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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Destination: Wickenburg

Story and photos by Maria Langer

Nestled in the foothills of the Vulture Mountains, along the banks of the Hassayampa River, is an oasis in the Sonoran Desert: Wickenburg. Founded in the late 1800s to support Henry Wickenburg’s Vulture Mine, the town has evolved throughout the years to become a modern community rich in the traditions of the Old West.

While Wickenburg has often been listed among the top places in the country to retire, it’s also a great place to visit, with plenty of activities for people of any age. And for pilots, it is one of the best —yet relatively unknown— fly-in destinations in Arizona.

Plenty to See and Do

What can you do in Wickenburg once you get there? Here are the top ten suggestions:

1. Stay at a guest ranch. Wickenburg is often referred to as the “Dude Ranch Capital of Arizona.” With several ranches in and around the town, that’s no surprise. Some of the best include Flying E Guest & Cattle Ranch (928-684-2690), Kay El Bar Guest Ranch (928-684-7593), Rancho Casitas (928-684-2628), and Rancho de los Caballeros (928-684-5484). Each ranch offers activities that can include horseback riding, golf, tennis, swimming, nature walks, and more.

2. Take the historic walking tour of downtown Wickenburg. A free brochure is available at the Chamber of Commerce. It will guide you past Wickenburg’s historic buildings and locations, with interesting tidbits of information to describe each one. The walk isn’t long and it’s a great way to see the town.

3. Visit the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Who would think that a small town like Wickenburg could have such an incredible collection of western art? Located on Frontier Street in town, the museum is a great place to visit any time of the year. If you’re a fan of Western Art, you may want to plan your visit to Wickenburg around the museum’s calendar. Check the museum’s Web site,, for an up-to-date listing of lectures, exhibits, and special events, or call them at 928-684-2272. Museum admission is $5 per person, with discounts for AAA members, seniors, and children.

4. Visit the Hassayampa River Preserve. Located five miles south of town on the Phoenix Highway, the Hassayampa River Preserve offers easy, self-guided hiking trails through both desert and riparian environments. It’s a bird-watcher’s paradise! The visitor’s center includes interpretive exhibits and a gift shop. The suggested donation is $5 per person. Call them for more information at 928-684-2772.

5. Have breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Although the airport doesn’t have a restaurant (yet), there are plenty of dining opportunities in town. The airport staff would be happy to make recommendations (and reservations, if required). Check the literature rack in the airport for menus and other information.

6. Go shopping. Downtown Wickenburg has a number of interesting shops offering a variety of merchandise. Don’t miss the shops on North Tegner, West Apache, and East Wickenburg Way.

7. Go horseback riding. Trails West Horseback Adventures is one of several local outfits that offer horseback tours through the Sonoran desert. Tours range in length from one hour to all day, and five-day pack trips are also available. Give them a call at 928-684-2600 to learn more.

8. Take a helicopter tour. In addition to running the FBO at the airport, Flying M Air offers helicopter tours of the Wickenburg area. If you’ve never been aloft in a helicopter, this is your chance to do it, one-on-one with the pilot, in a Robinson R22 Beta II. Tours start at just $30 and reservations are recommended. Call 928-231-0196 for details or pick up a brochure at the airport.

9. Go for an off-road tour. BC Jeep Tours offers tours of the desert and mountains around Wickenburg in real Willys Jeeps. Prices vary based on tour length and destinations. Call them at 928-684-7901 for details. Be sure to ask about tours to Box Canyon, a local favorite destination, and the abandoned mines along Constellation Road.

10. Hike up Vulture Peak. This 3660-foot mountain is less than five miles south of the airport on Vulture Mine Road. Bring a picnic lunch with plenty of drinking water or use the Wickenburg airport’s catering service to arrange for an appropriate box lunch with beverages for your party. Then use the airport’s shuttle service for a lift to the trailhead. The hike isn’t long, and only the last quarter mile can be considered moderately strenuous. Enjoy lunch at the saddle or at the very top of the peak. (This is a hike for the fall, winter, or spring; in summertime, it’s just too hot.) The views are great and, best of all, it’s free.

You can learn more about Wickenburg businesses and things to do by calling the Chamber of Commerce at 928-684-5479, or by visiting a local Web site just chock full of information about the town,

At the airport, the FBO, Flying M Air, provides free transportation for pilots and their passengers to or from town via a shuttle or courtesy car. This makes it easy to go beyond airport boundaries and see what Wickenburg is all about.

If you’re planning to stay a few days, you can rent a car from the local Ford dealer, Jones Ford. Because availability is a bit limited, it’s a good idea to make arrangements in advance by calling them at 928-684-5481. Wickenburg has a number of motels, including Best Western Rancho Grande (928-684-5445), Los Viajeros Inn (928-684-7099), and Super 8 Motel (928-684-0808), all of which are in or near downtown Wickenburg.

