Column No. 59

Let’s take a hike to the top of Montana Peak

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Montana Peak is the most recognizable landmark in the borderland mining region that we’ve been writing about in this column. The Peak rises to 5,370 feet above the surrounding beautiful rolling hills and rugged canyons. The old mining camp of Ruby, now a ghost town, nestles below on its northwestern side at 4,200 feet altitude.

Montana Peak was formed some 50-60 million years ago during a period of explosive volcanism. More recently Ruby residents were witness to an earthquake in 1887 that gave Montana Peak its current characteristic shape and a scaring fire in the early 1930s.

Co-columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon grew up in the Ruby mining camp, living there as a child from 1929 to 1938, when the camp bustled with almost 1,200 people. Montana Peak became a symbol of the rough, but wonderful, life that people who lived in Ruby experienced. Fond memories of the old mining camp and Montana Peak drew Tallia back to Ruby in 1994, when she began hosting Pima Community College’s tours of the mining camp.

But it wasn’t until February 10th, 2002, for the first time, at the sprightly age of 73 years, that Tallia climbed to the top of Montana Peak. Here in her own words is Tallia’s account of that adventure:

“It had been some 68 years since I had picnicked with my family at the lower levels of Montana Peak. Members of Tucson’s Southern Arizona Hiking Club were scheduled to hike this prominent landmark just southeast of Ruby, Arizona. I connected with them through a teacher friend, Pat MacArthur, with whom I taught at St. John's School. Pat knew my connection with Ruby and when she heard they were going to do a hike there, she called me and asked if I would be interested. I replied, "YES!"

“It was early morning on a crisp, blustery, windy Sunday in February. Eighteen eager hikers assembled at 7:30 a.m. at St. Mary's Plaza to carpool south on I-19 to the Arivaca exit, 48. At times, with the gusts of wind, the car seemed to jerk to the side as we traveled.

“We proceeded west for 23 miles on the paved, winding road through the small settlement of Sopori (Sobaipuri Indians - a group of the Pima Indians) through rolling grasslands covered with Mesquite and Arizona Oak trees. We passed the long-standing grotto erected on a hill above the age-old Sopori Ranch once owned by Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Lee. Mrs. Lee had this grotto built in memory of her husband after his untimely death in 1920 while rounding up cattle.

“Farther along the road we admired the prominent and rugged Cerro Colorado Mountains to the north. Mining was the industry and silver was the concentrate extracted from these hills in the 1800s.

“We stopped in Arivaca for a short time before continuing southeast on the Ruby Road, again through the rolling grasslands for a distance of six miles. There we crossed the cattle guard that defines the boundary of Pima and Santa Cruz Counties. We left the winding paved road and traveled for some additional five miles on the now-corrugated, rocky dirt road to Forest Service road 217, California Gulch. A right turn here pointed us south; we proceeded very slowly as we bounced along an extremely rough, rocky route for about a mile-and-a half, arriving at the dry lake bed of Gold Boulder Dam. This dam was completed October 23, 1928 when the Eagle-Picher Lead Company was operating the Montana Mine in Ruby. The time was 10:20 a.m.

“The brisk, gusty winds persisted as we gathered our lunches, water and cameras for the hike to the top of the Peak. We began in the foothills of this massive geologic structure and achieved the lower level ascent without any problems.

“Now it was necessary for us to choose the route as we climbed higher. Soon we realized that this would be a rough, steep "bushwhacking" ascent because a trail was non-existent. From time to time, a hiker would announce that "a trail" had been spotted! Resembling a flock of sheep, we collectively, because of the rough terrain, staggered along a cattle trail that expired a short distance ahead. Again we groped our way upward.

“We stopped, somewhat unsteadily, along the way to admire the views on all sides as the strong winds thrashed us with Nature's force. Supported by one another at these stops, we continued to admire the close-by scenery as well as the distant views.

“Now we saw evidence of the expansive fire that I remember as a young child. At that time in my life I had never seen a fire of that size. I also remember that all of the men who were not actively working in the mine and the mill on their shift at the time of the fire were asked to take whatever tools they might have had and go up on the mountain to fight the fire. A very large dark, gray-black scar remained on the face of the mountain for a very long time after the fire. We saw that, even today, the area on the west side of the mountain where the fire was is almost devoid of vegetation.

“Near the top of the Peak, enormous rocks began to block the route. This had to be the result of Mother Nature's horrific force during the earthquake of 1887, 7.2 on the Richter I think it was. The exposed rocks resulted from the quake shaking the soil off the Peak near the top. No word in the English language can adequately describe the gigantic size of this rock face. Makes one feel very small and humble!

“We grabbed the low-slung branches of the numerous Arizona Oak trees to pull ourselves slowly along in an upward direction. It wasn’t so much scary as it was windy!

“By 12:50 p.m., we were admiring the distant views down below as well as the far-off light blue mountain peaks south of us in Mexico. What breathtaking views to behold! Looking down at Ruby, I could barely see the ruins of our old Pfrimmer house and the jail. These appeared almost as specks as did other buildings comparable to their size. I could identify my old school building because of its "L" shape. Roads appeared as trails but were easy to see. The tailings dump of ore refuse stood out as a huge white area.

“Even with the insistent gusty winds, we spent a little over an hour at the top enjoying our lunches, the breathtaking views and taking countless pictures.

“We decided to take a different route down the mountain, hoping it might not be as steep. However, we found that the new path was just as steep if not more so in places. More than once we were sliding down sideways or just sitting down and skidding along the ground using the heels of our hiking boots in a braking action.

“By 3:30 p. m., we rested near the cars while we talked about Ruby history. Then we drove a mile or so to the ghost town and did a quick walk through of what was once a thriving mining camp, but which now, except for a caretaker, is isolated and quiet.

“At 6:00 p.m., our cars traveled northwest along the dirt road heading back toward Arivaca, then on to I - 19. By 7:45 p.m. I was home once again, tired after an active day but happy after such a memorable excursion.”


An earthquake in 1887 exposed the massive rock face on Montana Peak. (Photo by Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon, 2002)
Atop Montana Peak, Tallia poses in front of the view of Ruby far below. (Photo provided by Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon, 2002)

Next Time: Ruby’s best baseball player, Sammy Rosthenhausler
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Note: You can contact the Southern Arizona Hiking Club by telephone at 520-751-4513, by email at, or write to: P. O. Box 32257, Tucson, Arizona 85751.