OverviewMount Dellenbaugh is an extremely remote mountain located in northwest Arizona on the Arizona Strip, the name given to the lands north of the Grand Canyon and south of the Utah state line. The mountain is an old shield volcano, so it is very broad with easy gradients. An old jeep road, now closed to vehicles, makes for an easy route to the top. The climb is easy, but getting there is most of the fun. The Arizona Strip has zero infrastructure: no gas stations, minimarts or anything. The remoteness and solitude can be staggering. This is truly Arizona's "Big Sky" country.
Mount Dellenbaugh is famous for its role in Major John Wesley Powell's famous passage through the Grand Canyon, which he completed with a team of 5 men (with 4 others abandoning the expedition along the way) in 1869. This part of the United States was the last to be properly explored; no white man had ever floated/rafted/boated the Colorado River completely through the Grand Canyon before. Not surprisingly, the expedition was full of peril, drama and excitement. There's not enough room here to fully convey the story. I am reading Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon, one of many fine books about the Powell expedition.
The peak is named for Frederick Dellenbaugh, a photographer and artist who accompanied Powell on his 1871 expedition. In 1869, three members of the Powell expedition, Oramel Howland, Seneca Howland and William Dunn, abandoned the expedition near Separation Canyon, in the western part of the Grand Canyon. They took off north and amazingly, climbed out of the Canyon and onto the plateau. They saw Mount Dellenbaugh (not kown by that name at that time, of course) and scaled it for a view of the terrain, gaining some sense where to head. William Dunn scratched his name and the year into one rock on the summit. They then descended, aiming for St. George, Utah, but were killed. The prevailing assumption was that the Shivwits Indians killed them, but there is plausible evidence to suggest some radicalized Mormons in that area may have killed them, mistaking them for government spies. No one can state for certain.
By all means, please follow up as this is a fascinating story, and far too rich to encapsulate in a paragraph.
The bitter irony is that two days later, Powell and the remaining men emerged to the confluence of the Colorado and Virgin Rivers, the "official" western end of the Grand Canyon. Their expedition had been a success!
Regarding the inscription: It took us an hour to find it. It is very faded. Because of its importance to Arizona's history, it's "common practice" to not reveal its exact location. All I will say is that it's not near the true summit, and it's smaller than you think. We walked past it twice. If you want to seek it out, think like an explorer from 1869, approaching the peak from the south. Where would you go? Which way would you etch in your name? Have fun.
Getting ThereFrom St. George, Utah, go southbound on Interstate-15 to the Southern Parkway (UT-7). Follow that east for three miles, exiting at River Road. Turn right, and immediately enter Arizona. The pavement ends here. You are now on BLM Road 1069.
Follow BLM-1069 south through high desert valleys onto the Shivwits Plateau. The road's designation becomes Mohave County Road 5 near the ghost townsite of Wolf Hole. Stay on 1069/5 for a total of about 38 miles to a junction with Mohave County Road 103. A distinctive anvil-shaped peak called Diamond Butte is located here and is visible from many miles away. Also note that the mileage signs may differ, as these are reckoned from the BLM offices in St. George, not the state line. In any case, the junction is well-signed.
Drive south and southwest on Road 103 for another 41 miles. Mount Dellenbaugh becomes visible at about the 30-mile mark, a low, broad cone-shaped peak. You'll see the trailhead beside the road.
The road from St. George to the junction with Road 103 is solid hard-pack and gravel. Road 103 is also a very good road, but has sections of softer soil and clay, and is more prone to ruts and erosion. If wet, this road will be impassable. If dry, any high-clearance 2-wheel drive vehicle should be fine. Go slow! Although the roads are good, and it's tempting to speed up to 50 mph, the road quality can degrade quickly. You might hit a patch of rocks or ruts and either pop a tire or damage your shocks. Thus, allow about 2 or 3 hours to get here from St. George, a distance of about 90 miles. The scenery is stunning.
Things to note along the way (mileages taken from the state line are are rough estimates):
12 miles: Road ascends a steep canyon and emerges onto the Shivwits Plateau. Wolf Hole Mountain is on your right, Seegmiller Mountain to the left.
19 miles: Wolf Hole Town Site. This was a small ranching/supply town that apparently was big enough for a Post Office in the 1920s. Today, there is nothing except for one old roof just lying on the ground. Road BLM-1004 toward Pakoon Springs leaves from here, and you can also access the south "trailhead" for a drive and hike up Wolf Hole Mountain from Road 1004. It is at this junction that the main north-south road adopts the "Road 5" designation.
38 miles: Junction with Road 103. That's Diamond Butte up ahead, Poverty Knoll off to the right. Bigger Poverty Mountain is behind it.
38-58 miles: Winding road through sage valleys and juniper-pinon woodlands, with Poverty Mountain to your left (south).
60ish miles: Enter the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
75 miles: Pass through a private ranch, the buildings off to your left.
85 miles: Gain onto some higher ground, now approaching Mount Dellenbaugh through lovely ponderosa pine forest.
There are no services whatsoever on the Arizona Strip! Be sure you have a good vehicle with a good spare, a full tank of gas, and provisions to last a few days if wet weather or a breakdown strand you. There is no cell service. You really are on your own on the Arizona Strip.
RoutePark at the trailhead along the road. It is well marked with room for about 3 vehicles. Follow the trail about a mile as it meanders through sage meadows and ponderosa forest. It meets the old Jeep road and angles left. Stay on this old road/trail for the remaining 2 miles (or so) to the summit. The road ends about 40 vertical feet below the top, so the last little bit is an easy scamper through rocks to the top.
The one-way gain is about 900 feet.
When to ClimbIf you can get to the trailhead, then any time of year is good. However, any sort of moisture will turn some of the access roads into clay bogs. Thus, the most dependable times are Spring through Fall, when it's dependably dry. Summer can be hot and thunderstorms are common. Again, any moisture will make some sections of these roads impassable.
The various websites and park literature all suggest 4-wheel drive. If you plan on driving any of the side roads, then this may be wise, as even those roads marked with BLM signs are usually unmaintained and can be very rough. However, the main roads to Mount Dellenbaugh (1069, 5 and 103) are all good roads ... in dry conditions. If there is a possibility of wet weather, then either (a) don't go and wait until you have a window of dry weather, or (b) if you're already down there and it rains, hope that your 4-wheel drive will get you through the muddy sections. Even then, you may find yourself spinning your wheels and digging deeper ruts. Beware: some streams that cross the roads are fairly big and can flood very fast.
We were there about 3 or 4 days after a small system passed through the region. Road 103 still had sections that were still a little slick and sticky even after a few days of dryness. We could easily sense how these segments would get real nasty if truly wet.