Margies Peak • Sonoran Desert National Monument
• North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness
• Maricopa County

Margies Peak as seen from where we camped the night before

View the next morning

Walking closer to the base. I went up the ridge in the middle

On the lower slopes of this ridge. It was like this the whole way up

Looking over at Margies Peak while on this ridge

The last slope of this ridge before it met with the main range crest. To sense the steepness, remember that the saguaro cacti are all at true vertical

View of the summit from this point

Final hundred feet

Looking east at the ridge I just came up

Stick Scott leans up against the wood lath still standing at the top

South ridge, the one I didn't follow

On the descent, one of the ridge bumps I needed to get around

The top of the descent ridge that leads back down to the desert flats

A little gopher (?) snake sunning himself

Margies Peak as seen from the entrance to the National Monument

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Prominence Peaks



Date: December 21, 2014 • Elevation: 2,493 feet • Prominence: 1,093 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes • Gain: 1,370 feet • Conditions: Clear, calm and chilly with mist in the valleys

Margies Peak is located in the northwest extent of the Maricopa Mountains and within the Sonoran Desert National Monument, about halfway between Gila Bend and Buckeye. Beth and I were looking for an excuse to get out for a night to camp and this peak looked like a good place to go. It is not too far, has good road access, and the hike itself looked manageable, at least on the map.

We left Scottsdale about 2 p.m. and drove west along Interstate-10 to Miller Road, where we got supplies for the night. We then crossed over onto state route AZ-85, the main highway from Buckeye into Gila Bend. I drove this highway once back in 1992, and never since. It's rare that I need to go this way for any reason, but also, it was a notoriously dangerous two-lane highway full of trucks and idiot motorists. Since AZ-85 is the main "Phoenix Bypass", it was widened into a split four-lane highway some time ago. This was my first time back on this highway, and I was happy to see it in its expanded, modernized form.

We drove south on AZ-85, Margies Peak coming into view as the first big peak visible coming in from the north. About twenty miles from Interstate-10, we eased onto Woods Road and went east, lost the pavement, crossed a cattle grate, and made a left at a junction, following a sandy road northeast through the desert, with white flagging tied onto the bushes our only hint that we were on the right road. We met up with another sandy road paralleling some powerlines, then shortly, merged onto a better road, BLM-8001, which went east and through the Sonoran Desert National Monument boundary. We drove in another mile or so, until we were directly south of Margies Peak. In all, we drove 82 miles from our place in Scottsdale, of which the last three were along the sandy tracks.

We parked about 30 feet off the road behind a big bush, arriving about 4:00 p.m., the sun already low in the sky. I scouted the ridges using our binoculars for a way up the mountain, and also inspected the general area. The sun set about an hour later. We ate dinner and sat in the truck's cab. The place was very quiet, but the glow from the Phoenix lights lit the east sky, and that was enough to provide enough ambient light to see our way around the area. There was no moon tonight.

I awoke with the sunrise and milled around camp for about an hour, letting things warm a little. Beth was in her usual spot in the truck's cab, fully stocked for the day. I gave her a kiss and started walking at 8 a.m. sharp. I walked across a braided sandy arroyo, then up the rocky embankment and onto a sloping desert plain, a bajada of rocks that tilted up to meet the base of the mountain. I zigged and zagged through the rocks, aiming for the base of a principal subridge that looked promising as a way up to the peak. I had to alter my course, crossing some drainages along the way, until I was at the base of this ridge. I had been hiking about 20 minutes and had gained about 200 feet in about a half-mile.

I started up the steeper slopes, hopping from rock to rock and avoiding cactus. There were clumps of cholla almost everywhere all the way up. Whenever possible, I walked around them rather than through them. The route-finding was easy. I stayed high on the ridge, avoiding traverses as much as possible. The mountain is a mush of granite rocks, some set very solid (usually with a nice brown patina) and other whiter, suggesting newer-exposed rocks, and more apt to come apart in my hands. Thus, I avoided the lighter-colored rocks when I could.

This route worked well. It was steep for a couple hundred feet, then would level for a little bit, then repeat. I encountered no cliffs or anything that would stop me. In about an hour, I had climbed this ridge and was now on the main range crest, directly east of the peak. The remaining hike looked like more of the same: rocks and cactus, and in between the rocks, more rocks.

I had to get past one ridge bump, which went well but was slow going. Here, it took a little more thought to figure ways through the rock jumbles. I would drop ten feet to one side, realize I had made a mistake, ascend back to the ridge, try the other side, and repeat. But I never really stopped, and in time had arrived onto the summit, about two hours after having started.

The views were very nice. The Maricopa Mountains stretched south and east, and the Gila Bend Mountains to the west, with big Woolsey Peak's silhouette in the distance. The day was clear but humid and hazy, with the valley floors covered in a fine haze mist. Nevertheless, the temperature was comfortable, there was essentially no breeze, and I felt good. The top "features" a two-by-two wood lath that was erected by the surveyors ages ago, and it still stands, kept erect by four guy wires. The benchmark says "Skull". The peak's current name is apparently in honor of the proprietress of a restaurant that used to be located along US-80 below the peak, back when US-80 was the main highway out this way, well before AZ-85 was constructed.

I didn't spend too long on top. just enough to snap some images and sign into the log book. I was the third entry for 2014, the previous having been just a month earlier, and before that, on New Years Day. Signatures went back 15 years. Going down was much easier since I could eyeball routes down through the rocks better. I stayed as high as possible. Only one segment along the main crest did I need to drop about 15 feet to the north slope, but otherwise, I stayed on the crest itself and made very good time.

The descent off the subridge also went well, and again, I kept to the crest as often as possible. I had been doing very well at avoiding the cholla until I was about 200 feet from the bottom. As I was shimmying down through some rocks, I put both hands down onto a rocks and somehow picked up a couple of small "barblets" of cholla that had fallen here from a nearby plant. I was wearing gloves, which helped, but as I would pull one barb from one glove, it simply stuck into the other glove. It took about ten minutes to carefully batting off the barbs, and pulling out a few spines that had got into my skin. As usual, it hurt.

Once down off the steep slopes, I had a fun fast-paced walk out on the desert flats back toward the truck. Along the way I found a little snake sunning himself, so I snapped his photo. The day was warming up, with temperatures in the 70s. I was back to our truck a shade before noon. Beth was doing well, but battling some hornets. Apparently we parked too close to a nest, and the heat of the day got them energized. I piled my stuff into the truck and drove us about a mile down the road, where we stopped and I took some time to change, relax, and have a cold coke.

Our drive out went well. We chatted with a guy driving in with Colorado plates and a front seat full of DeLormes and other maps. Seemed like a cool guy. We were back to AZ-85 in no time, and rather than go directly home, I suggested to Beth that we drive up Old US-80, which parallels the Gila River, and most interestingly, passes over the Gila River at the Gillespie Dam and Bridge. I was here years ago and recall being impressed by this old rusted relic truss bridge. It had that cool look from the 1930s.

We were at the bridge after ten minutes, and surprised to see that someone (the state?) had developed the place a little bit, with a pull-out and viewing platform. The visitor's area was new, dated from 2012. The Gillespie Dam was used for irrigation but was breached in the floods of 1993 (which I remember). The dam will apparently never be rebuilt. The river here still flows and waters the nearby farms, along with supporting bird and wildlife along the river.

The Gillespie Dam and Bridge

The new sign

Standing in the road for this image

The dam got broke in 1993

View from the platform

Beth and the truck

(c) 2014 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.