White Tank Mountain • Range Highpoint: White Tank Mountains
• North-central Maricopa County

Date Climbed
February 19, 2006

Elevation
4,083 feet

Distance
11 miles

Time
6 hours

Gain
2,400 feet

Conditions
Breezy, some spotty clouds
and very nice overall

Prominence
2,503 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


The White Tanks as seen from the east. The summit is the pointed peak to the right of the mass of towers
 

The summit pokes out from along the Mesquite Canyon Trail
 

Now, as seen from the Goat Camp Trail junction
 

And now, even closer!
 

Panorama view looking east and south. Sierra Estrella Mountain rises in the back

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The White Tank Mountains form the western boundary of the broad "Valley of the Sun", as Phoenix likes to call itself. From downtown Phoenix, the White Tanks are about twenty miles farther west, a broad, sprawling range of peaks that stretch from Interstate-10 to the south, up to about Wittmann in the north. The highest point is an officially-unnamed peak at 4,083 feet elevation, on which a smattering of communications towers stand. There is no official trail to this summit, which may see just a few dozen visitors in a typical year, surprising given its proximity to Phoenix.

The summit's name is sometimes known as Barry Goldwater Peak, named for the long-time politician and 1964 presidential candidate who passed away in 1998. However, this may not be an official name as it rarely is cited as such on various maps. The name non-withstanding, it's not the easiest summit to identify. As viewed from Phoenix, other lower subsummits appear higher, including one with about a million towers crammed on it, an annex (I think) of the Luke Air Force Base. The true summit is slightly more pointed, and set farther back (to the west) when viewed from the east side.

Most of the White Tank Mountains are enclosed within the White Tank Mountains Regional Park, with access from Olive Avenue. This park has many parking spots, hiking trails, horse trails, day-use ramadas and even some camping spots. The trail network is extensive, but none "officially" go to the summit. The real attraction are the natural tanks, called tinajas, which are natural depressions or voids in the rock that hold water well into the hottest parts of summer. The ancient Hohokam Indians encamped in these hills until about 1100 A.D. Some petroglyphs can be found as well as evidence of old "check dams" built by these long-ago peoples to capture more water.

I moved to Arizona in 1992, and later that summer, when temperatures moderated, I explored the park. I hiked one trail a mile or two, then hiked back, with no real plan in mind. I was also here for pleasure in 1998, then a few times for rescues (and one body recovery) while with the Sheriff's Mountain Rescue Team during the period between 1999-2003. However, it was not until now, early 2006, that I would try to hike to the highest point. Accompanying me would be Peter Bengtson from Tucson.

I did some cursory study of the trails before the hike, but no information about actually getting to the summit existed anywhere on the internet or in print. It appeared we'd have to bushwhack a long stretch of this hike. Furthermore, rangers explicitly discourage hikers from "visiting the towers". These are the aforementioned bank of towers that are lower in elevation from the summit. The towers atop the real summit aren't even visible from below, so I doubt anyone would randomly try to go there.

I met Pete alongside Olive Avenue early this morning, just outside the park boundary. We paid our fees and drove to the Mesquite Canyon Trailhead, starting our hike about 7:30 a.m. in cool, pleasant conditions.

We walked past the informational sign to the Mesquite Trail, which goes left. Very quickly the trail enters into a canyon and makes a few switchbacks up the hillsides, and before we knew it we were a couple hundred feet above our cars. The trail crosses a drainage at a "Trail Closed" sign (it refers to some side trail). From here, the real trail climbs over a ridge, then down the other side slightly, trending generally west. Here, we had the first glimpse of the pointed summit way off on the highest ridge.

At 1.8 miles (said a sign), we came to the Willow Trail junction. We stayed straight and on the Mesquite Trail. The trail bends south, then west again, going up and down over a series of low hills and outcrops, then starts up a steep section that topped out on a small ridge, roughly 2.5 miles from the cars. Here, I stopped and let Pete catch up. All the while a group of six was gaining on us, talking loudly. We all congregated on the top of this little ridge. The group of six continued down and away on the trail, while we got antsy and figured we should leave the trail and start our cross-country segment.

This proved to be a bad idea. We left the trail and made our way up the slopes toward the prominent ridge that led to the top. Game paths helped in places but most of it was brushy and rocky. We got to the ridge ... and saw the trail again, the same Mesquite Trail we had been on! This little sojourn cost us just 20 minutes of our time. Finally, the trail led to a junction with the Ford Canyon and Goat Camp trails, 3.2 miles from the trailhead. We went left on the Goat Camp Trail for about a mile, a wonderfully well-maintained route high on the rounded ridges. Nice grasses and no rocky obstacles to slow us, and this was a very enjoyable portion of the hike. The trail topped out on the ridge just west of a point marked as elevation 3,185 feet on the map, near a jeep track. I stopped here, had a bite and waited for Pete, about five minutes behind me. We rested then started cross-country again.

Quickly we discovered the old jeep track, which was barely recognizable. It offered us a reasonably brush-free route, but all the while I was amazed that someone thought this a good place to drive a Jeep. The tracks were steep and cambered outward from the hillside. I can't imagine it's been driven in at least 40 years, but for hiking purposes, it was dandy. In less than a mile we had come upon the major dirt road that goes north-south through the range, and is obviously there for the tower workers. The road sees vehicles as we saw plenty of tracks, but on this day all was quiet. Frankly, I'm not sure how aggressively this area is patrolled and if it's even "illegal" to be here. We saw not a single sign about trespassing. The only thing I could think of was that Luke Air Force Base had some sensitive locations up here. But if that was the case, I doubt they'd put something up there without massive fencing and armed sentries guarding it. The walk up the remaining segment of road went easy and fast, and we summitted at 11:30 in very pleasant, slightly breezy conditions. We took a 30-minute lunch break up top.

The views down were quite nice, barring those blocked by the towers. Looking west we had wide-open deserts, with Harquahala Mountain off to the northwest. To the east we could see the farms and suburbs of Phoenix, with the downtown buildings barely visible. The Sierra Estrellas rose to the southeast. North and south we saw just more of the White Tank range, which was nice. We signed in the log, noting it was placed there in 1988 and still the booklet was only half-full. I'd say roughly 10-30 people climb the summit yearly, a rather low number given this peak's proximity to Phoenix. But then again, it's not a well-known obvious summit and the admonition to "not visit the towers" in the park literature probably keeps a few people away. We recognized many of the names as fellow hikers we know.

The hike back went very quickly, knowing now to stay on the Mesquite Trail all the way back to our cars. We saw no one until we were back on the Mesquite Trail, and then only just a few people. As we got closer down much more people were hiking. I passed a lot going down, then almost back at the parking lot, a kind woman mentioned that I had a tear in my pants and my undies were showing for all to see. Slightly embarrassed (and bare assed, sort of), I walked out, changed into drier clothes, threw out the pants, and waited again for Pete. We had a good chat and shook hands, then went on our separate ways back to our respective homes. The hike out took me about 2 hours. The total stats worked out to about 11 miles round trip and 2,400 feet of gain, all on trail, old road and new road, plus our unintended off-route section. A nice hike, and one I am surprised I hadn't done before in my 14 years of living here.

(c) 2006, 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.