Hilly Desert Loop
Overview: The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve is a new city park being developed in north Phoenix near I-17 and north of Pinnacle Peak Road. This hike is the first developed trail in the park and was completed in the spring of 2010. There is more information about the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve plans at their website. Phoenix has been buying land from the Arizona Land Trust and private owners in pieces for a number of years to add to the preserve which will eventually cover a fairly large though not contiguous area. The plan as I understand it is to have multiple trails and trailheads, ramadas, bathrooms, etc. As of the moment, June 2010, there is just the one trailhead and one trail. The posted hours show sunrise to sunset.
This hike is in the Union Hills and is mostly hidden from the nearby developments. The terrain is hilly with typical plants for this area - paloverde, saguaro, cholla, creosote bush and brittlebush. It is best hiked in the late fall, winter and early spring. The mileage given includes both spurs to the hilltops; be sure to adjust your mileages if you skip one or both of them.
Hike: Begin at the trailhead at the north end of the parking by a sign announcing that this is the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve on the Hawk's Nest Trail. In .1 miles bear right through a wash. At .4 miles (N33 44.694 W112 05.580) you come to a junction with the Dixie Mountain Loop trail. You can go in either direction, but my description is in a counterclockwise direction so as to do the longest climb early in the hike. Turn right at this junction. At 1.3 miles (N33 45.131 W112 05.128) you reach a spur trail on the left to the top of the highest hill on this hike. It is .5 miles round trip and 235' elevation gain to the peak and back with numerous switchbacks. Turn left to climb the peak.
This peak has two USGS benchmark discs on it dated 1986 and marked "Dixie", which I assume is the official name of the mountain, thus the name of the trail. The 1981 Union Hills 7.5 min topo shows the elevation as 2,383'. There is a 360 degree view of the surrounding area from here including the area to be encompassed by the preserve and the various other hills and mountains in the Phoenix area. For those into geocaching there is a cache near the top as well which I found 3 years prior by bushwacking up the mountain. Return to the loop the way you came.
Upon returning to the Dixie Mountain Loop trail turn left and begin a downhill section of the loop. At 3.1 miles (N33 45.507 W112 05.589) there is a junction with a community access trail. At 3.5 miles (N33 45.203 W112 05.534) you reach the second spur which leads to the top of a hill overlooking a granite mine. Turn right to climb to this point. It is .7 miles round trip and 300' of elevation gain. I could not find a USGS disc on the peak, but the Union Hills topo shows an elevation of 2,146'. There is an obvious geocache on this summit. Return to the loop the way you came.
Upon returning to the loop trail turn right. You'll pass through a cholla forest and will hike along a wash before coming back out to a developed area. At 4.8 miles (N33 45.021 W112 05.970) there will be a junction with a community access trail. Keep left here. At 4.9 miles (N33 44.931 W112 05.968) there will be another junction with a community access trail which is basically straight ahead. Bear left and uphill here to stay on the loop. It is uphill from here to the junction at 5.4 miles with the trail leading back to the trailhead. Turn right at this junction to return to the trailhead and your car.
I've hiked this several times and find it enjoyable when the temperatures are moderate. In a year with a wet winter the wildflowers are abundant. I expect overtime more trails and connectors will be built in this preserve but for now this is it!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.