McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the largest urban preserve in the U.S. It connects in the north with the three-million-acre Tonto National Forest and in the southeast with 21,000 acre McDowell Mountain Regional Park, providing an uninterrupted wildlife corridor. As a treasured state resource, it holds unique geological, historical and archeological features within a rare ecosystem and wildlife habitat. This 30,000-acre, permanently protected, sustainable desert habitat is owned by the City of Scottsdale and serves as a popular site for field institute research on issues key to understanding and preserving the Sonoran Desert. Unlike other Federal or County land, the Preserve can never be sold or built upon and will remain one of Arizona’s treasured cultural resources.



The McDowell Sonoran Preserve features 7 trailheads connecting a variety of multi-use trails that span 150+ miles. Trails vary in intensity and some allow for pets and horses. Avid sportsmen, hikers, mountain bikers, runners and rock climbers can enjoy year-round access to this incredible natural playground.

Tom’s Thumb Trailhead

*Direct access from Storyrock

Brown’s Ranch Trailhead

Fraesfield Trailhead

Gateway Trailhead

Granite Mountain Trailhead

Lost Dog Wash Trailhead

Sunrise Trailhead

Each trailhead spins off into several hiking paths and loops ranging between ½ mile to 11 miles, with most averaging 4 miles in length.

Tom's Thumb

Only a short walk from Storyrock, you’ll find Tom’s Thumb Trailhead. This 4-mile out-and-back trailhead is one of Scottsdale’s and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s most popular, as it allows for some of the most awe-inspiring views of the area. It’s moderate in difficulty with steep climbs for the first mile and is best explored on foot due to the challenging terrain.


Throughout the Preserve, you may encounter symbols or drawings carved into the rocks from many generations ago. Rock art in the McDowell Mountains dates back thousands of years and can reflect markings left by cowboys, homesteaders, hunters, Hohokam and Yavapai Indians, or European settlers to tell stories, serve as travel maps or indicate territory boundaries. Different styles identify distinct groups while weathering and changes in the patina can indicate the approximate age. The City of Scottsdale has records of 42 Petroglyph sites that have been identified in the Preserve and County Park, some dating as far back as 5000 BC.


Coyote have few natural threats other than disease, larger predators and man and can live between 10-14 years in the wild. They are solitary and territorial creatures who mainly eat small game such as rodents, rabbits, fish and frogs. However, when hunting larger prey such as deer, they use teamwork to form packs and take turns pursuing the prey until it tires, or drive it toward hidden members of the pack for a strategic ambush.


Quail are poor fliers, spending almost all their time on the ground. They roost in bushes and low dense trees and their breeding nests tend to be on the ground or less than 10 feet off the ground. All eggs hatch on the same day and unlike many bird species, the chicks are fully covered with down and ready to leave the nest soon after hatching under the watchful eye of both parents.


Prickly pear cactus have flat, fleshy pads that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production. The fruits of most prickly pears are edible and sold in stores under the name "tuna." Prickly pear branches (the pads) are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that many believe help with medicinal conditions.


Cholla's are a favorite nesting sites for desert birds as they offer enough spiny coverage for quick access but protect them from many common predators. While most cactus fruit is edible, cholla fruit does not taste good and is often avoided by desert animals. Native people collected the flower buds of the Buckhorn, Staghorn, and Pencil cholla and prepared them by steaming.


Saguaros are found exclusively in the Arizona Sonoran Desert. They are very slow‑growing cactus with shallow root systems — most of the saguaros roots are only 4‑6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. Saguaros can grow to be between 40‑60 feet tall and when rain is plentiful, a fully hydrated one can weigh between 3200‑4800 pounds. With the right growing conditions, saguaros can live to be 150‑200 years old.


Gila Woodpeckers are permanent Sonoran Desert dwellers with very strong head and neck muscles that help them withstand the impact of pecking into trees and other materials. They often make cavities in saguaro cactus to build a safe, cool place to raise their young. These excavated cavities are called a "boots,” and often serve as dwellings for other birds and desert species into the future.


The tiny cactus ferruginous pygmy owl is a small (typically 5.9 in), stocky predator with disproportionately large talons. Unlike other birds, this species doesn't migrate and endures its habitat throughout sweltering summers as well as harsh winters. They make their nests in the cavities of saguaro and organ pipe cacti — typically spaces previously carved out by erosion or former occupants such as woodpeckers.


Male species are known to patrol and perch areas 15 meters in diameter that are rich in larval host plants; they then stake a claim, aggressively protecting it from other insects and other male white peacocks while waiting for a mate.


Gila monsters are one of only two venomous lizards known to occur in the world. While they are not aggressive, hikers should choose to avoid, rather than confront this species. Adult Gila monsters may consume as much 35 percent of their body weight in a single feeding. They typically prey on newborn rodents, rabbits, ground nesting birds, lizards, and other eggs from birds. They can spend up to 98 percent of their time in their subterranean shelters.

Wildlife, Flora & Fauna

The Sonoran Desert is widely regarded as one of the most revered natural habitats on earth. Just beyond Storyrock’s door you’ll find an abundance of wildlife and birds – mostly nocturnal species that migrate into the area with each change of season. The Preserve is home to 380 plant species, 200 vertebrate animal species and countless invertebrates. It’s also home to six animal species listed as Species of Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The variety of cactus are just as abundant as the desert flowers that brilliantly bloom each spring. More than 100 species of birds have been identified at the Preserve.


Supporting the Vision

Storyrock is dedicated to living in harmony with the natural habitat that is cherished and protected by the City of Scottsdale and stewards of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a public-private partnership created in 1990. The Preserve is run by and cared for by private volunteers and is focused on connecting the community to the Preserve through education, research, advocacy, partnerships and safe, respectful access. 50% of Storyrock’s acreage is dedicated to open space and natural wildlife corridors intended to soften the community’s impact on the surrounding area. It’s our goal to support organizations and institutions that educate and conserve our treasured sanctuaries for the enjoyment of visitors today and for generations to come.

Volunteering & Education Opportunities

If you love the Preserve, why not get more involved? For information about joining the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s Steward Team visit

City Sherpa

You are balanced, vivacious and serve as an endless source of inspiration and knowledge. As a regular “go-to,” your friends seek your advice on xeroscaping, keeping ground squirrels at bay and finding the best new martini bar. Part tour guide, horticulturist, stargazer and early adopter, you embrace a passion for all things natural and historic, an appreciation for new knowledge and are happy to share your experiences with others.

Imagine living in the best of both worlds – surrounded by 30,000 acres of untouched natural preserve yet a quick drive down the hill to thriving Scottsdale. The Storyrock lifestyle calls to your love of modern and ancient in your quest for life-long learning.

Desert Trailblazer

As a desert athlete, open skies and open trails are where you can be found, often way before the weekend crowds sip their first cappuccino of the day. Whether work, sport or play, it’s not worth the effort unless your stamina and grit are put to the test; each day is a challenge of your personal best in a race for excellence. With over 30,000 acres of natural preserve all around you, come see how life at Storyrock can serve as your backyard training grounds – and help you set new heights.

Deliberate Dreamer

You live a life of purposeful reflection – which means your surroundings are key to supporting your mood, insights and inspiration. Serenity and privacy recharge your batteries each day and you seek the space, place and pace that allows you to do your best creative work, in harmony with your values and personal growth. With 360-degree views of the McDowell Mountains and natural preserved land surrounding you each day, come see how Storyrock can be the living sanctuary you seek for the lifestyle balance you love.

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