Why Mountain & Benchmark • Pima County

Why Mountain and foothills, as seen from our camp space

Approaching the main peak

More approaching

At the saddle

And boom, now on top

Stick Scott climbs yet another peak

North view of Childs Benchmark, HP of the Pozo Redondo Mountains

Southwest view into Why, the town. The Bates Mountains with Kino Peak are in the distance

South view of the campground, with the Ajo Mountains in back

View west, the Growler Mountains are on the horizon

Why Mountain as seen from the hill holding Why Benchmark

The range later in the day

Montage of views in and around Why

Arizona PageMain Page

Prominence Peaks


Date: December 13, 2014 • Elevation: 2,357 feet (Why Mountain) • Prominence: 507 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 550 feet • Conditions: Cloudy with some blue skies, chilly

Why Mountain is a small peak with about 500 feet of prominence located north of the town of Why in southern Arizona. There is one main mountain mass and two smaller "foothills", one of which contains the "Why" Benchmark as well as water towers serving the little town. Why itself is just a smattering of homes, a gas station, some closed businesses, and a healthy winter-time population of RVers. The town supposedly gets its odd name because it was at the junction of state routes AZ-85 and AZ-86, which used to meet at a Y-junction. It sees a fair amount of traffic as a pass-through town for travelers going between Rocky Point (Mexico) and Phoenix/Tucson.

Beth and I had planned to camp two nights at the Baboquivari Campground on the Tohono O'odham Nation about 80 miles to the east, but a big storm was gearing to pass through the state. Knowing that we'd be arriving in the dark and that the road into the campground could get nasty if wet, we hedged our bets and opted to look around Ajo for a place to camp for the first night, then we'd go to the Baboquivari Campground the second night. I did a quick web search and found the Coyote Howls campground/RV Resort, which looked good to us. We left our home around 3 p.m., battled Friday traffic, drove through Maricopa, Gila Bend and Ajo, arriving in the dark in Why around 6 p.m. We found a spot, and set oursleves up for the night. The sky was cloudy but with mild temperatures.

That night, the rains came, usually in short intense spurts lasting about 10 minutes, about once an hour for almost the whole night. By dawn, the main cloud bands had moved to the east and we could see clear skies out west. Above us it was a mix of puffy clouds and a steady cold breeze. I had "discovered" Why Mountain in my very short web-search the night before, so I planned to hike it in the morning while Beth stayed back at camp. It was very close to camp, less than a mile away. Regarding its name: I don't know if it has an official name. Its elevation is 2,357 feet, so I thought about calling it "Primes Peak", given that 2, 3, 5, and 7 are the first four prime numbers, and that 2,357 itself is a prime number. However, I figured that would confuse people. I assume locals call it Why Mountain or something like that.

From camp, I walked north and soon had left behind the camping grounds. I was aiming for a low saddle between the two lower foothills. I walked over rocks and through light brush and quickly found a beefy trail. I followed this trail to the saddle, crossing a barbed-wire fence along the way. At the saddle, the trail splits, so I kept to the one I assumed would get me nearer the main peak. The ground is covered in blackened lava rocks, and the trail is essentially where someone moved aside the rocks, one by one. It's a fairly well-constructed trail, which was nice, given I wasn't expecting one at all. After another ten minutes, I was in the saddle south of the main peak, where a four-foot tall cairn stands.

I didn't immediately see an obvious trail heading upslope, so I started up anyway, and within five minutes found the trail again. I stayed on it all the way up. In places, it was a little faint, and some small cairns along the way helped keep me on track. The trail parallels a gully, then angles left and upward, to meet the main ridge just south of the highest point. I first walked to the highpoint, got a few photos, then walked south toward another jumble of rocks, where I had better views of the town of Why. The day was very nice, with a stiff breeze and relatively cool temperatures. I had great views in all directions, but only spent about ten minutes on top.

I descended the way I came, and back at the first saddle, found a path that led up to the small hill that holds the Why Benchmark. The Benchmark was installed in 1977 and is silver, not brass, and put in by the "Highway Division", for some reason. I was able to snap a few more photos from this vantage point. I also met a hiker along the trail. My guess is that the people who encamp here over the winter probably hike these trails all the time. There are a lot of RVers here, but not like some dreary mobile-home villages where everyone is side by side. Here, they're spread out, and seemed like a cool crowd. The whole place was very nice and we agreed we'd definitely come back in the future.

Back at camp, we relaxed, in no hurry, but finally left around 11 a.m., heading east along AZ-86 and the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. We enjoy this drive, the few times we have done it. It's rarely crowded, the scenery is stunning, and the names of the towns are endlessly amusing. The first one, Schuchuligk, is unpronouncable. There used to be a sign for Peach Pu, a settlement near Pisinimo, but that sign is gone. In about an hour, we rolled into Sells, the main town on the Rez (and one that is easy to pronounce). We had covered about 60 miles from Why. Unfortunately, the skies were clouded and the Baboquivari Mountains were completely shrouded, the cloud ceiling being about 500 feet above the ground.

