On December 5th we drove south to explore Picacho Peak State Park and climb the 1500 ft to the summit on the Hunter Trail. The 2 mile “Hunter Trail” is named in honor of Captain Sherod Hunter – Confederate States of America who lead Confederate forces against Union forces under the command of Captain William Calloway in the Battle of Picacho Pass (the only civil war battle in Arizona). We had driven past Picacho Peak many times on I-10 and wanted to see if we could climb to the top. The Hunter Trail won the “Best of Phoenix” Winter Hike and we definitely agree, it is a four-mile-round-trip butt-kicker hike, similar and harder than a lot of the trail on the AT. Once we reached the saddle then the fun began and we used the steel cables and planks to get through the steepest rocky sections. It is not a technical climb but the Park have put a lot of work into making the hike to the top accessible for all hikers by installing the steel cables. Picacho in Spanish means “big peak” and with the magnificent 360 degree view from the top looking south to Tucson, north to Casa Grande and the many mountain ranges surrounding Phoenix, you feel as if you are on the highest peak in the area.
Picacho Peak isn’t an extinct volcano, or volcanic neck, even though it looks very much like Shiprock in New Mexico which actually is an extinct volcano. Over 22 million years old (four times older than the Grand Canyon), it is composed of volcanic lava-flow remains and sediments that have faulted, tilted, and eroded to their present configuration. It consists of volcanic and andesite rocks, some of which are in large chunks.
Historicaly, the peak existed as a natural landmark and beacon on the ancient Gila Trail, considered the oldest major trail in the United States. At 1,500 feet, the peak is visible for miles. You can see it from Tucson which is 45 miles away. Because hidden in the peak’s nooks and crannies were natural rock tanks filled with water, it made a convenient rest stop in the dry Sonoran Desert. Add that to the fact that the peak is in a natural pass between itself and the Picacho Mountains, and it is easy to understand why the peak became an important guidepost for travelers as far back as the pre-historic Hohokam who visited the area as early as 750 BC There are even claims that the trail is at least 15,000 years old.