Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs)

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Arizona, United States, North America
Spring, Fall
6769 ft / 2063 m
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Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs)
Created On: Apr 9, 2013
Last Edited On: Aug 11, 2013


Duncan Benchmark is the name given to the otherwise-nameless summit of the Music Mountains and of the Grand Wash Cliffs of northwest Arizona. This remote mountaintop is far from major highways and sees just a handful of visitors in the average year. Long distances and uncertain road access adds to the challenge of getting close to the peak. Once you get to the trailhead, the actual hike is fairly easy, and the views from the top are worth every step and every scratch.

The Grand Wash Cliffs are a line of cliffs that run about 60 miles north and south, forming the western boundary of the plateau system that encompasses the Grand Canyon. The cliffs appear to be sedimentary, with eons of erosion forming fluted columns, like the pipes of a church organ. Not surprisingly, the cliffs and the general area is extraordinarily lovely. There are enough breaks in the cliffs so that most routes require nothing more than strong legs and a willingness to battle the thick woody scrub that carpets the hillsides.

In recent years, the development of the Grand Canyon Skywalk has attracted tourists to this far corner of the state. The glass-bottom attraction is about 15 air-miles northeast of Duncan Benchmark. From Las Vegas, the peak is about 100 miles, and nearly 300 driving miles from Phoenix. Depending on the chosen trailhead, a high-clearance vehicle will be required, and 4-wheel drive possibly.

This particular mountaintop is mainly of interest for its prominence value of 2,219 feet, ranking it 54th on Arizona's Prominence List.

Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs) AZ
The summit, with its west-facing cliffs (April 2013)

Getting There

Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs) AZ
Distance view of the summit of the Grand Wash Cliffs, about 4 miles away along the road to Ray Place.

There are three viable routes. I'll assume you start from Kingman.

Eastern Route via the Hualapai Indian Reservation: From Interstate-40, take the Andy Devine Exit (State Route AZ-66) and drive eastbound (actually, northeast) about 35 miles to Peach Springs, the "capital" of the Hualapai Nation. Assuming you have your permit in hand, follow Buck & Doe Road north about 35 more miles to Reference Canyon, then left (west) toward the reservation boundary. Duncan Benchmark is about 4 miles west along road and some cross country. There is a private-property section along the road, however. A few people have come this way. The main issue is dealing with the Hualapai Nation, trying to get permits and explaining the pursuit.

Southern Route via Music Mountain Ranch: Follow AZ-66 about 20 miles to Antares Road and turn left. Antares Road is dirt, but graded and passable to most vehicles. Drive on Antares Road about 20 miles to the signed Music Mountain Ranch, which comes after a major bend in the road. Drive north and sign in at the easement boundary, picking up a "ranch pass". Drive to the end of the road, and if you have a sturdy vehicle, rumble up the continuation of this road onto the higher plateau. It may be possible to drive to the end of the road, putting you about 2 miles from the top along gentle slopes. Otherwise, you may park early and hike cross-country along ridges to the top. Here is a trip report from Peakbagger.com for this route. The road is the biggest variable. It may require a stronger 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Northern Route via Diamond Bar Ranch and "Ray Place": Get onto Pierce Ferry Road, which from Kingman can be done by driving north on US-93 about 40 miles to the junction with Pierce Ferry Road, or driving north on Stockton Hill Road to Pierce Ferry Road, or following Antares Road. The shortest way is via Stockton Hill Road, but people coming in from Las Vegas will probably catch it from US-93. Drive northeast on Pierce Ferry Road to Diamond Bar Ranch Road and the turn-off to the Grand Canyon Skywalk. It's all garishly signed and impossible to miss. There is a dense forest of Joshua trees here. Diamond Bar Ranch Road is paved for the first 5 miles, then graded dirt as it goes to the Skywalk. At 6 miles, you come to the Grand Canyon West Ranch buildings (on the map this is shown as the Diamond Bar Ranch Road). Go another 0.8 mile to a scant side road marked with a sign-in kiosk where you pick up your free ranch pass. Drive south on this road for 4.5 miles to Ray Place, and park off the road, outside of Ray Place itself, near a creek bed immediately in front of the gate to Ray Place. This is the trailhead.

This last road to Ray Place is minorly rough but easy in good conditions. Only one spot was rough enough to warrant 4-wheel drive. High clearance is a must, though as there are parts of the road where erosion has taken its toll. Camping is tricky, since the brush grows thick right up to the edges of the road. Ray Place appears to be a corral. I did not see a residence. The rest of the lands is BLM. You may come to a closed gate about 0.7 mile south of the main road. It's open to the public. Just leave the gate as you found it.


From Ray Place:

Hike south in the creekbed, following cow paths. Hike about 0.25 mile to a section of large boulders. Past this, the creek splits, and go left. The creekbed narrows and gets brushier. When it feels right, ascend left onto the banks and onto a soft ridge. Battle the thick brush, trying to sense cow paths whenever possible. Looking up, the summit and its cliffs are immediately obvious. To the right is a saddle and to its right, a small range-crest bump. Coming down off that is the ridge you are on. There is a "soft cliff" band on this ridge ahead of you.

Battle the brush upward. Angle right and ascend this steep cliff section via scree slopes and brush. It's short and loose. Up top, the land flattens and the brush lightens briefly. Keep walking up as the slopes steepen. You should angle left to the saddle, but this is easier said than done. I ascended directly up-slope to the bump, then walked the spine of the main range crest down to the saddle.

The top is just 0.3 mile and about 400 vertical feet away. Some game paths help, and the going here is easier than below. Hike by sight to the rocky and wooded summit. The cliffs are nearby, and the views are incredible.

Descend the same way. The round trip is just under 6 miles and about 1,800 feet of gain. Here is a GPS track from Peakbagger.com.
Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs) AZ
The summit as seen from below on the approach ridge.

Red Tape

Get the free "ranch pass" if taking the north or south routes. Get a permit from the Hualapai Nation if taking the east route.

Update (May 2013): the owner of the Grand Canyon Ranch started imposing a "passage fee" for people crossing his land heading to the Grand Canyon Skywalk (Article, Las Vegas Sun). His land starts about where the pavement ends, and where you would be passing some buildings and heading south on the access road toward Ray Place. The article makes no mention whether people going toward Ray Place would need to pay this fee. It might be wise to have a few extra bucks just in case. I have a sense this will simmer up and down periodically.

When to Climb

Spring and Fall are best. Snow is heavy up here and may shut the roads in winter. Summer gets hot, even this high. Hunters roam the area. Check out the Kingman-BLM site for details when the hunters are here.

Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs) AZ
The view from the top, looking west to north. That's Iron Mountain, then the approach canyon below to Ray Place. Farther off are more cliffs and distance mountains. The Grand Canyon is to the right, behind the mountains.


Camp along the road. The spots are marginal. Take out what you bring in and leave the place cleaner than you found it.

External Links

Trip Report (www.surgent.net)

Duncan Benchmark (Grand Wash Cliffs) AZ
This is the summit! (April 2013)