The Mountains of Arizona •
Palo Verde Hills • Highpoint: Palo Verde Hills
• Town of Tonopah
• Maricopa County

Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
View from the power line road, early morning, sun still low
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Looking up from the first main saddle.
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Now higher, the rest of the ridge is in view
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Looking back from where I started
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
The summit is up ahead
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Stick Scott is successful once again
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Northeast view of the other two main bumps in the range
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
View of Saddle Mountain from the summit
Palo Verde Hills, Arizona
Another view of the surrounding desert on the descent

Monument Hill as seen from Avondale Road where it crosses the Gila River

Phoenix International Raceway

The exact surveyor's origin

Disks denoting the four townships that start from here

Close-up of other plaques, plus me stepping into four different townships at the same time

All images

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The Arizona
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Date: December 9, 2015 • Elevation: 2,172 feet • Prominence: 1,012 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,100 feet • Conditions: Chilly with high clouds

ArizonaMainAZ P1KPB

The Palo Verde Hills are a small range of volcanic mounds in western Maricopa County. The summit has no given name, but does have 1,012 feet of prominence, which is why I was aware of it in the first place. This past May, Scott Peavy and I climbed nearby Saddle Mountain, and afterwards, we scouted the roads to see how close we could get to the base of these hills. We were able to get very close, which meant that a hike would be easy and not last all day. I kept this peak in mind for a future trip.

I decided to get away from town for half a day during final exams week at ASU. I awoke early and was on the road at 5:00 a.m., covering 70 miles and exiting Interstate-10 at Wintersburg Road (Exit 98). I drove south four miles to where Wintersburg Road and Salome Highway intersect. On the southwest corner is the Wintersburg General Store. I rolled in and got some snacks and drinks, plus killed a little time since it was still dark. This stretch of road gets a lot of traffic, as the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is located a couple miles to the south.

As the sun rose, I got moving again, driving another five miles south on Wintersburg Road to Elliott Road, then west 3.8 miles to 415th Avenue, north on 415th Avenue one mile to a track, now on BLM land. I followed the track 0.7 mile to an access road underneath a major set of powerlines that emanate from the Palo Verde Station. I drove northwest for 3 miles, and parked below one of the stanchions, slightly north of a small pointed hill to where I had an unfettered of the peak.

The roads are paved to 415th Avenue, which is hard-pack but solid. The track past the last residence on 415th Avenue is still solid but not as well defined. The access road underneath the powerlines is regularly graded and in good shape. Most passenger vehicles would be able to drive these roads, but there are small patches of sand or rocks to pay attention to. The range and powerlines are on a patch of BLM land surrounded on all sides by private lands. In May, we looked at possible entry points from Salome Highway on the north side, which would cut off a lot of miles, but we couldn’t see anything that looked like it was open to the public. This route works, but there may be other ways to get onto this land.

Anyway, it was about 7:30 when I finally got everything situated and the truck locked. The day was cold at first, but still. To the east, it was clear. Above me were high wispy clouds, while to the west, the clouds were thicker, a front evidently moving through. I started walking northeast and east across the initial desert plain, crossing a downed fence line early on, then having to shimmy underneath the same fence later. The walk crosses sparsely-vegetated plain with lots of volcanic rocks strewn about. There were a lot of creosote bushes, and where the route would cross the arroyos, small copses of trees and brush. The going was very easy. Within a half hour, I was on the south-facing slopes of the range.

I angled left and hiked toward a saddle at elevation 1,370 feet, then angled right and started up the first steep slope, gaining about 350 feet to a rock outcrop. The volcanic rocks were everywhere, offering good footing and steps nearly the whole way up, but in a couple spots, they slid out from under me, so I had to go slow as usual, to be sure the rocks were solid.

Once at this knob, the rest of the route appeared before me. I had a little level ridge to walk across, another steep slope, then above that, much easier slopes to gain the summit. The hiking was easy and enjoyable. There were no cliffs or unnecessarily complicated parts. I used my hands a couple times to hoist myself above a couple three-foot "steps". I was on the summit at 8:55 a.m., a one-way hike of 1.5 miles and a gain of 1,100 feet.

The top is flat, and the summit cairn featured a wooden lathe with old wiring, which may be original when the first surveyors came up here decades ago. The log book went back 20 years and held about 25 names, most being the usual suspects I know from past hikes, and the rest being locals from the Tonopah area.

The views were nice, but the clouds dampened the good light. Saddle Mountain was visible to the northwest. Big Woolsey Peak was easily visible south, looking into the glare. But the air was moist and there was a lot of general haze which made the farthest peaks hard to see clearly. I spent about 20 minutes up here enjoying a rest and a breakfast.

The hike down went well, and I was back to my truck after a little over an hour. Adding up all my times, I was gone for 2 hours, 50 minutes. I exited out the way I came, and started for home, but along the way, I stopped by Monument Hill near the Phoenix International Raceway. Monument Hill is the location of the Arizona Public Lands Surveyor’s Origin. I had to see this for once.

I enjoyed the hike up to the top of Pale Verde Hill's highpoint. It was easy with no challenges, but remote enough to feel like I was in real wilderness. It did not take long, the road access was simple, and overall, a good way to waste 3 hours of time.

My trusty truck, with over 246,000 miles on it to this point, performed well, as it usually does. However, the next day, suddenly the clutch started to act up (it's a manual). I drove it carefully to and from work, no negative issues until Friday when I drove home from work. I stopped at our local grocery, and the clutch started to go south again. There’s a repair facility in the same complex, and I only live a quarter-mile away, so I walked over and asked if they could take a look at it.

