The Mountains of Arizona •
Why Mountain & Benchmark • Pozo Redondo Mountains (outlier)
• Pima County

Why Mountain and foothills, as seen from our camp space

Approaching the main peak

More approaching

At the saddle

And boom, now on top

Stick Scott climbs yet another peak

North view of Childs Benchmark, HP of the Pozo Redondo Mountains

Southwest view into Why, the town. The Bates Mountains with Kino Peak are in the distance

South view of the campground, with the Ajo Mountains in back

View west, the Growler Mountains are on the horizon

Why Mountain as seen from the hill holding Why Benchmark

The range later in the day

Montage of views in and around Why

All images

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The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

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Date: December 13, 2014 • Elevation: 2,357 feet (Why Mountain) • Prominence: 507 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 550 feet • Conditions: Cloudy with some blue skies, chilly

ArizonaMainPBUSGS BM Datasheet

Why Mountain (an unofficial name) is a peak north of the town of Why in southern Arizona. There is one main mountain and two smaller foothills, one of which contains the "Why" Benchmark as well as water towers serving the little town. Why itself is just a smattering of homes, a gas station, some closed businesses, and a healthy winter-time population of RVers. The town supposedly gets its odd name because it was at the junction of state routes AZ-85 and AZ-86, which used to meet at a Y-junction. It sees a lot of traffic as a pass-through town for travelers going between Rocky Point (Mexico) and Phoenix or Tucson.

We intended to camp two nights at the Baboquivari Campground on the Tohono O'odham Nation, but a big storm was fixing to pass through the state. Knowing that we'd be arriving in the dark and that the road to the campground gets nasty when wet, we hedged our bets and looked around Ajo for a place to camp for the first night, then we'd go to the Baboquivari Campground the second night. I did a web search and found the Coyote Howls campground/RV Resort, which looked good to us. We left home and battled Friday traffic, drove through Maricopa, Gila Bend and Ajo, arriving in Why around 6 p.m., already dark. We found a spot, and set ourselves up for the night. The sky was cloudy but with mild temperatures.

That night, the rains came in short intense spurts lasting about 10 minutes, about once an hour for almost the whole night. By dawn, the main cloud bands had moved to the east with clear skies out west. We had puffy clouds above us, and a steady cold breeze. I "discovered" Why Mountain during last night's web-search, so I planned to hike it this morning while βð stayed back at camp. It was close to camp, less than a mile away. Regarding its name: it does not have an official name. Its elevation is 2,357 feet, so I thought about calling it "Primes Peak", given that 2, 3, 5, and 7 are the first four prime numbers, and that 2,357 itself is a prime number. However, I figured that would confuse people.

From camp, I walked north and soon had left behind the camping grounds. I was aiming for a low saddle between the two lower foothills. I walked over rocks and through light brush and found a beefy trail. I followed this trail to the saddle, crossing a barbed-wire fence along the way. At the saddle, the trail splits, so I kept to the one I assumed would get me near the main peak. The ground is covered in blackened lava rocks, and the trail is where someone moved aside the rocks, one by one. It's a well-constructed trail, which was nice, given I wasn't expecting one at all. After ten minutes, I was at the saddle south of the main peak.

I didn't immediately see any trail heading upslope, so I started up and within five minutes found the trail again. I stayed on it all the way up. In places, it was a little faint, and small cairns along the way helped keep me on track. The trail parallels a gully, then angles left and upward, to meet the main ridge south of the highest point. I first walked to the highpoint, got a few photos, then walked south toward another jumble of rocks, where I had better views of the town of Why. The day was pleasant, with a stiff breeze and relatively cool temperatures. I had great views in all directions, but only spent about ten minutes on top.

I descended the way I came, and back at the first saddle, found a path that led up to the small hill that holds the Why Benchmark. The Benchmark was installed in 1977 and is silver, not brass, and put in by the "Highway Division". I took a few more photos from this vantage point. I also met a hiker along the trail. My guess is that the people who encamp here over the winter hike these trails all the time. There are a lot of RVers here, but not like a dreary mobile-home village where everyone is side by side. Here, they're spread out, and seemed like a cool crowd.

Back at camp, we relaxed, slowly packed up and left around 11 a.m., heading east along AZ-86 and the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. We enjoy this drive, the few times we have done it. It's rarely crowded, the scenery is stunning. In about an hour, we rolled into Sells, the main town on the Rez. Unfortunately, the skies here were clouded and the Baboquivari Mountains were completely shrouded, the cloud ceiling being about 500 feet above the ground.

