(Article Last Updated 08/10/2011)
Expansive mountain views including Four Peaks.
Although the Dixie Mine Trail is contained within McDowell Mountain Regional Park, its trailhead is located at the end of Golden Eagle Blvd in the northwest corner of Fountain Hills. The trail traverses beautiful, protected Sonoran Desert and after about 2.5 miles of mostly gentle vertical unduilations ends up at its namesake, the abandoned Dixie Mine. It is inadvisable to attempt this trail in the summer months except for possibly in the early morning hours as there is very little shade. Since it is one of the more popular trails in Fountain Hills you may see a dozen or more people on cooler weekend days.
From Shea Blvd, take Palisades north through one four-way stop intersection and then to a stoplight at Sunridge Dr. Turn left onto Sunridge and take it for 2.7 miles until it ends at Golden Eagle Blvd and then turn left. In 1/2 mile you will approach the gates to the Eagle's Nest development. There is a dedicated trail parking lot to the left of Golden Eagle Blvd before the gatehouse. You can now cross the road on foot and walk into the development without permission from the gatehouse guard. Once in Eagle's Nest you will follow the signs for about 1/2 mile until you get to the trailhead at the border of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. A self-pay station is located at the official trailhead requesting that you donate $2.00 for park entry.
Most of the trail is fairly level and clear of ankle-twisting rocks or gravel which is why it is classified as easy. There are a few brief steep sections that have some loose rocks so if you are unsure of your footing you may want to bring a hiking pole to assist you in these areas.
The start of the hike is in open, rolling terrain with standard Sonoran Desert flora such as Saguaro Cacti, Englemann's prickly pear, staghorn cholla and the so-called 'jumping' cactus, aka Teddy-Bear cholla. Occasionally deer, coyotes and even Javelina can be seen. As you head up the trail you can see expansive vistas that include the McDowells, the Verde River valley, the southern end of the Mazatzal range and its most recognizable feature: the Four Peaks. In the warmer months (roughly April through November) you may see lizards and snakes. Please watch for rattlesnakes! Although rattlers are actually quite timid, their bite is very dangerous so as long as you watch where you are stepping the odds are very low of getting bit.
At one point the trail comes close to the Ashbrook wash which flows through the center of Fountain Hills on its way to the Verde River in Ft. McDowell. After a rainy day water can be seen flowing or sitting in these washes, but they are generally dry.
As you approach the middle section of the Dixie Mine trail you will start getting closer to the McDowell Mountains and the surrounding terrain becomes more interesting. You will walk by large hillsides of granite boulders with countless years of desert varnish and multi-colored lichen accumulation on them. Hardy desert plants root themselves amid these rock structures and actually thrive. From Fountain Hills the McDowells don't look tremedously impressive as far as mountains go, but as you approach you realize they are much more detailed and taller than appears from far away.
The iconic plant of the Sonoran Desert - the Saguaro Cactus.
After walking about 2.5 miles from the parking lot you will hit what appears to be the end of the trail. The Dixie Mine Trail T's into a dirt service road that climbs to the Thompson Peak radio towers to the left and goes back to a locked gate in Fountain Hills to the right. To get to the Dixie Mine take this dirt road to the right where it descends sharply and then climbs again as it bends to the right. As you level out on the dirt road you will see a trail sign to the left for the Dixie Mine Trail again. This section of the trail that slowly veers and climbs from the dirt road goes into McDowell Mountain Regional Park and connects with other trails. To see the actual Dixie Mine itself, look for a rugged dirt trail heading away from the dirt road you are on right before the official Dixie Mine trail starts climbing up the hillside. Walk this very rough path to the abandoned Dixie Mine. The vertical mineshafts are covered with fencing but please watch your kids and/or dogs carefully when at the mine, especially on the front slope of the tailings which is quite steep!
Summer is a very poor choice for this trail (except for early morning hours), but the rest of the year is great. The higher sections of the McDowell Mountains experience snow a few times a winter. The snow melts quickly, but these are some of the best days to hike this trail if you also want to take pictures. The contrast of snow gracing the arms of a Saguaro cactus may be a photographers cliche, but it is also irresistible! Late February through early April is another lovely time for this hike. Depending on the amount of rain the area sees in the prior few months, the area will be either beautiful or downright stunning. First time visitors to the desert are often surprised at the variety and quantity of flowers seen in spring. For how tough cactus and other desert plants are, they show their soft side in spring with everything from tiny, delicate pale pink or yellow flowers to neon-bright red and hand-sized white flowers. Although most fall hikes in the desert are not very impressive flora-wise, the Dixie Mine trail offers a reward for those that make it to the mine: deciduous riparian trees and fall colors! A small seep allows these massive, out-of-place shaed trees survival below the debris pile of the defunct Dixie-Mine.
The view from the abandoned Dixie Mine looking south.
Please remember to exercise caution when hiking in the desert and never hike alone. Let someone know where you are and when you expect to return. Depending on your cell phone service provider, sections of this trail have decent cell phone reception but some no signal at all. Rattlesnakes are out and about from approximately late April through late October, but remember that very few of them have calendars so always keep your eye out and be very careful steeping off trail. Bring plenty of water any time of the year but especially once the temperatures get up into the 80s and above. Keep in mind that this trail is popular for mountain bikers so make sure to keep watch for them. Trail etiquette asks that you step off the trail to let a biker pass. Even though it is extremely rare that you will be bothered by a larger animal in the desert, your dog will likely want to chase or investigate coyotes, javelinas and snakes. If your dog catches or threatens any of these animals it will turn out very badly for your dog!