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Marcus Landslide Trail - MSP, AZ

Guide 128 Triplogs  1 Topic
  3.3 of 5 
no permit
1.2k 128 1
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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
Backpack Connecting Only
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12  2021-07-03
Micky D Meander
15  2021-06-19 John10s
20  2020-01-20
Marcus Landslide Loop (JTY)
1  2020-01-04 Sun_Ray
15  2019-12-18 LosDosSloFolks
2  2019-12-17 Sun_Ray
3  2019-11-10 Sun_Ray
13  2019-08-11 Nate_F
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5 ... 11
Author Crzy4AZ
author avatar Guides 31
Routes 96
Photos 2,637
Trips 603 map ( 2,178 miles )
Age 48 Female Gender
Location Scottsdale, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr
Seasons   Early Autumn
Sun  5:38am - 7:29pm
Official Route
17 Alternative

Ice age rock avalanche
by Crzy4AZ

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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 event's trigger was likely a heavy rain, a bolt of lightning, or an earthquake weakening the granitic rock along a joint.

In the last 500,000 years, streams have eroded 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 the trail's edge. In the distance lies a horizon of jagged mountain ranges, including the Superstitions 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. There are 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 a 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 area's 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
  • 2018 Southern Region
    area related
    2018 Southern Region
  • 2018 Gateway
    area related
    2018 Gateway
  • 2018 Tom's Thumb
    area related
    2018 Tom's Thumb
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.

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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