Tuesday, November 24, 2020

KofA National Wildlife Refuge - Cabins, Mines and Beautiful Mountains

Calamity Jane at Skull Rock in the KofA National Wildlife Refuge

Six years.  It's been six years since I was in the KofA/Castle Dome Mountain area.  Six years since I visited the Big Eye Mine with Bailey - and Paul!  Yes - it was Paul and my second outing in April of 2014 - we had Duner and his family along, as well as Alex.  But this time - it was just me and Paul - and Calamity Jane with her new shocks (Bilstein 5100) and lift (Toytec)!  It was an AMAZING day!

Lewis & Clark, Calamity Jane, Alex's Jeep and Duner's FJ
in April of 2014 at the entrance to the KofA

This trip was planned sort of last minute - we had a number of destinations we were trying to go see, and had to make a choice as to where we were going to go.  Because we decided to scuba dive on Saturday, we only had the one day - so we chose to go to the KofA, which is short for the King of Arizona - a group of mining claims south of Quartzite and north of Yuma on the 95.  Paul and I had previously been to the Castle Dome Mountains (Big Eye Mine) in 2014, which is closer to Yuma than where we went this time - but I remember just loving the rugged looking mountains - they remind me somewhat of Red Rocks in Colorado - they jut up at odd angles, and just come rising up out of the desert like some underground hand just pushed them up and out of the Earth's crust.  I love it out here.  In addition - the KofA region of Arizona is one of the earliest mining areas in the entire state.  It is bordered by the Colorado River, so back in the mid to late 1800's when the Colorado flowed of it's own accord and we had steamboats on the river, this area was a lucrative settlement for people.   The KofA and Castle Dome Mountains are, in my opinion, some of the prettiest in the state - challenged only by the beauty of the Chiricahua's in the southeastern portion of Arizona.  

KofA National Wildlife Refuge
We meant to start out early.  We always do, but we slept in, then laid around reading the news and having coffee and tea.  But then we packed up my new turquoise Canyon Cooler with drinks, snacks and icea, and off we went to start the 2 hour drive to Quartzsite where we would top off Calamity Jane and head south on the 95.  

Our first stop was at a group of mining claims - some of which are on private property and are not accessible, some of which are on the KofA refuge.  I will not be giving specifics on these mines because of the pristine condition in which a number of them remain.  But wow - we started out our day strong - and it was by far one of the coolest stops we've ever made!  

One of the Cabins at our first stop
As we explored our first stop, we discovered several cabins, a workshop, a machine shop, and an amazing mill/processing building which was remarkably intact.  Several engines which ran a number of different portions of the operation were found, and Paul was able to explain how almost everything worked.  It was fascinating seeing how the different buildings were tied together with pulleys and following the lines we were able to figure out how things ran from the mill/processing building right down to the machine shop. We discovered a HUGE drill press, which Paul works in the below video - we were surprised that a) it was still there and b) it still worked quite well!  This was also run by a belt (the belt is no longer there) powered by some of the engines in the mill/processing building.  

Old flathead 6 Chrysler Industrial engine

Paul loves to tinker - and he will dig around and explore even more than I will - he will go places I won't go - but he always knows when I'm going to regret not seeing something - so he climbed steep and rickety stairs, came back and got me, made sure I went up to see all the "things," and when we exited the main mill/processing building, he went up to look at another shed, and came back to get me because he knew I wasn't going to want to miss it - the actual mine adit.  He was right - every single thing I saw just continued to amaze me!  I don't think either Paul or I have been to a site so perfect since back in 2014 when we visited another amazing mining site in the middle of the state with Bailey and my brother.  We spent several hours at this mining complex - and we plan to go back soon.  

It always amuses me how interested Paul is in all these old workings.  I'm fascinated just by the amount of stuff - but Paul is interested in how it works.  When we got home from this particular trip, Paul must have spent 2 hours researching this Flathead 6 Chrysler Industrial engine - he found videos of what it would sound like, he found a marine version, and he played every single video (and made me listen to most of them!  Ha).  And then he spent hours researching a Servel gas refrigerator we saw up there.  

