The Mountains of Arizona

Twin Buttes North Peak with some early-morning light

At the saddle now, more light

Partway up, looking west, the Twin Buttes shadows, with the full moon above and the White Tank Range farther back

Summit, with etchings from 1934

South Peak from the summit of the North Peak

Lake Pleasant, plus the many hills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains

Peak 1729

Summit as seen from the Vietnam Memorial's top

Almost at the top

View northeast, the Twin Buttes are centered

View as I descend back toward the War Memorial hilltop

Three views of the Memorial hilltop, with flag and some signs. I could not get a good photo because of the sun backlighting everything. The lower-right photo is my car at or near the City of Surprise highpoint near the old Chrysler Test Track

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Peoria Perambulations

Twin Buttes North • Peak 1729 (Vietnam War Memorial) • Surprise City Highpoint

Today would be a modest day of peakbagging, my sights set on two hills northwest of Phoenix, within Peoria city limits in and around the Vistancia development. The weather has been very wet and active the past many days, so going to the high country was out. While cooler, it was almost certain to be rainy and stormy. Yesterday, there was a nasty storm in Scottsdale with heavy rain, hail, lightning, wind, flooding and a haboob.

I learned of a batch of peaks in this area, roughly where Happy Valley Road and Jomax Road intermingle west of the Loop-303 Expressway. These are mere foothills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains to the north, those that surround Lake Pleasant. Today's peaks both had trails, which was a requirement. I wanted no off-trail hiking due to the concern of stepping on a snake.

I was up before dawn and on the freeway, exiting Interstate-17 at Happy Valley Road, then heading west toward the Vistancia area. I would hike the Twin Buttes North Peak first, as it would require more effort, then I would double back and visit Peak 1729, which is notable for hosting a Vietnam War Memorial Walk on its lower slopes.

Twin Buttes North Peak
• Hieroglyphic Mountains
• City of Peoria
• Maricopa County

Date: August 13, 2022 • Elevation: 2,194 feet • Prominence: 564 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes • Gain: 684 feet • Conditions: Sultry but comfortable • Wildlife: Burro


The sun was barely up when I arrived into Vistancia. I followed Vistancia Boulevard northbound, aiming for its end at a construction site just north of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal. All of this is visible on the aerial images online, so I knew what to expect in the larger sense, but not sure what to expect on a smaller scale, as in where to park, trespassing concerns, and so on.

Just past the canal is a gated road that leads to some official building, but beside this gate is a gravel parking lot being used as an ad-hoc office-trailer site for the construction people. No one was parked here, it being still a few minutes before 6 a.m. on a Saturday. There were no signs against trespassing either. This would do nicely. I parked slightly out of sight behind the trailer and got my things in order.

It was pleasantly "cool", about 82 degrees going by my car's temperature gauge. The sun was still low in the east and I would be approaching the Twin Buttes from the west, meaning I would be in shade until over half way up. The buttes lie on State Trust land. I put my placard in the car window, and started hiking at 6:05 a.m..

I walked around back the trailer, past some construction items and down a dirt track into the Twin Buttes Wash. Looking at satellite images, a trail picks up from here and leads all the way to the summit. In the wash, I made a few guesses and got myself onto the higher ground and immediately found the trail. I did not see human boot prints but I did see hoof prints. A sign back on Vistancia Boulevard had a burro silhouette in a yellow-diamond, but interestingly, no words about watching out for burros. Just a burro silhouette, like a Zen koan.

I made good time following the trail, which was less distinct down low, but more distinct as it gained higher and started to enter onto the lower apron of volcanic boulders. The trail is very well constructed, rocks moved aside creating a defined path. This is not some game path. Someone at some time in the past built this path for some reason. Way back in the old days before there was a canal, there were a couple mines here. This trail may have been put in for some reason related to mining. I don't know.

I achieved the saddle, now blinded by the low sun shining into my eyes. Then I heard a loud huff and hoof-clattering. I had spooked a burro! It was slowly jogging away as I approached. Having seen the sign back on the road, I was already aware of burros in the theoretical sense. Now that I saw one, the concept of burros became more tangible and real to me.

The trail continues uphill toward the North Peak. It switchbacks gently the first half, then barges almost straight uphill the second half. This latter half was steep and very rubbly. But it was short and I was soon on top the peak. The first thing I saw was a neatly-rendered set of initials from 1934. Miners? Did they follow this trail? The top is small and rocky. I stepped upon the highest rock, snapped some images and looked around. A gentle breeze picked up and it felt lovely. The air temperature was still in the low 80s but it was still and humid, so the breeze was welcome.