Flying In

No matter where you fly in from, you’ll cross miles of fascinating desert terrain on your way to Wickenburg. During rainy months (normally July and August and sometimes January), the Sonoran desert floor is spotted with patches of green grass among scattered mesquite and palo verde trees, stubby creosote bushes, long-armed ocotillo plants, and—of course—saguaro, prickly pear, and barrel cacti. Tree-ringed cattle tanks—man-made ponds that provide drinking water for free-range cattle—will be full, reflecting scattered clouds as you fly over. You’ll see the cattle, too, and the starburst trails that lead from the open range to their water supply. In drier months, there’s less green and less water, and you’re more likely to notice the scars left on the landscape by the passing of water over the land.

To the north and northeast are the Weaver and Bradshaw Mountains, which top off at about 6500 and 8000 feet respectively, although there are plenty of passes perfect for small aircraft to fly at lower elevations. The Vulture Mountains lie just south of the airport, with Wickenburg’s major landmark, Vulture Peak, topping out at 3660 feet. The 4600 foot Wickenburg Mountains are to the east and the Harquahala and Harcuvar Mountains, at 5700 and 5100 feet respectively, lie to the west. The rough and rugged terrain of these mountains is host to old mining operations and a variety of wildlife and vegetation.

Between all of these mountain ranges are long valleys, most of which offer roads and private airstrips for emergency landing opportunities. Some of them are covered with rich green squares of farming communities, while others are “barren” Sonoran wilderness.

The Gladden 1 MOA is north and west of the airport. According to the current Phoenix sectional chart, this MOA is utilized from 7000 feet or 5000 feet AGL, whichever is higher, from 0600 to 1900 Monday through Friday. Southeast of the airport is Alert Area A-231, the Luke AFB jet training area, which is in operation from 500 AGL to 6500 feet all the time. Neither of these areas are so active that they affect aircraft travel in and around Wickenburg. But if you plan on flying in from either direction, you may want get information about the status of the area you may be flying through. Check the Phoenix sectional chart for details.

The weather in Wickenburg is typical of Arizona’s low desert, with clear skies most days of the year. Autumn, winter, and spring are comfortably warm during the day, but can get cold at night. Summer, especially during the July and August monsoon season, is hot both day and night. That’s also when you’ll encounter scattered and isolated thunderstorms and plenty of afternoon thermals. The best time to fly during the summer months is early in the day, before noon.


Wickenburg’s runway 5/23 is nearly a mile long and 75 feet wide. It can accommodate all kinds of aircraft, from ultralights and helicopters to corporate and personal jets. The runway and adjacent taxiway are smooth surfaced and well-marked, and feature pilot controlled lighting at night. Runway 23, which is preferred for all light wind conditions, has a clear approach without obstructions and PAPI lights.

The airport has ample transient tie-down parking and, with advance notice, overnight hangar space can often be arranged. Fees for overnight tie-down are reasonable. Fuel prices for both 100LL and JetA are well within the average price range charged by other Arizona airports. The airport accepts all major credit cards and, of course, cash. It even participates in the Avtrip program, so you can earn points when you fuel up.

The airport office, under the new management of Flying M Air, LLC, is open 12 hours a day, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. It offers pilot supplies, including oil, charts, aviation sundries, and light refreshments. The air-conditioned building has been renovated and redecorated with new furniture and fixtures, an Internet weather and flight planning station, and a pilot lounge. The airport staff is friendly and helpful, and they certainly know how to make visitors feel welcome. It’s a great place to stop for a rest, even if you don’t plan on making the trip into town.

Under Flying M Air’s management, Wickenburg Airport will be host to a wide variety of aviation-related events, including airplane washes, aviation flea markets, pilot seminars, weekend getaways, poker runs, pancake breakfasts, barbeques, fly-ins, and air shows. Although many events are still in the planning phase, you can learn more about what’s coming up on the airport event calendar by checking the airport Web site,, or by giving the airport a call at 928-684-5690.

One thing that’s already underway is Sunday Morning Coffee & Donuts, where pilots gather on Sunday mornings for “hangar flying” from 7:00 to 11:00 am, with fresh coffee and donuts provided by the FBO.

Wickenburg is a small town with limited funding for the airport. Not all of the town’s leaders are convinced that the airport is as important as local pilots think it is.

You can help keep Wickenburg Airport well-staffed and well-maintained by spreading the word that you flew in. Be sure to mention it at shops, restaurants, and other businesses you visit, as well as if you call or visit the Chamber of Commerce. The pilots who utilize the airport on a regular basis are counting on your help!

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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