At the base of Tom's Thumb one recent Tuesday morning, nature was at work.
An orange butterfly set down on a twig. A lizard pressed its belly onto a boulder as it sunned in the heat. And a large brown hawk circled overhead, casting its shadow onto the sheer rock of this landmark in the McDowell Mountains.
All of that is tucked away to be enjoyed among the expansive views of the mountains. It is the reward for hikers willing to huff and puff up the 1,300-foot rise in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on the newly built Tom's Thumb Trail.
Tom's Thumb Trail is one of three new paths - along with Lookout Trail and East End Trail - to open in the preserve. The three trails offer the first official access into the northern part of the McDowell Mountains.
"We are basically providing access into the preserve for the people who have paid for it," said Scott Hamilton, the trails planner in the Scottsdale preservation department. "The citizens have taxed themselves to make this happen."
Scottsdale's preservation department, a private trail construction company hired by the city, and volunteers with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy put in thousands of hours over six months to blaze new routes in the preserve. They are among the many signs of progress as the city works to complete the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
The preserve is the centerpiece of a longstanding effort to provide recreation for residents and visitors while protecting scenic views and wildlife in the McDowell Mountains. When complete, it is expected to maintain about one-third of Scottsdale's land as natural open space.
Matt Woodson is with Okanogan Trail Construction, a company hired to help design and build Tom's Thumb Trail.
The route was "booming with popularity" even before Woodson's crew completed the finishing touches, he said.
"To people who really want a work out, this trail will provide it," Woodson said.
The trail has been designed to be moderately difficult, and the hike is best suited for the physically fit. The 4.25-mile trail is steep in the beginning if hikers start along the north end.
"We could have made the trail two times as long to make it easy," Woodson said. "But this preserves the integrity of the area. It protects the wildlife and keeps it from being overrun."
The trail is named after a prominent granite bump in the mountains that is popular with rock climbers and connects to the Lookout and East End trails.
On the way to Tom's Thumb, hikers can catch views of the Fountain Hills fountain along with other Valley mountaintops. After reaching Tom's Thumb, hikers can turn around or continue along the trail, which connects to the south side of the mountains.
Despite the growing popularity, Woodson said, Tom's Thumb trail is still relatively quiet.
"You can have a good personal experience to reflect up here," Woodson said.
The city, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission and McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, will host a grand opening to the Gateway of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on Saturday, May 2
When: Open house from 7 to 9 a.m. The formal dedication begins at 8 a.m.
What: The open house will include a continental breakfast, demonstrations, educational information, and wildlife exhibits. Stewards will lead short hikes and equestrian and bicycle rides (bring your own horse or bicycle).
Where: The Gateway is at 18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway, east of Thompson Peak Parkway between Bell Road and Union Hills Drive.
Access to Tom's Thumb Trail
• The southern end of Tom's Thumb Trail is accessible by taking the Gateway Loop Trail (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway) to the Windgate Pass Trail to the Tom's Thumb Trail.
• The northern end of Tom's Thumb Trail can be accessed by taking 128th Street south from Dynamite/Rio Verde Drive. Travel roughly 3.25 miles and turn left at the "T" intersection. There should be directional signs showing the route at this point. Take the first right and follow it to the start of the trail.
The temporary vehicle access to the northern end of the trail is rough and unmaintained, especially after it rains.
There is a temporary parking lot. A future permanent parking lot known as the North McDowell Access Area is planned to open in 2011.
• For detailed maps of Tom's Thumb Trail and more information on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, visit their website