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Harquahala Mountain Summit - Harquahala Mountains Wilderness

Summary: The Harquahala Mountains Wilderness is located west of Phoenix just south of Highway 60. From 1921 to 1925, the mountain summit was used by the Smithsonian Institution as an observatory to study the effects of the Sun on the Earth's climate. The trail to the summit was constructed as a mule path to get equipment and supplies to the observatory staff. There is now a four wheel drive road to the summit that approaches from the south-west. Fortunately you won't have to look at the road until you are almost to the summit. The path gains a total of 3350 ft, but since it is graded for mules, it is pitched at a fairly comfortable angle.
Directions: From Phoenix, you can get to the turn off to the trailhead by either driving west on Highway 60 out of Wickenburg or by taking I-10 west and circling around. For the latter, take I-10 west to Exit 81 for Salome Road. Turn right off the exit ramp and follow the road 31 miles to its end in the small town of Salome (you may want to watch your speed on this drive, the many cow carcasses which line the road might hint as to why). From Salome, turn right onto Highway 60. The dirt road to the trailhead is located on the south side of Highway 60 between mileposts 70 and 71. The road is rather inconspicuous, but is marked by a lone palm tree on the north side of the highway. Turn south on this small & somewhat bumpy dirt road and drive through the gate. Immediately past the gate stay to the right, then remain to the left at any branches as you drive the remaining 2.1 miles to the end of the road. The trailhead features a large parking area complete with bathroom and information kiosk.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Easy
Length: 10.8 miles
Date Hiked: January 2004
Weather Conditions: Sunny and cool
Required Skills: None
Hike Description: From the parking lot, walk south through the fence past the kiosk which has trail and natural history information (0 miles, 2320 feet). The path begins as an old, wide road as it heads south through wide open desert consisting of saguaro cactus, ironwood, palo verde, creosote bush, ocotillo, & cholla. A minute of walking will bring you to a trail register and 10 minutes later you'll arrive at a spot with a sign marking the location of an old garage and corral used as a supply base for the observatory staff. They obviously had no qualms about throwing their garbage wherever they felt like it, the result is the area is now considered an historic site (though the 'history' more closely resembles trash in my mind). Beyond this point, the road narrows and you will now be following the old pack trail to the summit. The path begins climbing gently towards the foothills, then somewhat more steeply as it travels up one of the arms of the main mountain. The trail eventually follows a wash filled with gray boulders a short distance before climbing out and around to the left to follow the same wash somewhat higher on the slope. After crossing this wash higher on the mountain, the path climbs out on the right and climbs a short distance to the site of an old mining camp. Collapsed wooden tent platforms are the most prominent remnant of the camp. Leaving the site, the trail continues climbing to the right and performs a few tight switchbacks before topping out at a shoulder with views on the other side of the Harquahala Mountain Backcountry Byway (the 4-WD road that leads to the summit). If you look to the summit you'll also catch sight of the observatory, wind sock and microwave tower. From the shoulder, the path bends left and continues climbing, eventually reaching a road, hitching post and 'Leave Horses Here' sign. Turn right and follow the road the short distance remaining to the summit (which you might be sharing with those that drove up on the road). The summit features a picnic table, the old fenced off observatory building, and a microwave tower. There are also interpretive signs which explain the history of the old observatory as well as the current use of the mountain by the Central Arizona Project to direct water use in the CAP canals. When ready, return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this hike at a medium pace in 5.5 hours.
Maps: None
Books: Exploring Arizona Wild Areas - Scott S. Warren
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

View from the trailhead.

The approach.

More climbing. Harquahala ridge line
near the summit