This is a guest post by Mitch Stevens, founder and lead guide for Southwest Discoveries, a hiking and adventure company based in Tucson. In this article, he writes about climbing up Dos Cabezas, a mountain range known for its twin granite peaks (thus the name “two heads” in Spanish). Read on as he takes us along with him on his journey to the peak of Dos Cabezas, beginning with his exhilaration at the summit.
Dos Cabezas – Hiking a Desert Classic
After two hours of steep off-trail scrambling, including climbing underneath a giant chock stone propped up against a slot canyon, we reached a dead-end. A sheer 600-foot monolith stood between us and the summit of Dos Cabezas Peak. We approached what appeared to be an opening in the rock however it went nowhere. Several of us peered around the bend to the left of the cliff-face but the footing was dicey with sheer drops to the valley floor below. Then we heard a voice bellow behind us: “I found it, follow me!” The man behind the voice prefers to be addressed as John seJerman or John the German. Born in the Bavarian Alps of Germany, John is an avid hiker, adventurer and lover of life. His enthusiasm is contagious. We backtracked 25 yards and followed him up and over a boulder which afforded easy access to several well-defined ridges near the summit. We climbed staircase-like steps in the hard granite and topped out shortly afterwards on the south tower of Dos Cabezas. Victory and exhilaration!
Tucson and environs serve up some of the best hiking in the world. From remarkable Sonoran Desert vegetation to wooded sky island mountain ranges, it’s easy to see what attracts hikers to this part of the southwest. Anyone who has driven on I-10, about 75 miles east of Tucson heading to Wilcox, will have noticed a mountain range of impressive double peaks. The Dos Cabezas rise to over 7,500 feet and dominate the skyline to the southeast. These two outstanding peaks have always been noted landmarks.
Moreover, Dos Cabezas is also a ghost town that still has residents. Gold and silver mines in 1878 put the town on the map. In the 1880’s there were about 300 people living there. The town had a hotel, saloons, a blacksmith shop, post office, and a gold ore stamp mill. The mines yielded rich deposits and shafts were sunk 100 feet into the ground. But a drought around 1916 brought about the demise of the town and the mines were shut down ten years later.
The Dos Cabezas range features a variety of flora and fauna and a diverse terrain of sheer slopes, granite outcroppings, and lush canyons. In addition to offering great hiking, there’s recently been a sighting of a rare jaguar in the area. A trail camera captured an image of the big cat that scientists say has never been seen before. The jaguar was photographed on Nov. 16, 2016.
With all this beauty, fascinating history, and the fact that these mountains are an easy drive from Tucson, one would think Dos Cabezas would be swarming with visitors. This simply isn’t the case. The main reason is access; there are no maintained roads or trails into the wilderness and permission is required from private landowners. But by reaching out to the ranchers who own the land, permission can be obtained. True to form, we didn’t see a single other hiker during the entire day.
On a perfect early spring day, our group of hardy desert hikers from Tucson scrambled and bushwhacked through a dense forest of oak and walnut trees and headed for the south peak. As we climbed higher, manzanitas and large oak trees flourished, several were particularly twisted and interesting specimens. The sky island we were hiking in is relatively small in stature but contains much biodiversity. There are other sky island archipelagoes in the world but the mountains of the southwest may be the most fascinating. In southern Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico, there are at least forty sky islands ranging in elevation from 6,000 to 11,000 feet.
In addition to a great variety of flora and fauna, the sky islands feature stunning riparian areas such as Aravaipa Canyon, located in the Galiuro Mountains. A few contain great forests of Douglas Firs, Engelmann Spruce, and dramatic columns of rock, remnants of great volcanoes and tectonic plate movement.
While not an easy ascent, any reasonably fit hiker can achieve the apex of the Dos Cabezas. Unlike hiking the Grand Canyon for instance, aside from a couple of spicy scrambles there are no brutal uphill slogs. At the pinnacle, hikers enjoy riveting 360 degree views of dozens of sky island mountain ranges extending well into Mexico and a good chunk of southeastern Arizona.
There are magnificent vistas in all directions. 150 miles to the south, the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, another great mountain system in North America, gives way just before reaching the Arizona/New Mexico border. The ecosystem there is different from the sky islands, different from the Rockies, and adapted to warmer temperatures with strong connections to the tropical latitudes of the Western Hemisphere. The mountain ranges of the Sky Island Region exhibit the north south overlap of these two major mountain systems which span the temperate and subtropical latitudes.
Looking west from the summit, one can admire the massive Wilcox Playa. This ancient lakebed sometimes fills with rainwater and takes on the appearance of the giant lake it once was. The Dos Cabezas mountains are just one of the many dozens of sky island ranges in Arizona. Remote and wild, each one is unique, beautiful and worthy of exploration.
For a cyber journey of this remarkable hike, click the link to see Dos Cabezas – An Epic Climb.
For more lesser known, but wonderful hikes in southern Arizona, read Hiking in Tucson – 5 Awesome Adventures.
Visit Mitch’s website at SouthwestDiscoveries.com to learn more about his unique southwest adventure tours.