A hiker’s dream – The McDowell Sonoran Preserve

SLHC hikers at Lost Dog Wash and Ringtail Loop

SLHC hikers at Lost Dog Wash and Ringtail Loop

Judith Kuse

Those of us who live in the Sun Lakes communities are fortunate to be within driving distance of The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, one of the nation’s largest urban preserves and a hiker’s paradise. What was dedicated in 1994 as a five-square-mile sanctuary of Sonoran Desert flora and fauna has become a 47-square-mile recreational and environmental gem. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, incorporated in 1991, continues to successfully garner wide support for its vision of the Preserve, which includes land acquisition, programming, development and maintenance. The Conservancy is part of the Land Trust Alliance, a global conservation movement. Through tax supports, a robust volunteer training program, partnership with Scottsdale Community College and donations, the Preserve continues to expand opportunities for the public to access and enjoy its expanse of the Sonoran Desert. Trained volunteers, known as Preserve Stewards, currently number about 600 and perform countless duties which enhance visitors’ Preserve experiences.

Hiking, including guided hiking, is a major recreational activity available to visitors in the Preserve. Those who are mobility-challenged have barrier-free access to two trails, the Bajada Nature Trail and the Jane Rau Interpretive Trail. Visitors can participate in bicycling, rock climbing, running and horseback riding in the Preserve as well.

The Sun Lakes Hiking Club takes full advantage of the well-maintained hiking trails in the Preserve, scheduling several hikes at different levels each year on the 200+ miles of hikes. So far this season alone, SLHC members have participated in sanctioned hikes beginning at each of the five trailheads — Lost Dog Wash, Tom’s Thumb, Brown’s Ranch, Fraesfield and Granite Mountain. To show its appreciation for the well-maintained Preserve, SLHC makes an annual supporting donation.

On select Sunday afternoons from 3:00 to 3:45 p.m., the Conservancy offers family programs for exploring and learning about the Sonoran Desert. These are suitable for children age 6+, as well as adults. Also on select Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., guided informational walks featuring one of the Preserve’s nature trails are offered. An annual highlight of Conservancy Kids programming is the Junior Science Festival. The public is invited to the Festival on March 23, 2019, at the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Check out this website for more information about programming and much more Conservancy-related information at https://www.mcdowellsonoran.org.

It’s the Sun Lakes Hiking Club’s regular season now. A complete description of scheduled hikes and other updated information can be found at https://www.meetup.com/Sun-Lakes-Hiking-Club/events/calendar.

Members meet at the Cottonwood parking lot at 7:45 a.m. for February hikes. If you’re new to the club, plan to go on a Mellow hike and call the hike leader in advance.