I recently ventured out solo and hiked the Holbert Trail at South Mountain, but I think I might need to do the hike again. The first time around wasn’t exactly my favorite– I had to stop and remind myself to have patience.
When I arrived, I first went down to the ranger station to ask if there were any hard copies of a trail map because I hadn’t hiked a trail at South Mountain in a long time. According to the park ranger I spoke to, they don’t print them anymore. So, I went back to the Holbert Trail trailhead and took a photo of the map there.
I set my Garmin watch to record the activity, grabbed my Camelbak and away I went. The hike started off nicely and is a well-maintained trail. In the first part (through Box Canyon), it is a relatively smooth path lined with small rocks on each side.
You’ll cross a wash and then follow the trail until you hit a paved access road leading to a water tower. Go along the paved road towards the tower, and you’ll see the trail pick back up on your right just before the tower.
Everything’s still going well for me at this point. I make my way towards the top, cautiously following all signs leading to Holbert Trail. Once you get closer to the top, there is a switchback. And, another switchback. Lots and lots of switchbacks. They aren’t super steep or anything; it’s just that there are a lot of them for something that is supposed to be a short hike (less than 3 miles each way).
I make my way up a switchback and for some reason, miss the fact that it veers off to my right into another one. I go mostly straight and think to myself… what a weird transition of a trail. I’m now climbing over boulders. Typically, I stop to look around until I identify the clear path forward. I didn’t even realize I needed to do this because I just thought the trail transitioned. Do not ask me why. When I looked at the same spot on the way back, it’s pretty obvious that you’re supposed to veer right. I guess my head was in the clouds.
At this point, I don’t even realize I’m lost because I’m taking photos of this cool rock…
It’s a few minutes later that I wind up in another wash and don’t see Holbert Trail. I walk forward a little bit and see a trail with trail markers both to the left and to the right of the wash. I go left and read the trail marker. It has one marking: Holbert Trail, and it points me back to the wash. So I go and look at the other trail marker. I could sort of make out the markings. The trail to the right is marked as National, and there’s another marking “Hol” with a completely missing arrow.
I pull out the photo I took. It’s not at all helpful. I can’t zoom in enough to differentiate the topography to find the wash on the map.
I take a photo of where I came from and what’s in front of me and send them to my husband, who knows these trails like the back of his hand from mountain biking them so often. Service is at a minimum, and the photos will not send. I try calling him and am successful. Thank my lucky stars, he knows the exact spot I’m standing. Our conversation goes like this:
Me: “So, I’m lost and not sure which way I need to go. I’m standing in a wash with trails on both sides of me that are barely marked.”
Husband: “If you’re standing in the middle of the wash, can you see the towers in front of you, slightly to your right?”
Me. “YES!!!” (insert excited and surprised tone here).
Husband: “Great! Go to the trail on your right but don’t take it to National. Take it to Dobbin’s Exit, and it will take you to the ruins you’re trying to get to.”
He often refers to himself as a human atlas and, although I tease him about it, it’s so true! He’s fantastic with geography. It worked out well for me (and has in the past as well).
I take off towards the right. Only, now I see a senior man coming towards me, and he has passed the spot where I was sure my husband said to go. I was slightly confused because I had passed him on the way up at the beginning of the Holbert Trail, so I kind of already knew the answer to what I was going to ask him.
I should have just minded my own business, but for some reason, I felt the need to ask him what trail he was doing. He said Holbert to the Dobbins Lookout. The gentleman pulled out the hard copy of his trail map (which he said he got from the ranger station that morning–hmm,) and we began to look at the map. He insisted that the trail was in the direction of which I had just come. After following him for a second, I just knew he wasn’t correct and that I should listen to my husband.
I left him where he was and backtracked where this man had come from and finally found the trail I needed, which was super clearly marked. He had walked right by it. I went back to where I left him and informed him it was back the other way. He followed me to the top, and we chatted about the hike itself and some other small-talk things like mountain biking and Arizona in general.
When we got to the top, it was pretty crowded with several people enjoying the lookout. Some were taking photos, some were just sitting on one of the many benches, and others were enjoying a picnic. (You can also drive to the lookout, which is common).
Dobbins Lookout was built in the 1930s after the City of Phoenix petitioned the U.S. government to transfer more than 14,000 acres of the mountain range for a minimal price to the city for public use.
The stone ramada at the lookout was built by the civilian conservation corps, a group of young men put to work during the depression. The lookout is named after James C. Dobbins, the former chairman of the Phoenix Planning Commission who spearheaded efforts to purchase the land. Dobbins Lookout also has an observation tower that has a compass and a series of demarcations on the top to demonstrate where different landmarks are located in the valley. It’s a popular spot to view one of Arizona’s spectacular sunsets.
I took photos and eventually began to work my way back to my car. There was just one problem. I also went off trail on my way back, and I don’t even know how it happened. I went onto the path marked “Holbert Trail” and next thing I know, I’m walking down the mountain, but there’s no path. It seriously was NOT my best hiking day. Luckily, I realized quickly that I had gone off trail and was able to hop over to the correct spot. I had no issues from that point on.
Once I got back towards the beginning, a park ranger happened to be sitting under a tree enjoying the shade. I stopped to chat with her for a few moments and let her know that the trail markings up top needed to have someone mark them again, and she expressed her appreciation.
It was a great hike that will make you work just enough to get your heart rate going, but the trail itself wasn’t too difficult. Just stay on the trail if you go! 😉
Have you done this trail before? If so, did you have any issues staying on the trail?
To access information on this hike, or other hikes at South Mountain, click here.