The Mountains of Arizona •
Johnny Lyon Hills HP • Highpoint: Johnny Lyon Hills
• Arizona State Trust Land
• Cochise County

Johnny Lyon Hill makes its first appearance as we hiked up the road

Closer, the highpoint is not visible, being to the left and in back. We ascended to the saddle roughly in the center

On the slopes up to the saddle

Now on the ridge, it's slopey-slabby on this eastern side

Summit up ahead

Approaching the highest rocks

Summit and cairn, and Peak 5720 (5734) in back

I hiked to the far north end of the ridge and took a photo looking back at Matthias at the summit

North view, the San Pedro River valley, and the Galiuro Mountains in back

Rincon and Mica peaks in back, the Little Rincons in front

Southeast view, Mae West Peak and the Little Dragoons

Hiking down the ridge

Look back up at the mountain from the drainage we exited

Shots of the house and various buildings

Johnny Lyon Highpoint is at left, Keith Peak at right, as I exit

All images

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Date: February 24, 2024 • Elevation: 5,729 feet (map), 5,736 feet (Lidar) • Prominence: 1,149 feet • Distance: 4.9 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 1,440 feet • Conditions: Clear, some clouds, sunny and warm

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The Johnny Lyon Hills lie about ten miles north of Benson in northwest Cochise County, rising above the bluffs of the San Pedro River Valley. The land up here is mostly State Trust and some private, much of it ranchland, but with reasonable public access onto some of the State Trust parcels. The hill-range is not very extensive: the main peak, a subsidiary called Keith Peak to the south, and another ranked peak about two miles to the east.

Matthias suggested this peak and I was interested. The plan was to climb both the highpoint and Keith Peak. We met at the Love's Truck Stop in Benson, our first meeting since last October before I moved to Bisbee. It was good to see him again.

We drove our separate vehicles back onto Interstate-10 a couple miles, exiting onto Pomerene Road. This road goes north a couple miles to the town of Pomerene. Then it makes a right at a stop sign and is now called Cascabel Road. The roads are paved, but narrow and winding, including some speed humps in the residential areas. Cascabel Road runs north alongside the wide San Pedro River channel. Once out of the town, it was all desert up here.

We drove about 13 miles total once leaving the interstate. The road we wanted is called Keith Ranch Road and it appeared about a half-mile north of milepost 8 (where these mileposts reckoned from is not clear). Ahead of us was a small sedan going slow, so I stayed back and then Matthias behind me. When I turned onto Keith Road, that little sedan was ahead of us. I tried to keep a respectful distance, not knowing who's in the car. At a lower gate just a half-mile in from the main road, the guy was holding open the gate for me, so we talked. It turns out it was a younger guy and his pal, out hunting for javelina. We had a friendly chat. I was concerned it was a landowner and the last thing I wanted to do was aggravate someone who could tell me to get lost.

We stayed on Keith Ranch Road for another two or three miles until coming to another gate, this one marked ny spot elevation 4438 on the map. From Cascabel Road to this gate we had gained over a thousand feet in elevation. This gate is locked to vehicles but foot traffic is welcome. We parked to the side in a clearing. The road to here was a good road, a little gravelly, but well maintained. In good conditions, most any vehicle could make it to the gate.

The day was sunny and cool, but not cold, about 50°. The high was expected to get into the low-mid 70s. We got everything together and started walking about 8:15 a.m.. The first challenge was the gate itself. There was no easy way around it for foot traffic, so we had to scale it directly. It's a big metal gate so it was sturdy.

Next, we walked the continuation of the road. It gained steadily, and in about a mile had gained over 500 feet. I was not expecting so much gain on the road, but was grateful we knocked out about a third of the gain this way. We could not see the peak for now due to foreground hills. The road reaches an apex then starts downhill. We did not go very far, about a fifty-foot drop, to where we could see the peak. Matthias cached some drinks nearby for later.

We left the road and started northeast through the low ridges and arroyos, following cow paths. The brush wasn't thick but it was pointy, a lot of the whitethorn acacia, ocotillo and various low cactus inclding a lot of prickly pear. We had to drop into one last big drainage before starting up on the actual slopes of the peak. The peak is a long ridge-massif topped by cliffs, but with a couple saddle points where it looked feasible to gain the crest. There's an obvious lower one that we intended to go for, but once we had gained a hundred feet, it made more sense to just keep our bearing and meet the ridge at the next higher saddle point.

The segment was steep, gaining about 400 feet, but it wasn't treacherous. The rocks were loose as they usually are, but not as bad as I've seen elsewhere. Never once did I slip or kick down scree or slide backwards. We went slow and in time had climbed this slope to top out on the ridge, roughly 5,360 feet elevation. There is a fence line here, somewhat unexpected. It was easy to get over it. We took a break on some nearby rocks. We had about a half mile on a straight line to the summit, now northwest of us along the ridge.

