The Civil War in Arizona?

Picacho Peak State Park February 2018-47

One of the many advantages of full timing is that you are constantly learning, exploring, and discovering new places.  David and I went to Picacho Peak State Park the other day.  It’s been a while since we have been hiking so we thought we would tackle a couple of trails there. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we are camping now so it was also convenient.  Picacho Peak SP, established in 1965, is halfway between Tucson and Phoenix just off of I-10.

When we arrived, we checked in at the Visitor Center and the docent told us about the layout of the park and recommended a couple of hikes as well.  She also highlighted the Memorial Loop in the Park.  She said that it commemorates a Civil War battle fought near and around Picacho Peak.  I thought the Civil War was fought only along the East Coast not in southwest Arizona.  Well, I was wrong.  The Union and Confederate soldiers clashed here in southern Arizona.  The Picacho Peak Battle was the second westernmost battle of the American Civil War.

Picacho Peak State Park February 2018-3

Here’s a bit of background.  The Confederate soldiers had established control over southern New Mexico and also in Tucson, AZ.  They had confiscated Union lands and goods and they established Tucson as a Confederate headquarters.  The Confederate leadership wanted to create a route to the Pacific Ocean. President Jefferson Davis ordered 2,500 soldiers to make their way to California.  They were to seize land and also enlist the cooperation of Mexico.  To counter this, President Abraham Lincoln mobilized a group of volunteers in California to march towards New Mexico and block the advance of the Confederate forces. Then, where does Picacho Peak fit into all of this? Well, as the California militia was moving east in 1862, they sent out a group of scouts to Tucson.  As they neared the Picacho Mountains, they encountered Confederate lookouts.  A battle ensued and ultimately the Union soldiers retreated when their commander was killed.  The Confederate soldiers also retreated to warn the encampment at Tucson of the advancing Union troops. The Confederate Arizona Rangers fled and the Union soldiers took control of Tucson the following month without firing a shot.  Although this was a small battle compared to those fought in the East, it was significant because the Union took control of this southern route.  If you are interested, every March, Picacho Peak SP hosts a re-enactment of three Civil War battles that occurred in the southwest, including the one at Picacho Peak.

Celia’s painting of Picacho Peak


The Picacho Peak itself has been an important landmark for many years.  Its unique shape makes it easily identifiable and helped travelers navigate this area.  One fellow camper calls it “the Cowboy Hat Mountain” because it looks like a hat. When the Spaniard Juan Bautista de Anza led a group of settlers to California, they named it “Picacho.”  “Picacho” means “Big Peak” in Spanish. Picacho Peak marks two important routes in the southwest: one leading north-south and one leading east-west.

After touring the Memorial Loop, we hiked a couple of trails on either end of the park.  On these hikes, there were some lovely views of the Sonoran desert that extends in all directions ending at the distant mountain ranges. From the trails, to the south, you can see the Santa Catalina Mountains, to the northwest, there is Tabletop Mountain, and to the north, there are a series of mountain ranges, such as the Superstition Mountains, near Phoenix.  Also the Park itself is across from the Picacho Mountain range. I can certainly understand why this Peak would be a good lookout site.


Several of the trails lead up to the top of Picacho Peak which is 3,374 ft. high. We did not climb it because the final section of the ascent has cables and gloves are recommended for this section.


Picacho Peak State Park has a nice campground with 85 electric sites and group camping sites as well.  There is potable water available and a dump station on site.

Picacho Peak State Park February 2018-21

David and I were just planning on taking a hike in a state park but, as often happens, we discovered another unique and interesting place with lots of history and beautiful nature.

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