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Scottsdale, AZ: home to America's largest urban preserve

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
RD Foster

The largest urban preserve in the U.S. lies just north of Scottsdale Arizona – a 30,000-acre pocket of land brimming with bio-diversity: the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
RD Foster

Visit the preserve’s 120 miles of non-motorized trails early or late in the day to escape the desert’s crushing heat. Even in winter, sunrise and sunset are optimal, light-infused times to visit.

The vegetation seems nearly endless – from the standard Saguaro cactus and Jumping Cholla to Creosote, Ocotillo and Palo Verde. This desert is anything but barren.

I packed a comb and tweezers in case of a cactus crash on a recent mountain bike trip through the preserve. My guide even brought duct tape, used to remove smaller spines.

My 7 a.m. ride was infused with the smell of creosote since a rare rain had fallen the night before. The burnt-smoky odor so common to Arizona deserts was a great addition to the scenery that was new around every turn.

Along with plants, otherworldly rock formations surround trails. Many of the metamorphic rocks were created more than 1.5 billion years ago. The preserve incorporates large sections of the McDowell Mountains, and the three-million acre Tonto National Forest borders the land on the north.

Guides can also be hired for hiking tours through the preserve, and for adventures on the Salt and Verde rivers (AOA and Mild to Wild Rafting.) The Grand Canyon is about three and one-half miles away; Sedona about two hours; and Lake Powell, about four and one-half hours.

Also available in Scottsdale: rock climbing, off-road tours, horseback riding and hot air ballooning via Hot Air Expeditions or Rainbow Ryders.

Learn more about ways to explore Arizona's desert.