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The Best Hikes in Ironwood Forest National Monument

58 Triplog Reviews in the Ironwood Forest National Monument National Park
Most recent of 17 deeper Triplog Reviews
2.1 mi • 1,240 ft aeg
 I am posting this alternative route to Waterman Peak.

I have been up as far as the Silver Hill Mine with hiking buddies a couple of times previously, in the past summer, and we saw big horn sheep not far from the water catchment both times.

There is an area along the mine road with a few of the endangered Nichols Turk’s Head cactus.

To get to where we parked, go west on Avra Valley Road from I-10 about 18.8 miles and turn left on Waterman Mountain Road. Go about 2.8 miles and park near where the old mine road up to the Silver Hill Mine is blocked off. You will want a high clearance vehicle to get back there as the road gets pretty rough at times (I had the 4WD engaged on my F150 but did not think I really required it, but I like to have 4WD already engaged in case I encounter an obstacle! Besides, when else would I use it?)

The mine road is blocked, I figure, to protect the big horn sheep and because the road has not been maintained and is too rough to get a vehicle up there.

The hike up the mine road is very rocky and gets steep at times. The mine road passes the water catchment and there was water in the tank, but it seemed (by tapping on it) that the tank was less than 25% full. It has been a very dry summer! I have read that the AZGFD has used a helicopter to replenish the tank.

Just prior to getting to the mine site, we started bushwacking up the slope figuring to intersect the tracks to Waterman Peak posted by others (thank you for that!). We made our way through a good sized teddy bear cholla forest on the slope, but it was not thick enough to present much of a problem hiking. We kept going on this tack until we saw the Leonberger Memorial, but decided to head up to the summit first.

On the to the summit we found a bit of a trail as the terrain funnels hikers to the way up. From the top, we had great views all around, the Silver Bell Mine, Ragged Top (we think), the water catchment, and looked down into the Pioneer Waterman Pit Mine where they were working.

On the way down, we went over to visit the memorial. Going down from the memorial, we saw a couple of other hikers going up to the peak, we presumed, from the Johnson Road route. Once pass the teddy bear cholla forest, we joined what looked like an older and less used mine road up higher then the main road. We followed this down to the mine road, and retraced our hike back to the truck.

We did not see any big horn sheep this time. My theory is that, with the cooler weather, the sheep range farther away from the water catchment. In the hot summer, they stay nearer.

It was a great hike, not long nor extremely challenging but fun with great views along the way and at the summit! We will probably be back sometime because it is cool to see the big horn sheep!
2.15 mi • 1,249 ft aeg
From I-10, take the Avra Valley Rd exit and head west. It's a pretty drive in the early morning with views of all the southern Arizona mountain ranges. At approximately 20 miles (20.3 on my odometer) turn left on the unmarked road which becomes Johnstone Mine Road. The road is paved but the first 50' or so may appear to be gravel due to the mining vehicles using the road. Shortly you will pass a "Titan 2 Interpretive Site" sign. You will pass a "drive through" loop parking lot on the left at about 1.3 miles from the turnoff but you want the second pull-in lot 1.5 miles from the Avra Valley Rd turnoff. The road is still paved to this point. If you hit gravel or dirt (there was a mine truck spraying water just past the turnoff) you probably have gone too far.

The trail head begins on an old rocky road with a "No Motorized Vehicles" sign. This quickly turns into a very rocky 5-8' wide pathway with a moderate ascent. The "road" crosses a small gully and leads to a saddle at about .5 miles. There is a fairly recognizable trail from the saddle heading generally up and WSW on a ridge. As you ascend you will see a large outcropping. You can't see the peak until later in the climb. Pass right of the outcropping and continue upwards. At this point, I came across numerous faint trails but these trails had few switchbacks and one route was generally as good as another. There is little vegetation or slope variance so choosing a way up is really not critical.

