No question about it, an ultra rare and unique double-crested saguaro cactus is the star of the Coyote Canyon Trail. The trail is easy and well-defined as it meanders through the northern region of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It’s pleasant, but it’s nothing particularly spectacular. . . until you get to the crested saguaro, that is.
The saguaro cactus, by any measure, is a rare and special plant because it only grows in one region of the world: the Sonoran Desert, which includes southern Arizona, part of Mexico, and a little bit of California.
Even more rare is the elusive crested saguaro cactus, a saguaro with a growth defect that causes it to “bloom” into the most remarkable fan shape.
But what’s rarer than rare? A double-crested saguaro that has split into two different fans. Wanna see one? So did I, and that’s why I decided on this hike.
136th Street Express Trail
I decided to do this hike as a loop, so I set out on the 136th Street Express Trail, thinking it was the shortest trail to the cactus. Because the trail parallels the road (hence the name), your peaceful hike is interrupted by the sound of cars. Grrr. It also felt a little annoying to me because it seems like it twists and turns for no reason other than to not go straight. Waste of time. . . get me to that cactus!
Dove Valley Trail
This trail is not much different than the one you just left, but it’s quieter because you head away from the road and deeper into the preserve. Yay! You’ll have nice views of Granite Mountain to your left.
The trail gets more sandy toward the end, but that means you’re almost to the next junction.
Coyote Canyon Trail
This is the trail you’ve been waiting for. I had read that this trail passes through a granite slot canyon, so I was excited to find out what that meant. Well, it ended up being more like a wash with some mostly vertical granite walls, but nothing too special.
It was about this time that I realized I had forgotten to look for the crested saguaro, and I hoped I didn’t already miss it.
As I kept going, I eventually saw it in the distance in all its glory. I arrived at its base at the junction with Desperado Trail.
I spent a weirdly long time there. Glad no one was watching.
To complete the loop, continue on the Coyote Canyon Trail. The closer you get to the mountain, the more weird and wonderful the rock formations are. This is why I decided if I ever go visit that cactus again, I’ll just go this way. Forget the road.
Granite Mountain Loop Trail
When you get to the the Granite Mountain Loop Trail, go left along the base of the mountain. There’s a scenic view marked on the map, so I thought I’d check it out. Kind of a letdown, honestly, with all the houses in the view, but you can see the mountains in the distance.
At the junction with Bootlegger Trail, go left. This trail is filled with all kinds of cool boulder formations, including this one you could walk into.
Follow this trail all the way back to the parking lot.
Map & Directions
Location McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Arizona
Take Loop 202 to the Pima exit in North Scottsdale and go north to Dynamite Boulevard. Turn right and continue as the road turns into Rio Verde Road. Turn left on 131st Street and follow it to the turn for Granite Mountain Trailhead.
Trailhead Facilities Flushing toilets, but no water to drink or wash hands
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