Taliesin Overlook • McDowell Mountains
• McDowell Sonoran Preserve
• Maricopa County


The peak as seen from the Lost Dog trail
 

Taliesin Overlook saddle is up ahead. The peak is to the left
 

At the saddle, looking up at the peak
 

About halfway up. I aimed for that saguaro up on the ridge
 

I rousted a mule deer
 

The top, with two stone benches
 

View of the McDowell range from the summit
 

Looking west from the summit
 

The overlook saddle down below
 

This is Taliesin West. It's easy to overlook...
 

Walking out this fine sunny and warm March day. The peak in back is Verde Benchmark
 

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Date: March 8, 2017 • Elevation: 2,572 feet • Prominence: 472 feet • Distance: 5 miles • Time: 2 hours 15 minutes • Gain: 850 feet • Conditions: Clear and calm, slightly warm

This peak, which does not have an official name, is the southwesternmost foothill of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. I see it everyday from where I live. The saddle that connects this peak to the rest of the range is called Taliesin Overlook. The peak and the saddle rise above Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's desert residence until his death, and today a school of architecture and a museum. Beth and I visited the museum and grounds a few years ago. It's worth it.

I was curious whether a trail goes to the summit of this hill. Last summer, I went on an exploratory hike from the Lost Dog Trailhead (end of 124th Street), and got in about a mile before calling it a day due to the heat. Since I live just minutes away, I can be here on a whim, which is how today's hike happened.

I didn't get moving from our home until 1 p.m., the day kind of warm, with highs in the mid 80s. My plan was to hike from the Lost Dog Trailhead to the Taliesin Overlook, a distance of either 2.0 or 2.3 miles, depending on which sources or signs one reads. I got to the trailhead at 1:30, packed light with lots of drinks, and started in.

I followed the Lost Dog Trail north and northwest, with the peak coming into view after about a half mile. There were lots of people hiking today. This trail is always popular at all times of the year. When it's ungodly hot in mid-summer, I'll come here for some hiking and conditioning, just to stay fit.

About a mile in, I heard a steady buzz getting louder. I stopped, then felt something bop into my head. At that moment, the communal "buzz" passed over me. It was a swarm of bees, heavy enough to actually see the swarm and to cast a shadow on the ground as it passed over. I didn't stick around to watch, though. I ran my ass a hundred or so feet up the trail, just to be sure I wasn't the object of their ire. They were probably just looking to start a new hive somewhere else, not attack people. I'm not particularly scared of rattlesnakes (I've seen one on my hikes here), but bees scare me. I continued my hike, now a little skittish.

Going by the occasional trail signs, I came to an old Jeep road at 1.8 miles, the sign there saying the saddle was another 0.5 mile west (this is where I get the 2.3 mile figure). By now, there were fewer hikers, essentially just me. I got to the saddle, having hiked for about 45 minutes. It was warm and I was feeling beat, but good. At the saddle, a side trail spurs for about 200 feet to the actual overlook, which is just a cleared area of dirt.

I stopped here to rest and have a drink. I looked down toward the newer homes below, then to the open patch of desert that is the Taliesin grounds. A sign at the saddle said the elevation here is 2,093 feet. It was warm and a little uncomfortable, probably because I am not used to the heat just yet. In a couple months, I'll be yearning for temperatures in the 80s!

The peak rises about 470 feet above and to the south, a nice consistent slope all the way up. But since the development of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, off-trail hiking is discouraged. I was thinking there would be a scanter trail from the saddle to the top, a vestige of the olden days. And sure enough, there was one. So I started following it.

Here, I made a judgement call that not all people will agree with. I went "off trail", but really was on a trail. Even this far, I was only going to go as far as I could assuming there was a trail. I had not fully committed to hiking to the top. I walked the scant path a few yards at a time, studied the area, walked a little more, and repeated. After about ten minutes, I had walked up about a hundred vertical feet above the saddle, now on the slopes. Here, I rousted a mule deer with antlers, who watched me before slowly walking away uphill and to the left.

I kept walking uphill, eyeballing the path, which was visible as long as I kept an eye out for it. The wildflowers were everywhere, which was lovely to view (not so much for my sinuses), but the flowers and other leafy undergrowth hid the trail for feet at a time. Higher up, the slope steepens and becomes more rocky. Even up this far, there were hints of an old path, going by how rocks were stacked in places. All the while, I was aiming for a prominent saguaro up on the ridgeline. I hiked slowly also to keep an eye out for snakes, who can hide very well in this kind of terrain and flora.

I soon arrived to this saguaro, then followed a path to the right, more to the west slope of the peak, before angling up over rocky terrain to the long ridge-line that leads to the highest point, about 200 feet away on the east tip of the ridge. Up here, I even found a couple cairns. The top is rocky, with some artfully-stacked stones atop one boulder, and two stone benches nearby. Could these have been built by Wright or later students of his school? I have no idea.

From the saddle to the summit had taken me a half hour, mostly because I went slow to stay on the path and to avoid snakes and other nasties hiding in the brush. I took a few photos, but did not stay long. I repeated my steps exactly, hiking back down to the saddle in about fifteen minutes, where I stopped again for a break.

At the saddle, I took more time to look out over the Taliesin property, but there's not that much to see. You can make out a couple main buildings, but not much else. It's not like there are acres of buildings everywhere. And what buildings do exist, they were built to blend in with the natural flora and terrain.

The hike back to the car went well. I was moving fast, the exit hike taking me about an hour. It was really warm by now, highs close to 90, but I was feeling energetic. Once back to the trailhead ramada, I relaxed in the shade and read the signs, plus watching people come and go.

I call this peak "Taliesin Overlook" because that seems like a good descriptive name. Technically, it overlooks the saddle called Taliesin Overlook, but I did not think "Taliesin Overlook Overlook" sounded that enticing.

I don't condone off-trail hiking, but at the same time, I am morally okay with keeping to old paths, even if they are not officially-maintained ones. While I had to pay attention to keep to the path, this path did in fact go all the way to the summit. I doubt many people come up here. By the time I got to the saddle itself, there was no one, except for one young kid I saw as I was hiking down. Of that small percentage, an even smaller percentage would care about the slog to the top of this hill.

(c) 2017 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.