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". . . Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multi-use trails,
and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges . . . "
 - Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Dept. brochure re: McDowell Mountain Regional Park
After the weather started warming up to normal January temperatures in the 60s two weeks ago in the Phoenix area, we were very happy campers. Literally. So was Cody.

Another one of Cody's favorite games: the Rope Tug. He's strong enough to nearly pull us over.

One of the pleasures of attending any of the ultras in the Phoenix area (Across the Years, Javelina Jundred, Pemberton 50K, Crown King Scramble, etc.) is spending time at the spacious, scenic campground at McDowell Mountain Regional Park east of the metro area. Our plan is to remain here until January 14, when we will travel to the Ghost Town race in New Mexico.

View of McDowell Mountains from Jim's computer table

Although we weren't able to score our favorite campsite the first couple of days at McDowell, we moved into it shortly after it was vacated. It's high on a hill, with lots of privacy and great views of the mountains surrounding the park.

Oh, and the nearest trailhead is about 75 feet from our door:

View from my desk: nearby entrance to the trail system, sun setting on the Four Peaks Wilderness

This will do just fine for our stay! Too bad we can't be here longer this time.

I mentioned in the December, 2008 entries that the Phoenix area received an average of about four inches of rain that month, nearly four times normal. The Sonoran Desert really came alive! Especially noticeable at Estrella and McDowell Parks is the bright green grass covering the desert floor in many more places now than just under shady trees and shrubs.

Very green scene from the Wagner Trail

I've joked to Jim that if it rains any more, park personnel are gonna have to start mowing the desert!


I mentioned in the last entry that we've been gradually increasing our miles on the trails by foot and on Jim's trail bike. We regretted not having that bike with us last year. The trails at McDowell are pretty bike friendly, with lots of smooth miles. There are also some that are too rocky (like the Scenic Trail) or sandy (like Stoneman Wash) for our bike skills but we've run and hiked on them. Between the two of us, we've now covered almost every bit of the 50+ miles of public trail in this park, mostly by foot.

Here's a map of the trail system:

You can see the trail names and distances in detail in this pdf. link on the park's website: http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/mcdowell/pdf/2008%20Maps/mcdowell_11x17_2d.pdf

Last year I talked about most of the trails in this journal. The first link describes the Scenic, Bluff, Tonto Tank, and Granite Trails. The second covers the 15.4-mile Pemberton Trail, the large "circle" of trails in the photo above. Another entry highlights scenes from the North Trail.

In addition to those photos, there are many more at our Picasa site (see the January, 2008 McDowell Park album).

In this album I'll showcase photos from three other trails I didn't run or hike last year (Hilltop, Nursery Tank, and Lousley Hills). All are short in length but long on views. I'll also show photos from the Wagner Trail, which connects our campground to some of the other trails in the park.


This is one of the easiest, flattest trails in the park to walk, run, or cycle. It stretches just over one mile. I used it a couple times when we first arrived to practice riding our bike off-road. There are some dips, sharp curves, little steep hills, and sandy washes to cross, but it's still a novice trail compared to some out here -- and most of the time it's not heavily traveled.

A large ironwood tree graces the Wagner Trail

I already showed one photo of this trail above (with the bright green grass). Here are a couple more. Since it's practically in our campsite's back yard, it's a convenient place for us to view the rising moon late in the afternoon. It's barely visible in the next photo, center top:

Trails don't get any easier than this.


I didn't even notice this trailhead at the main staging area until I saw some kids running up and down the trail one day. It's a short, fairly steep half-mile out and back (one mile roundtrip) for foot traffic only. The 360-degree views are worth the climb.







Looking back down on the ramada and parking area at the Trailhead Staging Area.
This is the start/finish for the Javelina Jundred and Pemberton 50K races.


The Lousley Hills stretch for several miles in the northeast part of McDowell Mountain Park. There are at least three trails that wander through the hills. The Hilltoop Trail, above, is at the southern end I've shown photos this year and last from the nearby Scenic Trail, which forms a loop through the center of the hills.

One afternoon I decided to check out the hiking-only Lousley Hill Trail. It is a 1.2-mile loop that courses through a flat, scenic wash (below) before climbing rather steeply to the top of the northernmost hill in the Lousley formation.


Parts of the trail are rocky, others are more smooth and runnable.

The views from the trail are quite scenic, especially as the late afternoon sun colors the Four Peaks Wilderness and Mazatal Mountains to the north and east. The next photo shows the town of Rio Verde in the valley as the sun casts shadows on the southern side of the Lousley Hill Trail.

You can also see the wide Verde River Valley full of fields and orchards to the east.

The late afternoon sun casts beautiful shadows on the grasses and cacti along the trail:


Cody and I sat near the top of the hill for several minutes to wait as the sun sank lower and lower behind the McDowell Mountains to the west. The Mazatzal Mountains to the east, shown below, often turn a bright reddish-orange in the late afternoon. We also get good views of those mountains from our campsite but you can't see the town of Rio Verde, also shown below, unless you're higher up in the Lousley Hills or the NE part of the Pemberton Trail.

The colors of the sky and mountains became more muted as the sun set and the full moon rose a few minutes before dark:


I've got more photos in that pretty pastel series that I'll show in a later entry with other sunset photos and a full moon hike we did.


This trail is located very close to the Lousley Hills Trail. It is the only barrier-free trail at McDowell Park. Although it isn't paved it is smooth enough for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers -- and klutzy runners like me!

A broad variety of plants lines the 6/10ths mile out-and-back trail (1.2 miles rountrip) that ends in a wildlife watering hole ("tank"). There are several benches along this short trail and at least one shaded kiosk for picnics.



There are several helpful information placards along the trail

Some of the mountains in the Mazatzal Range/Four Peaks Wilderness are in the hazy background:
L-R, Saddle, Granite, Boulder, Pine, Brown's. These are the mountains symbolized on the AZ license tags.

Saguaro cacti stand sentinel in the desert.  Four Peaks Wilderness and rising full moon in background.

If you live in the Phoenix area or you're visiting McDowell Mountain Park from elsewhere, take some time to explore the shorter trails as well as the longer ones. They are all jewels. I've talked to some locals who've run only the trails that are in the ultras held in the park. I think they're missing the unique characteristics of these other trails.

After this trip I've run, walked, or cycled on everything at McDowell but the Gold Mine Trail and the system of trails at the Competitive Track. Jim's been on most of those trails but he hasn't seen the ones I wrote about here. We'll each have something new to explore next time!

Next entry: interesting critter encounters at McDowell

Happy trails,

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

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil