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Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP, AZ

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Guide 121 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 3.9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,041 feet
Elevation Gain 280 feet
Accumulated Gain 550 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.65
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13  2019-08-11 Naferg323
8  2019-03-20
Gooseneck Trail - MSPC
7  2019-03-17 Crzy4AZ
10  2019-03-16
Granite Trail - MMRP
16  2019-02-15
Marcus-Boulder-Coachwhip-Windmill-EE-TT - MSP
24  2019-02-12
Pemberton Trail - MMRP
13  2019-02-08
Wash Day plus Marcus Landslide - MMRP/MSP
13  2019-01-25
Lost Wall Loop Plus
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Author Crzy4AZ
author avatar Guides 31
Routes 96
Photos 2,588
Trips 589 map ( 2,119 miles )
Age 46 Female Gender
Location Scottsdale, AZ
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr
Seasons   Early Autumn
Sun  6:15am - 6:24pm
Official Route
16 Alternative
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Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
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Ice age rock avalanche
by Crzy4AZ

500,000 years ago around the peak known as East End, highest in the McDowell Mountains, a rock avalanche of granite, vegetation, and soil flowed to the present day area known as the Marcus Landslide. The 5.5 million cubic meters of debris is 1650 feet wide and 4000 feet long and rests 100 feet above the valley floor.1 The estimated weight of the landslide was 25.8 billion pounds and likely reached speeds of 16 to 44 miles per hour releasing energy equivalent to one atomic bomb (46 Tera-Joules).

The area was first described and recognized in 2002 by Dr. John Douglass and Dr. Ronald Dorn of Arizona State University and the Arizona Geological Society. It is named in honor of former ASU Professor of Geography Melvin Marcus, a world-renowned physical geographer and student favorite. Professor Marcus died in 1997 while leading a class field trip in the Rocky Mountains.2

Dating of the landslide (more accurately known as a small sturzstrom) was made through estimations of the desert varnish (black manganese) exposure on the boulders. Central Arizona's climate at the time of the Marcus Landslide was much different than today with cooler and wetter conditions at the end of the last ice age. The trigger for the event was likely a heavy rain, bolt of lightning, or earthquake weakening the granitic rock along a joint.

In the last 500,000 years, streams have eroded away clay while leaving the granite boulders standing in their original position. This erosion from underneath creates grottos and caverns popular with hikers and rock climbers. Experts believe some of the native plants and animals of the time are buried underneath the landslide including mammoths, giant sloths, saber-tooth cats, camels, and horses.

The trail begins at the newly constructed Tom's Thumb Trailhead and is well marked. Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and equestrians will find this wide and smooth pebble trail appealing. Your attention is torn between eye-catching boulder formations above and cholla "forests" along trail's edge. In the distance lies a horizon of jagged mountain ranges including the Superstition and the Mazatzals. You won't find many saguaros which do not grow well on north-facing slopes. If your destination is one of the dozen or so rock climbing sites in the area, follow the newly marked side trails (0.3 mile mark Sven slab access route, 0.5 mile mark Rock Knob trail).

There is very little elevation change on the first part of the hike, and only when you reach the actual landslide (1.5 miles in) do you climb straight up for 125 feet to see the rock avalanche landmarks: the breakaway scar, the fall zone, the slide mass edges. There are no signs up right now, but I expect by the time the trail opens around the end of October that historical and geological interpretive signs will be up. Looking at the aerial views of the landslide helped me get oriented before the hike. After looping around the landslide, return back along the same 1.5 mile trail back to the trailhead. Incredible views all around you with no houses in sight and much less congestion than south side McDowell trails. The boulders start to look like frozen people or animals after staring at them for a while.

Other loop linking options with Marcus Landslide:
(1) Marcus Landslide 0.3 miles to Feldspar Trail then 0.75 miles to Tom's Thumb Trail and top of ridgeline. Up there you will find branch points for East End Trail, Look Out Trail, and Windgate Trail that could be connected in a monster hike with car shuttle at the Gateway Access trailhead.
(2) Marcus Landslide 0.4 mile to Rock Knob trail then 0.5 miles to McDowell Mountain Regional Park (County) links to Pemberton Trail and the rest of the areas trails. Lots of small and large loops are possible.
(3) Marcus Landslide 1.5 miles to landslide edge to connect with Pemberton Trail to County trail system.

1. Brian Gootee, AZ Geological Society,
2. Virtual Tour Marcus Landslide, AZ Geographic Alliance,

Additional Reading
PDF - A large landslide on the urban fringe of metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2012-09-08 Crzy4AZ
  • MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 1
    area related
    MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 1
  • MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 2
    area related
    MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 2
  • MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 3
    area related
    MSP Rock Climbing Guide - Page 3
  • MSP - Approved Climbing Areas 2011
    area related
    MSP - Approved Climbing Areas 2011
  • overview map
    area related
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.

Most recent of 45 deeper Triplog Reviews
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Warm day so I opted for a bit easier hike to enjoy my Sunday. I had been to Tom's Thumb Trailhead numerous times but never did the Marcus Landslide Trail, so that is what I did. At a little over 4 miles and not much elevation, it was not too bad. I got to actually almost break out into a sprint in some sections. :sweat:
There were awesome looking rock formations the whole way as well as signs for your education of the landslide. This is a good trail for families to go on. I'm sure it gets busy in the Winter; I didn't see more than 2 people today. Most hikers go to The Thumb instead. By the time I finished, the temp was 91 degrees and 61 dew point. Little muggy. Fun trail, but this isn't the only place in the park for cool rocks! :)
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Did Tom's Thumb Trail up to the base of the thumb, then back to the car, which is a nice 4.4 miles round trip, but I needed to complete 6.2 miles (10K), so I tacked on a little bit of Feldspar Trail, the equestrian trail, and Marcus Landslide Trail. I parked at 6:45am just as the lightning and rain were ending. There were no other cars in the parking lot!! I had the area all to myself for about an hour. It was so glorious with the fresh rain, chirping birds, moving clouds. I even saw a Desert Grassland Whiptail (Aspidoscelis uniparens) trying to warm up in the middle of the trail. Typically they are wicked fast, but this little one was cold and slow enough that I was able to catch it. The trail was eroded and washed out in a lot of the switchbacks section. Volunteers put in sooo much hard work to maintain the trail for our enjoyment and use. Don't forget to thank them when you see them!
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Tom's Thumb-Marcus Landslide area loop
Linda and Marlee joined me for a nearly 11 mile loop in the McDowells.

Starting at Tom's Thumb Trailhead, we hiked up Tom's Thumb Trail, went down East End, continued east one Windmill and then Coachwhip, turned left onto Pemberton, and left again on Boulder. When we hit the Marcus Landslide Trail, we turned left to do the interpretive loop before heading back to the trailhead.

We saw a number of other trail users on Tom's Thumb and Marcus Landslide, but not many on the other trails.

No snakes today, but we did see a number of bunnies. We also saw a deer as we were starting out.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Hog Heaven / Lost Wall Loop
For Friday's hike, Kay and I hiked a combination of the Hog Heaven Loop and the Lost Wall Loop.

We started off by hiking Marcus Landslide and then turned right onto Feldspar. Just off the trail and to the left are some low angle (third class) slabs which lead to the top of Sven Tower I. We summited there and then continued on the climber's access trail leading past Sven Towers II and III. This soon joined the standard route for the Hog Heaven Loop. We hiked past Hog Heaven and the Thumbnail Pinnacle and the continued onto the East End (summit) where we also went to that summit.

Continuing on, we descended the climber's access trail to Tom's Thumb Trail. From there, we hiked over to (and then on) the oft used climber's access trail going to Tom's Thumb. We continued past Tom's Thumb and then down past Lost Wall, Half & Half Wall and the Fort McDowell climbing areas. This eventually led us back to Tom's Thumb Trail and then back to the parking lot.

The route is only about five miles, but it's (IMO) some quality hiking. I think this is my favorite route in the area.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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I led a group of seven on a hike starting from the Tom's Thumb Trailhead on Friday the 16th.

In addition to doing the Lost Wall Loop, we visited the Lookout and, after descending Tom's Thumb Trail, we turned off onto Feldspar. We hiked a short ways on Marcus Landslide and returned via the Caballo Trail.

The climber's access trail that forms part of the Lost Wall Loop was firmed up by the rain that we had several days earlier. This trail normally has some really loose sections, but this wasn't really a problem for our hike on Friday.

I don't hike the Lookout Trail very often, so we added it into the mix. After doing the ridge over to and past Tom's Thumb, the Lookout is kind of anticlimactic. It was cool to be able to look down at Windgate Pass though.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Hog Heaven Loop plus a walk in the park
On Friday, Jan 19, I led a group of seven (counting myself) on a hike of the Hog Heaven Loop in the McDowells. Starting at the Tom's Thumb Trailhead, we hiked a very short ways on Tom's Thumb Trail, turned left onto Mesquite Canyon, and then left again on Feldspar. We then turned onto the climber's access trail that goes through Mesquite Canyon. We followed this to and then past Hog Heaven and continued up to the Thumbnail Pinnacle. We continued on along the ridge leading to the East End (peak); several of us summitted there. We returned to the Tom's Thumb Trail via yet another climber's access trail.

