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

Date Climbed
February 10, 2007

Elevation
3,316 feet

Distance
4 miles round trip

Time
4.5 hours

Gain
1,750 feet

Conditions
Overcast, cool

Prominence
2,136 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


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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Cunningham Mounatin is one of those mountains that gets viewed thousands of times a day, but perhaps one or two people would know its name. It's the highest point of the Dome Rock Mountains that straddle the Colorado River in Western Arizona. Interstate-10 crosses over the range between Blythe (CA) and Quartzsite. Cunningham Mountain is plainly obvious as the rocky summit with the usual batch of communications towers. As such, a dirt road goes all the way to the top.

Given it's 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 its heydays of 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 up 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 cleared rocky knob 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, so this area definitely gets action. 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 starts steeply and never really lets up. The road switchbacks sharply, with many tight turns and very 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 body is always visible to the west, although the true summit stays hidden behind some 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 humming fans going on. Even so, the views were excellent in all directions. The day had started kind of cloudy, and had become steadily 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 his thousands of RVs lay out to our northeast, while Blythe and its farms were to the west. The Colorado River was a blue squiggle on the valley floor. To the east, big Signal Peak stood tall like a ship on a sea. The spires of the Kofa Mountains were also visible to the southeast with Castle Dome Peak easily seen. 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 up 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 any worse. We also took some breaks and plenty more photographs. 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 proved to be quite a nice hike. In the cooler months it's a nice easy dayhike, and the road makes for an easy straight-shot to the top. The views are rather 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) 2007, 2012 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.