Oatman Mountain • Sentinel Plain Lava Beds
• Gila Bend Mountains
• Maricopa County


Early morning sun, from Rocky Point Road
 

Starting up the road
 

About a third of the way up
 

Towers
 

Two saguaro sit at the top
 

Stick Scott makes the top!
 

Heading down
 

Lower, with cotton fields below
 

Parting shot

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Date: January 7, 2012 • Elevation: 1,741 feet • Prominence: 1,081 feet • Distance: 4 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 1,230 feet • Conditions: Clear and cool

Oatman Mountain is located about 25 miles west of Gila Bend, 90 miles southwest of Phoenix. The peak has a shield shape to it, evidence of its creation via multiple lava flows from about three million years ago. The whole area is covered in these lava flows, and the caldera itself is roughly five miles south-southeast of Oatman Mountain. The mountains and hills eventually flatten south toward the tiny settlement of Sentinel along Interstate-8. This region is known as the Arlington-Sentinel Volcanic Field, and is a scape of lava flows, black basalt rocks, sparse vegetation, and assorted volcanic hills. Oatman Mountain is visible from Interstate-8 at about Sentinel. Looking north, it's the broad peak with the communications towers atop it.

There are two Oatman Mountains. The mountain somehow fractured on a north-south axis, forming two halves. The west half is home to buildings belonging to the Luke Air Force Base. Its highest point is 1,722 feet. The east half has civilian communications towers and rises to 1,741 feet. While not terribly high, the surrounding plain and river valley are about 500 feet, so there'd be about 1,200 vertical feet to gain today. The two halves are separated by the fracture, which drops about 500 feet between them.

This is an interesting area historically as well. The peak gets its name from the Oatman Massacre, in which six members of the the Oatman family were killed by Indians in 1851. Two sisters survived the massacre, but one died not long after, while Olive Oatman eventually was traded to another tribe and eventually purchased back by her brother (Lorenzo, in 1856), who was the other survivor. The town of Oatman, northwest of Kingman, is named for Olive Oatman.

When not abducting people, the Indians used this area to farm, hunt and trade, and a nearby set of rocks features an interesting collection of petroglyphs. The Gila River cuts through this valley, passing Oatman Mountain to the south. Before it was dammed, the Gila would flow year-round, even in the hottest parts of summer. Today, cotton farms take up a lot of the property, while the rest is open desert, most of it BLM-owned.

Beth and I were here in 2005 on a confluence visit and a general day of goofing off. We drove Painted Rock Road to Rocky Point Road, but recent rains had made the roads near the farms extremely muddy, and puddles of standing water, some about 100 feet wide, blocked us. We got to near the Gila River itself, directly south of Oatman Mountain, near a small rocky promontory called Rocky Point. We were looking for the Massacre site but couldn't get to it with all the puddles and mud. We still enjoyed ourselves, though.

Fast forward almost seven years, and here I was again, the intent this time to hike Oatman Mountain. This is one of those peaks I had deliberately "saved" for a winter weekend day when I had no other plans. It's not difficult to reach or hike, so I could plan a hike for it spontaneously, which is pretty much how I did this. I only decided to go for it a couple days before. I got the map, some drinks, my boots, and I was good to go. I left home about 6:00 a.m., drove through Maricopa into Gila Bend, then some more west to Painted Rock Road. Nothing exciting to report about the drive.

The directions are: Interstate-8 to the Painted Rock Road (Exit 102), north and west about 10 miles up through a pass to where the road splits, with the left branch being Rocky Point Road. This road is paved but then gives way to compacted dirt near the cotton farms (the petroglyphs are also along this road). I drove five miles along Rocky Point Road over the Gila River itself, turning right onto a lesser road with a BLM marker. I went north and east about a mile, parking in a small copse of tamarisk and reeds, directly below the mass of Oatman. The last mile of road was slightly rough and rutted. Even three weeks after the last storm, this road had muddy sections and deep ruts. I started hiking about 8:30 a.m.


The gentle slopes of Oatman Mountain.

The weather was cool, clear and dry, and I packed light. I was amused (and surprised) to see the road paved again as it snaked up the slopes, although the pavement was in horrible shape and actually (in my opinion) made the road as rough as it would have been were it dirt and rock. Given the broad shape of these slopes, and the lack of other peaks or points to break up the monotony, the top looked closer and lower than it really was.

According to the map, I had about two miles of hiking, and the slopes looked to be generally consistent all the way up. As such, I made good time, kept a steady pace and stopped rarely. The road is cut into the rocky slopes, and lower down, the brush was light, with creosote, ocotillo and a few saguaro. Otherwise, the slopes are a scape of rounded lava rocks, varnished black by eons in the sun. Higher up, cholla (cacti pointii bastardus) grow in abundance. As usual, I stayed well clear of them.

About halfway up I heard an engine dow low, then saw a Polaris ATV rumbling up. The two guys were dressed in camo, presumably on a hunt, or scouting, or maybe just out for fun. We waved as they passed, then they took off on a side road. Me, I continued on up to the top. The last quarter-mile got steep, but not bad. I was at the top about 9:30 a.m., slightly longer than an hour since starting. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of towers and buzzing generators on the summit. I walked the road past them and found the top-most rocks at the far end, a long 20-foot pole stuck amid them near a couple of saguaro. I sat on the rocks and had a brunch of Fig Newtons and Gatorade.

The views were fantastic. The fracture below me was very impressive. Across the way I could see the smattering of buildings on the west half, clearly lower than my position. Assorted rocky summits and broad plateau-like peaks spread out, with the morning haze obscuring them slightly. I spent about 20 minutes up here, in no hurry to get down. The hike up had gone very quickly for me.


Panorama from atop Oatman Mountain, looking west at the lower western half.

Finally, I started the downward hike. I made the egress in about an hour, then took a long break back at my truck. The two guys had motored down ahead of me and took off into the Gila River channel. I didn't see anyone else, but the cotton farms were just a mile or two away and I could hear engine rumbles. They were active today.

On the drive out I stopped at the Painted Rock Petroglyph site to walk the short trail, read the signs and check out the ancient rock art. I followed a couple big cotton trucks back onto Interstate-8, got gas in Gila Bend, had a lunch in Maricopa, and was home by 1:30. In all, this was a good way to waste half a day. I came away impressed (again) by the Oatman area, with its varied terrain and history. There's camping near the petroglyphs and the area itself makes for a nice weekend getaway in winter.

(c) 2012, 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.