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Window Mountain and Ventana Cave AZ, AZ
mini location map2013-11-16
17 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Window Mountain and Ventana Cave AZ, AZ 
Window Mountain and Ventana Cave AZ, AZ
Hiking avatar Nov 16 2013
Hiking6.00 Miles 800 AEG
Hiking6.00 Miles
800 ft AEG15 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Solitude, dramatic desert arches, bees and cholla. This place is something special.

In brief:

TH: 0754
Summit Arch: 0930
Depart Arch: 1050
Bees and cholla: 1110
Start back to TH: 1200
TH: 1420
Drive to Ventana Cave and hike ~ 1 mile round trip
Head home: 1640

This hike begins with securing a permit from the Hickiwan District of the Tohono O'odham Indian Nation. The permit is free but if you elect to forgo that formality you risk jail and confiscation of your vehicle. For us it took a few days and required faxing copies of photo IDs and vehicle descriptions. We were warned of possible delay due to their fax not functioning properly on cloudy days(?). Plan ahead. The party consisted of friends Bill (hike coordinator and honcho), Marv, and myself. Bill has acquaintances with the Tohono O'odham.

We picked up Marv on the way south and headed for Casa Grande. Driving through old town was interesting. I had not done that recently, usually blowing by on the interstate. The old town looks like most cities in Arizona did in the 1960s when I was a kid. Throw some period cars on the street and you have a movie set. We traveled south on Indian Route 15 to Santa Rosa and there headed west on Indian Route 34. We pulled off a mile or two east of the Ventana Cave access road (unmarked) onto a seldom used 4 wheel road. It sees very little use; there are creosotes fully 2 feet tall in the center of the track. We only went in far enough to get our vehicle off the road and out of view. We stopped and called that location the TH, about 3 miles NNE of Window Mountain, a seldom visited natural arch in volcanic rock on the high point of a ridge just SE of a smaller arch on another high point of the Window Mountains.

There is no trail. There are no cairns. There are no footprints. There is no garbage. None at all. This place sees very few people in the course of a year. Excepting IR34 there is no visible trace of human impact within some tens of miles in any direction. I have seen few places in Arizona that rival it for solitude and feeling of remoteness, even in the far flung Navajo country. We saw no-one else.

We bushwhacked directly across country toward the very prominent arch on the southern horizon, crossing a few low ridges through saguaro - creosote desert. The arch is part of an igneous layer-cake complex of low mountains rising out of the desert floor with wide open vistas in all directions. A very cool place. It took only about 90 minutes for Bill to reach the arch ahead of Marv and I. The wind was howling up there.

We had brought along a 100' tape measure to attempt a measurement of the arch but when we let it down over the side the wind blew it horizontally through the hole, weighted spool housing and all. Eventually the gusts let up and allowed us to catch the spool and get a rough measure of the opening. We measured approximately 64' in height, but that could easily be off by 10% or more due to curvature of the tape from wind, estimating the thickness of the rock arch, etc. We did the same for the width getting 84' but again, this could be off by 10%. The only evidence of human-kind visible on this whole section of the hike was the USGS stake in the bottom of the arch and some rock graffiti from 1930, 1946, 1950, and 1994. A wonderful remote place in nearly pristine condition.

We decided to attempt to gain the summit of Window Mountain to visit a somewhat smaller arch smack on the top and started off to the NW. While making our way through the cliff bands and through the scree slopes and cholla one of our party had a close encounter with a bee hive. We all were separated by about 75 yards when he started to holler. I thought he was whooping it up and listening for the echo and I briefly smiled, but then it became obvious that it was more serious. He had been working up through a crack when he heard buzzing and looked up to see the hive about 4 feet above his head. They saw him too and came out to say hello. He backed down as quickly as can be done on a steep scree slope covered with cholla when they got to him, simultaneously with the cholla. Pandemonium ensued and we were keenly concerned as to the nature of the bees, be they native or Africanized. Luckily (if any luck may be ascribed to this event) they appear to have been natives and only sent about 100 after him. Somewhere between 10 and 20 found home before he could move off to a safer location and we could help him swat off the last few and then pull out the cholla balls. We spent some time to pull out the worst of the cactus before taking the decision to head back to the car in case he might begin to fall ill. In the event he bore it all manfully and we made our way back to the car, where he was feeling fine.

We then drove over to Ventana Cave. Our permit was good for both locations. It is only a very few miles from Window Mountain. We parked about a half mile from the cave and hiked in on a trail. The cave was excavated in the 1940s and at that time was thought to have been occupied since 11,000 years BP. Newer work has cast doubt on that date but suggests that the cave was continuously occupied for about the last 4000 years. We found flakes and pot sherds and what appeared to be two hand axes. We left them in place. There are no improvements at the cave save for a cistern to capture the perennial spring found there. The partially enclosed entrance to the cistern was alive with bees so we chose discretion and permitted the bees to retain sole possession of the ground, proceeding no further. Bees two, hikers zero.

This is a cool area. Little traveled. If you like interesting and unusual locations combining stunning scenery with thought provoking paleo sites, this place is for you. Very Arizona.
HAZ - Hike HAZard

- Antoninus Pius

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