Distance: 7.3 miles (11.8 km)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Season: October through May
Elevation: 1900 - 2600 feet (580 - 793 m)
The Pass Mountain Loop located in the Usery Mountain Recreation Area and adjacent Tonto National Forest in northeast Mesa, is a wonderful introductory hike of the Sonoran Desert ecosystems for those visiting the Phoenix area or for snowbirds looking for a place to camp for a while.
The loop provides opportunities to look for the subtle changes in the desert vegetation as you hike through several different microclimates. The loop also provides spectacular views of the Superstition Mountains, the Four Peaks, McDowell Mountains, as well as, sweeping views across the Valley of the Sun.
In addition, if you pay close attention, you can also see Quartz Peak in the Sierra Estrella mountains and Table Top mountain far off in the distance, on the other side of "The Valley". Both of these will be featured in later editions of the Hikemasters.
The trail follows the fenceline boundary of the Tonto National Forest along the southern bajada, before passing the horse staging area. Then, it passes the fence, enters the "forest" and heads off across a mostly level bajada landscape with spectacular views of the Superstition Mountains ahead.
The trail then approaches a housing development before turning north and heading up into the amphitheater above. As the trail slowly climbs, the terrain becomes more rocky. The trail slowly switchbacks up the slopes of the mountain before reaching the saddle.
Crossing the saddle to the shady northern slopes also changes the vegetation. Gone are the saguaros and instead you see grasses and lots of jojoba shrubs. In the darkest ravines and rocky overhangs, mosses and ferns can even be seen clinging to the rocks. The reason the saguaros because less numerous is that saguaros are damaged by frost and these northern slopes get less sun and stay cooler in the winter.
The trail will soon offer nice views to the north of the McDowell Mountains, Fountain Hills, and Red Mountain. As the trail eventually works its way back to the western side of the mountain, the shooting range becomes visible. The trail descends onto the bajada once more, but this time it undulates up and down the eroded slopes.