I did not stay long. I started down the sloppy steep parts of the trail, using my butt in a couple spots. Once back on less-steep trail, I walked briskly back to my car, a round trip of a little over an hour. I had considered hiking up to the south peak, but it did not have a trail. It looked easy, with low rocks, no cliffs and spread-out brush, but (a) I wanted to avoid any off-trail hiking for snake reasons, (b) I wanted to conserve my energy and time given the warming conditions and (c), I wanted to be back at my car and gone before any of the construction people noticed me. I was not concerned they would care, but I didn't want to tempt fate.

I was pleased this hike had gone well. There are a couple more ranked hills nearby and now I have a sense where I could go to park, but I will wait a few months and let the weather cool.

Peak 1729 • Vietnam War Memorial
• City of Peoria
• Maricopa County

Elevation: 1,728 feet (per Lidar) • Prominence: 300 feet (per Lidar) • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 370 feet • Conditions: Warm and clear, not too bad


I drove back south on Vistancia Boulevard to where it meets Happy Valley Road. There, I proceeded west a mile or two to Dysart Road, north a mile to a T-junction, then west briefly on Jomax Road. Peak 1729 was easily visible, rising about three-quarters of a mile to the north.

This peak is notable for hosting a short Vietnam Veterans Memorial Walk, which is a trail that runs about a quarter-mile, with placards honoring those who perished in the Vietnam War. I believe it's for people from the local area, but I am not sure of that entirely.

There is no formal parking area or anything "official" alongside Jomax Road indicating anything about the memorial. You have to know it's here beforehand. The trailhead is marked by a white post about three feet tall, but I did not know that when I showed up. I drove a little more west and parked among a small group of cars, thinking this must be the trailhead. I asked a guy nearby and he wasn't sure either.

I got my pack on and locked the car, and started walking. I walked into the desert and determined real fast there was no trail to follow. However, I could see a flag on a ridge and surmised that the proper trail was that-a-way. So I walked to it, up gentle rocky slopes, and soon was on the trail. I met it high enough that I was at the memorial itself within minutes.

This memorial has a flagpole and flag, a bench and a couple large signs, one honoring Sen. John McCain. One couple was here when I walked up, and a couple more were right behind me. The sun was still low in the east and taking any photos in that direction was not possible. I did not linger. I knew I'd be coming back this way anyway.

The trail continues on toward the top of Peak 1729. This is an excellent trail. It gains at an easy gradient with benches spaced about every 200 feet. I could see three people ahead of me. I was on top the peak after 15 minutes from the memorial hilltop. One of the three people I mentioned was already coming down, doing a jog. When I got to the top, a couple were there, she sitting on a bench, he standing on the topmost rock. They were very friendly.

I could see the Twin Buttes to the north, plus the usual sweep of hills and mountains in all directions, and nothing but city looking toward the east. It was warm now, but tolerable, in the 85-88 degree range. The sky was mostly free of clouds and it was humid, but overall, not bad for mid-August. I talked with the couple and they suggested all sorts of peaks and trails to look at in the area, which I will. They knew their stuff. After they left, a group of younger people arrived, so I left and was back to the memorial quickly.

I took a few more minutes to inspect the memorial and read the plaques. I still had bad lighting but I got a few images anyway. By now, the group of younger people were coming down too, and more people coming up.

I hiked the trail all the way out to the road, then walked it a little ways back to my car. The lady I met on the summit said it was 0.7 mile one way via the trail. I figured I added an extra 500 feet in each direction. But the hike went fast, about 45 minutes round trip.

Lidar data at the 1-meter refinement (USGS 1 Meter 12 x37y374 AZ_MaricopaPinal_2020_B20) shows a summit elevation of 1,728 feet, and a saddle elevation of 1,428 or 1,429 feet (both come up consistently), for a prominence of 299 or 300 feet. The peak's placeholder name will remain "Peak 1729" as that is what is printed on the map.

This hill appears to be the main hiking peak for locals in the area. It's close to homes and easy to get to. I would imagine on a cooler day, there'd be dozens on the trail. I enjoyed this peak. It was prettier than I expected, and the Vietnam memorial was a nice touch. My father, who passed recently, fought in Vietnam in 1965-66. Being here was a small way to honor him and his service.