When we got back to the parking area, after saying our goodbyes, I headed out on Marcus Landslide, turned left onto Boulder, left onto Pemberton, and left onto Rock Knob. I then hiked Marcus Landslide until I got to the side trail leading to the prominent mushroom boulders near the Sven Slab climbing area. The trail continues on - sort of. I ended up hiking past the Energizer / Hawk boulder that I used to climb in my younger days. I followed the Sven Slab climber's access trail back to Marcus Landslide, turned left onto Feldspar, and then left again onto Tom's Thumb where I hiked up a short ways in order to reach my distance goal for the day.

It was a great day - the highlight of the day was the Hog Heaven Loop. It's a really fun loop with awesome views along the way. Route finding went really well too - but, of course, I've done it a bunch of times.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Marcus Landslide Clover Loop
My Monday hike got cancelled so I texted Kathy to see if she was up to anything. Yep, "Karl has to run. We were going to go to the 128th street Toms Thumb Trailhead. He was going to run and I was going to do Toms Thumb-Windgate-Coachwhip-Marcus Landslide Loop. Then...drum roll...Tacos and Tequila!" Well she got me with the Tacos and Tequila. Altho I revised the loop since we had to meet Karl at the end and I didn't know if I could get 'er done in time.

After taking the dirt road 128th St from Dynamite to the TH, we met Scott from Tucson. It was definitely cool and I kept my vest on the whole time. We headed out to the Marcus Landslide Trail which I think is a pretty trail. You get to see cool big boulders and of course the landslide, Submarine Rocks, the fountain and in the distance the Superstitions and Four Peaks. It was an overcast day and there was also a haze above the river.

We hooked up with the Boulder Trail to take us over to the Pemberton Trail. We did encounter a few bike riders on these two trails but very few hikers. Next up was the Rock Knob Trail and it was a beauty. You go through a cholla forest and reach an old pay station. We enjoyed the views in this area all around. From there we hooked up with the Caballo Trail (.4 mile) which I had planned as an out and back but as it turned out, it takes you up to the Tom's Thumb TH so we took that route.

We took a quick restroom break and continued up the Tom's Thumb Trail looking for what my route called the East End Trail (not the one on the south side) that becomes Mesquite Canyon Trail but it is actually called Feldspar Trail. Of course there was much more traffic on Tom's Thumb Trail but once we turned off on to Feldspar, we were back on our own again. Feldspar was a pretty trail too with nice views to your right and ahead. We did encounter an REI class instructor as they would be having a class today. There are several climbing route access points from this trail. I always enjoy the Sven Slabs area. It just looks like it would be fun to climb up there.

We were about back at the TH when Karl called to ask where we were and when we looked toward the parking area we could see him. So it was good timing. Karl had left the lights on in his vehicle so Tonto gave it a jump and then we were off for "Tacos and Tequila" :D ! at Juan Jaime's. We sat out in the sun as we experienced very little of that this morning on our hike.

[ youtube video ]

Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Toms Thumb Marcus Landslide Loop
Linda, Linda, Susan, and Ben joined me for a 9.5 / 10.75 mile loop (with nearly 2200 feet of total ascent) starting from Tom's Thumb Trailhead. We hiked up Tom's Thumb Trail, down East End, turned left on Windmill, left on Pemberton, left on Boulder, and then right on Marcus Landslide. When we got to the intersection with Feldspar, Linda K joined me for a short scouting trip for my rappelling session on Saturday. The rest returned to the trailhead via Marcus Landslide.

Linda K and I continued up Feldspar and then turned left onto the climber's access trail which leads to the Morrell's Wall Parking Lot crags. My wife and I used to climb in this area way back when and I recalled that bees were occasionally a problem on the scramble down from the top. (There are a number of two or three bolt anchors at the top of "7 Up" and "Back To the Wall" now, but back then they didn't exist, so the descent was to scramble down.) For Saturday, my plan was for us to scramble to the top and rappel down. I was concerned that Africanized bees might be a problem for the scramble to the top. In any case, I scrambled up to where I remember seeing bees, but found none. (Yay!)

After satisfying myself that bees wouldn't bother us on Saturday, Linda and I returned to Feldspar, and then hiked a short way back down Tom's Thumb Trail to the parking lot.

