February 17 through 19, 2001
by Bob Jaussaud
They were known as the S.H. Mountains because of the distinctive outhouse profile you can see when looking at them from the west. Later, the name was changed to the Short Horn Mountains to meet with the sensibilities of the gentler sex. Then, after Charlie Eichelberger sat down to rest in a shelter cave and saw the gold vein that gave birth to the "King of Arizona" Mine, these rugged mountains in southwestern Arizona became know as the KOFAs.
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On Presidents' Day weekend of 1999 Sue and I led our first DE trip into the Kofas. It was a good trip and we thought we'd like to do it again. So...on the spur of the moment at the February DE meeting, we took advantage of the unscheduled Presidents' Day weekend of 2001 and planned our return. There was not enough time to publish this Kofa trip in the Newsletter (sorry), but John Page agreed to put it on the DE web site. Seven vehicles made the last-minute rendezvous at the Stone Cabin. The vehicles' occupants included Sue and I with Toby, Ken Sears with Ben, Vicki Hill, Joan McGovern-White, Bill Ott, Lorene Crawford, Betty Wallin, and Charles and Mary Hughes.
A February storm had just blown through and the weather at the Stone Cabin was windy and very cold, but we figured we were tough and had plenty of libations and firewood. After tying Charles' power steering pump back on, we headed east over the pass and into the King Valley. These days almost all of the Kofas are included in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, which actually encompasses two mountain ranges; the Kofas and the Castle Dome Mountains. In 1999, we entered the King Valley and turned north into the Kofas. This time, we turned south into the Castle Dome Mountains. I figured we'd make a short loop in these southern mountains, probably only part of a day, then we'd head north into the Kofas. Our primary goal of the trip was to see and enjoy areas of the refuge we had not visited before. Our secondary goal was to visit some early man sites we had been made aware of, all located in the Kofas proper. Deciding on a short cutoff to see some tanks, we edged the north side of the Castle Domes. Little White Tank was located in a beautiful canyon approached through a trail of wildflowers brought out by the recent rains.
The ladies thought we were kidding when Charles and I told them we'd found petroglyphs above the tank. After lunch at Little White Tank, we moved on and hiked into Figueroa Tank, then used most of the remaining afternoon hiking in search of Saguaro Tank. The tank eluded us, but the sight of five healthy bighorn sheep was our reward.
We camped on a small plateau under Castle Dome, where we could see far across the valley, to the location of the King of Arizona Mine on the south side of the Kofas. The evening was comfortably warm around the campfire after a super potluck.
The morning of day two, we were in McPherson Pass. I don't know who McPherson was, but he must have been involved with the King of Arizona Mine at the turn of the century. In those days they hauled ore from the mine to the dock at Yuma. On the return trip, they hauled water back to the mine.
Approaching McPherson Pass, we paralleled a very deep and al-one-time well-used wagon road. Sure enough, we were following the most direct route between the mine and Yuma. We could almost hear the wagons. On the south side of the pass, we decided to hike to Ladder Tank. Most of us missed it, but we would have hiked anyway just to enjoy the weather and the wildflowers. Ladder Tank is so named for the moki-like steps leading up to the higher pool.
Thus far we had seen very few other people. That changed when we went by the Desert Mine Museum with its graded road access to Highway 95. There were lots of 2wds and RVs. We were glad to resume our 4wd adventure on the little road to the Big Eye Mine on the south side of the Castle Dome Mountains. We had lunch along the road away from the multitudes.
Our road became more rugged and beautiful after lunch. As we climbed back into the mountains, we passed a perfect camp site. The road finally ended at a turn-around, only a quarter mile below the Big Eye Mine according to a jeep group parked there. They volunteered that it was well worth the short hike to the mine. Vicki, Joan, Mary, Sue and I started up the trail, while everyone else hurried back to secure the good camp site and start happy hour. The mine trail led steadily uphill to a pass. In spite of the climb, the four talking ladies never hesitated for breath, but were almost speechless when we reached the pass and saw the old mining cabins still standing. Inside, the stove, bed, table, chairs and a sink remained. A short ways further on was the mine itself, complete with railroad tracks, pneumatic mining tools, and a blacksmith forge. The view from this mine was spectacular, perhaps equaled only by the view from the Gladstone Mine above Shoshone.
Heading back to camp, we made one last stop with the intent of using the remaining daylight to hike into Castle Rock Dam following an old road closed by the refuge. This road led down into a canyon, then up to the top of the next ridge where we saw it continued on into the King Valley, far in the distance. The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 and they have done a wonderful job of preserving the area while still allowing reasonable access. Even though, we all agreed that it still hurt to see this once "through road" closed. As daylight faded in the canyon below us, we saw a buck deer in full velvet running along the old road. Aw well...
Next morning came too soon. Bill Ott was marvelous as host of the preceding evening's campfire following another wonderful feed. After breaking camp for the last time this trip, we hiked into Dixon Spring. Although the spring was dry, the very old camping debris scattered there indicated this was an historic spot. Back at the road, Ken demonstrated a keyless entry for Joan's locked vehicle.
It was time for most of us to head back to Highway 95 and home. Not needing to face the long drive back into the city, Charles and Mary, Sue, Toby, and I used the afternoon to finally explore in the actual Kofa Mountains. We found the road into Kofa Queen Canyon, but we'll keep those details for a future trip.