We walked the ridge, generally staying high but often a few feet to the right (east) side as we ascended. The rocks angle upwards and form cliffs on the west side, and sloping slabs on the east side. We just went wherever a lane opened up. Only a couple times did we have to deal with brush, loose rocks or slight scrambling.

The summit appeared as we got closer and from a distance looked steep, but as we closed in on it, it laid back very well. A peak to the northeast is slightly lower in elevation compared to the main summit and we used that as a gauge of our progress. Once on the final rocks, we found the highpoint quickly, a small cairn hiding a register.

Matthias stayed at the register and cairn while I walked to the end of the rock ridge, to be sure there wasn't a hidden rock higher than the rest. It drops off slightly and I did not feel anything my way was higher. I agreed that the cairn was the highpoint. We tagged a few rocks to be sure. It had taken us about two hours to get here, a gain of about 1,300 feet net, in about two and a half miles. It was warming slightly but still comfortable.

The register was crammed with paper, the oldest being one of Bob Martin's from the early 1990s. The Southern Arizona Hiking Club comes up here often, it seemed yearly, and usually with a lot of people. The other signatures were from the usual group of names we always see.

The high clouds had moved in so lighting was slightly muted for photos. Nevertheless, views in all directions were very good. To the southeast were the Little Dragoon Mountains and Mae West Peak, then behind it the Dragoons and Mount Glenn. To the west were the Little Rincons and then the "big" Rincons, with Rincon Peak and Mica Mountain, some snow still on the highest peaks. To the north was a lot of desert and the long San Pedro River, and in back the Galiuro Mountains. Other ranges we could see were the Winchesters and Whetstones. We spent about fifteen minutes up top.

The hike down went well, and we moved about as fast going down as we had coming up, but there weren't any difficult portions. We got back to the saddle where we met the ridge, then walked downslope, dropping into the main arroyo at the base of the mountain mass. We decided to follow it out, and it worked well. It wasn't brushy or rocky, and it fed us out to the road near a stock tank and a ranch house. It does not look inhabited but it does look like it's kept up. The surrounding structures looked old. One shed had mostly fallen over. We did not see any people or cars.

We were on the road about a thousand feet east of where we had left it, so we walked back to where Matthias had cached his drinks and we had a break. I decided to opt out of climbing Keith Peak whereas Matthias wanted to climb it. For me, it's not as long a drive to come back, and now that I know more about this area, will probably return on some future winter date. There is that other ranked peak a mile or so east that I could combine it with.

We shook hands and went our separate ways. I walked out the road back to my car, arriving about 12:45, a four-hour hike. It was warming now, into the mid 70s. It was still nice, but I could feel the sun's intensity. Oh boy, nine more months of summer just around the corner. We saw no snakes but the insects, including some bees, were active.

I stopped in Benson a little to look around some curio shops, then followed AZ-80 through Tombstone (where I got gas) and into Bisbee, where I picked up a sandwich at a deli.

This turned out to be a very straight-forward climb, with uncomplicated access, open country, slopes that were steep but not treacherous, a ridge that was rocky and brushy but never loose or annoying. The night before, I had looked at the Lidar site. All of Cochise County has been mapped to the 1-meter refinement. It showed a summit elevation of 5,736 feet, and a 5,734-foot elevation for the lower peak to the northeast. However, it was pretty obvious we were higher where we were, by what felt like ten feet. I suspect Lidar did not pick up some of the narrow rock fins and outcrops on the summit.

The hills are named for Johnny Lyon, who was an early settler in the region who lived a hermit-like existence. This website, Johnny Lyon Hills, gives a cursory amount of information about the hills, mentioning that they are composed of some of the oldest exposed rocks in Arizona (outside of the Grand Canyon). It is amusing to note that we may have been stepping on rocks that pre-date the dinosaurs. Its parent page, San Pedro River Valley, is a lengthy but very well done page discussing the history of the San Pedro River Valley from its origins in Mexico as it flows north into Arizona. Not only does it discuss the geology of the valley and its surrounding mountains, it discusses the history of the region, and also gives some background about Cascabel Road, which today is a two-lane, partially-paved connector from Benson to San Manuel and state route AZ-77. It would seem to be a natural bypass of Tucson, and at one time was looked into being developed as a state highway, but the page explains why that never happened. I knew none of this until I found this page. These are great pages that date from about 15-20 years ago, but are well written (no AI), and are not infested with ads.

(c) 2024 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.