The morning was cool and cloudy with some light rain that started midway through the hike. It rained just enough to bring out the desert smells that rain brings.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Sara, Linda, and I hike a little over five miles in the Tom's Thumb Area. Starting from Tom's Thumb Trailhead, we hiked Tom's Thumb Trail to the first climber's access trail on the right. We hiked this trail up to the ridge, past Tom's Thumb, and then back down to Tom's Thumb Trail. We then made our way down the climber's access trail which leads past Gardener's Wall which eventually led us back to Tom's Thumb Trail again. We then turned right on Feldspar, and right on Marcus Landslide where we stopped to look at a mushroom rock that's near where the old parking lot was for climbing at Sven Slab. I then showed Sara and Linda the climbs on the Hawk/Energizer Boulder. (We just looked; we didn't do them.) After that, we returned to the Marcus Landslide Trail, where we almost immediately turned left on the Caballo Trail which we took back to the parking area.

We saw a tarantula as we descended Tom's Thumb Trail. We saw five deer, one with a tracking collar, on the Caballo Trail.
Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP
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Heather and I hiked a ten mile loop starting from Tom's Thumb Trailhead. Starting on Tom's Thumb Trail, we took the first climber's access trail to the right. This trail led us to the ridge upon which Tom's Thumb is situated. We continued past Tom's Thumb to Tom's Thumb Trail, turned left and descended (mostly) to the intersection with the East End Trail. We took East End down to Windmill, the returned via Coachwhip, Pemberton, Boulder, and Marcus Landslide.

The climber's access trail which we hiked early on (which forms a significant part of the so called "Lost Wall Loop") is steep and loose in spots, but I found it much easier to follow than in the past where I would often get lost for a while by inadvertently following a wrong path. Either I'm getting better at it or some work has been done on this trail to make it somewhat easier to follow. That said, you still need to look carefully.

On my past two times out on this climber's access trail that goes near the Lost Wall, I went the other direction, descending the trail. It's definitely easier from a technical standpoint to go up rather than down. As mentioned above, the trail is very loose and it's easier to deal with the loose conditions when ascending.

We saw a tarantula midway up the climber's access trail. It was near a hole in the ground which was probably its home.

Later on, after we had gained the ridge, we saw a Sonoran Coral Snake. It was pencil thin and perhaps two feet in length. It wasn't interested in staying near us. I did get a few pictures, but they're not as good as I would have liked.

When we got to the intersection with the East End Trail, we spoke to a Preserve steward who clearly thought we were nuts to do the route that I had planned. He didn't try to talk us out of it, but he did ask Heather whether she had ever done this route before. (I told him that Heather had done longer and harder hikes with me in the past.)

A short while later, while we were hiking down the East End Trail, we encountered a very fit trail runner named Anika (not sure about the spelling). She had a 17 mile run planned for the day. What really surprised me was that she was able to accomplish it with just a small water bottle tucked into the waistband of her running shorts. I've seen her on at least two other occasions - she's very fit.

It started getting warm when we got to the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. As we approached the Boulder Trail, I polished off the first (of two) 3L water reservoir that I had brought with me. I think I drank about 4L total for the day.

Heather hadn't hiked the Marcus Landslide Trail before, so we paused at a several shady spots along the way and looked at the rock formations. There are a number of interesting mushroom boulders along the way. Plus, the entire area is studded with boulders almost anywhere you look.

Permit $$

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To Tom's Thumb Trailhead
1) 101 (Pima Freeway) to Frank Lloyd Wright
2) East on Frank Lloyd Right to N Thompson Peak Parkway
3) North on Thompson Peak Parkway to McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead to drop off first vehicle
4) Then North on Thompson Peak Parkway to Pima Rd
5) North on Pima Rd to Happy Valley Rd
6) East on Happy Valley Rd until it turns north and changes to 116th st.
7) East on Ranch Gate Rd to 128th St
8) South on 128th to Park Entrance

From Exit 36 of AZ-101 Loop North, head northeast on North Pima Rd 4.7 miles to East Happy Valley Road. Turn right onto East Happy Valley Road and drive 4.3 miles to Ranch Gate Road. Turn right onto Ranch Gate Road and travel 1.3 miles and then turn right onto North 128th Street. After 1.0 mile on North 128th Street, you'll be at the trailhead gate. No water at the trailhead! Bathrooms are non-flush.

If you just pop in the coordinates of the trailhead, it's very possible that your GPS unit will tell you to wrong turn from Happy Valley Road onto Alameda Road at ( 33.706667, -111.832396 ). Don't do it! Those GPS units don't know that there's a locked gate at (33.694441, -111.813335).

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 34.8 mi, 55 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 135 mi, 2 hours 24 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 149 mi, 2 hours 37 mins
page created by Crzy4AZ on Sep 08 2012 10:03 pm
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