Point 1690
• Highpoint: City of Surprise
• Maricopa County

Elevation: 1,690 feet • Prominence: none • Distance: drive up • Time: 3 minutes • Gain: Spiritual cleansing • Conditions: Surprising

City HPs of Maricopa County

Now done with my two hikes and things warming a little (still only in the high 80s), I figured now would be the best time, ever, to go tag the City of Surprise Highpoint. I rarely come this way and when I do, have little desire to go find this flat city's highest point.

Since I was already on Jomax Road, I assumed that if I stayed on it heading west, it would connect me to Highway US-60. Well, it does not. It simply ends at some barriers near a new housing development. I had to backtrack a little and catch US-60 off of 163rd Avenue.

I went northwest on the highway a few miles, exiting at 203rd Avenue, heading north. A mile later, I was at a T-intersection with Dove Valley Road. To the north is the gated and fenced Chrysler Test Track, which apparently is now shuttered. No one is here any more.

The Surprise city limits run slightly north and west of this junction. The map states a spot-elevation of 1,689 feet for this junction. The city limits, according to the map, continue for about another hundred feet west. I parked alongside the road, wandered around and called it good.

The test track (also called the Arizona Proving Ground) was closed in 2008. It was apparently sold to a developer, but 14 years later, no development seems to be taking place. It's lonely and quiet here. I did not stay long but I did take this chance to check for texts, look at my map, drink some water and relax. It wasn't a bad day so far, I figured I would enjoy the solitude for a few minutes

Surprise is a sprawling city covering over a hundred square miles and with over 150,000 people. It lies along US-93 northwest of Phoenix and west of Peoria. It has no hills, and its highest point is wherever its northwest corner happens to be. Given that there is more unincorporated land to the north and west, should the city annex any more of that land, the city highpoint will change. For now, August 2022, the highpoint is here.

The city was incorporated in 1960, at the time just a square mile in size. However, the unincorprated community of Surprise dates to 1929, founded by Homer Ludden, who lived between 1880 and 1958. He was a rancher, farmer, teacher and politician, serving in the state legislature for many years during the state's earliest years. He was born in Surprise, Nebraska. Thus, it's no surprise where he dreamed up the name for the new community.

The city's website mentions that it was named by Flora Mae Statler, wife of Mr. Ludden, for her opinion that she would be surprised if the city amounted to anything. That seems far-fetched. Given Mr. Ludden's stature at the time, naming it after his hometown seems more plausible.

It was now about 10 a.m., and sunny, just a few high clouds. Yesterday had been very stormy with heavy rain, hail and a haboob, but today was calm and relatively cool by Phoenix-in-August standards, with highs only expected to be about 100 degrees. I had nothing urgent going on at home so I took this opportunity to drive the Sun Valley Parkway, which begins as Bell Road at the Loop-303 in Surprise, then heads west and south for about 40 miles to Interstate-10, circling the White Tank Mountains the entire way. I have never driven this road and now would be a good opportunity.

Bell Road heads west and soon leaves behind civilization, cresting a rise near the old Trilby Reservoir, and flanking the northern White Tank Mountains. It's open desert here, then suddenly, a massive development called Festival, essentially a little city unto itself. It's actually within Buckeye city limits, which is itself surprising as Buckeye's town center is about 30 miles south, south of Interstate-10. Buckeye has incorporated hundreds of square miles of desert west and north of the White Tank Mountains.

I stayed on the "parkway" as it turns south, now back into wide-open desert. It passed a few side tracks and scraggly homesteads, the kind of things you'd expect to see in the middle of a desert. Then, about 15 miles later, another humongous housing development called Tartesso appears. Looking it up online afterwards, this is a new development, begun in 2016, which will eventually cover dozens of square miles and number over 100,000 people.

A few things came to mind. First, the infrastructure. There seems to be just two ingress/egress points into this development, both off of Sun Valley Parkway, which is itself just a two-lane road. Second, there is no shopping close by. Maybe there's something within the development. But out this way, it's mostly desert and scattered homesteads. Third, it seems absurd to build out so much this way. everyone will be commuting into Phoenix presumably. But I also realize housing is needed. Fourth, what about water?

Online, I took screen-captures of two aerial images, showing Tartesso, then an older un-named development a few miles to the south. Note how compact the homes are in Tartesso with small yards. Note how big the lots are in the other development. I find the juxtaposition amusing. You can draw your own conclusions.

Tartesso from the sky

Older area

Once I got onto Interstate-10, I just headed back to my palatial estate in Tempe to clean up, eat and nap.

(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. .