The Mountains of Arizona

A quincunx of balloons rise above the hills

Smoke rising from Deer Valley airport. Here is what happened

More balloons surround the peaks

Dixie Peak now appears

View north from Dixie summit looking at Tramonto Peak (last week's hike) and a balloon

The summit, with reference marker

West view over to Western Vista summit

Western Vista... and one of them balloons

On top of Western Vista

Old car abandoned in wash. Surprised they've left it here all these years

All images

• • •

The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

Click to find out more!

Union Hills - Dixie Loop Trail

Dixie Benchmark • Western Vista

I was interested in two ranked summits at the north end of the Union Hills in north Phoenix. I was last here almost four years ago to hike the highpoint of the Union Hills, but did not return until today, my agenda being these two hills called Dixie Benchmark and Western Vista. Both are accessed via the 4-mile Dixie Loop Trail. Adding in the small spur trails to each hill's top, and a short access trail to get to the loop, the hike would entail 5.4 miles and over 1,250 feet of accumulated elevation gain.

Dixie Benchmark
• Union Hills
• Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
• Maricopa County

Date: April 9, 2017 • Elevation: 2,277 feet • Prominence: 497 feet • Distance: 5.4 miles total • Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes total • Gain: 1,250 feet total • Conditions: High clouds, clear and pleasant

ArizonaMainPB (Dixie BM)

The weather was windy and a little overcast yesterday (Saturday) as a small front moved through. The immediate effect was that Sunday would be relatively cool with blue skies. This time of year, it can be warm or even hot, but today was only going to be in the low 80s. I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity before the heavy heat sets in, which could be any day now.

I arrived to the main western parking area and trailhead off of Melvern Road, rolling in about 7 a.m. and already the 30th car in the lot. There were lots of hikers, mountain bikers and people with dogs and kids, just like I sort-of remember it from 2013. I got my stuff together and started walking about 7:15 a.m.. The temperature was still in the 50s. Big hot-air balloons were floating above the hills, launching from nearby Cave Buttes Dam.

I walked up the Hawks Nest Trail, gaining about 220 feet in 0.4 mile, placing me on a saddle and the start of the Dixie Loop Trail. Looking back south, I saw a black plume of smoke at Deer Valley Airport (see left sidebar image). I hoped it was nothing serious, and fortunately, it wasn't. A plane did catch fire, but it wasn't a plane crash and no one was hurt.

At the saddle, looking north, I could see Western Vista Peak to the left, and some foreground hills hiding Dixie Benchmark Peak to the right. I went right and followed the trail for about three-quarters of a mile. The trail traversing up the east-facing slopes of the hills, gaining about another 230 feet. There was a hiker every two minutes, including kids and four-legged hairy ones. I soon came to the spur that leads up to Dixie Benchmark's summit.

This trail covers just 0.4 mile one way with 227 feet of gain (going by the map). I was in top in just a few minutes, about 40 minutes after starting my hike. I had covered about 1.5 miles with about 670 feet of gain. There is a silver benchmark (witness marker) stamped "Dixie" on a rock about 5 feet below the top. The top itself is just a hump of dirt and rocks with one small bush on it. Then a goddamn bee started to buzz me, bumping into my head and ballcap over and over again. I got the message, turned right around and started down. About twenty feet later, the bee gave up and left me alone. I hiked back to the main trail and continued.

Western Vista

Elevation: 2,080 feet • Prominence: 300 feet

The trail circles around one more small hill then drops a couple hundred feet, angling west and over one more small hill. By this time, I am at the northern-most extent of the trail, with the next peak, Western Vista, visible to the southwest. A hot-air balloon was floating nearby the peak.

After about a half-hour, I was at the base of the Western Vista Trail, which gains 300 feet in 0.34 mile (says the sign) to the top. The uphill trudge went fast and I got to tag a second summit for the day. Fortunately, there were no aggressive bees, so I sat on a convenient rock and had my first water break of the day. The views from up top were nice but nothing spectacular. Last week's hike, Tramonto Peak, was visible to the north.

I was soon back to the main trail again, so I continued along it for the remaining eight-tenths of a mile to its end back at that saddle. Along this segment, I came upon a rusted vehicle that had been dumped and abandoned within a wash, still there after all these years. I could not tell what the model was, but it looked to be something from the 1980s or 1990s. It looked like an early SUV, and had bucket seats. I was surprised the city chose to leave it here and not drag it out. How it got here, I don't know. There is no road here. It may have been driven cross country back when there were no homes out this way, someone just joy-riding it then crashing it.

I was back to the saddle, then down to the trailhead and cars, after another thirty minutes. I had been gone for 2 hours and 30 minutes, and adding up all the gains, discovered that I had put on over 1,250 feet of vertical gain today (which includes the two spur trails to the summits and the main ups and downs along the Dixie Loop Trail).

I was pleased to get two peaks for the price of one on this hike. They're not amazing peaks, but the loop trail was worth it, a fun way to kill half a morning.

(c) 2022 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. .