Home on the Range
We approached the Homestead during a late November morning. A low fog hung down on the austere Sonoran Desert, as a crisp breeze followed us along the meandering dirt road leading to the cliffs. Upon reaching the Homestead, we passed through the final gate underneath a large barbed wire “H,” marking the entrance for crusty desert climbers. The climberʼs’ trail, strewn with barnaclecovered limestone and other fossilized sea creatures, veers right from the parking areas where a canister hangs for climbers to sign in. This well-defined trail drops into the canyon floor and follows the wash to the Homestead, where a 10-minute hike will lead you to the Welcome Wall. Many climbers begin here, as the routes are
short, easy, and fun warm-ups. Up-canyon, the Homestead is lined with steep, long, limestone walls that seem to go on forever, like Rough Rider Crag, which is defined by consistently exciting and thought-provoking routes. But nothing compares to the elegant and aesthetic lines at Tufa City, where black streaks line the white limestone overhangs. Two of Homesteadʼs best and exciting routes are Tufa One (5.11-) and Tufa Yard Dash (5.11c). On Tufa Yard Dash, the tufa ribs often extend more than two feet from the cliff, creating exciting pinches and opportunities for stemming. With overhanging jugs and even no-hands/ kneebar rests, this route is unique in its variety. If you climb these extraordinary tufas, please tread lightly on them as they create a loud hollow ring when touched. Make sure you don’t climb them after rain or if they are seeping; help to keep them there for the future climbers.
A safety note: staying on route is key to not getting hurt, as rock fall is not uncommon on lesser-trafficked routes. Helmets are recommended, especially for the belayer. Also, you’ll probably encounter a barrage of insects—mainly bees and wasps—at each cliff you visit. But don’t let this deter you: Homestead offers amazing limestone cragging.
Just across the canyon from Welcome Wall is Bone Town, home to 15 routes ranging from 5.9 to 5.12. This is a great spot for individuals seeking to climb 5.10 to 5.11 routes. Fish out Bone Town (5.10a), with a boulder problem to start and a cool handlebar hold up top. Don’t miss Wish Bone, featuring an easy start and more difficult 5.11 moves up top, and Bone Head (5.11c), a steep, pumpy route with thin holds.
Next door to Welcome Wall is Slate Nation, home to more than 30 routes from 5.6 to 5.13. This wall receives morning sun and afternoon shade, is not as steep as the surrounding cliffs, and is characterized by bouldery starts and low cruxes, so you may want your stick-clip. The longest route is only about 50 feet, but with quality, bulletproof limestone, it is well worth it. Check out the slab moves and sidepulls on the short but fun K-9 Karma (5.10a). Among the most unique and atypical routes at Slate Nation is Infectious Groove (5.11c), with laybacking moves in a right-facing dihedral.
Rough Rider Wall
Local hardman and Mt. Lemmon guidebook author Eric Fazio-Rhicard says the Rough Rider Wall contains perhaps the best concentration of climbing at the Homestead, with many routes more than 100 feet long. Eric recommends trying The Rough Rider (5.11), Fun, Fun, Fun (5.11+), and Fusion (5.12a). Also check out J-Bone Memorial Highway (5.11c), which follows an overhanging dihedral, and donʼt miss Riders on the Swarm (5.10b), which has gotten harder as some key holds have fallen off. A 70-meter rope is a must for some of these routes.
When visiting the Homestead, it is mandatory to check out Tufa City! This wall in the Finland area is located directly across from the Rough Rider Wall and North Buttress. You won’t be disappointed with the quality of routes on the black-and-white-striped cliffs here. That being said, this wall only has a few routes under 5.11—most are between 5.11 and 5.13. Be sure to try John’s Meat Market (aka Fred’s Line), with amazing tufa climbing at 5.11. Tufa Tussle (5.12) offers spectacular climbing with consistently strenuous moves and varied climbing.
- Getting there: The Homestead is located less than two hours from Tucson, and about two hours from Phoenix, between Winkelman and Globe off AZ-77. From Tucson, head north on AZ-77 toward Winkelman. If coming from Phoenix, drive east on US-60 to Superior, then head south on AZ-177 to Winkelman. At the junction of AZ-77 and AZ-177, head north through Winkelman on AZ-77 and continue approximately 14 miles. Just north of mile marker 153, turn right (east) on a dirt road to access the Homestead. This rugged BLM road is strewn with steep hills and ditches that make it inaccessible to any vehicle without a lift—a standard truck will not make it up the first large hill. If you don’t have an appropriate vehicle, park here and endure the four-mile hike. If your truck is up for it, drive downhill, passing a gate, and continue straight through the wash and uphill through foothills, passing several more gates before getting to the parking area. From there, a well-traveled climberʼs’ trail leads into the canyon. Local climbers are currently pressing the BLM to bulldoze the road and make the crag more accessible to climbers. Remember to close all the gates and keep on good terms with local private landowners.
- Climate: The Homestead has ideal temperatures in every season except summer. The walls are all north- or south-facing, so you can seek or evade the sun as needed. The desert weather can change quickly, so check the local forecast and be prepared with extra layers.
- Camping: Pass through the second gate and go down the ﬁnal large hill, before the final parking lot to access the Homestead. The road opens up to a camping area below a canopy of desert trees, just before entering the ﬁnal gate marked with a barbed wire “H.” It’s primitive camping, so come prepared with food and water, and be sure to pack out your trash.
- Gear: Some routes require 16 draws and a 70-meter rope. Consider a helmet, as loose rock exists on many routes.
- Guidebook: Marty Karabin’s foldout guide (2007) can be purchased at local gear shops. Louie Anderson also published a PDF in 2007, which lacks much current route development but is a terrific guide for the ﬁrst-time visitor, complete with directions, approaches, photos, bolt counts, and ﬁrst ascent info. Download this guide here.