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Barry Goldwater/Cabeza Prieta, AZ
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Barry Goldwater/Cabeza Prieta, AZ 
Barry Goldwater/Cabeza Prieta, AZ
Hiking Jan 08 2011
Hiking24.00 Miles 4,400 AEG
Hiking24.00 Miles   13 Hrs      1.85 mph
4,400 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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The empty quarter on the map has always held an allure, and we have a great one here in Arizona. I had been reading people's reports and seeing pictures of the Cabeza Prieta NWR (mainly trips along El Camino del Diablo) over the past couple years, waiting for a chance to go myself. That chance materialized when Chris Gilsdorf, an avid peak climber, organzied a weekend trip to climb the Mohawk Mountains high point, along with that of the Sierra Pinta. He asked me and Scott Peavy along. It was a great offer, but it didn't come without risk. I hesitated much of the week, wondering if my Honda CR-V would make it, how the border situation was, how the terrain would be. After some asking around and extensive map research, we had a plan and a schedule. I talked myself into it, as the chance to see this area was too hard to pass up.

The Goldwater Range was not new to me. Last winter, Ken, Chris and I made it into the Gila Mountains and I remember how rugged and remote that felt. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Sheep Mountain lay only a few miles south of Wellton and I-8, away from any major north-south travel routes. Aside from a few munitions lying around, there was nothing to worry about.

Saturday's goal was Mohawk, and it was only going to be Chris and I this day. Scott would join us for Pinta on Sunday. I picked Chris up in Chandler around 6:30, and we were in Tacna shortly before 9. Into the sand and dust we went, and my car easily handled the crossing of the Mohawk dunes and the primitive road that led to Mohawk's base. Chris had done this climb before, and that was a help. The route to the top is very straight-forward, but all cross-country. We parked my car and set off for a mile across the open desert. Into the drainage we went, as the winter sun hid behind the north-facing wall. The new-found shade was nice as we enjoyed the solid rock-hopping. Halfway up, the solid gave way to loose scree, which slowed down progress. We hit the first saddle, traversed across a drainage, and found our way up to the main spine of the Mohawk Mountains. After some fun and airy scrambling we sat atop Mohawk Mountain.

Wow. The serrated ridge of the mountains extends in both directions, with only I-8 and Dateland to the north showing any sign of civilization. The Mohawk Dunes stretched out below us, miles in both directions. Wide-open country here.

The descent went smoothly, and we were back to Tacna by 4. We decided to stay here, since we had to meet Scott at 6 am the next morning at this exit. Will have to camp out here next time....

Sunday was the day that made me nervous earlier in the week. 32 miles of dirt road driving into no man's land, near the border, having to cross 7 miles of desert by foot just to get to foot of Sierra Pinta...We met Scott right at 6 and headed south on the Tule Well/Christmas Pass road. The going through the Goldwater is pretty smooth, only a few sandy spots. We're stopped by Border Patrol and told that our progress will be stopped well before the Pintas. Mud bogs from recent rains, we're told, will prove a barrier that will stop my CR-V and Scott's Subaru. We figured we get as far as we could, and maybe explore the north end of the Pintas instead, if we could. Thanking the officer, we continued south. No mud ever appeared, and we crusied past the Cabeza Prieta boundary and to Heart Tank by 8 am.

Ugh. Now it's time for 7 miles of desert The three of us set off, into the cool and humid morning, the Pintas (mercifully) in a monotone haze on the horizon.

We chat on and off, just wanting the road-walk to end. Anybody hiked between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood in Grand Canyon? The distance is about like that. At least it isn't a straight line across the Tule Desert, as the road twists and turns. The last couple miles get tedious, but the Pintas now finally loom closer

The road walk is the only "miserable" part - becuase the Pintas are well worth the effort. I always wondered what Arizona looked like before settlement. Cross the Tule Desert and scramble up in the Pintas and you will know. Not a paved road or city in sight. When the wind stops, the only sound you hear is the blood rushing through your ears. Wilderness.

We reach the Guzzler by 10:30 and refuel. This drainage to the top, like Mohawk's, will be shady all due because of the winter sun. The rock-hopping is fantastic and we found some tinajas along the 1800' climb up.

The rock scrambling was fantastic right up until the last 200 feet, then it got loose. No major problems, though, and we were on top by 12:30.

What a view. What a summit. The bleached granite against the stark sands and creosote flats gives the place a unique feel. You truly feel alone out here, something hard to do anymore these days. We spend a little while on top, then start moving back as quick as we can, hoping to beat sunset on the drive out. Chris's foot is hurting on the way down, but we reach the road again by 2:15 to start the long way home.

It's a long trek, but we pass the time. Back to the cars by 5, we change into clean clothes and start the drive out. The area gives us a nice send-off sunset

We see 3 more border patrol agents on the way out. Nobody wants to check permits: if anything, they want to socialize. Must get lonely out there sometimes, for sure. No signs of illegal crossings, not even trash (like in the Huachucas).

I can see what's so alluring about this wilderness to those few desert rats who venture out there...I would go back in a heart-beat.

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