McDowell Sonoran Preserve – Scottsdale, AZ


After our arduous hike on Camelback Mountain, we wanted to take an easier hike for the second morning of our anniversary trip to Arizona. We had previously hiked the Lost Dog Wash Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, but didn’t particularly enjoy it because we were suffering from rather unpleasant bouts of the stomach flu at the time. So we decided to pay a visit to the Lost Dog Wash and give it another go.

The Sonoran desert covers large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. Portions of it are protected, including the popular Joshua Tree National Park. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy protects the preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, which includes the McDowell Mountains, more than 30,500 acres of desert habitat, and over 180 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.


After our experience at the Echo Canyon trailhead the day before, we were thrilled by all the available parking spots. No circling hikers leaving the trail like a carrion bird searching for a dying antelope (an actual metaphor I used the day before when we were fighting for a space at Camelback). We pulled in to an open spot, grabbed our packs, and we were at the trailhead.


We had downloaded maps online, though there were a number of paper maps available at the trailhead as well as water fountains, bathrooms, and eager volunteers to suggest trails. We arrived about an hour after sunrise and there were a number of people already on the trail, including hikers, runners, and dog walkers. There were a lot of dogs on the trail, which as dog lovers made us happy, and lots of responsible owners who picked up after their dogs, which as nature lovers made us even happier. It is a protected habitat so it is important for hikers (and their furry friends) to stay on the trail and leave no trace.



We followed the rock and dirt path up a moderate incline that curved in easy switchbacks towards the overlook. The Taliesin Overlook is at about 2,000 feet of elevation, providing a view of Scottsdale down below. It’s not as dramatic as the panoramic scene from the Camelback summit, but there is always a sense of satisfaction that comes with climbing up a trail to look down on the urban sprawl.


We then followed the Old Jeep Trail east towards the Ringtail Trail, which took us to the Lost Dog Overlook, before reconnecting with the Lost Dog Trail and taking us back to the trailhead. The whole hike is just over 5 miles over easy to moderate terrain and took us about 2.5 hours, with stops to take pictures at overlooks and of cacti along the way.


We frequently stopped to admire the beautiful fauna of the desert. I love the palo verde tree, which is common in the area. As you look over the landscape, you’ll frequently see these bright green trees dotting the landscape. Something about theme feels supernatural, almost otherworldly, to me. No matter how many times I see them, I can’t help but stop and admire a particularly beautiful and full specimen.


Mona was particularly intrigued by the ocotillos, which we later learned were not true cacti. For most of the year, the ocotillo looks like a bunch of dead sticks sticking out of the ground. But when we visited they were in bloom. The tall, spiny green stems had bright orange flowers at the end. The hedgehog cactus was also in bloom. The short cacti are a cluster of stems with long spines and vibrant purple flowers. We loved the contrast of delicate, colorful petals against sharp thorns and paused several times on the trail to really examine them and appreciate their beauty.


Back at the trailhead, we weren’t quite ready to leave. The clouds that covered the horizon for most of the morning cleared and we had a bit more cool morning left to enjoy the blue sky. There was a short nature trail nearby so we spent some time wandering and reading the placards that provided interesting information about the desert habitat, including descriptions of the various plants we had seen.


The displays also included descriptions of yoga poses, encouraging people to keep both the ecosystem and themselves healthy. Since Mona is a yoga instructor, we had some fun taking pictures of her replicating the poses as we walked along the trail.



After about 20 minutes, we had finished the short nature trail and were ready to head to our reward – an over the top breakfast at Butterfield’s Pancake House and Restaurant in Scottsdale where I ate an entire skillet of eggs, hash browns, chorizo, and cheese with a side of gluten-free pancakes. Mona polished off a massive scramble, also with a side of pancakes.


It was a beautiful morning in the Sonoran desert that gave us an opportunity to appreciate our natural surroundings. It doesn’t have the technical challenges of a climb like Camelback, but instead provides an easy and relaxing opportunity enjoy the outdoors