O'Keefe Merritt Stove/Oven combo
I do a different kind of research - I researched the stove/oven combos we found, kitchen appliances, some of the books found in the cabins, and the history of the mine - I love to read about what kind of minerals were found, when they were found, who owned it and when, and the timeline of the mine as well.  Together, Paul and I spend HOURS researching after our trips - the hours we spend together learning about where we just were makes my heart just burst - I've never explored with someone who had as much interest in not just the off-roading to get there, but the actual history of the people and place itself!  

But - in true Paul and Bobbi Jo form, we had several other places to visit as well!  Including the famous Skull Rock.  So we left the mining district we were in, and headed back to the 95 to go up to the Queen Palm Canyon area to find Skull Rock.

Calamity Jane in front of Signal Peak

Now Paul was the one that knew about Skull Rock - and we plan to go back.  It's a VERY cool rock formation - it wasn't difficult to get to although you are in a wash for more than half the drive (so be careful if you go during a storm).  Here, though, the scenery was amazing.  Beyond amazing.  Stunning is a better word for it.  We kept stopping to take photos of the mountains.  Well, and of my truck.  Because hey - she has new shocks, a lift and new bump stops (all thanks to Paul).  She didn't bottom out once - and the ride is so much smoother than it was.  And hey - she looks awesome 3 inches taller!  Paul and I both noticed a big difference in the comfort of the ride on washboard and just bouncing around.  Best improvement in a long time!  

Bobbi Jo at Skull Rock
Skull Rock has been used as a camp site for years - and in fact, when you are standing inside the base of the rock itself, it smells heavily of fire - it does make some amazing photos when you have this ghostly skull with fire coming out of its mouth staring out of the dark desert at you - that will have to be another trip, however.  

Behind Skull Rock is a very tall, vertical rock which is balanced on two smaller rocks - you can actually see through the area underneath that tall rock.  Again - the rock formations here in KofA are just amazing!  Paul and I poked around for a bit, but realizing we had other things to go see, we again headed out towards the 95 and went up to another trail...

Box Canyon on tbe way to De La Osa Well

This next trail was a bit rougher in a few spots - but we never once hit my BudBuilt skid plates!  And we bounced along for quite a long ways all while looking for the De La Osa Ranch cabin.  Well - we were in for a surprise.  Apparently, a watershed covering and a cabin look exactly the same to me on Google Earth.  So I repeatedly said to Paul (who is driving) "who the heck puts a ranch cabin all the way out here and the road is so bad?"  

Hmmm - well, we got out there and turns out it is the De La Osa WELL.  Not cabin.  Or ranch.  Absolutely no idea how I came up with it being a ranch.  Paul was mildly amused by my mistake.  Mildly.  But the windmill was in excellent condition, and we were originally going to go up to High Tank 8 to check out the watershed up there, but it was getting late and we had a VERY long drive out - and still more to see!  So we started to head back to the 95, but then decided to change our route and head overland to the Kofa Cabin.  We turned off back the road right outside the Box Canyon and headed northeast.  
De La Osa Windmill

This route was long, and while not terribly rough, there were a TON of washes as we crossed through the KofA Wildlife area on designated roads (you aren't allowed to be on roads that are not designated roads).  The washes were generally the kind of washes that you "drop" down in to, and then climb out of on the other side.  Lots of sand and dirt, and by this time, it is pushing 4 p.m.  We wanted to be done looking at all of the "things" no later than 5, because we knew once we were done at the Kofa Cabin we had about an hour drive out, and we weren't sure the quality of the El Paso Natural Gas Company Access Road we were going to follow out.  

Kofa Cabin

The desert was beautiful, and just as we popped out of the last wash and I mentioned that GaiaGPS  (our number one choice for off road mapping and navigation) showed us close, we could see the Kofa Cabin!  Now the Kofa Cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps ("CCC").  The CCC was made up primarily of young Native Americans from the Colorado Indian Tribes Reservation, and they built not only this cabin, but several earthen and rock reservoirs in the KofA area, including the Four Peaks Dam in the late 1930's.  This cabin is exceptionally well constructed of basalt stone, and is open to the public for camping on a first come, first serve basis.  

