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| Vicki Hill | Trip Reports

2008 Trip Reports - Kofa Mountains

Kofa “Wasteland” Trip  

OCT 18-19 2008

by Vicki Hill

The Stone Cabin was boarded up and deserted. No colorful flags flying, but parked out front were two Desert Explorer vehicles with our friends waiting for us in the heat of the afternoon. Carol, with her fly swatter, and Allan ( our one and only President)with a smile.

Even though many members were interested in the trip, the heat, cost of gas and commitments kept them away. The trip was far from a disappointment though, despite the heat. And it WAS hot. 100 degrees at times. That Friday afternoon Dave and I drove into the Gray Tanks area of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Our camp produced a wonderful view of the Castle Dome mountains and the Eye in the Sky balloon, floating above us on it’s tether.

Early Saturday morning a truck drove in to the Tanks and soon we heard shooting. I knew it was hunting season for birds but wondered why they call it a refuge if hunting is allowed. They offer a nice brochure as you are driving in that explains all of the regulations. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has strict regulations for all types of hunting. Soon one of their helicopters flew over to check things out. (More about that later).

We drove south to the Castle Dome Silver Mines Museum and Ghost Town, as their new brochure describes it. We couldn’t take a tour of the mines because they required a minimum of 8 people for the tour. Although many people showed up while we were walking around the 25 restored buildings, it was still too hot to take the tour. Next time!

The area has a rich history dating back to 1864. You can read about the people who lived in Castle Dome City that year….all 12 of them. Silver galena mining lasted there until 1979. The owners of this gem in the desert have collected artifacts and antiques from the era to fill the buildings, each with a theme. Many people drop by because they are curious about what this cluster of buildings is doing out there, including pilots from the Yuma proving grounds next door. Lately they have been having re-enactments and gunfights with horses and people in period costumes. Stephanie Armstrong and her husband Allen have been slowly adding over the years and often take contributions from those who want a great place to have grandma’s old piano end up. I’m considering giving them my inkwell collection.

If you like the old west, this is a place you want to visit. They are open Tues-Sun 10-5.(928)920-3062.

(It’s too far to drive unless you have the details).

After lunch in the shade of their porch, we headed into the reserve towards our destination, Thumb Butte.

The roads are more chewed up than last year, since they had some heavy rains. A little soft sand while crossing washes, but we made it without 4WD and camped on the desert pavement near the Butte.

Soon afterwards the live entertainment began in the form of a young man from San Diego who drove up and parked next to us, got out of his truck and started walking. Strange. But we sat down to happy hour with our binoculars and spotting scopes to watch him quickly go over to the Butte and begin to free climb (without equipment)the rock.

This always makes me nervous, but before I could think “rescue party”, he started back down. After several attempts, arm waving and talking to himself, he gave up and walked back to the vehicles. He declined our offer of dinner, saying he had to get back to town. It was a relief to not have to be calling his mother with bad news, but something tells me he will be back some day, hopefully with more experience and a companion.

I was hoping for a relaxing weekend, and thought that was not the way to start it!

The pure sunlight coming through the Ocotillos was magic enough to get us up and about taking photos just before the sun went down. Allan continued to taking more of the moon later on, using his tripod.

Our potluck was gourmet with Carol’s cool mango salad and Allan’s Sopa de Kofa. Yummy! Recipe to show up in the newsletter soon.

On Sunday morning Dave decided to read, so the rest of us took a walk in the wash below the Butte. Many wildflowers were still out and the remarkable thing about that area is that there is NO trash. Not even a cigarette butt.

The odd pieces of metal we found were very old. Dave did find the rusted radiator frame of an old Chevy, with the blue enamel word still shiny and intact!

Unfortunately, Carol had to leave after lunch to get back to work. So the three of us settled down and kicked back to read and draw. Allan completed a very good pencil drawing of the area, which he says is his first ever. I don’t believe him. I used watercolor to do my sketch of the multicolored rugged rocks nearby.

The entertainment arrived in the afternoon in the form of noise above us. A helicopter dipped and flew around the Butte and nearby peaks, over and over. We thought at first that it was the immigration service looking for people on foot. It didn’t make sense that they would be up there!?

On Monday as we drove out, we saw a Fish and Game encampment and realized that they were probably doing a Bighorn sheep count from the air. What a job! Sitting in the open door of a chopper, flying over some of the most beautiful country and seeing sheep jump from rock to rock. There is a successful herd of 800-1000 in the refuge. They are so prolific that the herd is used to transplant throughout Arizona and other states.

After that things quieted down and we sat in the silence, except for a bird now and then.

What a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

We saw no one else until they next day on our way out. We saw a can dump near some mine debris and looked it over. One of the collapsed buildings had a roof made of Ocotillo stalks and dirt. The Castle Dome mining district is dotted with old mine shafts and adits, which could be explored on foot. Also in the area is the Big Eye mine at the end of the same road we were on. That is a nice, easy hike with an adit that has narrow gauge tracks still running into it. There are old cabins that have been fixed up if you wanted to stay. The whole area is a beautiful garden of Palo Verde, Ironwood, Ocotillo, Saguaro and cactus. It would be a great winter destination if you have the time.

As we drove out to highway 95 the Stone Cabin was coming to life again. The owner was preparing for his winter season of serving tourists hamburgers, buffalo burgers, ”real” milkshakes and more. The upcoming swap meet in Quartzsite will bring customers in droves.

If you want to know more of the history of the Stone Cabin, you can read about the two women who operated it for 35 years at the Museum just down the road.

We drove into Quartzsite to visit our favorite outdoor hardware store then to an excellent lunch at a café.

We said goodbye to Allan and headed west towards home. As we passed the rocks in the Hayfield area of I-10 we decided to try this trip again, only closer to home. So, this upcoming spring we’d like to have another “magic” weekend of contemplation, art, reflection and study of our beautiful desert. There should be a display of flowers to enjoy and paint, photograph and smell.

Next time I want to see you there.