The distinctive shape of Table Top is visible from many vantage points across south-central Arizona. Located in western Pinal County south of the city of Maricopa and east of Gila Bend, the flat plateau-like mountaintop is readily visible from as far away as the southern suburbs of Phoenix and from points along Interstate-10 in Casa Grande. The Table Top Mountains are a compact range south of Interstate-8 and located within the Table Top WIlderness and the newly-created Sonoran Desert National Monument (created in 2000). A rough 15-mile dirt road called Vekol Valley Road gives access to the trailhead, which has room for about 5-6 vehicles and a handful of minorly-developed campsites for overnight use. The registers show about 3-4 groups might visit on a weekend date, and maybe a total of 3-4 groups during the weekdays. Definitely a winter-spring peak; this area gets very hot in summer.
A hike to the summit(s) of Table Top covers about 2 miles of low foothills covered in every imaginable type of cactus of the lower Sonoran Desert, including the stately saguaro and a dense collection of cholla. The final 2 miles up the mountain massif features steep trail with loose, rubbly rock. The trail ends at the soutwestern of the two summits, which is about 17 feet lower than the true highpoint. The remaining half-mile to the true top is across (surprise!) flattish plateau covered in grasses, prickly-pear cactus and agave, plus the usual mix of volcanic rock.
The stats of this peak can be misleading: 8 miles round trip to the true summit with about 2,400 feet of gross gain mostly along easily navigable trail ... should seem straightforward, and it is. But the steepness of the upper sections of the trail, and the cross-country bit up top will add some time to the overall journey. Plan a full day for the drive in, the hike and the drive out. Enjoy the fantastic natural scenery!
Note: the peak's name is "Table Top", not "Table Top Mountain". The latter is a small peak located up near Prescott.
Get on Interstate-8 and take Vekol Valley Road (exit 144) southbound, which immediately turns to dirt. 2 miles in, hang a right at a fork and proceed south. Stay on the main route through open desert and a few wash crossings, going left at about the 11-mile mark, now heading generally east for another 4-5 miles to the trailhead. The total drive is about 15 miles and takes about an hour.
The road is washboard in some places and crosses numerous small draws and a few large washes (the Vekol Wash). When wet, the roads become clay-like and are impassable. We came a week after some heavy rains and noted the roads were heavily rutted due to people driving in the roads while still wet. The last few miles are somewhat rocky. 4-wheel drive is not vital in normal dry conditions but a strong high-clearance vehicle is required.
From the Phoenix area, the two best routes would be AZ-85 from the west side through Gila Bend, then about 30-ish miles east to the Vekol Exit. From the east suburbs, go south via AZ-347 through Maricopa and the Ak-Chin Community to connect with AZ-84 west of Stanfield. Follow AZ-84 west about 5 miles to Interstate-8, then 7 miles west some more to the Vekol Exit. From our home in Chandler the one-way distance was about 70 miles. From Tucson, the one-way mileage will be about 110 miles.
There is no development at the Vekol exit. Gas up in Maricopa, Gila Bend, or, if coming from Tucson, in Casa Grande or exits near Stanfield.
Camping and hiking is free. The Sonoran Desert National Monument has no real infrastructure yet, just some signs. Lands are administered by the BLM.
Sonoran Desert National Monument
The trailhead has 3 semi-developed sites (fire pits, picnic tables) plus a vault-toilet. It's unlikely these will ever all be filled at the same time.
Warning from the Border Patrol
The Vekol Valley is a well-known smuggling corridor (mainly drugs). The Vekol Valley road eventually bumps and grinds its way to connect to the road net on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation to the south and as a result is one of the few links from that area to Interstate-8, not counting paved route AZ-85 from Gila Bend via Ajo.
We were stopped by the BP as we exited, and again about 5 miles later. They asked us a few questions and checked out my truck to be sure everything was okay. They said visitors should take reasonable precautions and to exercise common sense. Are they being alarmist? Possibly, but their admonishions were taken into consideration. Odds are nothing will happen. We have not heard (on the news, for example) of people meeting grief in the Vekol Valley area. We had a peaceful night's camping. But if you do feel skittish, we'd suggest to drive in in the early morning, make it a dayhike, and leave before sundown. Use your own common sense here.
(Update: Jan 2011) This area seemns to have become more volatile with police/border patrol, and smugglers coming up from the south. It was recently in the news when a Pinal County Sheriff's deputy on foot-patrol was allegedly shot by drug carriers (There were doubts to his story and in December 2010 he was fired for other misconducts, not necessarily this situation). Despite all that, it may be true the area has dropped a notch in safety with all the smuggling shenanigans of recent years, but I still believe the area is safe for hikers on a day trip. The only suggestion I'd make is to not bother with the camping.