Without seeing the peak itself, I veered a bit more WNW as I wanted to visit the memorial to Loren Leonberger, a helicopter pilot who died attempting to land at a mining site in January 2011. Wherever you happen to ascend on the east side of Waterman Peak you should be able to see the white cross off to the north. There is a white cross, plaque, and a pair of boots hanging from the cross.

Waterman Peak was now visible and I ascended it from the northern side since that is where I was coming from. The last 50' of elevation requires a bit of scrambling to reach the summit but the footing is good on stable rock and it is not difficult. (When choosing a descent path, the eastern side looked shallower but since I couldn't see the entire route I elected to descend off the peak the way I came.)

The summit is narrow and consists of 3 humps, with a very inconveniently-placed palo verde growing between two of them. My GPS showed the middle hump to be 2' higher than the westernmost, but who knows. The GPS indicated 3834' but Gaia, Avenza and Route Scout all recorded an altitude of less than 3800'. The views of all the southern Arizona mountain ranges are great, as are views of the Silver Bell Mine to the north and the Waterman mine almost directly below the summit on the west side. (A quarry driver I stopped and talked to on Johnstone Rd said this mine, which he called Waterman, is a rock quarry which produces everything from pea gravel to large boulders.) I did not find a logbook at the summit.

My ascent took about 1+25 which included the stop at the memorial, and the descent took just about an hour. I was doing this with a mildly fractured big toe (not hiking related) so this trail shouldn't be particularly difficult for hikers who have any experience hiking off-trail or on non-NP/Forest Service trails. I didn't try to follow trails on the descent until reaching the old roadbed but found that my route was almost identical to the ascent except for the detour to the memorial.

Trail Conditions:
Some rocks on the trail are extremely sharp. I do a lot of bushwhacking in the Tortolitas. Some of the granite on those peaks can shred clothing if you aren't careful (bushwhacking only, not on the established trails), but it is not nearly as sharp as some of the igneous rocks here. Most of the rocks are not sharp, but some are. I used leather gloves on the final ascent. The rocks here didn't appear to be as sharp but I didn't want to find out. There is some scree along portions of the trail but in most places there are rocks firmly in place to prevent this from becoming an issue. I found my trekking pole useful but not necessary. Any path you choose will be open and you will only have to dodge the ocotillos and occasional cactus.
On the descent, I almost became very close friends with a rattlesnake coiled in a shadow on an animal trail, so always watch where you are stepping and placing your hands. I saw several deer near the trail head but didn't spot any of the bighorn sheep.

One environmental note: this route is fully exposed to the sun from sunrise until at least mid-afternoon. There are only a couple of outcroppings which could provide a small amount of shade. Water, sunblock and early starts are highly recommended.

Final Thoughts:
I see Waterman Peak on the horizon every day from my home, so I am glad to have made the ascent. The hike itself is open rock from the end of the old road to the summit, with not a lot of variation. Nevertheless this is an interesting hike with the Leonberger memorial and the great unobstructed views of the Southern Arizona mountain ranges and mines.

Titan 2 Interpretive Site
Shortly after turning onto Johnstone Mine Rd there is a sign for the "Titan 2 Interpretive Site". A gravel road leads off to the right to the site of deactivated a Titan 2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) site. There are some interpretive signs talking about the site's history. All that remains are some concrete pads used in the complex. The actual missile silo was destroyed per treaty. The silo site looks like the rest of the desert. It's about a 10 minute diversion and provides an interesting insight into a part of southern Arizona's history that many are probably not aware of.

Trail Head Parking Lot:
32.3580, -111.4706

Road Saddle:
32.35305, -111.46845

Leonberger Memorial:
32.35116, -111.47230

Waterman Peak:
32.34962, -111.47336
10.07 mi • 3,479 ft aeg
Ragged Top - Prospectors - Silver Bell
 New territory for both of us.

We both noted that the dirt portion of Silver bell Road was a superhighway compared to the paved portion. We were able to drive in 1 mile closer to Ragged Top, saving 2 miles of RT road walking.

