OverviewEstrella Benchmark is one of five minorly prominent summits in the Maricopa Mountains, which run north-south in southern Maricopa County, about 20 miles east of Gila Bend and about 45 miles southwest of Phoenix. Most of the Maricopa Mountains are enclosed within the Sonoran Desert National Monument, created in 2000 mainly to ensure protection of this range against development. The cities of Goodyear and Gila Bend incorporated all lands up to this boundary in recent years. Although today the area is mostly open desert, the National Monument status ensures it will remain so for a very long time.
The Maricopa Mountains are typical of the southern Arizona desert ranges: rocky, craggy summits, steep slopes and thick brush and cactus. The highest point in the range is Maricopa Peak, a blocky summit located about 10 miles south of Estrella Benchmark. Another notable summit in the range is Margies Peak, located at the north end of the range. The old Butterfield Stage Route passes through the range between Estrella BM and Margies. Few people explore these mountains and fewer still bother to hike to the summits. For example, I was the first person to visit this peak since early 2010, and the second since 2008 or so.
Estrella BM has an elevation of 2,766 feet and 1,032 feet of prominence. It has convenient trailhead access and an overall easy yet challenging hike, so that by default, it is probably the best peak to visit within the range. The summit apparently has no official name, its name being taken from the USGS Benchmark "Estrella" embedded on top. This is not to be confused with the giant Sierra Estrella that run parallel to the Maricopas about 20 more miles northeast.
Summer is extremely hot out here, and this whole area is fairly remote and not heavily travelled. Thus, winter is best, when temperatures are cool. This is snake country. They can be active all year, so be very careful especially if it's slightly warm.
Getting ThereThe trailhead is between mileposts 17 and 18 along the Mobile Road/State Route 238, which connects the cities of Gila Bend on the west to Maricopa on the east.
From the east: Drive to Maricopa (the town) via Interstate-10 and State Route 347 or other connector roads such as Casa Blanca Road. SR-238 leaves Maricopa at a well-signed junction. Drive about 22 miles west to the trailhead.
From the west: Leaving Gila Bend on northbound State Route 85, turn right onto Mobile Road, which is signed and less than a mile from the main part of town. Drive about 20 miles to the trailhead.
This road is state maintained for the eastern half, called SR-238. The other half is county maintained and does not have a number, although most people call the whole road SR-238 anyway. Maps today still show the road as unpaved, which is false. I have been on this road many times and it is never crowded at all.
Red TapeYou'll be in a National Monument. There is no camping at the trailhead, but no fees or permits are required.
CampingNone convenient to the trailhead. Most side roads lead to someone's homestead or are gated. Gila Bend has some hotels.
External LinksMy trip report, 11-6-11
Sonoran Desert National Monument
Gila Bend, AZ
The RouteThe trailhead is on old road, now shut to vehicles. It is marked as "The Boulders". You'll be parking within a few yards of the highway, but few people drive this road, so your car should be fine.
Hike up this road, heading northwest. Pass by a flat-top rocky hill (el. 1653 feet) after about a mile. Come to a road junction (here are the "boulders") about a half-mile later and go left (west). Keep walking another half-mile. Looking northwest you'll see a pointed peak, then behind that, a fan-shaped peak. This is the summit. Two higher peaks off to the right that form a distinct saddle look highest, but trust me, they are not.
Leave the road and start cross-country through open desert for about 3/4-mile, passing through a nice saguaro forest along the way. Soon, you'll come to a large drainage. Drop in when convenient and start walking that. This will be your route for most of the remaining 1.5 miles.
The drainage is mostly open but occasionally closes up with brush, thick palo verde, rocky bits, downed crud, the usual. I ended up ascending out of the drainage a few times, then dropping back in. The drainage bends east for a bit, then curves west around a low ridge emanating off the summit.
You can stay in the drainage all the way to the saddle north of the top, or (like I did), charge up the slopes to the east ridge and deal with the rocky pinnacles along the way. I went up this way but down the north slope to the saddle.
The summit is low enough so that saguaro can grow there, which they do. The views are stunning in all directions. You can spy Woolsey Peak, Maricopa Mountain, the Estrella Range, and lots of glorious desert.
The one-way hike is about 4 miles with about 1,300 feet of gain. Beware the usual desert obstacles: cholla and staghorn cactus, critters, steep and loose slopes. Overall, this is a rough but very enjoyable summit hike.
The summit log
This is the complete list since 1998. The next person should take a pencil, booklet and container, as this log is one hard sneeze from completely turning into dust.