Whale Dome is one of many granite formations found in the Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Located approximately 60 miles east of Tucson, AZ and about 40 miles north of the Mexican border, the Dragoons are a small range of desert peaks with elevations up to 7500 feet (atop highest peak in Dragoons, Mt. Glenn). Countless granite domes are sprinkled in the rolling hills separated by deep valleys. Most rock climbing in the area is at elevations between 4500 and 6500 feet above sea level. The Dragoons are "confined" by Interstate highway 10 to the northwest, Arizona highway 80 to the southwest, and US highway 191 to the northeast. Closest towns offering standard highway amenities (motels, supermarkets, restaurants, and gas) are Benson, AZ (closest to west side of the range) and Willcox, AZ (closest to east side). Whale Dome is located in the northwest corner of the range and is surrounded by numerous other spires. The Dome derives its name from its distinctive shape (when viewed from standard approach trail) resembling the profile of a breaching whale. Beautiful, bright greenish lichen (typical in the Dragoons) covers the top of the Dome. According to Bob Kerry's guidebook, there are at least five established routes (and one variation) on Whale Dome ranging in difficulty from 5.7R to 5.10b with the most popular ones being Moby Dick
(5.8) and Dem Bones (5.10). Routes are in the grade II to III range. Moby Dick
climbs what is probably the longest face of the formation - the left side of the south face - approximately 600 feet in length. The Dome overhangs on its north side and a fun, free air rappel is the standard descent from the summit. There are no non-technical routes to the summit (to my knowledge).
The listed summit elevation is a very
rough guesstimate (it should carry a +/- 700 feet uncertainty). desainme
provided the topo coordinates (thank you).
Whale Dome is located in the western Dragoons in an area referred to as the West Cochise Stronghold (area served as a hideout for the Apache Indians taunting the US Army). Take Interstate highway 10 to exit 303 in town of Benson, AZ. Follow Arizona highway 80 east (through town of Saint David) for approximately 21 miles (just past the border patrol checkpoint and a couple miles before town of Tombstone, AZ) to first left-leading side road after mile marker 315. Turn left onto (signed) Middlemarch Road (dirt and nicely washboarded) and follow it for 9.8 miles till you reach a signed turn off for West Stronghold. The sign informs you that the West Stronghold is 8 miles away. In fact, the Stronghold is about 10 miles from this junction at the road's end. Follow this winding dirt road (rough in places but passable to pretty much all vehicles) with multiple branch off roads to its end at about 10 miles from the junction. It's generally easy enough to stay on the main road. You will pass a ranch with a windmill at about 8 miles from junction. Multiple primitive camping areas can be found along this dirt road (as well as some nicer ones along the many branch off's) and near its end in the West Stronghold. The campsites along the road are primitive and they are free. Not sure about campsites near the road's end? Note that the drive in from Benson to the trailhead will require about an hour.
From the road's end find a hiking trail (which quickly deteriorates to a climbers' trail) heading off into the side drainage on the left (Whale Dome can be seen from the drive in but not from the trailhead). This side drainage heads roughly northeast from the end of the road. Note that you're NOT following the clearly marked and numbered trail heading straight from the end of the road. Follow the climbers' trail up the left wash as it gently gains elevation. The trail stays near the bottom of the wash and occasionally wanders out of it on the right side (some cairns; watch for side trails heading off out of the wash to other formations). Whale Dome comes into view about 15 minutes from the trailhead. The trail brings you (in 30 to 45 minutes) to the foot of the impressive southern face of the Dome. To reach both Moby Dick
(5.8) and Dem Bones (5.10a) routes, turn left and head up the minor side gully just below the (south/southwest) base of the formation. Both routes start a few hundred feet into this side gully with Moby Dick
being further left near the extreme left side of the south face.
There is no red tape for parking or climbing in the Western Stronghold (not so
in the Eastern one). However, note that some formations/routes are subject to seasonal closures
due to nesting birds (generally starting after mid February). Dogs are allowed here. Please keep them under control and pack out their waste.
When To Climb
The Dragoons are far enough south so that pleasant and dry climbing conditions can be had in wintertime. However rain and snow are not out of the question (first hand experience)! Summers are (no doubt) unbearably hot. Late fall and early spring would probably be the ideal times as there is less chance of precipitation than in winter.
Free and primitive car camping is available along sections of the 10-mile road (as well as its many branch off roads) leading to the West Stronghold (see Getting There section above). Please pack out your waste and minimize impact! More campsites are available at the road's end in the West Stronghold but I am not certain if these are less primitive or if they require a fee. I would imagine that flash flooding is a concern in this area so please use caution! East Stronghold offers an established fee campground with latrine facilities (BLM) and much red tape (trailhead parking restrictions and fees).
The good folks in the Summit Hut outdoor store in Tucson might be your best bet for climbing-specific information. The store is located on E. Speedway Blvd. about 15 minutes from Interstate 10. Their phone number and website are:
For general (non-climbing) area information, try the Douglas Ranger District 520-364-3468.
Two guidebooks discuss technical rock climbs in the area. The first and most comprehensive reference is Bob Kerry's Backcountry Rockclimbing in Southern Arizona
. This is the book that lists the most routes for this formation. The Dragoons also have a short section in Stuart Green's Rock Climbing Arizona
guide but only Moby Dick route on Whale Dome is described there. A (nontechnical) hike description for Mount Glenn (highest point in the Dragoons) is described in Bob and Dotty Martin's guide, Arizona's Mountains, A Hiking Guide To The Grand Canyon State
- this book has NOTHING on Whale Dome or any technical climbs in the area.
Internet LinksLink 1
. Some route info. and photographs. A very good resource.
. Nice TR and photos including Moby Dick.
. Very nice set of photos including Moby Dick.
. Nice set of (frequently updated) Cochise climbing photos but nothing (as of 1/5/2005) on Whale Dome.