Just when historic figures Pauline Weaver, Joseph R. Walker, Jack Swilling and Henry Wickenburg were prospecting in central Arizona in 1863, the White Tank Mountains found their place on the first Arizona Territorial map. In fact, the mountain range is on almost every map from 1863 on. Even before Phoenix shows up on maps as a “settlement”, the White Tank Mountains were an important part of Arizona’s history. The White Tank watering hole, that gives the mountains their name, was located in the northeast end of the range and was the only year round source of water for miles. Early travelers had to know where it was. The desert was 20 to 30 miles in each direction along the White Tank Wagon Road. This supply road stretched from Maricopa Wells, south of the Gila River, to Wickenburg and then continued north to the new territorial capital in Prescott. Remnants of the road are few and the watering hole itself is now gone. The white granite cliffs surrounding the large natural tank, caved in during a huge storm, obliterating the White Tank.
In the estimated one hundred and fifteen years since the White Tank has been gone, the White Tank Mountains have continued to quietly provide a valuable service to the far west valley of the Phoenix metropolitan area. The mountains were the site of hundreds of small mining claims. The water sources in the mountains allowed for ranching operations, including grazing cattle, sheep and goats. The abundant wildlife made the White Tank Mountains a favorite destination for hunters and nearby residents have used the mountains as a recreation destination for generations.
The White Tank Mountains are now at a critical stage in their history. The cities that surround the range are beginning to develop right up into the foothills. The perils of new development also bring opportunities of preservation. The new White Tank Mountain Conservancy has been established with the help of all the major players in the area. This group will have the structure and resources to do what needs to be done to study, preserve, protect and document the flora, fauna and ancient history of the area. Having been ignored by researchers, scholars and even most valley residents, the goal is to bring the White Tank Mountains back to the importance it once held in the valley.
May I invite you to discover the White Tank Mountains for yourself? The spring wild flowers should the best in decades this year. Star gazers head into the park each time a major comet or meteor shower is expected. The petroglyphs left by ancient the Hohokam are a wonder. Hiking up to see the waterfall after a rain shower is an easy hike and gives a close up look at petroglyphs. Nature photography, picnicking, hiking, camping, bicycling and horseback riding all can be experienced in the wonder of the Sonoran Desert and practically in your own backyard.
Next time you stop to admire the colors of the sunset, look at the dark silhouette of the mountains at their base. The White Tank Mountains still stand quietly, waiting to be of importance to Arizona again.
More information about the Conservancy is available at their web site. Please visit and think about signing up to be a volunteer. I have. http://www.WTMConservancy.org