Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The Mountains of Arizona •
Little Horn Benchmark • Little Horn Mountains
• Bureau of Land Management
• Yuma County

Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View from within the canyon as we hiked in
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The terrain up on the plateau and ridges. You can't tell, but we're actually hiking uphill
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View of the summit as we get closer
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The highpoint rocks ahead
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View west of the ridge we hiked, and its cliffs. In the far distance center is Signal Peak, and at the far left is Castle Dome Mountain
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View north of nearby peaks and distant Harquahala Mountain
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View east of the cliffs and the sun's glare
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View south at isolated desert, benchmark
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View of the summit ridge as we descend
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The north-facing cliffs of the summit ridge
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The summit from about a mile away
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
My car can be seen in the road below
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
The ascent canyon, taken as we exited in better light
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
Distant Coyote Peak and the wiggly road that goes there
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
Little Horn and its ridges and cliffs
Little Horn Benchmark, Arizona
View of the peak and ridge from a couple miles away

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Date: January 12, 2020 • Elevation: 3,100 feet • Prominence: 1,300 feet • Distance: 7.6 miles • Time: 5 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 1,615 feet • Conditions: Superb • Teammate: Scott Peavy

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Little Horn Benchmark is a peak in the Little Horn Mountains, which lie in northern Yuma County, east of the Kofa Wildlife Refuge. The range is volcanic, and the particular mass that contains this peak is a big, sprawling mound of blackened volcanic boulders, the sides being steep with some cliffs, and the tops being flat plateaus with gentle inclines. The benchmark itself lies on the east edge of the mass, with access from the west.

This is not a difficult peak to climb, but information on it is scant because so few people have climbed it. What information I could find sounded promising. The main challenge is getting out this way, since the range is remote and the roads to it somewhat rough and sandy (and remote). I talked Scott Peavy into coming along, and we set out early on a Sunday to hike this peak. I was driving.

From Phoenix, I travelled west along Interstate-10 to the Hovatter Road exit (Exit 53). This would be my first time south on this road ever (the northbound road leads to the town of Salome). Hovatter Road is named for a family, the Hovatters, who homesteaded in the Little Horn Mountains from the 1950s to the 1970s. Their homestead is now part of the Kofa Refuge and none of the actual home still stands (there was not much to begin with). However, the saguaro-lined driveway and some low rock walls put in by the Hovatters still exist.

Hovatter Road goes south over the CAP Canal, then turns right (west), then quickly turns left again, heading south. The road is dirt now, and meanders through low hills, then starts a long straight-shot to the southwest across the flat Ranegras Plain, aiming for a distinctive fin-topped hill called Coyote Peak. The road was in decent shape for most of the drive, but then became sandy --- a coarse, gravelly sand --- for about two miles as it neared Coyote Peak. I had to keep the speed to about 30 miles per hour, for fear of stopping and getting stuck in the sand. It was not pleasant.

The road then comes to a stop sign at a T-junction at the base of Coyote Peak. My odometer read 9.7 miles but that figure probably includes some extra spinning of the wheels in that sand. Turning left (south), the road is still called Hovatter Road. Going north, it does not have a name as far as I know.

The southbound road was slightly better, with one more sandy stretch before the road firmed up. The road bends to the southeast and heads into the hills. To our surprise, there is a county-line sign way out here, about 9 miles from the junction back at Coyote Peak. The road's condition dropped a notch at the sign, gained a rise, then dropped into a drainage, with the Little Horn massif to the left (east) and another volcanic mound to our right. I parked at a wide spot in the road, 10.7 miles from the T-junction, and a little over twenty miles from the interstate.

We got things in order and started the hike at 8:30 a.m., still in shadows with the temperature about 40 degrees. It was a clear day with no clouds, but for the next hour or so, the sun would be blocked by the hills above us.

We entered into a long canyon, the southern of the two main west-trending canyons that come off the mountain mass. The hiking was not difficult, and the canyon was a typical canyon, with jumbly boulders, lots of brush, and a few sections that required easy scrambles. We made slow but steady progress. When the canyon came to a split about a mile in, we stayed left. It then steepened a little more, and at another split, we angled right. We could see the upper plateau not far above us, and when the first opportunity came, we climbed up a slope out of the canyon and onto the plateau. We had hiked in about two miles, maybe a little less.

