The Mountains of Arizona •
Chrome Butte • Tonto National Forest
• San Carlos Indian Reservation
• Gila County

chrome butte, arizona
Chrome Butte from the south
chrome butte, arizona
Higher up, a moo
chrome butte, arizona
Looking down, that moo again
chrome butte, arizona
Higher up now. I angled right in front of those dark rocks
chrome butte, arizona
Approaching the top
chrome butte, arizona
Nearing the top top
chrome butte, arizona
Corner fence
chrome butte, arizona
Rock pile at the summit
chrome butte, arizona
South view from the top
chrome butte, arizona
Two more views of Chrome Butte, the rez fence line cuts through the brush, and the benchmark with its interesting stamping

All images

• • •

The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

Click to find out more!

Date: March 20, 2022 • Elevation: 5,771 feet • Prominence: 778 feet • Distance: 5 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,450 feet • Conditions: Cloudy, breezy and chilly

ArizonaMainPBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

Chrome Butte rises about 10 miles north of Globe, east of US-60. It has a flattish top and steep sides, with cliff bands on its west and some of its south faces. The summit is a waypoint of the border between the San Carlos Indian Reservation and the Tonto National Forest.

I've come here about three times now thinking I would hike Chrome Butte. I always had a backup plan just in case. There's an "obvious" short way to the peak. A scant forest track branches of US-60 immediately below its west face. From the highway to the summit is less than a mile. But it's a non-starter. Big cliffs dominate this west face. Bummer.

Last time I was here I took a better look at the southern slopes. These come off the butte and have long gentle gradients. It looked viable, so I decided the next time I'm here, I would try these southern slopes.

I had business to attend to in an unnamed southeastern Arizona city, and rather than take boring Interstate-10, I wanted the scenic route through Globe, Safford and Willcox. With gas at $4.50 per gallon, it made sense to add mileage to my drive. I was on the road at dawn and in Globe about 8 a.m., stopping in town briefly to snap some photos for a project I'm working on. I spoke with a nice fellow, the owner of a coffee shop. It was very quiet this time of morning.

After a gas stop and snack run, I headed up US-60. I knew what to look for. About a half mile north of milepost 260 is a gate on the east side. Beyond it is a short segment of paved road, perhaps an old alignment of whatever highway was here before US-60. The pavement is ancient and coming up in chunks. I passed through the gate and stuffed the car behind a tree around a slight bend. I was hidden from the prying eyes of passing motorists.

The day was cool and slightly breezy, a bank of mid-level clouds keeping things a little chilly, in the mid-50s. I started hiking about 8:40 a.m.. Studying the satellite images, there is a dirt track that leaves this older paved segment, the dirt track heading east-southeast. My thinking was I would get in about a mile, until I was south of the peak, then find a ridge and head north that way.

The road was in pretty good shape. I could have driven it, and any high clearance vehicle with good tires would be fine. The road dropped a little under 200 feet, and I got in a little less than a mile. I came to a windmill and small corral. Somewhere nearby is the boundary between the forest lands and the San Carlos lands. Was this it? I was not sure.

I got onto the ridge here, picking it at random. Not more than 50 feet later I came upon a cow path. This path was lovely and offered a fast and brainless way through the low grass and scattered trees. It was still cool with periods of sun. I used these sunny periods to snap photos. The cow path would occasionally peter out in the rockier bits. To find where it resumed, I would think like a cow. Where's the tasty grass at? I'd go that way and sure enough, find the path again. Cows are truly God's gift to man. Not only do they taste good cooked, they beat in the niftiest paths through rough terrain. I took a moment to appreciate cows.

The path led up a steep hill and once atop it, there were ... cows. One was under a tree, a couple more off to the side. I walked through them, spooking a calf. I walked quickly and was past them. They were docile, nary a moo. Beyond said cows, the path steepened some more and came to an empty earthen tank. I was now below the steeper slopes, the cow path going only this far. Even they have their limits about what steepness they can handle.

Looking up, it looked steep but not bad, nothing I haven't done before. As I started uphill, the footing became a tad less secure, the ground being loose with rolly rocks big and small. So far, no problem. The lay of the land generally pushed me on a slight eastern tack. Soon, I came upon a very sturdy barbed-wire fence. This is the boundary.

Up until now, I'd stayed on the forest side, but the nicer slopes were on the San Carlos side, so I shimmied under the fence and went outlaw. The slope came to a small flat area, then started up again, steeper now. The gradient was steep, but the real issue was the scree. It was this rock that flaked into shale-like forms, all about the size of a dinner plate. Because they're so flat, they lie atop one another but not in any communally sturdy manner. They just slip over each other at the slightest touch.

