The Mountains of Arizona •
Sunflower Benchmark • Arizona State Trust Lands
• Yavapai County

Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
Sunflower Benchmark Peak seen about 3 miles away, near where I parked
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
Now about a mile away
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
View from the south
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
Now in the rocky jumbles
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
Summit up there
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
Hiking the upper slope. The "ball-cap" rock pillar I used as a reckoning guide is seen on the ridge line about 1/3 of the way from the right margin. The summit is immediately above the pillar, still hidden from this vantage
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
The peak as seen from the saddle below
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
North view, north summit rock, the benchmark is on the rock below
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
South view, south summit rocks
Sunflower Benchmark, Arizona
More detail of the upper ridge

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Date: October 23, 2021 • Elevation: 4,704 feet • Prominence: 1,254 feet • Distance: 9 miles • Time: 4 hours, 45 minutes • Gain: 1,350 feet • Conditions: Cool and cloudy at first, sunnier later, steady cool breeze up high, warmer lower down

ArizonaMainAZ P1KPBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

For the fourth time in a month, I was back in the general area north of Wickenburg, hiking a peak. This time, it was Sunflower Benchmark, which lies about ten miles north of Date Creek Mountain and fifteen miles south of Crosby Mountain, as the crow flies. However, as the Scott drives, these mileages are longer due to the curvy roads and general mountainous topography in these parts.

Sunflower Benchmark tops a small range that rises north of the Date Creeks, but the range itself has no name. It seems to have a similar geology as the Date Creeks, so could be part of that range by that metric. Whatever the case, a lot of ranges out this way have no names. No one ever got around to naming the range. You'd think that would have been done back in 1870, but apparently not. This is a part of Arizona that sees few visitors. Ranches take up most of the land. The whole region goes unnoticed.

I had it on good authority (Matthias) that the peak was a fairly straightforward climb. He climbed it over a year ago. So I put it on my short list, and since I've been back here now a number of times in just a few short weeks, knew where to go and what to expect.

I left my place at 4 a.m., figuring two hours to get to the trailhead just as the sun would be rising. The day wasn't expected to be too hot, low 80s at most, but I wanted to be hiking as much of it in the cooler temperatures and also be done before noon, if possible. The drive went well, the exciting part being a detour in downtown Phoenix since Interstate-10 was closed for a few miles for some work being done. I drove on roads I likely have never been on in all my years in the city. After a few miles of city streets at 4:30 a.m., I found my way back to the freeway. I then followed Loop-303 to the US-60 into Wickenburg, where I got gas, then AZ-89 into Congress, where I stopped again for snacks and to kill time. Seems I was still a good half-hour ahead of dawn, so I sat in my car for a bit and caught up on some texts.

In the barest of dawn light, I drove a little more on AZ-89 to Date Creek Road (Yavapai County Road 62), turning left, going northbound. Date Creek Road connects to Hillside along highway AZ-98 about 20 miles farther, and I have driven this road a few times over the years. It is well-graded dirt, paralleling railroad tracks the whole way, and passing by a few ranch spreads. Most of the land here is private, or Arizona State Trust. It's a scenic drive and suitable for all vehicles when dry. It can get a little washboarded in spots.

Once on CR-62, I went about 10 miles past a small batch of homes and through a low-point (arroyo) in the road lined with cottonwoods. Shortly, Lava Ridge Road branches to the left (west). I followed it southwest about a quarter-mile, then followed a lesser track northwest about a quarter-mile. This second road was a little rough, but I eased through it carefully. The road then bends left, aiming west directly toward Sunflower Benchmark. Any hopes of driving in farther quickly came to an end, as there was a rough stretch of lava rocks to get through (this being Lava Ridge, I assume). There is a pull-out here with a fire ring, most likely a hunter's camp when in season. The fire pit had fresh empty bottles of beer in it.

I killed the engine, got suited up and my pack in order, locked up the car and started walking at 7:05 a.m., the sun still low and behind clouds for the time being. It was cool but not cold, about 55°. The peak stood almost four miles west, and the road I was on headed straight for the peak, crossing a broad desert plain and wash. I had a three-mile walk before I was at the base of the peak. So I got busy walking.

The walk was as tedious as I expected it to be. The road undulates up and down with the terrain, gaining and losing ten or twenty feet over and over. It was easy walking. I spooked a band of javelina about a mile in. I heard rustling and snorting and saw one get up and run off ... for thirty feet. So I banged my poles and two or three more got up and ran, again for just a few feet. A couple more then did the same. They tend not to run far, and they can be obnoxious creatures, so I made sure I kept to the road and walked past them quickly. Moments later, I scared up some cattle in the road. They too ran off.

