Camelback Mountain just might be the premier landmark found anywhere in the Valley of the Sun and now that the newly renovated Echo Canyon Trailhead has reopened, it is easier than ever to find a parking place as you prepare for an always challenging hike to stand on top of that famous ol’ camel’s hump. An ancient Hohokam sacred grotto is located on the north face near the summit of the Echo Canyon Trail, giving rise to a second name for this venerable landmark - Sacred Mountain.
In 1879 Camelback Mountain was made part of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation by a treaty between the federal government and the two tribes. Within six months, powerful Arizona politicians lead by Charles Poston, known as the Father of Arizona, and John C. Fremont, known as the Great Pathfinder, got the reservation designation reversed, opening Camelback Mountain and the surrounding area to development.
By the 1960s most of the mountain had fallen into private ownership. Local citizens got together and in 1965, led this time by Senator Barry Goldwater, got the summit of the mountain above 1,600-feet protected and preserved from any future development.
Camelback Mountain is actually made up of two separate and distinct rock formations. The head of the camel, found within the Echo Canyon Recreational Area, is composed of layered red sandstone. The famous rock formation known as the Praying Monk is also found here. The hump of the camel is granite and is much older in geological time than the sandstone head.
There are two trails that connect at the summit of the Camelback Mountain. The 1.5-mile Cholla Trail leads to the top from the eastern end of the mountain. It is the easiest accent of the two trails.
The 1.2-mile Echo Canyon Trail begins at the northwestern end of the mountain, is shorter but more challenging. There are potentially hazardous points on both these trails so this is not a journey recommended for beginning hikers. A roundtrip hike to the summit and back from both trailheads can take between 3 – 4 hours.
Over 700,000 people climb Camelback Mountain each year. And now with the nearly $4 million of renovation at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, which includes 135 parking spaces and 15 new bike racks, public access to this trail is so much easier. A permanent restroom, a shaded ramada and a chilled drinking fountain are also new additions to help hikers prepare for their journey to the summit. Until September 2014 dogs are not allowed on the Echo Canyon Trail.
So let us suggest that you get out and visit the new Echo Canyon Trailhead? Be aware that it is a very popular and busy trailhead. If you are a fit hiker, make the climb to the summit; if you are not; take a picnic lunch, sit at the new ramada and enjoy a lunch people-watching in the shadow of the valley’s sacred mountain – Camelback Mountain.