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This stretch of the Maricopa Trail is a smorgasbord of mountain views

The 300-plus-mile course of the Maricopa Trail takes many forms. Sometimes it’s a single track, canal bank, road or suburban pathway. All the segments are beautiful and useful in their own ways. Some of the most memorable are within Tonto National Forest.

The 20.5-mile Bronco to Granite Mountain segment northeast of Scottsdale stays within the forest boundary passing by Camp Creek, Blue Wash, Rackensack Canyon and hilly desert backcountry. The north-south route is bisected by Bartlett Dam Road, making it easy to tackle as a car shuttle hike.

North of the road, the route is a rugged trek through mountainous terrain, washes and rough drainages while to the south, the hike is a milder adventure with lots of variety. Both halves share space with a power line that is visible to the west intermittently throughout the hike.

First, watch out for ATVs

Beginning at Bartlett Dam Road and heading south, the trail rolls out in what I think of as a “chapter” format. Each mile of the 3.4-mile trek has its own character, beginning with “ATV Heaven.”

Much of Tonto National Forest is open for shared-use activities including motorized travel and hunting.  Although the Maricopa Trail corridor is designated as non-motorized, surrounding roads are open to all and you will likely encounter dirt bikes, 4x4s and trucks where the trail crosses several dirt tracks. Once past the boulder knoll of Wildcat Hill, the motorized traffic is much less profound.

Then, enjoy the peaceful mountain views

The rollicking road ruckus is replaced by a quieter chapter of “Wilderness Vistas.” To the east, a panorama of mountain peaks dominates the horizon. Look for Weavers Needle and the Flatiron in the Superstition Mountains, Four Peaks, the Sierra Ancha Mountains and the Cave Creek Mountains.

Nearer to the trail are outcroppings of quartz, pink granite and some of the biggest barrel cactuses anywhere. Clear days yield amazing depth of vision and ahhh-inspiring photo opportunities.

Soon, the trail begins heading downhill toward the northern boundary of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  This “Edge of Suburbia” chapter skirts tony neighborhoods where lush forests of paloverde, mesquite, ironwood cholla and yucca muffle the sounds of civilization.

Listen for those birds

For added entertainment, watch for vociferous phainopeplas — black, crested birds that resemble cardinals— feasting on mistletoe.

The final chapter is “Forest-Preserve Interface” where the trail passes a cattle gate and then continues to the north boundary of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Here, the trail ascends to metal gates and barbed-wire fences for sweeping views of the familiar profiles of Granite, Browns, Cholla and Cone mountains in the preserve.

To the south, Pinnacle Peak stands out over fainter silhouettes of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and downtown Phoenix. This segment of the Maricopa Trail continues 6.4 miles south to the Granite Mountain trailhead, but if you’re satisfied with the story thus far, this is your turnaround point.

If you go

Length: 6.8 miles round trip.

Rating: Easy.

Elevation: 2,845-3,220 feet.

Getting there: Use the Bartlett Dam Road Trailhead. From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, exit at Pima/Princess Drive (Exit 36). Go 13 miles north on Pima Road, then turn right on Cave Creek Road. Go 4.1 miles to Bartlett Dam Road, turn right and go 0.4 mile to where a dirt road crosses at a “no target shooting” sign  0.1 mile past the Tonto National Forest ranger station. Turn right and park along the dirt turn-outs. This area is heavily used by ATVs, so don’t block roads. This segment may also be accessed via a 0.2-mile connector path from a trailhead at the ranger station — when it’s open. 

Details: www.maricopacountyparks.net/things-to-do/activity/maps.

Read more of Mare Czinar’s hikes at arizonahiking.blogspot.com.

 

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