Arizonensis --> Sonoran Desert Naturalist --> Sonoran Desert Places --> Hieroglyphic Mountains

Hieroglyphic Mountains
Hell's Canyon Wilderness


The Hieroglyphic Mountains straddle the Yavapai-Maricopa county line in an area west of Lake Pleasant and north of Peoria. The northern portions are particularly rugged having been formed from Mesozoic rhyolite and tuff that is cut deeply by canyons. Garfias Wash cuts west to east with its western, higher elevation sections within the wilderness. Castle Hot Springs Wash loops around the north edge of the range and offers the best access. Castle Hot Springs itself is a private property without public access. Castle Hot Springs is thought to be one of only two localities in Arizona where California Fan Palm -- Washingtonia filifera, grew naturally.

From Phoenix, drive west on the Carefree Hwy. from I-17. Turn north on the Lake Pleasant Road, about 3 miles past the Agua Fria bridge. Drive past the Lake Pleasant entry gates onto Castle Hot Springs Road which soon turns to wash boarded gravel and some areas of sand. Passenger cars should be used with caution. About 3 miles past the Castle Creek Bridge there is a cattle guard. Immediately after the guard is a BLM trail sign. The trail registry is directly across the broad wash: Castel Creek Trailhead. This trailhead is also just about 1 mile past the Casa Rosa Ranch.

View Larger Map. Reach the east end trailhead (hiker icon on right) via Castel Hot Springs Road via Lake Pleasant (tent icon).
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View of Heiroglyphic Mountains from Castle Hot Spring Road
at Cow Creek Road

Photo © by Laurie Nessel

This photo of a Variegated Fritillary was taken by Laurie Nessel.

Nov. 17, 2002

From the Castel Creek trailhead I first hiked south across the broad wash. Here the sand is deep and the vegetation dominated by Burro Brush, Canyon Ragweed, Desert Hackberry and Desert Tobacco. On the south bank I found a narrow bosque of mesquite trees, the trail registry, and a sign designating the wilderness boundary. A moderate climb sent me past some colorful rhylolite cliffs on my left, then across a flat area. I was disappointed to see a telephone pole and wires stretching through the wilderness and the roar of ORV's in the east hit my ears. At 1.5 km there is a small water-filled tank. The wild burros have been taking water here as evidenced by fresh dung. The trail terminates at Garfias Wash but the hiker could walk up this wash to the west for a considerable distance.

There was a good diversity of shrubs and quite a few wildflowers were in bloom. I spotted two butterflies on the wing: Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and Sleepy Sulfur. Cat Claw Acacia had an abundance of burgundy-colored leaf galls. The warm weather may have been why I spotted a Rock Squirrel out so late in the year.

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In general order of Abundance:

  1. Rock Wren -- Salpinctes obsoletus --
  2. White-crowned Sparrow -- Zonotrichia leucophrys --
  3. Black-throated Sparrow -- Amphispiza bilineata --
    -- more common in winter
  4. Gambel's Quail -- Callipepla gambelii --
  5. Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- Regulus calendula --
  6. Verdin -- Auriparus flaviceps --
  7. House Finch -- Carpodacus mexicanus --
  8. Canyon Towhee -- Pipilo fuscus --
  9. Ladder-backed Woodpecker --
  10. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher -- Polioptila melanura -- so tiny and so animated! --
  11. Yellow-rumped Warbler -- Dendroica coronata -- at the tank --
  12. Black Phoebe -- Sayornis nigricans -- also at the tank --
  13. Gilded Flicker --
image © by Robert Shantz

Photograph is copyrighted by Robert Shantz at Lower Steeple Rock Canyon, Hidalgo County, New Mexico. This male has a distinctly black cap. Females lack the cap, and during the winter months the male's cap fades away.


The odor and naying of Wild Burros are evident throughout this area.

  1. Wild Burro -- Equus asinus
  2. Audubon's Cottontail -- Sylvilagus audubonii --
  3. Rock Squirrel --
  4. Peccary; Javelina -- Pecari angulatus -- plenty of feeding evidence on the Englemann Prickly Pear.


