The Mountains of Arizona •
Powers Butte • Buckeye Hills
• Powers Butte Wildlife Area
• Maricopa County

Powers Butte, Arizona
Powers Butte from where I parked
Powers Butte, Arizona
A little closer, the "trail" can be seen
Powers Butte, Arizona
Up about a third of the way
Powers Butte, Arizona
Now amid the saguaro near the top
Powers Butte, Arizona
View east from the top. That is Robbins Butte. The brownish swath is the Gila River, choked in tamarisk
Powers Butte, Arizona
West view, with Woolsey Peak in late-day silhouette
Powers Butte, Arizona
Northwest view, more of the Gila River plain
Powers Butte, Arizona
Petroglyph near the summit
Powers Butte, Arizona
Hiking down, there's my car, way down there
Powers Butte, Arizona
View of Powers Butte as I exit

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Date: February 15, 2020 • Elevation: 1,289 feet • Prominence: 449 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 440 feet • Conditions: Sunny and warm, with a breeze


Powers Butte and Robbins Butte are two symmetric mounds of black basaltic volcanic rock along the south banks of the Gila River south of Buckeye and near the smaller town of Arlington. This is where the Gila River makes its big southward bend, heading that direction for about 35 miles before bending west again near the town of Gila Bend (thus, the name). These days, the buttes are contained within a couple of Wildlife Areas. Combined with the nearby Buckeye Hills, the area has an abundance of recreational options, such as camping, bird-watching, hiking and hunting.

Earlier this morning, I hiked Santa Maria Peak northwest of Wickenburg. Afterwards, I drove a bunch of backroads south through Wickenburg, deliberately avoiding the main highways. I drove into Tonopah and onto 339th Avenue, topping the gas at the big truck stop along Interstate-10. From here, I continued south on 339th Avenue for a few miles until it connected to Salome Highway. To the south were a handful of volcanic hills. I decided to explore these hills.

I followed Salome Higway to where it connected to Old US-80, then went west a few more miles to state route AZ-85. The buttes rise to the south, standing as lone hills above the flat Gila River plain. On AZ-85, I went south a couple miles, then turned into the Robbins Butte Wildlife Area. I intended to hike both buttes, starting with Robbins Butte. From AZ-85, Robbins Butte is about three miles west, and Powers about eight miles.

I drove in and soon came to a split. I went right and went another mile, parking in an enormous cleared area covered in gravel, looking like a parking lot that could hold 500 cars. There was just one car when I pulled in, and a guy was there. He was out birding and had some high-end photography equipment with him. We talked a little bit, and he said I was the first person he'd seen all afternoon.

Robbins Butte lies a mile to the west, but the road is gated here, so I parked and started hiking, getting about a half mile. I could see up ahead some buildings and more fences. This was not looking promising, so I returned to my car, exited, went back to that split, and followed the left branch. On it, a sign said "Access to Robbins Butte". Somehow, I missed that earlier.

I followed this good road southwest, then west, to Robbins Butte. Unfortunately, the shooters had taken over the south base, and were busy shooting up their targets against the hillsides. I did not see any promising ascent routes from the south side anyway. Rather than deal with them, I simply continued driving, now aiming for Powers Butte.

The road is good, but it meanders a little. It has to avoid a few abandoned home structures and also follow the lay of the land. It bends away from the Gila River thickets, often abutting the hills to the south. Sections were rutted. Although today was dry and the roads were solid, I could see how they would turn into long mud patches when wet.

I was soon at the base of Powers Butte. The road gains onto a raised highland. I found a spot to pull off the road and parked, about 200 feet from the base of the butte. The butte features a long ridge to its west that may offer a good way to the top, but I did not want to continue driving. I was at the base of the main mass of the butte. There is a "trail", a straight line that goes directly from the base to the summit. The slopes appeared bare of plants except for a few big saguaro higher up.

I started hiking at 3 p.m., the day a little warm, about 75 degrees. It was sunny with a soft breeze, which helped. I walked to the base, and started up that nutty trail. And it appears to be an actual trail, not some trick of natural erosion or geology. It looks as if the black rocks had been moved aside to open up a path.

At first, the slope was tolerable. The black rocks were almost always solidly in place and I could walk on top of them, like stair-steps, making good gains. The vegetation was light, mostly staghorn cactus and cresote bush, with ways around them. When in the path itself, the underlying rock was smaller and rubblier, with a tendency to roll.

About midway up, the slope steepened. I generally stayed near the trail but mainly walked on the black rocks for surer footing. The rocks would heap in spots where I used hands to get up the soft cliffs. There was no real challenge, other than the steep grade. In about 25 minutes, I was on the summit, a 430-foot gain in a half mile.

The top was rather nice. The summit ridge runs about 100 feet long by 20 feet wide, with low stone walls that suggest the ancient indians may have used these buttes as lookouts and fortifications. I found a petroglyph on a rock. I looked around for more but did not find any more, although I admit I did not look that hard. The register was tucked into a cleft, the bottle busted and the book in tatters, I signed in anyway, the first to do so in a few years. I am positive people come up here... maybe not that often, but definitely more than what the register would indicate.

I spent ten minutes up top, enjoying the views. From this perch, the Gila River is obvious, being an impenetrable thicket of tamarisk and other small trees and scrub. Tamarisk is not native to Arizona and it chokes the desert waterways. It grows extremely thick, and that is essentially all that I saw: a long swath of tamarisk. The river does not flow any more, being dammed in the mountains to the east. It does have some intermittent flow due to rain, irrigation drainage, and when the dams upstream release water in rare cases.

For the descent, I retraced the route, which despite the steepness, went quickly. I had to carefully scootch down the rocks up top, often on my backside. But once the gradient lessened, I could walk down the slope, moving slowly and carefully. The solidly-set rocks helped tremendously. It was nearing 4 p.m. by now.

I drove back to Robbins Butte. I inspected some possible west-side slopes to ascend, but the shooters were still here. Even more of them it seemed. They were having a merry old time blasting things. I think late in the day, with beer in the bellies, things here would probably get louder and stupider. I never got out of my car and gave up on hiking Robbins. I may come back on a weekday, as I would also like to hike some of the hills to the south and also check out the volcanic mounds west of Arlington.

I exited back to AZ-85, then to Interstate-10 and on home, arriving about 5:30 p.m.. It had been a long but productive and enjoyable day, and I was tired. I enjoyed this impromptu visit to the Robbins and Powers Buttes. There is a lot more to see, so I'll come back. It may be awhile, but there's more to explore, definitely.

(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.