Roof Butte is the highest peak of the Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Nation of northeast Arizona. A distinctly shaped peak, it's flattish summit is readily visible from miles around, especially from points east in New Mexico. A hike to the peak is a fairly simple stroll up a service road to the usual mix of towers and a manned fire lookout. However, do not let this turn you away from the peak and the region. This is a case where 90% of the fun is just getting there! Its remoteness keeps visitation to a minimum, but along the way you will pass through the uniquely beautiful highlands of the Chuska and Lukachukai Mountains (depending on your driving route), featuring near-virginal forests, beautilful meadows, streams coursing through the canyons, horses, deer, and amazing views throughout. The famous Shiprock can be seen from points along the drive. For prominence fans, Roof Butte's prominence of nearly 3,140 feet places it high on the Arizona list.
Roof Butte along IR-68
There are a few options to get to the peak; I will describe what we did, then offer some other possible alternatives.
We started in Window Rock (AZ) and scored our hiking permits (see Red Tape). Traveling north along Indian Route 12, we passed through the town of Navajo (NM) then back into AZ into the communities of Upper Wheatfields (AZ, reached first) and Wheatfields (In all, about 40 miles from Window Rock). In Wheatfields, just across from the Chapter House, we took Indian Route 68 (gravel) north for roughly 16 miles to the junction of the service road leading to the summit (Mapquest calls this road IR-30, but we saw no signs). IR-68 is mostly gravel and mostly smooth, and in dry conditions should be passable to most vehicles. High clearance would be the only minimum requirement. Whenever there was a junction, we stayed on the obvious main route. This is the most enjoyable part of the trip - the scenery of the interior Chuskas is outstanding. You will not be disappointed.
When we left the area, we continued north on IR-68 as it steeply descended about 2 miles to meet with paved IR-13. From here we went north on IR-13 to the community of Red Valley (AZ) and onto a visit with Shiprock.
It is possible to visit Roof Butte by staying on IR-12 past Wheatfields and Tsaile and then taking IR-13 through Lukachukai to the turn-off to IR-68, then southish to the service road. I can't comment on the mileage, but with an atlas this should be easy to do. Lastly, one could also come this way via New Mexico, taking US-491 (old US-666) from Gallup to Shiprock (the town), then west on IR-13 to Red Valley and south to the peak area.
The Navajo Nation requires vistors to secure permits to hike (or camp or fish, etc) on the Nation.
Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation
The fees are reasonable. Call in ahead of time to secure your dates and permits. You can also show up in Window Rock to get the permits during the weekdays, 8-5. Take the first road north west of the AZ/NM state line (IR-12) and turn into the parking lot for the museum. The Parks and Rec offices are located in the adjacent set of buildings to the north.
There is a simple campground at Wheatfields Lake on IR-12. I am not sure of the policy for primitive camping. If you do camp, be sure that the side road you decide to follow isn't actually someone's driveway - a lot of people live in the range off the main road, set back in.
Red Valley looks to be kind of open and hot ... not attractive for camping. Areas around Lukachukai might be an option.
The view from far away near Shiprock, NM
External LinksRoof Butte Trip Report, May 2006 (www.surgent.net)