Maricopa Peak, Arizona, April 2021

On Tuesday, April 13, I climbed Maricopa Peak, the summit of Javelina Mountain and the highpoint of the Sand Tank Mountains. Maricopa Peak is visible to the south from Interstate 8 about 20 miles east of Gila Bend, Arizona. It has 1484 feet of topographic prominence, making it the 155th most prominent peak in Arizona. It is located in Area A of the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

Linda and I enter Area A of the Sonoran Desert National Monument last December
Linda and I enter Area A of the Sonoran Desert National Monument last December

Last December Linda and I explored the access road to Maricopa Peak. I found the road passable with high clearance to a parking spot close to the peak. We considered returning sometime to camp there to make the trip a family outing. But the opportunity to return did not arise before the desert became too hot for a pleasant camping trip. I was running out of opportunities to return this season so I decided to give the peak a try in spite of the warm temperatures.

Javelina Mountain and Maricopa Peak early in the drive in Tuesday morning
Javelina Mountain and Maricopa Peak early in the drive in Tuesday morning
Maricopa Peak from the road shortly before reaching my parking spot
Maricopa Peak from the road shortly before reaching my parking spot

My Jeep handled the drive in on Tuesday without getting high centered or banging against rocks I did not want to stop for to move. I did stop several times to photograph the north slopes of Javelina Mountain from the desert floor. I returned to my chosen parking spot and decided it would not have been a scenic spot to camp after all.

Maricopa Peak from the end of the road where I started following the ridge to the right
Maricopa Peak from the end of the road where I started following the ridge to the right
Maricopa Peak slipping behind the upper slopes from my view low on the NW Ridge
Maricopa Peak slipping behind the upper slopes from my view low on the NW Ridge

After parking I continued on foot up the road for about half a mile to the road’s end. Here the cross country climbing began.

I follow the ridge crest, occasionally stepping around a cactus or spiny bush
I follow the ridge crest, occasionally stepping around a cactus or spiny bush
The NW Ridge leads to the subsidiary summit above
The NW Ridge leads to the subsidiary summit above

I chose to climb up along an open ridge that appeared to lead to the upper mountain. It seemed there were gaps behind some points on the ridge. Fortunately each time the ridge topped out there was only a minor elevation loss before the ridge continued higher. The footing was good and I enjoyed a breeze as the day warmed up.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) blossoms high on the NW Ridge
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) blossoms high on the NW Ridge

The ocotillo plants (Fouquieria splendens) were blooming and their red blossoms added points of color to the otherwise drab slopes.

Maricopa Peak comes into view from below the subsidiary summit
Maricopa Peak comes into view from below the subsidiary summit
Approaching the saddle below Maricopa Peak
Approaching the saddle below Maricopa Peak

Maricopa Peak remained hidden for most of my climb but finally came into view as I approached a subsidiary summit. Rather than climbing further up I decided to traverse across a rocky and brushy slope to a saddle immediately below the Maricopa Peak. I carefully watched and listened for snakes as I did so, but detected none.

Climbing above the saddle towards the summit which lies just beyond view
Climbing above the saddle towards the summit which lies just beyond view
Desert plants decorate the steepening slope
Desert plants decorate the steepening slope
The rocky upper slopes add character to the finish of the climb
The rocky upper slopes add character to the finish of the climb

From the saddle I climbed directly up slope to the summit of Maricopa Peak. Many desert plants decorated the slope but they were easy to step around. The slope was rocky near the top and this added some character to the finish of the climb.

The Maricopa Peak summit ridge with solar panel
The Maricopa Peak summit ridge with solar panel

I found a small antenna and a few solar panels immediately on reaching the summit ridge. I noted a local high point, but decided the true summit of Maricopa Peak lay a few feet further to the southeast.

The Maricopa Peak summit rock cairn with summit registry buried within
The Maricopa Peak summit rock cairn with summit registry buried within

There I found a summit registry inside a small rock cairn. I signed into the registry and discovered I was the first person to do so since my peakbagging friends Matthias Stender and Adam Humphreys had signed in over two years earlier.

The view southeast along the spine of Javelina Mountain from the Maricopa Peak summit
The view southeast along the spine of Javelina Mountain from the Maricopa Peak summit
South from the Maricopa Peak summit looking across the Sand Tank Mountains towards distant Cimarron Peak
South from the Maricopa Peak summit looking across the Sand Tank Mountains towards distant Cimarron Peak
The view northwest along the spine of Javelina Mountain from the Maricopa Peak summit
The view northwest along the spine of Javelina Mountain from the Maricopa Peak summit

While I ate lunch I admired the views of remote and rugged ranges around me. Table Top, the Vekol Mountains, and distant Cimarron Peak beyond the Sand Tank Mountains reminded me of memorable climbs. I recognized many other peaks I have visited and I identified a few I hope to visit in future seasons. Swifts repeatedly passed by me at high speed, too fast for me to try to photograph.

Starting the descent I study the subsidiary summit and its north slope to the right
Starting the descent I study the subsidiary summit and its north slope to the right
The north slope leads down towards the road and my Jeep right of center
The north slope leads down towards the road and my Jeep right of center

I thought I recognized the road I had driven in on far below me and the general area where my Jeep was parked. It seemed a more direct route down to return to the subsidiary summit below, then descend the broad north slope towards my parking spot. I decided I would give that route another look as I descended and make a decision then.

A Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) glides past me as I descend from Maricopa Peak
A Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) glides past me as I descend from Maricopa Peak
My last view of Maricopa Peak from the upper North Slope
My last view of Maricopa Peak from the upper North Slope

As I started my descent five turkey vultures passed nearby and I paused to watch them. Then I continued down to the subsidiary summit. The north slope seemed feasible so I started down. The slope steepened but the footing was good and my descent went quickly.

Looking back up the North Slope as I climb the first of several low ridges towards my Jeep
Looking back up the North Slope as I climb the first of several low ridges towards my Jeep

As I dropped into the gully I lost the breezes and the afternoon grew hotter. I discovered that the gullies and ridges led me away from my destination, so I had to cross several washes and low ridges to compensate. The temperature seemed to spike whenever I crossed a wash but I enjoyed the light breezes on the low ridges. I was thirsty but rationed my water and had plenty to drink waiting for me at my Jeep.

It was a successful climb of Maricopa Peak. I will remember the experience whenever I pass by on future travels.

About Paul McClellan

I had the good fortune to have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where I discovered the joys and addiction of hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains and other mountain ranges in the Western United States.
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