|Issue 2, Spring 2003|
Saving the Saddle
Saddle Mountain is one of the last places in central Arizona that offers unbelievable solitude, positioned so near metropolitan Phoenix and butting up against the development that fans out from major artery I-10 west. The side canyons that surround and penetrate the two mountain masses that form the saddle provide a remoteness that carries visitors away from the hustle and bustle of city and sprawling suburban centers. Rugged canyons, towering cliffs, and rock spires offer spectacular scenery and a sense of escape from modern life.
AWC Proposed Acreage: 24,000
The AWC, the Tonopah Area Coalition, and the Friends of Saddle Mountain are asking the Bureau of Land Management to set aside Saddle Mountain and its special secluded environs as a Wilderness Study Area, with a future hope the area may one day be fully protected as designated wilderness under the Wilderness Act.
AWC is recommending a wilderness boundary of approximately 24,000 acres to the BLM. This designation would protect the southern part of the mountain from further habitat degradation and wildlife disturbance. The north side of Saddle will be recommended as an access zone, which would allow vehicle routes to provide entry for visitors who want to sightsee, picnic, or car camp. Wilderness designation at Saddle Mountain would continue to allow hunting, cattle grazing, hiking, picnicking, rock collecting, hiking, and backcountry camping.
Saddle Mountain is a distinctive landmark recognized by travelers for thousands of years. The mountain's multi-faceted shape provides a variety of terrain that includes dramatic natural settings with high levels of solitude. Saddle Mountain's volcanic geology is another key element that AWC believes qualifies the mountain as a Wilderness Study Area.
The recommended boundary would also provide a crucial safeguard for the resident desert bighorn sheep population. BLM managers found a bighorn sheep killed by a poacher at Saddle Mountain last spring. The bighorn population at Saddle Mountain has not been part of the BLM’s previous wilderness studies.
Saddle Mountain offers an amazing array of prehistoric and historic remnants of past occupation in the area, including five National Register -eligible prehistoric sites and one proposed Archeological District in the 48,180-acre area of Saddle Mountain and the neighboring Palo Verde Hills. A 1995 study of one site showed utilization of the Saddle Mountain area for more than 3,000 years. Petroglyphs and geoglyphs add to the area’s important prehistoric elements.
The Tonopah Area Coalition (TAC) is a neighborhood association that covers the region defined by the boundaries of the Maricopa County Tonopah Land Use Plan. Since 1988, the TAC has organized trash cleanup days, spring mountain top hikes, and has advocated for greater protection for Saddle Mountain.
Members of the Tonopah Area Coalition have conducted an intensive survey of Saddle Mountain and Palo Verde Hills in preparing a case for a request to the BLM to make Saddle Mountain a Wilderness Study Area. We are asking the BLM to develop a management plan for the Palo Verde Hills that would limit vehicle travel to existing routes and focus on protecting that area’s archeological sites.
In recent years, damage from illegal activities has begun to degrade this outstanding natural area. Vandalism, trash dumping, wildcat off-road vehicle routes, and illegal trail building are just a few examples.
Saddle Mountain is located 55 miles from downtown Phoenix, but only 35 miles from the growing west valley communities of Goodyear, Litchfield Park, and Avondale. The town center of Buckeye is 25 miles east and is the fastest growing town in Arizona. Buckeye has annexed large amounts of acreage west of the White Tank Mountains. Communities planned along the Sun Valley Parkway will house over 500,000 residents. Further west, Belmont's master plan anticipates 250,000 residents. The recently approved Douglas Ranch, located just north of Belmont, will have a similar population. These already approved master planned communities—all west of the White Tank Mountains—will someday place one million residents within 25 miles of Saddle Mountain. With West Phoenix Valley growth engulfing desert landscapes with housing, shopping centers, and golf courses, now is the time to protect Saddle Mountain’s important wildlife habitat, ancient cultural history, and a unique opportunity to experience natural seclusion.