Ragged Top
The off trail path we took was riddled with pokey stuff. I was the lucky host of numerous Cholla. Going CCW we reached our UP, roughly following the Official Track. There was nothing fast about this up. We reached the saddle and the view opened up to the south. I gave the summit a try but got stopped a bit shy.

Prospectors Peak
We spooked a few Javelina on our way to this climb. On top Joe finally took my advice and flew a kite. Clear skies and big views from up here.

Silver Bell 4195
This one was easier than it looked from Prospector.
[ youtube video ]
It was the getting down part that took awhile.

We kicked up a Mule Deer on our way back to the truck.

10.11 mi • 3,465 ft aeg
Ragged Top - Prospectors - Silver Bell
 Action Plan
One of my favorite accountants coined ragged inspiration with his 2014 Rags to Riches Loop. 2 weeks ago Fliver dusted Silver Bell. Ironwood Forest National Monument festered an itch that needed scratching so I whipped up the Billionaire Loop.

Ragged Top
Fun approach. Reminded me of my first love Brown's Peak. Like that first attempt, I'm not ready yet. Just above the saddle I suggested Bruce summit by himself. He got close before changing his vote to pro life.

North up to the saddle was fun. South down the flipside was a smidgen less sketchy steep. The descent included a trick area that made it possible. Nice geology.

Prospectors Peak 3810
The slow 1400 ft ascent put a fork in my masterpiece loop. Before summiting Bruce was already checked out mentally. Time was slipping away too. Worthy peak. If I had to choose, 4195 has better 360 views.

Silver Bell 4195
33 minutes after leaving 3810 we set foot on 4195. That along with real live fliver dust raised our spirits!

Sloth Dragstrip
Logic and spirit pulled the reins on the Billionaire Loop. Descending back to the desert floor sucker punched my three hours of sleep and lack of nutrition. Keeping up with the old geezer was misery. Ragged-Wolcott saddle didn't appeal to either of us. The bajada shuffle around Wolcott felt more like a whipping than a positive trade off.

As figured it was all slow travel. Bruce doesn't love ascents. I'm slow as molasses descending. Tired was the name of the game. This moderate-difficult all off trail hike turned into when will it be over. Bruce unsuccessfully tried to convince me on the drive home that in some parts of the country people call tater tots hushpuppies. He's never wrong so I'm sure as I type he's in Georgia handing out hushtotts.

a few sad examples of chuparosa
2.5 mi • 1,505 ft aeg
 I joined Chumley and John on this great little loop hike out at Ironwood NM. I didn't even know an Ironwood National Monument existed before this hike. :)

From the southern saddle, the route up the small chute to the top of the peak is engaging and fun. Descending the northwest gulley tops off the experience.

Great pick Chums!
2.5 mi • 1,505 ft aeg
 I had a short window for a Saturday hike, and this one has been knocking for a while.

We did the full loop in much less time than I had planned for based on some of the previous triplogs that had been posted. (Could have easily made it back in time for a ballgame :sweat: ).

The mileage isn't long and the terrain doesn't slow you down too much either. Views from up top were nice. If I return here, I'll plan to explore more of the ragged ridgeline or some of the other peaks nearby as BobP once did.

Having never been in the area before, one surprising highlight is how beautiful the surrounding desert is. The drive both to and from was remarkable. Ironwood National Monument is a winner! :)
3 mi • 1,900 ft aeg
 A prickly and occasionally precarious bushwhack through great, craggy ravines. Every bit as cool (and nasty) as it looks.

I was worried we might have trouble getting in on the dirt roads, but they were in decent shape, and we were able to drive right up to the mountain in my buddy's little Toyota. From there we just aimed for the saddles, and didn't have any trouble finding the route.

