Cortez Peak Proposed Wilderness

Location: Within the Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area
Size: 26,591 acres

Nestled between Clanton Hills and the craggy peaks of Yellow Medicine Buute and Face Mountain and, this unit functions as a critical wildlife migration corridor. Palo verde-saguaro, mixed desert scrub, and creosote-bursage plant communities flourish in the washes and on the sloping bajadas, offering shelter for bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, and numerous birds and small mammals. Most of the bedrock within the larger Gila Bend Mountains complex is composed of volcanic rock, primarily black basalt, which stands in striking contrast to lighter Sonoran Desert soil crusts. There are outstanding opportunities for primitive recreation throughout the complex and extraordinary scenic views from the top of Cortez Peak itself.

Wilderness Protection

As part of the larger Gila Bend Mountains National Conservation Area (NCA), the Cortez 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

Sonorgan Desert tortoises are an iconic species in this region

Sonorgan Desert tortoises are an iconic species
in this region; 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 Cortez Peak’s 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 Cortez Peak unit “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. Cortez Peak offers various levels of hiking, from flat walking in the bajadas, to rock scrambling on the many peaks 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.