The Mountains of Arizona •
Saddle Benchmark • Gila Bend Mountains
• Maricopa County

Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
Saddle Benchmark, the peak. The wonderful ramp I followed up is in the sun to the right
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
Looking down at the ramp I just ascended
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
Now on the higher slopes, it flattens out nicely
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
That's the top up ahead. Lotsa cholla
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
This is the highest rock, I believe. Neat shot in which Woolsey Peak is centered
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
The mesa slopes away heading east
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
Southwest view, the Yellow Medicine Butte and its pointy neighbor in the back, Cortez Peak too
Saddle Benchmark, Arizona
Slightly different angle, more cholla

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Date: February 5, 2022 • Elevation: 1,923 feet • Prominence: 703 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes • Gain: 778 feet • Conditions: Cool, bright blue skies

ArizonaMainLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

Today was the second day of a short 36-hour getaway, originally intended to be down in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I drove there yesterday morning, but got slammed by heavy cold winds the entire day. I did not feel it safe or wise (or fun) to be on the higher peaks under these conditions. I was able to salvage the day with two lower-prominence peaks, Peak 2582 and Lost Horse Peak. I stayed last night at a hotel in Gila Bend.

The plan for today was to drive the Agua Caliente Road and visit a couple peaks and/or sites along the way. I was here a couple weeks ago, when I climbed Face Mountain. And now, here I was again. I drove through Sentinal to Hyder, then up the dirt farm roads until it fed me onto the Agua Caliente Road. A few miles into the drive, I wanted to visit the Sundad Rock Art site. I'd heard about this place, and wanted to see it for myself. I spent about an hour at Sundad. The day was sunny and mild, not windy at all.

From Sundad, I continued northbound on Agua Caliente Road a few more miles, until I was abeam of Saddle Benchmark Peak, a big lump of volcanic rock with steep sides and a flat top. I knew this would go well, and did not want any surprises. From a distance, a viable route up is obvious. I found a side road, drove that in about a half mile, and parked in the open (deliberately), well off the main road.

The highpoint is on the north tip of the mountain mass, but the way up is about a half mile south, an obvious ramp accessed via a saddle that connects the main body with a small subhill, elevation 1,486 feet. I hiked across what looked like flat desert to the saddle. In truth, it was a series of arroyos and ridges, down and up and up and down. It wasn't difficult, just tedious. I was soon at the base of the hill, and quickly to the saddle.

The magical ramp rose upward to the main mountain. It looked very easy and straightfoward. It was covered in the big black volcanic boulders and moderate brush — the usual: ocotillo, saguaro, creosote, and cholla. But the ramp was wide and I could always weave a way through to avoid the pointy parts. It went as well as I hoped it would. Now I was on top the mountain, a half mile south of the highpoint. Up here, there was much more cholla. At times, they were so dense that it looked like a carpet of light green. On Face Mountain, they impeded me because the top rige was narrow and I didn't have many options when I wanted to bypass one or ten. Here, I had all sorts of options.

I hiked upward, the grade extremely gentle. I hopped from big rock to big rock, and sometimes, walked the gravelly paths between them. I had to weave to get around the cholla, but I always found a way. I couldn't walk a straight line for any length as a result, but I didn't care. It's better this way, and not get a cholla spine in me.

I was at the very top quickly, the one-way hike taking about an hour. The top, no surprise, was big and indistinct. I tagged a couple rocks that looked highest, and found the register underneath a cairn. I was the first one here in 5 years, and before him, the last person signed in about ten years before. The log held just a few names going back to the late 90s, the ones you would expect such as Lilley & Macleod and Bob Moore. Even our current peakbagging hotshots seem to give this one a miss.

The day was lovely, and I was in no hurry, so I sat for awhile to relax and have a drink and a snack. I looked around. Face Mountain was south, Cortez Peak to the southwest, Woolsey Peak due east, the Eagletails northwest, and so on. I did not play the "how many peaks can I see from here that I have climbed" game. It was peaceful here. Even the cholla had their charm. Up here, looking around, they dominated the scenery. As long as they didn't stick me, I was willing to appreciate them for their own special kind of beauty, in the same way we appreciate a rattlesnake when it's not hissing.

I hiked down the same way. I had memorized a couple landmarks so I would know when to drop off the plateau and back down that ramp of joy. Everything went dandy. I was back to the saddle, then back to my car after crossing the arroyo/ridge segment. It had taken me about an hour to egress. In this terrain, it's not possible to go fast.

Once rested, I got back onto Agua Caliente Road and drove it back to pavement. It was about noon. Should I go north and get on Interstate-10? Nah. I went south on Old-US-80 and newer AZ-85 into Gila Bend, then onto Maricopa Road/AZ-238, looking to avenge a failure on a peak from a month ago. I was successful, you can read all about it on my climb of Peak 2046 and also a little history of state route AZ-238.

The math guy in me wondered about how many cholla plants were on top the plateau. Let's say the plateau here covers about three-fourth of a square mile. That's 15,681,600 square feet. Let's say the cholla average out to about 8 feet apart, so that's a divisor of 64 (8 squared), so that's very roughly 245,000 cholla plants. That still may seem high but it's plausible. I'll even ratchet that down to an even 200,000 plants, a very conservative lower bound estimate. Now, each bulb probably has a thousand spines. I won't count them, but that is reasonable. They are tightly packed together. And each plant has about 20 bulbs, a conservative estimate. So 200,000 times 1,000 times 20 gives about 4,000,000,000 (4 billion) actual spines. Again, A plausible figure and probably a low figure. Today, I got bit by just one spine, a tiny thing I was able to pull out quickly.

(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.