Perched on top of a mountain in the South Mountain Park and Preserve is a lookout point with views of the Valley of the Sun that is one of the best. It’s high up, taking a good 30 minutes just to drive from the entrance gate to the lookout point, mainly due to the curvy road and slow speed limit. Dobbins Lookout sits a whopping 2,330 feet above sea level, making it the ideal place to view any part of the greater Phoenix area, with views from Buckeye in the west to the Superstition Mountains in the east. These two locations are about 80 miles and 1.5 hours apart. You also get an excellent view of Phoenix’s twin skylines.
It’s a popular spot, especially as sunset, not only because of its great views, but also for its accessibility. You can drive all the way to the lookout point, so no hiking required. We arrived around 7pm on a Wednesday in July, to view the sunset, and it was quite busy – just a fyi. At the top is a decently sized parking lot, which luckily had enough parking spaces that we didn’t have to battle for one.
Dobbins Lookout is not the only draw to the preserve, as there are a multitude of trails one can enjoy. In total, there are 9 trailheads to choose from, with the names and addresses easily available via the Phoenix government website: https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/south-mountain.
There’s also multiple abandoned buildings to explore – if you can hike your way to them. None besides the one at Dobbins Lookout sit on or near the road, and all the roadside turnouts nearby are blocked with large boulders. Therefore, you must park in one of the few and spread out parking lots along the road and hike to whichever abandoned building you’d like to explore.
The abandoned, dilapidated buildings sprinkled throughout the South Mountain Preserve have a fascinating history. They were birthed from the Great Depression, under the leadership of the U.S.’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His goal was to help Americans get back to work, so he launched a series of emergency programs, one of which would become known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). To apply, you had to be a unemployed, unmarried man, between the ages of 18 and 23. It was for a 6 month term, with up to 4 terms (2 years) total. It was intense physical labor, but allegedly the men didn’t mind as they were earning money, getting fed, and learning trade skills. They’d receive $30 (approximately $620 now) a month, $25 of which must be sent home to family members.
It was a work camp that functioned like the military. Each camp had around 150 to 250 men who were under the command of legitimate military personnel. They’d be awakened by a bugle at 6am and lived in barracks with strict inspections. They’d march to breakfast and then morning roll call, after which they’d be released under direct supervision of the agency that they were assigned to. Despite all this, many young men jumped at the chance to attend, as it was one of the few ways to earn much-needed money after the Great Depression, while simultaneously helping build the community.
The accomplishments of these men and CCC is truly incredible. They built 125,000 miles of roadway, strung 89,000 miles of telephone line, built 13,100 miles of foot trails, developed 800 state parks and 52,000 aces of public campground, built 97,000 miles of fire roads and 3,470 fire towers, and planted 3 billion trees.
These men also helped build what we know as the South Mountain Park and Preserve. According to the government website, “Between 1933 and 1940, four thousand (4000) men worked out of two camps at South Mountain Park. During this time the men constructed over 40 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, 18 buildings, 15 ramadas, 134 fire pits, 30 water faucets, water dams, and other features within the park.”
If driving your way to Dobbins Lookout is not your style, you can also hike to it via Hobert Trail. It’s rated “moderately difficult” and it winds up the north face of the Guadalupe Mountain Range, which is one of the three elongated ridges that make up what is South Mountain (the other two are the Gila and Ma Ha Tauk ranges). This trail also offers educational aspects, as you can see things like pre-Cambrian stone that’s centuries old and visible symbols sketched on the rocks by the ancient Hohokam people, nicknamed “petroglyph alley”.
Overall, Dobbins Lookout was a great little quick trip to watch the sunset. We were there for probably 45 minutes, but one could easily spend all day in the South Mountain Preserve. There’s tons of trails and other abandoned buildings to explore. Then come watch the magnificent sunset 🙌🏼. If you do decide to hike in the summer (I don’t advise), make sure to bring lots of water and wear a hat. Make sure you’re with someone or someone knows where you are going. The Phoenix heat is no joke. Hike smart!