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2023 Trip Report - Arizona Peace Trail

Arizona Peace Trail

Yuma to Salome – February 1-3, 2023

Trip Report by Bill Smith • Photos by Julie Smith & Ingo Werk

Bright and early on Wednesday morning, February 1st, five members of the Desert Explorers got together for a three day journey on the Arizona Peace Trail, from Yuma, AZ to Salome, AZ. After a delicious McDonald’s breakfast, Bill & Julie Smith, Glenn Shaw, and Ingo & Mary Werk, accompanied by dachshund brothers Coco and Dino, set out for a 218 mile jaunt.

The Arizona Peace Trail is a 679 mile loop off-road trail consisting of varying types of roads, some asphalt and graded dirt; however, the majority are off-road requiring a high clearance 4x4 vehicle. We experienced all of these on our adventure. The trail spans tracts of federal and state public lands, Arizona trust land, and private property.

Wednesday’s travels took us through agricultural land in the Yuma area. We began by following the trail through a complex network of levee roads around several irrigation canals to Mittry Lake. We toured the east side of the lake, driving through miles of boondocking sites in the Mittry Lake free camping area, passing through the Mittry Lake Wildlife Area, and on through the southwest corner of 1,300 square mile Yuma Proving Ground. There we discovered the Yuma Proving Ground Heritage Center. The Heritage Center is a museum featuring the many forms of heavy armament used by the US Army from WWII to present. Though the parking area is open with much to see, the Heritage Center is closed indefinitely. We then circled back to the Peace Trail east of Yuma to the historic Butterfield Stage Road for our trek northeastward.

Things went smoothly for the first few hours of the trip. Our luck didn’t hold. Before lunch, as we were traveling between Gila Canal and the Union Pacific Railroad, we discovered a large mud pit in our path. Being the ever vigilant leader, I made the decision to take a short bypass around the mud. Unfortunately, what looked like solid roadbed turned out to be a very slick, sloping muddy surface. About halfway through the bypass, our Jeep and Ingo’s Tacoma slid sideways downhill and became mired in thick, heavy, clinging mud. Thankfully, Glenn had a good tow strap and was able to pull Ingo backwards out to the main road. When he attempted to pull me out, however, we both found ourselves stuck. After much deliberation, we decided that the only solution was to drive further down into the gulley and go for broke. Thankfully, the plan was successful, and according to Julie, quite fun to watch.

For the remainder of the first day, due to recent heavy rains in the area, we slogged through large mud puddles requiring four wheel drive and a lot of patience and luck to arrive at our first night’s camp site, overnighting at the site of Camp Horn, one of General Patton’s desert training areas. We enjoyed dinner and a campfire, before turning in for a hard-earned night’s rest.

On Thursday, after waking up to a chilly 34 degree morning, we explored the remnants of Camp Horn before striking out for the town of Dateland, where we fueled up and cleaned mud off the windows and lights so that we could see and be seen. Traveling the second day was less eventful. Just as we left Dateland, we drove past the construction site of a huge solar farm. We continued through many washes and across a range of hills that offered breathtaking vistas. Upon descending, we discovered a vast expanse of varied vegetation, but the main feature for the remainder of the day was the sheer beauty of the surrounding area, particularly the hundreds of Saguaro cacti. Absolutely stunning!

We visited several points of interest on the second day. The list included an old Arizona Game & Fish warden’s cabin that had two large guzzlers on site. We also explored a site called Aztec Rocks. During WWII and a few years following, military pilots trained in the area. At this site is spelled out in rocks AZTEC with a directional arrow and the number 41, signifying that the town of Aztec was 41 more miles in a southeasterly direction. Also at the site is a large arrow made of rocks with a large N in the center showing pilots the way north. Though impressive from the ground, one would have to fly over or use a drone to get the full visual impact of the formations.

We continued toward the border of Yuma and La Paz counties for our evening camping. We had one last treat before reaching the site, which was a steep, rocky crawl out of a wash just north of Aztec Rocks. We all made it up the grade with no injuries or damage. We stopped for the evening at the county line, camping at a site that likely was the most scenic place along the journey. We were surrounded by many cactus varieties and the very craggy Little Horn Mountains.

Friday was the most challenging day. Before leaving the Little Horn Mountains area, we visited Royal Arch, a beautiful natural arch in the hills adjacent to our campsite. Further along our way we visited Bob Crowder Memorial Dam, which is an earthen dam built to sustain cattle in the desert area. The dam is dedicated to Bob Crowder, who had the vision, fortitude, and ambition to develop water sources in the many desert areas of Arizona. Across from the dam we visited an interesting cattle tank with stock pens. Crossing I-10, we located a roadside cemetery across from the working Golden Eagle mine known as the Chinese Graves. This is in the Harquahala region, an area that once was home to 400-500 residents who supported early gold mining in the area. The Chinese Graves cemetery has over 50 graves, which research shows to be the final resting place of primarily Asian immigrant mine workers and their children.

From this point, the trail becomes a very challenging, narrow mountain roadway with many sharp turns, steep rocky elevation changes, and deep, narrow washes, all of which put our off-road driving skills to the test. This section, though less than five miles long, took over two hours to complete. Successfully completing this stretch of nerve wracking trail found the group on the edge of Salome and at the end of our journey. We topped off the event with a celebratory Mexican feast at the Cactus Bar and Grill. The group consensus was that the trip, though challenging at times, was a rewarding trek through some of the most beautiful desert landscape one could hope to encounter. ~ Mr. Bill