Windgate Pass / Bell Pass (Arizona) 15-Jan-2022

I’m trying to be diplomatic here, but we’re just not big fans of the Phoenix metroplex, regardless of how many people seem determined to move there. Or maybe all its freeways and traffic and frenetic activity are off-putting simply because we haven’t lived in a “big” city in years. How sadly provincial we must seem. Whatever. πŸ™„ But direct flights to Phoenix allow us to visit friends who live elsewhere in Arizona, so we cope with the metroplex for those friends and some hiking. 😊

After visiting Heidi & Bob and Carol, we had one full day left for a hike. Not wanting to joust with Phoenix’s traffic anymore than necessary, we found a nice hike in Scottsdale’s McDowell Preserve just 10 minutes from our hotel. We had hiked Sunrise Peak at the south end of the Preserve in 2018, so this time we decided to do the Windgate Pass – Ball Pass Loop from the Gateway Trailhead.

The parking lot at Gateway is huge and was half-full when we arrived a little after 08.00 (it was almost full when we got back). We started out on the Saguaro Trail and then went clockwise on the Gateway Loop Trail to its junction with the Windgate Pass Trail. The day was cool and windy, with a persistent cover of high clouds that only infrequently allowed for direct sunlight. Good weather for hiking. 😎 The number of other hikers dropped off considerably as we worked our way up toward Windgate Pass.

An early start
Starting out on the Saguaro Trail
An agave bares its fangs
On the Gateway Loop Trail
Lichen in the desert
On the Windgate Pass Trail
Looking west
No cuddles here
Tom’s Thumb (arrow)
On the Windgate Pass Trail
Saguaro
Windgate Pass comes into view
A rock of many colors
Teddy bear cholla – also not cuddly
Windgate Pass, with the Four Peaks Wilderness on the horizon

We climbed 1,300 feet (399 m) up to Windgate Pass and then dropped over the other side and descended to a junction with the Bell Pass Trail (which is part of the Maricopa Trail). The wind was particularly strong on the pass.

Leaving Windgate Pass
On the Bell Pass Trail; Thompson Peak (with antenna towers) on the left
Bell Pass comes into view to the right of Point 3515
Scottsdale from Bell Pass

At Bell Pass, we were again buffeted by strong winds.The 600 foot (183 m) climb to this pass had been on a less rocky and more gently graded piece of trail. West of the pass, the trail reverted to steep and rocky. It even offered steep and less steep options, both of which were equally rocky. The Bell Pass Trail eventually bottomed-out, then connected with the almost level and less rocky Gateway Loop Trail which we took back to the Gateway Trailhead.

Descending from Bell Pass on the less steep trail option
Still no cuddles
Almost back to the Gateway Loop Trail
Gateway is just around the corner

One thing we will say about city and county governments in the Phoenix area is that they have been very good about setting aside some very nice spaces for hiking, biking, and horse riding – as welcome counterpoints to the urban sprawl. This 9.2 mile (14.7 km) loop, with 1,800 feet (549 m) of gain over two passes, is a case in point. Close-in you can mingle with other hikers if you want but if, like we did, you go farther in, you’ll find the trails a lot less busy and a bit more of a wilderness experience. At least we did. 😊

Our loop around McDowell Peak over two passes: Windgate (W.) and Bell (B)

The City of Scottsdale has gone to great lengths to make McDowell a “safe” hiking venue – with free maps (paper & online), emergency markers, abundant trail signage, and obvious tread. The area is also within strong 4G and 5G service – so help may be only a call away. Which is good, because the majority of hikers we saw today seemed to have had little with them other than a hydration pack – and often not even that. So we, with our day packs laden with the old school 10 Essentials, were, yet again, the “overdressed” ones on the trail. Must be that provincial thing. Sigh. πŸ™„

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6 thoughts on “Windgate Pass / Bell Pass (Arizona) 15-Jan-2022

  1. We’ve enjoyed the Maricopa County Parks and love the Superstitions. Too bad they didn’t rein the city in, as you’ve observed. Great photos of the landscape and cacti close-ups. That agave is terrific!

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  2. Enjoyed your post and photos- ( as always πŸ™‚) particularly the details of the saguaro and other plants.

    Agree with you on Phoenix- the sprawl of LA without an Ocean but the Superstition Mountains are very nice

    Best wishes for your 2022 adventures

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  3. And not just caught wanting for yourself. The only time we’ve really needed some of our 10Es in recent years – aside from band-aids & sunscreen for ourselves – were (1) to pull cholla spines out of the paw of another hiker’s unleashed dog that had run into a cholla garden 😫 and (2) to call for help when one of our mule-trip guides fell off her horse.

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