After a quick exploration of the Kofa Cabin, we head out on to the El Paso Natural Gas Company Access Road (longest road name ever) and start the long trek back out to the 95.  Approximately a 25 mile drive on a graded dirt road with nothing much to see except tons and tons of gas pipeline signs, we finally exited the KofA National Wildlife Refuge, aired up Calamity Jane's tires, and headed back in to Quartzsite.  It was time for some dinner, so we found a cute little cafe off the beaten path in Quartzsite - the Mountain Quail Cafe.  Awesome burgers, and great service - if you get a chance - go there!  Well worth it!!

We had full tummies, a full tank of gas, and a 2 hour drive home.  It was dark, we were tired, but we were still so happy about our day, the findings at the mining complex, and just the fun of getting out while it's so nice in Arizona!  The KofA didn't disappoint - it didn't in 2014, and it didn't in 2020.  We look forward to coming back soon!
Desert Labyrinth on the way to Palm Canyon in the KofA


Friday, November 13, 2020

Mogollon Rim

Mogollon Rim - Rim Road

Ahh - cool mountain air - camping in Northern Arizona on the Mogollon Rim is an absolute joy! 

Blair Witch Tree
Paul and I have been planning this weekend for a little bit - we wanted to get away to somewhere cold. Somewhere where I didn't have phone service. Somewhere deep in the pines. We chose a favorite place of Paul's up on the Mogollon Rim where he has camped many times before. It's been well over a decade since I've been up on the Rim - I used to go up to Greer in my younger days to stay when I would go skiing at Sunrise - my favorite Arizona ski resort. But it's been a very long time. I've camped up this way before, but it's just not an area of Arizona that I've frequented over the years. 

We loaded up Lewis & Clark and her matching trailer (for sleeping - we were expecting snow) with all the things we thought we would need - and some stuff we probably didn't. On Friday afternoon as soon as Paul got off work, we packed up and left town. There was clearly a storm blowing in, but we beat all the traffic heading North into Payson, stopped for a bite to eat at Sonic in Payson while I told Paul about "historic" Payson, fueled up, hit up the casino to use the bathrooms (eww - they still allow smoking in there), and got back on the road to head out to the Rim Road.

As we headed out of town, it cooled down drastically - there was a great deal of cloud cover and the wind was blowing.  As we turned off on to the Rim Road, it was clear it was going to rain, but we still had about an hour of driving to do to get to where we wanted to be - buried so deep we wouldn't see anyone else out there the entire weekend unless we wanted to!

Bull Elk on Night One
We considered ourselves extremely lucky when we first pulled off the main Rim Road onto FR91 - shortly after pulling off, a GIANT elk bound across the road right in the path of our lights, and stopped about 30 feet into the woods and just looked at us.  We took a few pictures - although none are great - but he was majestic!  He was largest elk we would see all weekend.  Shortly after seeing this magnificent creature, we saw another run across the road far in front of us - we watched his eyes flash at us as he moved through the forest over toward Gentry Ridge.  Two large bull elks in less than 30 minutes - I knew this was a sign of a fabulous weekend!!

As we pulled into the first area we had marked for camping, we realized it was already taken - it was dark, but there was a small camper and a truck parked there.  So we left and went further into the forest and up FR91 to FR40F.  This is where we saw the "Blair Witch" tree - so named because it just looked creepy and out of place.  And because I have a penchant for calling odd things in the forest "Blair Witch" stuff.  Paul had a number of waypoints marked for possible campsites - most of them fairly close to where Sasquatch sightings have been reported.  Paul pulled us into a gorgeous campsite off FR40F, and it is pitch black out.  With all the lights on the truck, we quickly set up camp - and it starts to rain - so we decide to go ahead and jump in the camper and try to go to sleep.  I instantly fell asleep to the soft patter of the rain on the camper shell with the wind blowing through the pines.  Throughout the night the rain got harder and the wind blew louder - but the camper was cozy and warm and I slept fairly well.

