Harquahala Mountain (Arizona)


By: Bob Michael


"The desert is full of surprises". Every desert trip I make, I have reason anew to reflect on that statement. Take the sombre massif of the Harquahala Range, highest in Yuma County, south of US 60 between Aguila and Salome.

We turned off the, highway 3.2 miles W of the Yuma-Mericopa county line, immediately W of a little rest area. The well-defined dirt road heeds SE about 3 miles; we halted our Plymouth Arrow (Japanese lowrider) 1-1/2 miles in. The last mile of the road, up to its end at 2600', passes through a robust stand of virile Saguaros- almost alone worth the trip.

We had intended to follow an old trail which is shown on the topo from the roadhead to the 5,681' summit. The trail is still well defined (if badly overgrown) up on the mountain, where it was actually dug into the side, but it's long gone on the bajada. So, for about a mile and a half, you just "follow your nose" through' the paloverde to the base of the greet NW canyon of Harquahala Mtn., looking for ducks which as often as not, take you nowhere. The trail begins to take form just beyond some humongous monolithic boulders at the canyon mouth, passes an old mine, and then begins to switchback up the W. flank of the peak. At 4200', the trail. crosses a lovely side canyon marked with a spring on the topo. Water-streaked slabs of brown granite stair-step up for a thousand feet; a rivulet of sweet water splashes through moss and watercress. This trickle would scarcely merit a second glance in the Sierra or the San Juans, but what an enchanted place in the burnt heart of the desert! Four miles and four light-years from the diesels and RV's soundlessly droning along below. Just below this oasis, I had started to kick an old can lid off the trail- but it was no can lid. It wee an old miner's brass pocket watch, so old the crystal had turned purple- and yet so well preserved by the desert that the dial is still readable down to the finest detail, and the gears and springs inside almost seem functional.. It must have lain there half a century, waiting for me.

On the broad, rolling summit, yet another surprise awaited. As we approached the strange building just below the summit, we figured it must be an old mining building - but it didn't really look like one. The BLM has erected a protective fence and a sign identifying the structure as an old Smithsonian Institution cosmic-ray observatory, dating from the first decade of this century.

Also near the summit was- the only unpleasant surprise of the trip- a modern jeep road. However, we took same comfort in the fact that it had obviously not been driven on for a considerable length of time. Perhaps the BLM has it gated off.

After enjoying the view west to Kofa and Castle Dome and east to the high country of central. Arizona, we placed a register on a peak that is just begging for a DPS Exploratory trip and List consideration.

Bob Michael
Brown Bear Mountaineering Club
Denver, Colorado

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