Roof Butte • Range Highpoint: Chuska Mountains
• Northeast Apache County
• Highpoint: Navajo Nation (Arizona)

Date Climbed
May 18, 2006

9,800+ feet

2.5 miles round trip

1 hour

870 feet

Cool and very nice

3,140+ feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

Roof Butte's unique summit

Parked the truck here and started walking

Looking back at Mr. Truck

The very top is in view

Roof Butte from miles away, near Shiprock

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Prominence Peaks


Roof Butte is the highpoint of the Chuska Mountains, which run along the Arizona and New Mexico border on the Navajo Nation. The Chuskas feature many peaks breaching the 9,000-foot barrier, and extensive highlands that look like Montana or Idaho. Roof Butte itself is a block-shaped peak rising above some lovely meadows. A service road leads to the top, where communications towers and a fire lookout stand. Thus, hiking to the top is fairly easy, but 90% of the fun is getting there. This is a spectacular region of Arizona, rarely visited by outsiders.

Originally, Beth and I were planning a week of hiking and camping in western New Mexico, and we got there only to discover nearly all forest lands were closed due to extreme fire danger. We stayed two days in Truth of Consequences (N.M.), and from there, followed some back roads through tiny towns such as Winston and Dusty, coming back onto pavement near the Very Large Array near Datil along US-60. We continued west to Pie Town, where we stopped in for pie, then followed more back roads through such places as Fence Lake on the Zuni Nation, finally ending today's journey in Gallup, where we stayed at a hotel in town. It had been an interesting, lengthy drive through the high deserts and meadows of Western New Mexico.

The next day, we left Gallup and headed north toward the Navajo Nation and Window Rock, the "capital" of the Nation, where we stopped to get our recreational permits. I had called the day before and they told us how to find the Parks and Recreation offices, and gave us the hours, but when we showed up, no one was in. They were all off in Ganado for some conference. No one was there. Then some guy shows up, probably just to check his emails. We explained him our plight, and he was cool enough to write us some permits so we would be "legal" while exploring the Navajo backcountry. That's the way they do things up here.

From Window Rock, we went north along Indian Route 12 as it crossed back into New Mexico, then again into Arizona, for about 40 miles to the communities of Upper Wheatfields and a few miles later, Wheatfields. It's pretty countryside here, with high desert and interesting sandstone formations, then the foothills of the Chuskas as we approached Wheatfields. Our plan was to take Indian Route 68 north from Wheatfields, which, according to our map, cut across the range and took us very close to the access road to Roof Butte's summit. The guy back at Window Rock tried to dissuade us by saying "none of the roads are marked up there" but we found IR-68 to be marked and very well maintained. We turned north onto IR-68 and started into the Chuskas.

At first, the road was wide, gravel and flat, and easy to travel along at about 45 mph. Soon, it entered into forests of pine and aspen, and for much of the remaining drive it cut in and out of narrow canyons with beautiful grassy meadows and gentle brooks of water. Occasionally the road got bumpy but it was never very bad, and the scenery was outstanding all the way in. Whenever there was any doubt at a junction we stayed on the main road. Finally, we crested a rise and came out upon a broad, gorgeous meadow, over which stood Roof Butte. From Wheatfields to Roof Butte's access road was about 16 miles, which took us about 45 minutes.

We arrived at the Y-junction where the access road to Roof Butte's summit went left. We parked off the main road and got ready. Beth wasn't terribly interested in this peak and decided to relax back at the truck, while I slipped on some sneakers, grabbed a water and camera, and headed up the road to the top. The hike went quickly, covering 1.25 miles and 870 feet of gain in 35 minutes. I moved fast so as not to be gone long. Up top, I walked past the fire lookout tower, and the guy up there greeted me. We chatted, but then he had to get back to business, so I continued on.

I walked to the east end of the summit, where the highest point is found. Across the way stood Beautiful Mountain, the highest point in San Juan County, New Mexico. I kept my visit short, and immediately started the walk out. Some other guys were driving up in a work truck. They had no beefs with me being there. I was back to the truck quickly, total time gone an hour.

Another peak, elevation 9,774 feet, lies west of Roof Butte's summit. It looks nearly as high, but Roof Butte is about 25 feet higher. From way below, the two summits strike an attractive profile, especially as viewed coming in from the east or north via Shiprock.

Hike done, we continued north along Route-68 as it very steeply descended just a couple more miles to meet up with paved Route-13, which comes in from Lukachukai. From here, the road descends very steeply some more, with grades of up to 12%. Still up on the highlands, we had nice views of Shiprock, which we visited about an hour later.

(c) 2006 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.