“Few if any states can match the variety of backcountry terrain that Arizona has to offer. From arid deserts to alpine tundra, Arizona has it all. This diversity translates into a vast and interesting array of backcountry excursions from which to choose from.” I think this quotation taken directly from one of my favorite resources, “100 Hikes in Arizona” by Scott S. Warren, really sums up perfectly what the amazing state of Arizona has to offer whether you’re a hiker, backpacker, rock climber, or just someone who enjoys getting out into nature and the outdoors. Arizona with its vast variety of topography and climate, really does have it all! Having lived in Arizona now for over half my lifetime, I am still amazed that there always seems to be someplace new to go, and during the winter months, it’s an excellent time to get out and explore the beautiful and rugged, Sonoran Desert region. So if you’re up for getting out and checking out someplace new and truly unique, an excellent “off roading” journey, that’s remote yet still close to Phoenix and a rugged, ridgeline trek and challenging workout with stunning panoramic scenery and wilderness views, then check out the Quartz Peak Trail and Adventure Hike, in the Estrella Mountain Wilderness, Arizona.
On an early March weekend morning I met my friends from the TLC Hiking Club, organized and led by Eric Kinneman, at a meet up location in Avondale, west of Phoenix. By 7:15 am once everyone had arrived, we set out for our hike out to a place I’d never heard of before called Quartz Peak, approximately 25 miles southwest of Phoenix, located in the Estrella Mountain Wilderness, a remote and extremely rugged mountain wilderness area comprised of 14,400 acres rising steeply and sharply from 1500 feet up to over 4000 feet in elevation. We were strongly advised from the onset that the Quartz Peak Hike would also be a real “off roading” adventure and that HCV vehicles with 4 wheel drive were going to be a necessity. So from the meet up location, we got our car pools arranged and all in HCV and 4 wheel drives, we left for Quartz Peak heading out I-10 west for only several miles until we came to the Estrella Parkway exit.
After making a left on Estrella Parkway, our directions were to head south for about 8.3 miles until we came to Elliott Road. At Elliott Road, turn right for 2.3 miles. From here the directions became a bit tricky and a series of zig zag turns and you need to pay close attention otherwise you could get easily lost out in there in this remote section of desert. When we came to the intersection of Rainbow Valley Road, we turned left and headed south for 9.3 miles until we came to Riggs Road. At Riggs Road, you want to turn left again and head east until you come to Bullard Avenue. Turn right onto Bullard, then make a quick left onto an all dirt road which you will find under a set of telephone poles. And here’s where our “off road 4 wheel drive” adventure and the fun began!
We continued on this all dirt road, heading east for another 5.3 miles until it came to an end. I really thought the condition of the dirt road, although very sandy and washboard, but overall not bad. It was only after passing Rainbow Ranch, and in this latter section that the road narrowed, and had deeper sand and ruts. Although, we didn’t need to drop it into 4 wheel drive as was previously advised, you definitely want to have an HCV to successfully make this journey. After getting our navigation down, I looked out the window and noticed that the desert views and landscape were now becoming more and more scenic and gorgeous the further we made our way out to this rugged and remote, not widely known wilderness area. Beautiful!
Once we had arrived at the end of the dirt road, under a large set of power lines, we located a small sign that said “Trail”, then made a right and drove another 1.9 miles until we came to another “Trail” sign, then swung a left and drive another 1.9 miles to the end and finally arrived at the trail head and well developed parking area for the Quartz Peak Trail. Wow, what a fun off road adventure!
After arriving at the Quartz Peak Trailhead area by roughly 8:30am. I thought it was really quite surprising to find such a large and well developed trailhead and parking area including a toilet facility way out in this remote wilderness area especially with the rugged roads that you have to take to get there! Nonetheless, it was nice to have plenty of space in which to park and after getting a quick restroom break in, it was by 8:45 am that we were ready to set off on our hiking adventure on the Quartz Peak Trail.
As most write ups accurately describe, for the first few minutes, the Quartz Peak Trail starts out following an old and level jeep trail, then turns to the left and quickly begins steeply climbing straight up on a narrow, but well developed rocky trail. As you start this accent, the views behind you of the pristine desert valley behind you were more beautiful the higher and further up you went. It was roughly by about.6 of a mile that we had made it to the top of the first ridge, and wow, the scenery, absolutely breathtaking!
We got in a very short break, and with Eric and the rest of the group well in front of us by this time, we continued our journey on the Quartz Peak Trail which from here on out would be a very steep, rugged and strenuous ridgeline trek and climb, with spectacular scenery and mountain views of the Sierra Estrellas and Butterfly Mountain to the north and east of you, then turning to look to the west and behind you, you had the views of Rainbow Valley and the beautiful western desert wilderness area, which again, the further and further up you went, the more amazing and incredible the views became!
