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Harquahala means "running water high up" in the language of one early native tribe. This elevated region, set on one of western Arizona's largest desert ranges, was so named for its numerous perennial seeps and springs. The Harquahalas reach a high point on the western side on Harquahala Peak at 5,691 feet, the uppermost elevation in the southwestern part of the state. From the summit of the peak the panorama includes surrounding desert and mountains up to 100 miles away. Natural mountain springs support a rare habitat among Sonoran Desert mountains, a screened interior canyon system with exceptional natural diversity. Rare cacti live here among relict "islands" of chaparral and desert grasslands. Here you'll find high peaks and foothills, deep rocky canyons and valleys, and ridges dropping to bajadas. Sunset Canyon falls 1,600 feet from the steep east rim of the mountains. Brown's Canyon, which stretches for nine miles across the northeastern portion, houses the endangered desert tortoise and is seldom visited. This area also sustains the largest mule deer herd in western Arizona, a sizable raptor population, and one of the few increasing desert bighorn sheep herds.
In the 1920s the Smithsonian Institute built an observatory on Harquahala Peak and a rough trail for mules to carry up supplies. The obscure Harquahala Peak Trail runs about 5.4 miles one-way to the ruins of the observatory; rock cairns mark the way. The rest of the Wilderness offers some of Arizona's most appealing desert solitude . . . but not in summer, when the heat sends the mercury to the top of the thermometer.
We'll be taking the old mule trail the Smithsonians used to take back in the twenties to the top. It's 3700 ft of elevation gain over 5.4 miles. There are campsites at the top with picnic tables and fire rings. I'll be caching water and wood at the top so you only need to schlep up what water the initial trip will require. After we're done I recommend a stop at Screamer's in Wickenburg on the way home (food's good, portions are plenty, and the shakes are excellent).
It gets very windy and will be cold at the top(5700 ft elevation). I've seen the temp easily drop into the teens at night during December. Plan for cold and if there's any rain in the forecast I will be cancelling (the hail at the top can be lethal) I can guarantee you one of the clearest skies to be had in AZ at the top.
Here's the hike on HikeAZ: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=54
So if you're up for some cold, climbing adventure sign up!
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