Common species at top of list:

  1. Prickly Pear -- Opuntia engelmannii
  2. Saguaro Cactus -- Carnegiea gigantea --
  3. Buckhorn Cholla -- Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa --
  4. Teddy Bear Cholla;Jumping Cholla -- Cylindropuntia bigelovii --
  5. Compass Barrel;California Barrel -- Ferocactus cylindraceus -- over 2 meter tall one along trail
  6. Desert Christmas Cactus -- Cylindropuntia leptocaulis --
  7. Engelmann Hedgehog Cactus -- Echinocereus engelmannii --
  8. Graham's Pincushion Cactus -- Mammillaria grahamii

Photo © by Michael Plagens
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis

Shrubs and Trees

Common species towards top of the list.

  1. Creosote Bush -- Larrea tridentata
  2. Triangle-leaf Bursage -- Ambrosia deltoidea --
  3. Foothills Palo Verde; Yellow Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia microphylla -
  4. Thornbush;Wolfberry -- Lycium spp
  5. Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa) -
  6. Fairy Duster -- Calliandra eriophylla --
  7. Desert Ironwood -- Olneya tesota -- a reminder that this area has temperate winters
  8. Graythorn -- Ziziphus obtusifolia --
  9. Jojoba -- Simmondsia chinensis --
  10. Lance-leaf Ditaxis -- Argythamnia lanceolata --
  11. Coulter's Brickell Bush -- Brickelia coulteri --
  12. Trailing Four O'Clock (Allionia incarnata) --
  13. White Ratany -- Krameria grayi -- purplish cast to woody stems
  14. Janusia Vine -- Janusia gracilis - a twisty, viney plant
  15. Chuparosa -- Justicia californica -
  16. Canotia -- Canotia holacantha -- Also know as Crucifixion Thorn. Large tree-sized shrubs with long sharp thorns.
  17. Joint Fir -- Ephedra aspera --
  18. Desert Senna -- Senna covesii --
  19. Odora -- Porophyllum gracile
  20. Trixis -- Trixis californica --
  21. Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) -
  22. Desert Trumpet -- Eriogonum inflatum --
  23. Flat-topped Buckwheat -- Eriogonum fasciculatum --
  24. Canyon Ragweed (Ambrosia artemesiafolia) - mostly along the washes
  25. Desert Tobacco -- Nicotiana obtusifolia - several big ones in Castle Creek Wash
  26. Sand Wash Groundsel -- Senecio flaccidus --
  27. Desert Globe Mallow -- Sphaeralcia ambigua - peach colored blooms after periods of rain
  28. Desert Hackberry -- Celtis ehrenbergiana -- in wash
  29. Sweet Bush -- Bebbia juncea -- also in wash
  30. Catclaw Acacia -- Acacia greggii -- in washes
  31. Blue Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia florida -- just a few in the big washes
  32. Velvet Mesquite -- Prosopis velutina -- in wash
  33. Big Galeta -- Pleuraphis rigida --
  34. Turpentine Bush -- Ericameria laricifolia --
  35. Desert Mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) - Parasitic shrub growing upon various desert trees
  36. Arizona Sandmat (Chamaesyce arizonica)
  37. Desert Lavender -- Hyptis emoryi -
  38. Oreganillo -- Aloysia wrightiii
watercolor © Mike Plagens

Celtis pallida with the Snout Butterfly (top) and Hackberry Butterfly

Turpentine Bush

Turpentine Bush

Autumn Wildflowers (obs. November 2002)

Desert Straw;Wire Lettuce Desert Tobacco Scarlet Spiderling
  1. Desert Tobacco -- Nicotiana obtusifolia -
  2. Sand Wash Groundsel -- Senecio flaccidus -
  3. Coulter's Brickell Bush -- Brickelia coulteri -
  4. Big Galeta -- Pleuraphis rigida -
  5. Turpentine Bush -- Ericameria laricifolia
  6. Arizona Sand Mat -
  7. Desert Straw;Wire Lettuce -- Stephanomeria pauciflora
  8. Scarlet Spiderling -- Boerhavia coccinea -
  9. Desert Senna -- Senna covesii -
  10. Desert Lavender -- Hyptis emoryi-
  11. Oreganillo -- Aloysia wrightiii -
Desert Senna Desert Lavender
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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 3 June 2008,
Updated 8 March 2012