It was at about one mile that we finally made it to the top of the second ridge, and continued pressing on in order to keep up with our group. Following a narrow ridge, the Quartz Peak Trail continues ventures on but shifts over to the northeast a bit and then stretches out for a little ways on a level portion of ridgeline which made for a great chance for us to catch our breath and also get a few more amazing pictures too. With it being such a bright and sunny, spring morning, and with all the spectacular scenery to either side of us, it was a perfect opportunity to stop for some photography and I eagerly took as many pictures as possible of what I saw of this incredible journey so far!
Now at roughly about 1 mile, the very rocky and extremely narrow Quartz Peak Trail meanders steeply winding, twisting, and ascending higher and higher up in elevation. With the views becoming even more awe-inspiring and impressive as time went on, we excitedly continued our venture and journey, one step after the other, carefully making it to the top of the next ridge, then another, then yet another, one after the other, climbing steeply up and up, until roughly at about 1.79 miles and at approximately 3180 feet in elevation, we finally caught our first sight of the snow white capped top of Quartz Peak! What an amazing and beautiful sight!
After receiving a short radio communication from Eric, and letting him know our location and providing brief backend sweep update, we quickly moved on as it was still a ways to go to make the summit from there. Moving on from here, and with more stunningly gorgeous scenery and views to either side of you, the Quartz Peak Trail switchbacks further on up in elevation. While still trying to capture as many pictures and shots as I could of this incredible mountain climbing journey, now beginning to feel the fatigue set in my legs, together we continued pushing on.
We arrived safely at the top of yet another ridge at roughly about 2.5 miles, when the intense Quartz Peak trail reached a meadow area, then eased up again. After running into a few fellow TLC Hikers who were already on their return from the summit, we happily got a few photos together, said our farewells then we continued to venture on. The journey to the summit from here, we were advised, roughly about the last 1/2 mile or so, would become a short boulder hopping, hand & toe climb and scramble to the top and with no definite trail to follow. However, I thought there was no real need or worry about route finding as the designated path appeared to me to be very well marked with strategically placed rock cairns which made it very easy to follow. So together we slowly scrambled and climbed up and up until only a few short minutes later at roughly about 3.0 miles, we did it! We had finally reached the beautiful and gorgeous solid white capped summit, aptly named Quartz Peak! What an amazing and incredible journey and venture it had been too!
Upon our arrival at the summit of Quartz Peak at around 11am, having successfully journeyed a total of 2600 feet in elevation in just 3 short miles, I have said it before, and I will say it again, there really are no words to describe just how euphoric you feel when you finally and successfully make the summit of a mountain peak after a very long, steep and challenging journey. It’s simply beyond words and it’s just incredible! And what an amazing mountain peak summit this was too, consisting of huge, gorgeous, solid white quartz rock! It was really amazing! According to geologists, Quartz Peak, located at a point along a spine ridge in the sharp and rugged Sierra Estrella Mountain range, and once an area strong in volcanic activity, consists of a unique “outcrop” of solid white quartz rock. Once you get start getting closer to the peak, you’ll begin to notice the white quartz rocks along the trail and also a shiny silver, metallic looking mineral rock called “mica”. Overall, I thought it was really quite interesting and amazing from a geological perspective even if you’re someone whose interest isn’t in geology, like myself.
While resting at the top of Quartz Peak we also really enjoyed taking in the spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area which were absolutely stunning and gorgeous! To the north, you had a view of South Mountain and the Phoenix area. At the same time, to the south and east of you, there was the ruggedly beautiful Sierra Estrella Wilderness. Then finally to the south and west, you had more breathtaking views of Rainbow Valley and the Sonoran Desert below you. Truly an extraordinary and awe-inspiring experience, I will soon not forget!
While Eric and the rest of the group had already mad their way back, it was about an hour later, about 12-12:15pm, after getting many more great pictures of all of us together including a short and thrilling side trek adventure to climb to the top of a huge rock boulder, that we decided it was time to head back. Only 30 minutes behind the last remaining members, we began our venture back and made our way down the 2600 feet rugged journey and back to the trail head and parking area again by 2:15-2:30pm which according to our GPS, our total hiking distance was exactly 6 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of exactly 2600 feet, which we successfully completed in 5 hours, 40 minutes, at an average hiking speed of 2.6 mph.
Truly an amazing experience and extraordinary hike I will soon not forget. Thanks again to Eric Kinneman of the TLC Hiking Club for yet another very well led, planned and organized hiking adventure. So if you’re wanting some place new and unique to excellent “off road” journey I highly recommend, that’s remote, yet still close to Phoenix and a rugged, and challenging, ridgeline hike filled with stunning panoramic scenery up to the top of a gorgeous and geologically unique mountain peak summit, then be sure and check out the Quartz Peak Trail and Adventure Hike, in the Estrella Mountain Wilderness, Arizona!