We stopped in Sells for cokes and snacks, then drove south in Indian Route 19, aiming for Topawa, where the road to the Baboquivari Campground starts. I wanted to stop at the Museum and Historical Office in Topawa to get permits. There were a lot of vehicles there, but when I opened one door, I interrupted a board meeting in progress. I apologized and went back outside. A woman came out to speak with me. She was nice and helpful in a general sense. Given the conditions, I kept my side of the conversation short.

It was abundantly clear that driving to the Baboquivari Campground was not a good idea. The road was slick mud and covered in large puddles, and I did not want ten miles of this. Besides, the whole point of this road is to go when it's clear, and you can stare in amazement at the magnificent Baboquivari Peak the whole drive in. Today, it was clouded over. We decided to cancel and come back another time.

The Gate

Since we were in Topawa, we drove south to the border intending to visit the famous San Miguel Gate, or simply "The Gate" on some maps such as the DeLorme Atlas and the USGS Topographical Maps. Why one gate would get such attention fascinates me. It needed to be investigated.

We drove south on IR-19 and passed a Border Patrol vehicle parked on the side about every mile. We passed through a couple towns, a random smattering of homes with no actual town center or places of business, things you'd normally expect in a "town". There are no signs mentioning the town name, and what signs are there are covered in grafitti so that they are impossible to read. This caused me concern because all the speed limit signs were painted over. To be safe, I kept the speed at 50 m.p.h. the whole way.

The mile markers counted down until we passed MM-1, then the road bent east. Here, we left the paved road and onto a muddy dirt road for a quarter-mile to "The Gate". Here we were. There was a Border Patrol vehicle parked nearby and a guy manning it. He was young and friendly and seemed cool. He seemed glad that someone had showed up to relieve his boredom. We were honest why we were here, and he thought that was funny. At least he didn't tell us to scram. There was a mama dog there too, and her puppy.

The San Miguel Gate is just a gate along the international border fence. Today, it was closed shut. We could see a building on the other side, but no people. It is there for the Tohono O'odham Indians, whose homeland spans the two countries and who use it to go back and forth quasi-legally. We drove to within 30 feet of it and snapped a couple images. The sky was clouded and our shots didn't come out so great. The ground was muddy so we stayed in the truck.

The B.P. guy asked us if we had "permission" to be here. We mentioned our permission slips for the Baboquivari Campground, but no, strictly speaking, we had not asked for permission to be here. He warned us that the Tohono O'odham Police could cite us if they wanted to. It seems that to drive on any road (except for the main route, AZ-86) on the Nation, one needs permission. I already knew this, but I didn't let on that fact. The truth is, the Tohono O'odham District Offices usually do not respond to phone calls or emails, so getting permission is impossible. On the other hand, I have driven many paved routes on the Nation in the past with no problems. Thus, I was not too concerned.

We got back onto the highway and headed north to Sells. About three miles up, a group of three Border Patrol vehicles passed us going south, and the last one immediately did a fast U-turn and tailed us. This went on for a couple miles, then he turned on his lights and pulled us over. We were expecting to be pulled over, so this came as no surprise. I pulled into a dirt lot along the road. The B.P. agent was nice, did a cursory check of our vehicle, then gave us the same warning about needing permission.

Something was odd about this guy. His English sounded normal, but the more he spoke, the more a slight accent came through. βð speaks German, so she said something in German that caught him off guard. He got flustered and laughed, asking us if it was that obvious he was German. He certainly was not expecting to be spoken to in German way down here on the Tohono O'odham Nation near the Mexican border, but we weren't expecting to be pulled over by a German-speaking BoPo agent either. This was all for the good. We got our inspection out of the way, and alles war gut.

Soon, we were back to Sells, and now needed to decide where to go. Going east was not attractive due to the weather, so we returned to Why and that same campground, into the same space we had the night before. It was near 4 p.m. when we returned. I took the opportunity to walk into "town" for photographs. There's not much to the town. There was an old-style Shell gas-station sign, with the old Shell shape, not just painted as they are today. The station must have closed 40 years ago. That sign could be worth thousands.

The night was clear and cold, nearly freezing. We slept well under boatloads of blankets, but when we awoke the next morning, there was a coat of frost on the truck and on some of our blankets. We drove home, arriving about 1 p.m..

San Miguel Gate, a.k.a. "The Gate"

View of The Gate

Another view

(c) 2014 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.