background

Since my mileage isn't very high now, I knew I wouldn't be able to hike much on the new trails by approaching them from that direction.

The most practical way for me to reach that corner of the park is from the city of Fountain Hills, which adjoins the park to the south. See Golden Eagle Blvd. on the map above? There is a paved 6/10ths-mile access path to the Dixie Mine Trail from that direction. That's one reason so many people were using the trails on Christmas Day: the easy access from town.

Fountain Hills is named for its rolling hills and a mesmerizing fountain that is reportedly the world's tallest. I love to see it from various spots in McDowell Mountain Park (such as the next-to-last photo in the last entry), as well as close-up in the center of a pretty lake and park in town. It is turned on at the top of each hour for about fifteen minutes and is lit after dark. It's a magnet for both residents and visitors.


Fountain Hills' namesake fountain, which is visible for many miles

Fountain Hills is one of those classy communities that probably has all kinds of building restrictions to maintain its distinctive look and property values. Even the municipal buildings and stores are quite attractive. I don't know where all the money came from to build so many nice houses. We haven't seen as many for-sale signs in Fountain Hills as in Mesa, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and other Phoenix suburbs. I'd guess it's more stable than the general metro area, which has taken a major hit during the recession. That makes sense; wealthier folks tend to have more immunity to economic downturns than folks who are in lower income brackets.


A little teaser fountain at one entrance to the city (Shea Blvd.)

I thought I'd seen some beautiful homes driving along Palisades, Fountain Hills, and Saguaro Boulevards through Fountain Hills. The drive to and along Golden Eagle Blvd. to get to the Dixie Mine trailhead is even more glamorous, reminding me of some areas in southern California. I'd like to admire the houses and yards by foot or bike someday so I could see more architectural/landscape details. I got these shots from our moving truck (and the two photos above, for that matter):

Looking east from Golden Eagle Blvd. toward the Four Peaks (above)
and west toward the McDowell Range (below)

About twenty parking spaces for the Dixie Mine access trail are available just before you reach a gated community called Eagles Nest. There were a few spaces open when we arrived but it was full by early afternoon. Water fountains and nicer-than-average public restrooms are available.

We walked into the gated community along a perfectly-landscaped sidewalk and side street for 6/10ths of a mile to the Dixie Mine trailhead. Fancy stone signs and eagles' feather designs in the pavement show visitors the way so they don't stray into the neighborhood.

It was quite a contrast to the rough-and-tumble Dixie Mine Trail!

Entrance gate to Eagles Nest on left, above; trail access is on the sidewalk.

There's a nice view of Fountain Hills and the Four Peaks from about where Jim and Cody are walking:

Visitors are supposed to fill out a form and pay $2 to enter McDowell Mountain Park at this trailhead (it's $6 at the main park gate). We didn't have to pay since the park entrance fee is included in our camping fee.

INTERESTING TERRAIN

The McDowell Mountains look much different up close in their foothills than from the interior of the park. Even at mid-day, the low winter sun colors the rocks a reddish color from this approach; they're just shades of gray in my photos from other perspectives.

This corner of the park was untouched by the large fire several years ago that affected the interior. It's relatively lush and colorful in some places:

Can you see in the photo above how the trail in the foreground is sort of green, while it's a rust color ahead of Jim? I noticed that in several places.

There are many small white, pink, and orange quartzite rocks along the trails in the park but this is the only area where I've seen large, colorful outcroppings like the one below:

Since I wasn't trying to go fast, I really enjoyed all the twists and turns, ups and downs, and a different perspective of Fountain Hills and the mountains surrounding the park.

 

 

We came to Dixie Mine in 2 miles but didn't take the side trail up to it. It sits right on the park boundary with the preserve. We've seen lots of very cool abandoned mines in the Silverton and Leadville, CO areas and this one didn't look nearly as interesting, at least from the trail below it.

After the mine we turned right, continuing to follow Dixie Mine Trail up a long ridge. A little less than a mile later, on the descent (below),

we turned left on the Coachwhip Trail (labeled CO on the map) and headed back toward the park boundary:

We climbed another ridge (below)

to the intersection with the Windmill Trail (WM). There is a bench here and expansive views in all directions. With our various stops to take photos and give Cody water, it took us almost 90 minutes to hike 4 miles.


Jim and Cody relax by a bench in the shade at the intersection of Coachwhip and Windmill.

We missed seeing the fountain in Fountain Hills at close range on the Gold Mine Trail both outbound and on the return because of our timing and the hills between it and us, but we could see it from this ridgeline:

From that point Jim continued on alone to our camper for another 6.77 miles on a new section of Coachwhip (CO), then Pemberton (PB), Bluff (BF), and two connector trails to the north campground. He ran most of that section, for a total of 11 miles.

Cody and I turned around at the Windmill Trail intersection and returned the way we'd come.

I ran some of the smoother uphills on the way back but spent about ten minutes climbing up into some boulders I'd admired on the way out:

 

Despite some running, it took me the same amount of time to get back to the truck (almost three hours to go 8 miles). I saw a lot more cyclists and hikers on the way back than we saw outbound. Jim "ran into" quite a few bikes when he was running by himself, too.

I thoroughly enjoyed hiking these trails and look forward to exploring more of them in the future. They are a real treasure for locals, who have quite a variety of desert and mountain trails from which to choose in the metro Phoenix area. And this is just the northeast side of the valley!

Next entry: our final days at McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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