The road itself is in decent shape, but would need a solid 4-wheel drive vehicle with clearance and decent tires. After the first rocky segment I mentioned, the road improves to smooth dirt, passes an unlocked gate, passes through one more segment of chunky rocks. Later, there is one stretch with bad erosion, channels four feet deep. Toward the base of the peak, it passes through a long stretch of sand. I think a Jeep would be fine on it. There were fresh tracks on it, so people come here regularly, I surmise.

I came to the base of the lowest foothill, where the road splits. Matthias had gone right. However, I took the left fork, which gains about 200 feet for about a half-mile, to where another road branches to the right (north), aiming for a couple black water tanks up on a low hill, and a scraggly corral. I had Matthias' GPS route and saw that I would reconnect to it past the corral. My way simply followed the roads so that I would not need to do any off-trail hiking more than necessary.

Past the corral, the road essentially ends, degenerating into a wide cow path. A fence-line continues, so I followed it for a hundred yards or so. By now, the terrain was progressively rockier to where no road could be bashed in. The summit was hidden by a foreground ridge for the time being. I wanted to be about another quarter-mile north, within the main gully that emanates off the summit. I was about three gullies over. It was a little past 8 a.m., the clouds were still hanging over me, so I took a break here. I changed into my hiking jeans, drank a Bai, ate something, and studied the area. It was very rocky, but not brushy, as best as I could tell. Interestingly, there was a massive four-foot tall cairn built upon a rock nearby. It looked like a shepherd's cairn, or possibly a mine claim corner. But I saw no hint of a mine, and certainly no sheep or shepherds, so why it's there, I don't know, but someone went through the trouble to build it. I would see one more like it before the day was over.

The next half-hour was the "toughest" of the hike. I just needed to get up and down a couple rocky ridges that separate the gullies. It wasn't difficult, but I had to study the terrain constantly. Finally, I was down into the proper gully, the summit visible up above me. As I hiked closer in, it would become invisible again as it hid behind a ridge point. Regardless, I was on the right track, and could see essentially the rest of the route, about a half-mile of distance, gaining about 600 feet.

The gully was wide, and wherever there was a thicket of brush, I could easily bypass it on the wide banks. Cows have bashed in excellent paths and I followed them whenever possible. I had to scamper up a few rock bands but nothing ever higher than four or five feet. I used my hands rarely except for balance, and the brush was rarely a problem. I was moving more efficiently than usual through the gully.

The gully splits, so I went right, then followed it as it bends left, now going directly up the main slope just below the summit. The ridge looked about 300 feet above me. Soon, the gully widened into a small meadow, such that the slope behind it appeared to go straight to the summit (which was still mostly hidden). Up ahead on the skyline was a rock pillar with a unique "ball-cap" profile, so I aimed for it. The slope was great: the rocks were solid most of the time, brush was light and avoidable, and the gradient never got crazy steep, perhaps a 30% grade as it gained the upper ridge below the ball-cap rock pillar. And suddenly, I was on the main ridge.

The summit is a big rock pile rising about a hundred feet above the ridge. I walked into the saddle below it, then around the rock pile, on its south side, where I found a good-looking slope. I followed this to the top, needing hands a couple times, but the scrambling was trivial, nothing worse than mid class-2. And I was on top.

The summit features two rock outcrops of about equal height, so I tagged the south one first, then walked to the north one and tagged it too, signing into the register hidden in a cairn. I was the third person to sign in for 2021, the first since April. The benchmark sits on a rock below this northern highpoint. I snapped a photo of it. Old surveyor detritus lies here, some guy wiring and the old height-of-light stick. The summit had plenty of good sitting rocks, so I took a long break here, snapping images and enjoying food and drink. The clouds had cleared out and I had sunny conditions. There was a steady breeze up here and it was chilly but not bad. Looking around, I identified a few peaks like Date Creek, the Yarnell Ridge, Weaver Peak, and Peak 3513 and Crosby to the north, but much of this area is terra incognita for me too. I know little beyond the obvious big summits.

The hike down went great, too. I had solid footing the whole way down, and it was easy to ease down some of the rock barriers. I was out of the main gully within a half-hour, then followed good cow paths whenever I found them. I still had to get up and over a couple rocky ridges, but this went fast, and I ended up on a more direct line back to the corral and water tanks, which I could see from a distance and used as a guide. Back at the corral, I took off my jeans and put on my hiking shorts, plus took a water break. The remaining three-plus miles took a little over an hour and went fine. I saw no animals this time. I was back to my car at 11:45 a.m., a four hour, forty-five minute hike covering 9 miles. It had gone extremely well and I thoroughly enjoyed the climb. I feared it would be a rocky-brushy battle, but it wasn't. It looked far worse than it actually was, and I recommend this peak if you're in the area.

For the drive home, I avoided Interstate-10, instead following AZ-74/Carefree Highway eastbound, stopping for a spell at a Starbucks, then on home about an hour later.

(c) 2021 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.