I tacked east and saw a rocky prow up ahead, composed of that layering of "shale", obviously one of the progenitors of all these shale scree elements. I had a heck of a time on this scree. I'd step and suddenly slip back two feet, rocks piling above my feet, little tiny avalanches. This was tiring. I got to that rocky prow and eased up beside it. I had about a hundred vertical feet to go. It looked as steep as below.

I tried to keep to the trees as much as possible, which helped in the sense that it formed a barrier where the scree wasn't so pronounced. But the trees were widely scattered. I had no choice but to carefully ascend, and accept the occasional slide-back-down-with-rocks-piling-above-my-feet moments as part of the experience.

I was soon above the slopes and now on the lip of the summit plateau. I angled left (west) and went uphill, now on firmer ground, mostly rocks mixed in with waist-high grass and scattered low forest, mainly juniper and piñon. Cactus was limited to barrel and prickly-pear, and a few brands I was uncertain of. No saguaro (too high) and no cholla.

I went uphill to the top, on the west tip of the mesa. The one-way hike had taken a little over 90 minutes. Up here, it was much cooler and breezier, not terribly comfortable. The summit is bisected by the fence, which makes a dog-leg bend here. The benchmark was affixed to a metal post on the Tonto side of the fence. I leaned over and snapped an image. The stampers had etched in a rough diagram of the fence on the benchmark. The benchmark is stamped "Chromo" and dates from 1915. It also had the usual warning about a $250 fine for defacement or removal of the marker. In 1915, $250 was a year's salary. Now, it's the cost of a tank of gas. Has anyone ever been prosecuted for removing or defacing a benchmark? How much money per year does the USGS take in from these prosecutions? I bet zero.

I signed into the register. I was the first person here since 2015, which surprised me. The register went back a couple decades. Not many people had signed in. The usual people like Packard and Andy Martin and a couple guys from the HikeArizona crowd. Then me, seven years later. Opening the register took time. It was sealed tightly.

I also discovered a new use for pop-tarts. I had my cell phone in the outside pocket of my little day pack, and my pack of pop-tarts in the same compartment, positioned in front of the cell phone. As I was sitting down to sign in the register, a rock rolled from under me and knocked me off balance. Since my butt was already within inches of the ground, I did a controlled "roll backwards". I was worried I had crunched my phone but when I opened the zipper, my phone was in good shape, the pop-tarts taking the blow. They'd been crushed into dozens of little pop-tart bits. They perished honorably. Out of respect, I ate them.

The wind and chill kept my time up top to about 5 minutes. The clouds had rolled in and blocked the sun entirely. I started down and even contemplated taking a different slope down, a longer one with gentler slopes, but it would leave me almost two miles from my car. I decided to go with what I knew, and take that nasty shale slope down.

All went well at first, but as I came upon the shale slopes, I had to move very carefully. I took much of it shimmying down on my butt. I got a point above that rocky prow mentioned earlier. I had about 40 vertical feet to descend, with small loose scree. This was the crux of the crux. There was no way I was going to get solid footing. I inched close to the rock outcrop and used it as a belay to slow my descent, basically holding on to it as I slid downward. Toward the bottom, I had about 15 feet of slope and had no choice but to essentially slide down it as the rocks avalanched alongside me.

Once below the prow, things improved slightly. I took the same openings down as I had coming up and only needed to use my butt a couple times. Quickly, I was back on the gentler ridges and down below that nasty stuff. I was relieved that part was now over.

The walk out went well. The same cows were still hanging, eating grass. I walked around them, they never said a thing. I was back to the road at the windmill, and then back to my car about 11:30 a.m., a three-hour round trip journey covering about 5 miles going by my reckoning and a study of the map. I was happy. This had gone well in that I finally tagged Chrome Butte's top. The scree was not enjoyable but not impossible.

I hit the road toward Safford then southbound on US-191 to Willcox. I wanted to hike the highpoint of the Circle-I Hills north of Willcox. This one has a service road to the top, which I welcomed as I wanted no slippery slopes after the Chrome Butte hike. However, when I got close, there was this massive sign, essentially a billboard, saying "No trespassing". It was put up by the Klump Ranch people. The weather had not improved and the wind was really blasting, kicking up a huge dust cloud from the Willcox Playa to the south. That and the sign prompted me to pass on Circle-I today. I actually met a "Klump" family about 13 years ago on the Peloncillo hike and they were totally chill, even offering us that we could hike on their roads briefly. This here must be a different strain of Klumps, the ones who don't cotton to outsiders.

By now, it was mid afternoon and I drove to my hotel in exciting Benson, a Motel-6 near the Loves Truck Stop. It was all truckers here. I showered and got a bite, then watched "Winning Time" on aitch-bo about the 1980 Lakers. The next day I took care of the important business, and drove back home later in the afternoon. Overnight, there was a steady rain and even a hail-graupel drop that was loud enough to wake me.

(c) 2022 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.