Columbus Peak Proposed Wilderness

Hikers in proposed wilderness
© Ellen Pierce

Location: Within the Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area
Size: 8,877 acres

This scenic area is composed of rocky hills and buttes in the unit’s north end and the Sacaton Flats at its south end. The Agua Caliente Road bounds the unit’s east side and provides for a spectacular drive through the beautiful buttes and hills in the north to the creosote-bursage flats to the south. These flats, named Sacaton by the Pima Indians, are a critical part of this area’s hydrological basin and are the nexus for the many washes coming from the mountains in this complex. The north side encompasses the remaining portion of the Fourth of July wash and Fourth of July Butte, named after an Independence Day camping trip and celebration near the Butte and Wash in the 1890s. The north side boundary is Arva Caliente Road.

Wilderness Protection

As part of the larger Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area (NCA), the Columbus Peak designated wilderness would create a strong core of ecologically significant protected public lands—for human access, cultural enrichment, and wildlife longevity — just a stone’s throw from millions of people in metropolitan Phoenix and its West Valley.

Wildlife

Gila monsters can be found throughout the Sonoran Desert

Gila monsters can be found throughout the
Sonoran Desert; Courtesy AZ Game & Fish Dept.

One of the most significant supplemental values is the unroaded habitat that East Clanton Hills, Cortez Peak, Columbus Peak, Yellow Medicine Butte, and Dixie Peak proposed wilderness units provide for wildlife. These units inside the Western Gila Bend Mountains complex have the necessary merits without supplemental values to meet the intent of the wilderness act, but the wildlife habitat that they provide is critical to maintaining wildlife populations in the area and connectivity throughout the Sonoran Desert region. Two particularly iconic Sonoran Desert species can be found in this unit — or moving through it: desert bighorn sheep and desert tortoise use the lush washes that connect the sloping bajadas and the higher peaks of these neighboring units. Other species such as Gila monsters, mule deer, and mountain lions also frequent the critical connective lands between Signal Mountain and Woolsey Peak wilderness areas and Eagletail Mountains Wilderness.

Recreation

The Columbus Peak unit in the western portion of the proposed Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area “generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable,” as outlined in section 2(c) of The Wilderness Act of 1964. Columbus Peak offers various levels of hiking, from flat walking in the bajadas, to rock scrambling on the peak and ridges. Backpacking, hunting, horseback riding, photography, bird watching, and sightseeing for wildlife, wildflowers, and geological features are all popular for visitors coming into the area off Agua Caliente Road.