Questing for a Cuesta Fiesta?
If you're looking for wild geology untrammeled by crowds that is loaded with alcoves, arches, and even a few tunnels and caves, you probably wouldn't think to look in the White Tank Mountains. That's what I thought until a Google Earth image lured me to venture behind the range, where a group of small formations that looked pretty bland from a distance revealed dizzying complexity up close.
Geologically, they are "cuestas", asymmetrical ridges with a gentle back slope (called a Dipslope), and a steep face or cliff formed by the erosion of tilted strata with a resistant capstone. The freeze-thaw cycle, along with other types of breakdown, often form alcoves in the cliff face, and here is no exception. The rock itself was ejected from a volcanic eruption somewhere between 5 and 33 million years ago, it's twisted molten form taking on fantastic shapes that make for a scramblers delight.
Access to the area starts with the Sun Valley Parkway, which will take you to a network of dirt roads that lead to a "North Camp" and "South Camp". Both act as "trailheads" for the off trail options before you and have fire rings and campsite potential.
The 5 major points of interest:
1982' - Most dramatic summit, largest cliff faces, 30' tunnel, 3 large alcoves (the "Weeping Alcove" has yet to be explored - rope protection suggested). Most features on north and east faces.
"Two - Tone" - 4 large alcoves ( 1 unexplored - rope protection suggested), 6 medium alcoves, 12 small, 6 small arches, 1 unexplored cave (estimated 30' deep, did not explore solo). Most features on north, east and south faces.
1861' - 6 medium alcoves, 12 small alcoves, 12 small arches. Features on all faces.
Baldy" - 1 medium alcove, 4 small alcoves. Features on south ridge.
1908' - 12 medium alcoves, 6 small arches, most intense molten forms. Features along ridge, as well as entire east face.
Flora is light, with a few areas of Cholla, but very little catclaw.
The rock in most areas is incredibly grippy and solid, but a few spots, particularly on 1982', are crumbly so stay on your toes. As with any off trail hike in terrain as unpredictable as this, exercise caution and stay within your comfort level.
The "Red Road" divides Buckeye from Phoenix, and the area is a combination of State Trust and BLM land, all of it outside the White Tank Mountain Park boundaries. Technically a State Trust permit would be handy, but I have seen no posting warning of this requirement.
In 4 trips to the area I have only seen one other person, and almost no trash. I hope to return with some HAZheads who want to further explore the alcoves and caves that were beyond my solo comfort level (a rope wouldn't hurt) - you never know what might be found until you look!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.