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Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Vulture Mountain Ruins


Vulture Peak viewed from BLM 9052

Surrounded by an eclectic sampling of Arizona’s 194 named mountain ranges, The Vulture Mountains occupy a space rich in natural resources and human history. 

Hieroglyphic and Wickenburg Mountains view

The crescent-shaped range is comprised of a string of mounds 29 miles long and 13 miles wide located a dozen miles southwest of Wickenburg at the edge of Maricopa County.  
Hikers admire a twisted saguaro on BLM 9052

The Hassayampa River, a roughly 100-mile-long desert waterway that originates near Prescott and flows south, mostly underground, to merge with the Gila River, marks the eastern extent of the range. 
Saguaros dot a ravine in the Vulture Mountains

Its highpoint, 3,658-foot Vulture Peak, serves as Wickenburg’s most iconic land feature and the axis around which a cluster of defunct mining operations orbit.  
Hike begins with a crossing of the Hassayampa River

A network of Bureau of Land Management roads that are open to hikers, equestrians, and motorized use, provide access to the mineral-rich backcountry. 
Relics of mine ops in the Vulture Mountains

The main access point for exploratory adventures is by way of Gates Road in the community of Morristown.  The paved part of the road dead ends where Little San Domino Wash spills into the Hassayampa River.  

Relics protected by the Antiquities Act


From there, trail users may hike or drive across the usually dry floodplain to a gate where BLM road 9054 serves as entree to miles of dirt roads.  

Packrat middens are plentiful along BLM 9054

The best thing about hiking here is the joy of discovery.  Every road and side trail holds new vistas, natural arches, and points of interest, so there’s no bad plan.  Just pick a road and go.  One outing to try uses the clearly signed roads 9054 and 9052.

From the entry gate at the river, 9054 heads uphill, passing by the first of many optional side trips to an old mine site.  Mountain vistas make their first appearance at the top of a knoll with jaw-dropping looks at the Hieroglyphic and Wickenburg Mountains to the east, the Date Creek and Weaver Mountains to the north and the Bradshaw Mountains on the far northern horizon.

Washes feed into the Hassayampa River

Hikers trek BLM 9052

As the undulating route delves deeper into the boondocks, the distinctive forms of Vulture Peak and 3,044-foot Caballeros Peaks stand out to the northwest standing high above a cholla and saguaro studded landscape. 

Date Creek and Weaver Mountains to the north

At the two-mile point, this trip heads left onto road 9052, gaining and loosing elevation steadily.  At the 2.9-mile point, road 9052 veers left at a large white tank, then heads downhill and crosses a couple of washes before heading up yet again to meet an array of roadside mining detritus.  These minor prospects might have been the spawn of a nearby major mine operation.  The Vulture Mine and its companion Vulture City community was the hub of gold and silver extraction from 1863-1942. The core operation and a smattering of pick-and-shovel prospects mined the surface gold that was easily extracted by hand from exposed late Cretaceous pluton of quartz porphyry that shed bits of precious minerals in flakes, nuggets, and dust. 

Serial misfortunes including mismanagement, low gold prices, and high overhead caused sporadic closures and ownership changes until production in the area dribbled to a halt 1942. Some residual mineral extraction happened during World War II and limped into the 1960s when lingering deposits of copper, gold and lead were pulled from tailings and open shafts.

The abandoned Vulture Mountain mine sites had names that underpin their mysterious pasts. Details of the yields and histories of the Newsboy Mine, Montezuma Mine, Queen of Sheba Mine, El Tigre Mine, et al are buried in dusty boxes full of decades old claims.  

Artifacts near a mine prospect

Only the

Vulture Mine retains a semblance of its former glory. The site is now a privately owned tourist venue that preserves the dream of pulling riches from the desert. The lesser wildcat strikes live in comparative obscurity along ragged dirt roads in the hills above the Hassayampa River.  There’s little left to mark many of the small prospects.  Discarded cans, rotting wood planks, rusty nails and tailings scattered among chunks of quartz and metamorphic rocks crusted with brilliant blue green chrysocolla, a soft mineral associated with copper ore.

Gate at the Hassayampa River

When visiting historic sites, it’s important to help protect them. Federal law states that it is illegal to remove any artifact 50 years-old or older from public lands  (36 CFR 800,Title 18: Theft and Destruction of Government Property, the 1906 Antiquities Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966). An artifact is defined as anything made, modified, or used by humans. That would include cans, bottles, bricks, nails, tools, weapons, etc. When in doubt--leave it!  The historic artifacts link below helps identify common sightings.

Vulture Mountain scene on BLM 9054

At a spot along road 9052 that was probably a favorite lunch break hangout, dozens of rusted cans, crumpled metal, and sun-bleached wood litter a hillock overlooking the expanse of the Hassayampa Basin. To the southwest, the silhouette of the Harquahala Mountains rise to 5,681 feet above the flatlands filling the skyline.

Enjoy the discovery, but leave as is.

It’s easy to see why work wary miners would choose this serene locale to kick back with a can of beans after a long day of digging leaving behind relics for us to ponder.

LENGTH: 8.3 miles (to the lunch miner lunch spot and back)

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 1,767– 2,229 feet (1,225 feet of accumulated elevation change)


From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to State Route 74 (Carefree Highway).  Take SR 74 west (toward Wickenburg) for 30 miles to U.S. 60. Turn left and go 0.8-mile on U.S. 60 to Gates Road at milepost 121, turn right and continue 2.3 miles to the trailhead at Little Domingo Wash. Do not park within a quarter mile of the livestock water tank and respect private property in the area. Access roads are paved.



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