Actually hiking it however was not so easy. It's steep, scrappy, and mined with chollas, and the last leg, between the third saddle and the summit, is an exposed scramble, littered with all sorts of loose rock :scared: . I only made it halfway up that part - no shame, I hope, in playing it safe up there. My buddy was more comfortable, so I encouraged him to summit without me, and he banged out the that last 50 yards or so with what appeared to be little trouble.

The route down the Northern Gully was steep and brushy, but straightforward and relatively firm underfoot. There were a good number of dry waterfalls that required the old buttscoot. On the whole, I'd say it was my toughest bushwhack to date (and made tougher by some overzealous hanging out the night before :doh: ). But even without reaching the top there were great views along the way in all directions, and the jagged, almost violent topography was unlike anything I've hiked in the region.
4.5 mi • 1,600 ft aeg
 I declare the desert winter peak bagging season, OPEN!

OK, here is an angry looking mountain if I have ever seen one, and aside from the summit every part of it is somehow nasty. It just doesn't want you here. But, if you persevere against the sliding slope and the angry, pointy vegetation, you have a really nice view. I know it was more, since there is some up and down, but the simple summit to parking area is 1600'. I skipped AEG for this.
11.84 mi • 5,825 ft aeg
 The young Dr. from Tucson sent me a text and it was on. Lets go Thurs or Friday (last week) how about Tues - Friday this go. It ended up I couldn't go either. We texted back and forth about songs about Ragdolls and then got into deep discussions about White and Grey Matter and then I invoked the Hiphopathalmus and the Unicorn Ganglia. The Amygadalia got involved and the next thing I know we were talking about Kathy Bates and how she kicked Nick in the :pk: . So that's what got me thinking about doing Ragged Top.

I pulled a Desert-Bonnie and didn't take a pre-determined route. The trip up was a 5 in the spicy sauce category. I haven't climbed anything that hard in a long time. But it was wicked cool piecing the puzzle together. A couple scary up climbs and some turn backs and a scary traverse and knowing there is no way I'm going back that way so I have to break thru the layer.
Wicked cool climb but I would recommend the regular safe route.

Views were impressive...

I then headed over to peak 3880 which to my surprise had a summit register.

Next it was Silver Bell Peak 4,195 and its awesome views and two benchmarks...maybe a third but I didn't look for it because I was too busy taking it all in.

I took a different route down and saw some more cool stuff and views.

Next it was off to Wolcott Peak which is across from Ragged. The wind started whippin and the clouds rolled in and it rained but after I was done. It also had rained recently as there was a little standing water in places.

Exceptional day with great company.
3 mi • 1,400 ft aeg
 A good omen for a good day: I found Hawaiian music on KXCI while driving to pick up Maggie and Jimmie. The music brought me back to my many days on Maui.

We drove across the desert west of the freeway, admiring the saguaro, watching a hawk, enjoying the sunrise. From the trailhead it's a simple matter of cross-country travel through cholla country, up to the saddle just to the south (left) of Ragged Top. At the saddle we looked to our right and, sure enough, a moderate gully headed straight up into the mountain.

We hiked the gully and soon arrived at the top, where you have only three choices: [1] drop down the other side (north) of the gully to return to the desert floor; [2] turn left and climb a tall slot to a summit (oops, sheer vertical); [3] turn right and follow the well-used track upward, finishing through a stretch of third-class lite (fun!).

We signed in to the summit register: "The cholla were relentless . . . Score at halftime: Cholla -- 6; Don, Maggie, Jimmie -- 0". No one comes here in the summer, of course -- no entries between early May and late October.

On the way down the three of us decided to take the north gully for a nice round-trip scramble. We started slippin' and slidin' down the thing -- and it was obvious we weren't the first to do so. No chollas here!

About halfway down the gully, the terrain opens up, so we left the gully and started countouring cross-country to the east. We ambled over four or five minor shoulders and gullies until we finally spotted the trailhead. A few cold beers brought the scramble to a fine conclusion.

2 hours up, 1-1/2 hours on top, 1-1/2 hours down.

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