I went back to where I had parked, drove it over to their shop, and when I tried to reverse it into a spot, that was the end of mister clutch. It completely fried on me. There was no way to engage the gears. I used gravity to back into the slot. This is my truck’s original clutch. It held up well for nearly a quarter-million miles. Of course, I am grateful this all happened twenty feet from a repair shop, not in the middle of the desert. I used up some of my good karma credits today.

Monument Hill
• City of Avondale & Gila River Indian Reservation
• Arizona Public Lands Surveyor's Origin
• Maricopa County

Date: December 9, 2015 • Elevation: 1,155 feet • Prominence: 155 feet • Distance: 0.4 mile • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 175 feet • Conditions: High clouds, mild


Monument Hill is an anonymous little bump located along the south banks of the Salt River, in the northern foothills of the Sierra Estrella. The hill has two claims to fame: it abuts the Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and is often filled with spectators during the big NASCAR events, and it is the location of the Arizona Public Lands Surveyor's Origin monument (hence the hill's name).

My interest trends more toward the hill's second claim to fame, but for such a small hill, I couldn't work up the momentum to drive 50 miles each way just to spend thirty minutes hiking it. The only plausible way I was going to visit it was as part of a bigger journey. I had a day open, so I left early in the morning and drove to the far-west fringes of metro Phoenix, hiking the Palo Verde Hills Highpoint, which didn't take long. On the way back home, I would detour and finally visit the monument.

Since the hill is on private property (that of the PIR), I called ahead the day before to confirm that public access is permissible. They are fine with people hiking the hill as long as there's no actual event going on. All they ask is to check in with the guard at Gate 8, nearest the little hill. From Interstate-10, I exited onto Avondale Road, then south about six miles. Avondale Road then crosses the Salt River over a bridge and bends west. I entered onto the PIR property, drove to Gate 8, told the guard what I wanted to do, and he pointed to where I could park. I parked at the end of the pavement near a gate and fencing that line the wetlands of the Salt River.

The trail starts here. I followed it up, going north, then hard right, now going south, then up slope to catch a road cut that leads to the top. The hike took me about 10 minutes, covering about 0.2 mile and 175 feet of gain. There was the marker, slightly beaten up from past visitors. There was glass from broken bottles plus general food wrappers. The views were nice. I took images of empty PIR, plus the marker and its disks and plaques. The hike down went quickly, and the whole journey lasted about a half hour. From here, I drove back to the interstate and on home.

For most of history, land parcels were described using natural features such as trees, creeks, mountain ridges, rocks, and so forth, to define the land's boundaries. This system is called "metes and bounds". It is prone to interpretation and error, and does not work well in areas where there are few obvious natural features. After the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson and subsequent presidents realized the need for a more systematic system of subdividing the land, especially now with such a large tract of land under American jurisdiction.

The method used is called the Public Lands Survey System (PLSS), and divides the land into a gigantic grid of mile-square parcels called sections. Thirty-six sections are grouped into a six-mile by six-mile block and called a township. The townships then are stacked into rows trending east-west, called tiers. When viewing a map of townships, the columns are called the range. This all needs a starting point, and in each state, a surveyor's origin is selected (sometimes, more than one if the state is very large). Arizona's surveyor's origin was selected to be atop this little hill back in the 1850s. The hill was likely selected because it is nearest the confluence of the Salt and Gila Rivers.

Looking at a map of Arizona, a horizontal (east-west) line is drawn, called the baseline, and a vertical line (north-south) is drawn, called the principal meridian. These act like the x and y-axes (respectively) of a coordinate axis system. The township's range is the x-coordinate, its tier is the y-coordinate, and all tiers and ranges count from one, designed North or South for tiers, East or West for ranges.

Within a township, the sections are numbered 1-36 starting in the top right corner and ending in the lower left corner in a continuous manner (right to left, then left to right, and so on, a method known as boustrophedonic numbering). The sections are then subdivided into halves and quarters (aliquots), and so on. A parcel of land one-eighth of a mile by one-eighth of a mile covers 1/64th of a section (hence, 1/64th of a square mile) and is defined as 10 acres. Thus, a full section contains 640 acres.

When you buy land or a house or anything attached to the ground, somewhere in the deeds office is a cryptic string of characters describing where your land is, exactly. For example, you may see "West 1/2 of North 1/2 (or NW aliquot) of Section 3, Tier 3 North, Range 4 West", abbreviated "NW Sect 3 T3N R4W". This means that you go to the township in Tier 3 North, Range 4 West, find Section 3 (it'll be in the top row, third from right), find the northwest quarter, and that's your plot of land. In this way, land can be bought and sold more efficiently. It makes land a commodity to be tracked and recorded.

Most of the western United States is subdivided in this manner. Some exceptions are places like the Grand Canyon, some Indian Reservations, military property, and old land grants that predate the United States. Some states have their own systems or adaptations of the PLSS. Most of Arizona follows the PLSS. The main boulevards in Phoenix all follow section boundaries, and this explains why the Avenues count up by 8 each mile when travelling along Interstate-10, since the subdividing went to the eighths way back in the olden days.

An excellent book on the history of this subject is Andro Linklater's Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped By the Greatest Land Sale in History. It is fascinating, if you're into this sort of thing.

I arrived back to Scottsdale and stopped for a lunch, before going to my humble residence in Section 7 of Tier 3 North, Range 5 East.

(c) 2015 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.