OverviewNote: This page was re-adopted on October 16, 2009
Cunningham Mountain is the highest point in the Dome Rock Mountains, which parallel the Colorado River in southwestern Arizona near the towns of Quartzsite and Ehrenberg. Despite the low elevations of the desert near the Colorado River (roughly 400 feet at the AZ/CA state line in Ehrenberg/Blythe), the mountains this way tend to be very abrupt, rocky ranges with plentiful spires and cliffs - perhaps the best known examples this way are the Kofa Mountains with Signal Peak (the Yuma County highpoint) and the Castle Dome summit and range. The Dome Rocks lie across the valley from the Kofas and the Castle Domes, with Cunningham's summit coming in at 3,316 feet. Historically, the Dome Rocks were attractive to miners principally. In recent years, radio-tower builders have co-opted Cunningham's summit for their handiwork.
The Dome Rocks sit at the boundary between two principal desert eco-systems: the Sonoran Desert to the east and the Colorado Desert (a "sub-desert" of the Mojave) to the west. Driving Interstate-10 up and over a low pass in the Dome Rocks, the change in vegetation is quick and very obvious. The Dome Rocks have a sharp, well-defined profile to them, with Cunningham's summit plainly obvious from points along Interstate-10, even far enough away so that the towers are not visible. Despite the radio towers on its summit, Cunningham has a nice shape to it. A rough service road leads to the top, so no real challenging climbing is required, just a good vehicle to get close.
This is one of the hottest regions in North America during the summer, with daytime highs regularly above 110 F (43 C) and even above 120 F (49 C) a few days each summer. River cities such as Yuma, Blythe, Parker, Needles and Havasu have all had days in the mid-120s, with Havasu's record of 128 F (53 C) being the all-time Arizona record high temperature, set in 1994. Needless to say, hiking this peak in summer would be insane. This is a lovely winter hike, when daytime highs are in the 70s (25 C). It never snows here. Generally, October through April or May is best. It gets warm fast, so days in the 90s and 100s can occur as late as November and early as February. In Fall/Winter/early Spring, mornings tend to be cool. Carry all your water. If it's warmer than usual, get an early start.
In Quartzsite, work your way to the US-95 junction in the center of town. Proceed south 8 miles to an unmarked dirt road on your right paralleling a power line. Drive west into the range about 7 miles. A fairly obvious y-junction will signify when to leave the main road. Go left and up about 1/2 mile, coming to a gate that is almost certain to be locked. There is room for one or two vehicles, although it's unlikely you'll have company on your hike.
Copper Bottom Mine is located in the valley across the way, and this is a popular place for ATVs. The road in off of US-95 is decent but it gets slightly rough for the last couple of miles - the main challenge being some steep ins-and-outs through some arroyos. High clearance is recommended, 4-wheel drive probably not necessary. Small passenger vehicles may encounter trouble with portions of the main road toward the end.
Notes on Quartzsite: depending on your direction, you cannot access US-95 southbound directly off of I-10: you must exit at one of the two main exits into Quartzsite and drive on Business-10 to US-95, which crosses over the interstate on a bridge.
In January & February, Quartzsite is full of winter visitors who RV or camp in the many lots around town. Try to time your visit with one of their many world-famous gem and rock festivals. This is rock-hounding heaven. It's mostly a retiree crowd, but the interesting, eccentric, vagabondish type of retirees, not the boring ones complaining about the kids and their rock-n-roll these days. You may mentally note Quartzsite as a place to come when you're in your 70s.
Cunningham Mountain is located on BLM land. Contact the Yuma Field Office at 928-317-3200 for the latest information.
Topo Map: Cunningham Mountain.
Cunningham Mountain, a bit closer (by streeyyr)
Primitive camping is allowed in the area. Quartzsite's camping is more geared to the RV crowd. Your best bet out this way is to find some nice BLM land and call it yours for the night. Practice Leave-No-Trace ethics.
External LinksArizona Prominence Map
Cunningham Mountain Trip Report, Feb 2007 (www.surgent.net)
Stark desert valleys as seen from the route up high (by streeyyr)