We stopped in Sells for cokes and snacks, then drove south in Indian Route 19, aiming for Topawa, where the road to the Baboquivari Campground starts. I wanted to stop at the Museum and Historical Office in Topawa to get some permits and also to speak with the people there about other topics. There were a lot of vehicles there, but when I opened one door, I found I was interrupting a board meeting of some sort! I apologized and went back outside. A woman came out to speak with me. She was nice and helpful in a general sense. I didn't get the information I wanted, but I had no complaints.

It became abundantly clear to us that driving into the Baboquivari Campground was not a good idea. The road was slick mud and covered in large puddles, and I did not want ten miles of this. Besides, the whole point of this road is to go when it's clear, and you can stare in amazement at the magnificent Baboquivari Peak the whole drive in. Today, it was clouded over. We decided to not bother, and come back another time.

Since we were here in Topawa, we decided to drive south to the border and visit the semi-famous (notorious?) San Miguel Gate, or commonly called "The Gate" on some maps such as the DeLorme Atlas and the USGS Topographical Maps. Why one gate would get such attention fascinates me. It was a place I always wanted to go see.

As we drove south on IR-19, we passed a Border Patrol vehicle parked on the side about every mile. We passed through a couple towns, most just a random smattering of homes with no actual town center or places of business, places you'd normally expect in a "town". There are no signs telling one which town you may be entering, and what signs are there are usually so covered in grafitti that it's impossible to read. This caused us some concern because all the speed limit signs were painted over. To be safe, I kept the speed at 50 m.p.h. the whole way.

The mile markers counted downward until we passed MM-1, then the road bent east. Here, we left the road and onto a muddy dirt road for a quarter-mile to "The Gate". Here we were. There was a Border Patrol vehicle parked nearby and a guy manning it. He was young and friendly and seemed cool. He seemed glad that someone had showed up to relieve his boredom. We were honest why we were here, and he thought that was funny. At least he didn't tell us to scram. There was a mama dog there too, and her puppy.

The San Miguel Gate is just a simple gate along the long border fence. Today, it was closed shut. We could see a basic building on the other side, but no hordes of Mexicans or terrorists looking to get in. Apparently, it's there for the Tohono O'odham Indians, whose homeland spans the two countries and who use it to go back and forth quasi-legally. We drove to within 30 feet of it and snapped a couple images. The sky was heavily clouded and our shots didn't come out so great. The ground was hopelessly muddy so we did not bother to get out.

The B.P. guy did ask us if we had "permission" to be here. We mentioned our permission slips for the Baboquivari Campground, but no, strictly speaking, we had not asked for permission to be here. He warned us that the Tohono O'odham Police could cite us if they wanted to. It seems that to drive on any road (except for the main route, AZ-86) on the Nation, one needs permission. We already sort of knew this, but we didn't let on that fact. The truth is, the Tohono O'odham District Offices usually do not respond to phone calls or emails, so getting permission is essentially impossible. On the other hand, we've driven many paved routes on the Nation in the past with no problems, and I have never heard of anyone getting cited for not having "permission". Thus, we were not too concerned.

We got back onto the highway and started heading north, back to Sells. About three miles up, a group of three Border Patrol vehicles passed us going south, and the last one immediately did a fast U-turn and starts to tail us. This went on for a couple miles, then he turned on his lights and pulled us over. Truthfully, we were fully expecting to be pulled over. This came as no surprise. I pulled into a random dirt lot along the road. The B.P. agent was nice, did a cursory check of our vehicle, then gave us the same warning about needing "permission". Something was odd about this guy ... the more he spoke, the more his German accent came through! He was very friendly, though. In fact, my wife, who speaks German well, said something to him in German, which he was not expecting judging by his surprised reaction. He even got a little flustered. He was almost laughing! This was all for the good. We got our B.P. inspection out of the way, and everything went well.

Soon, we were back to Sells, and now needed to decide where to go. Going east was not attractive due to the weather, so we decided to return to Why and that same campground. We even rolled into the same space we had the night before. It was nearing 4 p.m. when we returned. I took the opportunity to walk into "town" for some photographs. There's not much to the town. We were fascinated by an old-style Shell gas-station sign, with the old Shell shape, not just painted as they are today. The station must have closed 40 years ago. That sign could be worth thousands.

The night was clear and very cold, nearing freezing. We both slept well under boatloads of blankets, but when we awoke the next morning, there was a coat of frost on the truck and on some of our blankets. We drove home, arriving about 1 p.m.

San Miguel Gate, a.k.a. "The Gate"

View of The Gate

Another view

(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.