We were now on the plateau, about a half mile southwest of Point 2868. Up here, the ground was flatter in general, but covered by black volcanic boulders as well as a lot of ocotillo, pencil cholla, regular cholla, and agave plants. We walked uphill, aiming for 2868, about a 350-foot gain. We angled to its right but I was so close to its top I took a 30-foot detour to tag it. From here, we could see the summit for the first time, still a couple miles to the east.

Next, we had to drop about 80 feet to a saddle, then gain it right back up a very gentle slope. We now walked the long ridge up and down a few easy rises until we were at the base of the final summit hump. The final segment was up a steeper (but still gentle) slope, a little rockier and brushier than most of the ridge. We were soon on the highest ridge and quickly to the highpoint, topped by a big cairn and old wiring and wood from the surveyors about 70 years ago.

The one-way hike took 3.8 miles and about two hours, forty minutes. By now, the temperatures were pleasant, in the high 50s. We had great views in all directions, and a real sense of isolation so far out this way. To the north was Harquahala Mountain and Interstate-10 below, although we could not actually see it. To the west were the Kofa Mountains with Signal Peak and Castle Dome Mountain. To the south as a broad desert plain called the Palomas Plain. This is surely one of the least-visited parts of Arizona, as there are no developed roads that way and much of it is bordered by the Yuma Proving Grounds. We stayed up here a half-hour. The log book went back thirty years and we were the first to sign in since April 2018. The peak would go years between visitors.

For the hike out, we followed the same route down to about where we had come up from the canyon. However, instead of dropping back into the canyon, we stayed up on the plateau tops and kept walking south and west until it dropped about another 500 feet, to where we had to start down the steep slopes. We just picked our own way down the rocky slopes, dropping about 300 feet, back into the head of the canyon we had ascended. Once down, it was an easy walk back to my car. The hike out took just over two hours.

We drove out the same road, getting back to that T-junction near Coyote Peak. I was not too eager to mess with those sandy roads again, so I went north on the road instead of staying on Hovatter. This segment covered a mile and a half, of which about half that was one more patch of that soft coarse gravel sand. Once again, I had to keep up the speed to stay "afloat", yawing much of the way. But once past the sandy part, the road improved a lot.

At a stop sign, I went left, onto the El Paso Gas Line Road, for two and a half miles, entering the Kofa Refuge along the way. I came to a four-way junction, not signed, but this was obviously Vicksburg Road. I went north on it for about seven miles to where it met with Interstate-10. Both the gas line and Vicksburg Roads were in good shape, no sandy portions to deal with. We got snacks at the minimart, and drove back into Avondale so Scott could get his car. This hike had gone well and I was happy to get it done, and that Scott could join me.

This was my first time ever on the roads south of Interstate-10 in the Ranegras Plain, which essentially covers the stretch of desert from the Hovatter Exit west to the Plomosa Mountains, about a 25-mile stretch. I enjoyed exploring these remote roads. We saw just one other vehicle on the roads, and one vehicle at a camp. This is pretty country out here, but remote.

The desert plain is flat and its center ("thalweg") is broad and sandy. It can easily be seen in satellite images as a long gray swath contrasting with the tan-colored desert. Any road passing through this center depression will be sandy, there does not seem to be a way to guard against it. If I had to make a choice, I'd approach the peak from the Vicksburg exit (Exit 46), which adds about fifteen miles to the journey one way.

Most trucks and SUVs with decent off-road tires should be fine with the sandy segments. In dry conditions, 4-wheel drive would not be required, but would be nice to have, just in case. I have a Subaru Forester that has good clearance and has decent tires, although not as wide as a truck's tires. It has all-wheel drive, and I could feel it kick in as I motored through the sand. I would not recommend a passenger vehicle on these roads.

One stretch of Hovatter Road was rutted for a few hundred feet, people having driven through it while still wet from rains about two weeks ago. When wet, the flat ground means puddles can stretch a long ways. The rest of the roads were typical desert roads: general rockiness but nothing too bad, some ruts, some smooth segments. It took about an hour to get from Interstate-10 to the trailhead (and back out too). There is no cell service this far out.

(c) 2020 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.