Cunningham Mountain • Range Highpoint: Dome Rock Mountains
• Southwestern La Paz County


Cunningham Mountain comes closer in view
 

Cunningham Mountain even closer
 

The approach roads and some of Copper Bottom Mine
 

Beth took this nice shot from the ridge looking south
 

Beth takes a rest
 

Then me, same place
 

Thar be the top
 

The Kofa Mountains rise to the east
 

Beth is queen of the Dome Rock Range
 

Me in my totally cool WHA t-shirt
 

One of those orange ball things that keep helicopters from flying into wires
 

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Date: February 10, 2007 • Elevation: 3,316 feet • Prominence: 2,136 feet • Distance: 4 miles • Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes • Gain: 1,750 feet • Conditions: Overcast and cool • Teammates: Beth Cousland

Cunningham Mountain is the highest point of the Dome Rock Mountains that straddle the Colorado River in Western Arizona. Thousands of travellers along Interstate-10 view the range daily, and the peak is visible south of the interstate, topped by a bunch of towers. A rough dirt road goes to the top, so climbing it is not difficult.

Given its location, the only plausible time to hike this peak is in winter, so Beth and I decided to spend Valentine's Weekend at a cool old motel called Scheffler's Motel in the town of Salome. This is where we spent our Valentine's Day of 2004, while hiking Harquahala Mountain. It's sort-of run down, but maintains a retro vibe from the 1940s. Plus, it's cheap. From here, Cunningham Mountain is about a 45-mile drive.

The next morning, we got moving at 9:30 a.m., in no real hurry. We followed US-60 to Quartzsite where we stopped for drinks, then US-95 south for eight miles to the El Paso Gas Line Road near a set of large power lines and a red-and-white valve system, presumably for the gas line. Turning right on the Gas Line Road, we traveled another 7 miles into the range, where we could see the road work its way through a low pass just to the right (north) of Cunningham Mountain. We took this good dirt road slowly, stopping often for photos. We came to a four-way junction near the Copper Bottom Mine, and turned left, driving the side road for about a quarter-mile to a sharp bend near a locked gate, elevation 1,650 feet.

I parked off the road here, butting back into a space near a small rock outcrop that had the added bonus of keeping the truck invisible from below. Across the way were a few people and vehicles, hanging around doing something we couldn't tell. During the day we saw a few quadrunners and motorbikes, plus jeeps and trucks. However, no one seemed interested in the mountain itself, and we had it all to ourselves. The big draw seems to be the Copper Bottom Mine. There are still some buildings here and there but I couldn't tell if it's still active. I don't think it is. A number of side roads not shown on the map attract the quads and motorbikes.

The hike to the top was as easy as it looked on the map. Once past the locked gate, the road goes steeply uphill and never really lets up. The road switchbacks sharply, with many tight turns and few level spots. We saw evidence of a recent hiker and some quads that drove this road possibly within the past week. The main summit is always visible to the west, although the true summit stays hidden behind foreground rocks. We kept a consistent pace, taking care for Beth's benefit.

We took a break after thirty minutes, then pushed on to where the road meets the main ridge at elevation 2,460 feet, where we took another break, very roughly about a mile up and the half-way point of the hike. Here, we had wonderful views looking south into the rest of the range, with its craggly peaks and sharp ridges. It certainly did occur to us that despite the road's general lack of beauty, it allowed for a fairly easy way to the top. Otherwise, a climb of Cunningham would be one long rock scramble, with cactus too.

From the ridge, we could see the road continue upwards, cut into the side of the ridge and zig-zagging through the rock outcrops. We plodded forward, taking another break after another 30 minutes at an overlook, this time to the north and east where we could see our truck, all tiny, way down below. Power lines line the route, and some were "humming", either by the wind or probably by the juice pumping through them. In spots along the road, there were exposed veins of glossy-white quartz. Beth picked up a few to take home with us, and I got to carry the extra weight in the backpack.

We continued forward, and finally, the road made a sharp right turn from where we could see the top, now just a few hundred feet up ahead. Beth was going slow due to her knees giving her trouble. I went off ahead for the last 100 feet, but waited below the top for Beth so we could walk the final few feet together. We took a well-deserved break beside the summit rockpile and gatorade-bottle register. Lacking a pencil, we signed in with some of Beth's colored lip gloss. The only other signers were a handful of others, most of whom I know from other hikes.

The summit is full of towers and little buildings, all running on generators and timers so that there was always a din of engines and humming fans going on. The views were excellent in all directions. The day had started cloudy and had become more overcast, but we could still see peaks way off on all the horizons. The Dome Rock Range itself dominated the north and south views, and we could make out Interstate-10 as it winds through the range about five miles north of our position. The town of Quartzsite and its thousands of RVs spread out to the northeast, while Blythe and its farms were to the west. The Colorado River was a blue squiggle on the valley floor.

Mountains I could make out were Signal Peak directly east, with Castle Dome Peak to the southeast. We could even make out the broad hump of Harquahala Mountain to the far northeast. Many other peaks and ranges lay in all directions, too many to name. It had taken us exactly two hours to reach the top, covering 1,800 feet of gain in about two miles. We spent about 40 minutes resting and eating. I taped Beth's knees for the hike down.

We took the downhills slow, hiking together so that if Beth slipped she wouldn't tweak her knee. The weather had become cooler under the clouds, with a steady light wind. In time we were back to our truck, where we changed out of our hiking clothes and got rolling back toward Salome. We celebrated with salmon and cheese bread sandwiches, plus episodes of Law and Order, one after another.

Cunningham Mountain was a nice hike. In the cooler months it's an easy dayhike, and the road makes for an easy straight-shot to the top. The views are nice. The El Paso Gas Line Road is pretty good, although a low-slung passenger car might struggle the final mile into the range due to some rocky segments, some sand and steepness where the road dips into and out of the washes. In summer, forget about this hike. But for a winter hike, it's perfect.


Our signatures in red
lip gloss, 7 years later!

Photos courtesy Jennifer
and Gerry Roach, March 2014

(c) 2006, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.