On the Trail – Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

As tradition requires, we set out on New Years day to scout for possible camping sites in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. We knew that during the winter months, this area Southwest of the Phoenix and North of Yuma becomes a hot spot for boon docking for many escaping the winters in the North. The area allowed camping up to 14 days and at a price point of “o” it is a pretty good deal.

Sam first scouted the area with Google Earth and we had an idea where we would like to camp, but we were sure we would be able to get the trailer into this area. A reconnaissance trip seemed to be the smart thing to do. It also got us out of the house after 10 months of mostly just staying home. Outside of a hurry up trip to Portland to pick up the new trailer and see the kids and grand kids, the pandemic took us out of our weekend routine of camping or taking the jeep out for a weekend ride and we were getting a little stir crazy. The inertia of staying home trying to mitigate how much we were out in public seemed to take hold and I am sorry to say that we did not travel the backroads of Arizona like we normally do. Each year we send a Christmas card out to our families highlighting our adventures. This year, all we had to show was pictures of food. Now don’t get me wrong, Sam is an exceptional cook and we tried many different recipes and some new twists on old ones but it doesn’t replace getting out and enjoying the wonderful state we call home Wow, we needed to get out! Staying home each weekend became easier and easier.

Palms on the Palm Canyon Trail

The first day of 2021 seemed like a great time to check out the Kofa area. We had visited this area several years ago to hike the Palm Canyon Trail. The easy 1/2 mile trail leads to a crack in the canyon wall where you can see palms growing. I know what your thinking, everyone in Phoenix plants palm trees – except these are native and it is believed these palms are from a species that was in the area during the North American Glaciation. This was worth seeing, so if you are in the area check it out.

We loaded our camp chairs, a picnic and our dog Bruce and headed South. Being in the Phoenix area, it was only a 2 hour drive to the Refuge off SR 95. We turned West onto Palm Canyon Road and followed it for a short way to the kiosk information area. The road was a washboard, so if we were towing our 30 foot trailer we would have been going really slow and still probably had a “clean up on aisle five” or two. We saw quite a few full campsites with everything from tents and pop up trailers to large class A buses. There is plenty of wide open space to camp, but with low brush and mesquite trees even if you are 100 feet away from the next campsite, there is no privacy. Those that know us know that our search for privacy is for their benefit more than ours.

Example of Chollas Cactus – “Don’t pet the cactus”

Our goal was the Kofa Queen Mine Road which was just past the information kiosk. Not long after making the turn onto the road, we realized that we would not have been able to make some of the low crossings without scraping the bottom of the trailer or worst, tearing off important parts…….but with a 4-wheel drive jeep, it was just a Sunday drive. The road zig zagged the first several miles through a gentle climb with a beautiful view of the rugged mountains. We saw saguaros, Ocotillos and a ton of Cholla Cactus also called Jumping Chollas although they don’t “Jump” because they are plants! but still not to be trifled keeping us and the dog inside the Jeep. We made it to the first set of large monoliths that stood guard over the entrance to the canyon and pulled off the road to to check out a popular camping spot that Sam found on Google Earth even though we had already decided we couldn’t get the camp trailer in we still wanted to see the view. There were several others doing the same thing and the view was spectacular and even though we were moving at a crawl to minimize dust and noise, we still managed to piss off the person camped there. As a side note, if your camped on public land next to a busy road with the best view for 100’s of miles you cant be grumpy to others wanting to see the view…….that’s why they are called “Public Lands”. We then rejoined the road and continued winding our way through the narrow canyon. Once we entered the canyon, the view changed every time we turned a corner.

Balancing Boulder – Gap big enough to crawl through
Skull Rock

The canyon walls were made up of giant monoliths and huge sheer walls reaching hundreds and in some places a thousands of feet up into the desert sky. We saw several interesting rock formations including one huge boulder that you could crawl under (if your skinny and brave) and another that looked like a giant skull. These rugged peaks seemed to be the perfect place for big horned sheep or deer and we kept scanning the ridge lines and high cliffs, but never saw one. We met several other vehicles, trucks, side by sides, trail bikes and hikers. This is a rugged but still well traveled road. We even saw a Mercedes, but it turned around not going much further into the canyon when they realized that much of the road is a a river bottom with lots of sand and rock littered with mesquite trees standing by to apply a fresh coat of Arizona pinstripes (scratches for those not in the know).

Bruce and his favorite toy

We were about a mile from the end of the road when we decided to pull over to eat a sandwich and let the dog run. We enjoyed the sandwiches and Bruce enjoyed chasing his ball and greeting the sometime less than friendly hikers. I think the fact that we were in a Jeep and they were walking gave them a slight sense of superiority. The road then comes to a very anticlimactic end with a loop that takes you back through the canyon. The views alone are worth the trip.

Cheers to a year of traveling the backroads of Arizona and beyond

– Sam and Lisa

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