Paul on our morning walk
We woke up like clockwork at 4 a.m. (that's when we get up during the week) but we both decided to snooze a bit longer.  At 7 a.m., we both woke up, jumped out of the camper to the stunning beauty of pine trees that were four or more stories tall with trunks I can't wrap my arms around - a light breeze blowing - 41 degrees outside, so it's chilly - but we finished setting up camp, and I made breakfast.  Applewood smoked, thick cut bacon and scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms.  A high protein (and to be honest, high fat) breakfast to get us through the day - man, nothing smells better than bacon cooking in the woods!  We eat to our heart's content, put everything under the tarp, unhook the camper and decide to go exploring for the day.  First, we walk a long loop around our campsite - maybe a mile or so of just following random roads/trails admiring the patches of aspen trees until we get back to our campsite.  The smell of pine and wet aspen remind me of Colorado...

Bobbi in the Aspen Trees
Now last night when we pulled off the highway onto the Rim Road, the truck started making a squeaky noise.  I thought it was the camper - it sounded like an old creaky truck - but when we parked to set up camp, Paul crawled under the truck and discovered it was a ball joint.  I was worried we shouldn't be doing any bouncing around with the truck - but Paul said we would just watch it.  Once we knew what it was, it became a VERY annoying noise - I think because we both were constantly reminded that Lewis & Clark wasn't feeling her best.  Poor gal - we've put the trucks through more in the last 6 months than I think either of them have done in the last year or two - we go out almost weekly now - but the last thing Paul was wanting to do was replace a ball joint before we totally redo the suspension on her (which he isn't quite ready to do yet - Calamity Jane has LOTS of mods coming up over the next two weeks - so we are focused on her right now - not Lewis & Clark).  

Double Springs Cabin
Anyway - annoying noise continuing as we head North on FR40F, we start out to find all the cabins I had located in the general vicinity.  As we are bouncing through the forest, 4 or 5 elk cows come bounding down the side of the mountain, across the road, and down to the meadow below - it all happened too fast for me to grab the camera - but again - we felt absolutely blessed to have seen more elk!  A sign of a healthy forest and a sign of how deep into the forest we really were...

This person used nails/screws to make his mark in 1984
The first cabin we find is at Double Cabin Springs - and what a gorgeous setting.  The cabin at Double Cabin Springs (just passed Besemer Crossing) has no roof, but clearly has a long history - we spent quite a bit of time reading all the carvings in the wall, admiring the building of the structure (huge hand-hewn logs dove tailed together) and checking out the surrounding area - there is a huge fenced in area that surrounds a bog area and the spring.  We never did find the second cabin - not sure if it even exists any more.  But we bounced along on a gorgeous un-numbered route until we hit the 115 (major graded dirt road) that heads up to O'Haco Lookout Tower and Ranger Cabin.  It isn't currently being used, and is fenced off, but we walked the perimeter fence because it was absolutely gorgeous out - big fluffy clouds in the sky with bright spots of blue showing through - a slight wind - and cold enough to wear our North Face jackets!  

O'Haco Lookout Tower

We took the 115 back down to the Rim Road to head across East Leonard Canyon (which can only be crossed by vehicle in one or two places). We drove for quite a while - stopping periodically to look at the amazing view, and to witness the extreme winds on the top of the Rim!  It was awe-inspiring!

General Springs Cabin

We headed over to the well marked General Springs Cabin.  The General Springs Cabin, which is a two room cabin that you can actually enter, was build in 1918 by Louis Fisher and was used for years as a fire guard station (as were most of the cabins we saw this weekend).  The spring and cabin were named after General George Crook who used the spring while traveling the old Fort Apache-Camp Verde Military Road.  The cabin itself was used well into the 1960's, and in 1989 the Forest Service rehabilitated the cabin for our viewing pleasure.  Paul and I were enthralled with the building of the cabin itself - with the way in which they filled the spaces between the logs with splintered wood, etc.  Just like at Double Cabin Springs.  The General Springs Cabin is a well built and well preserved structure.  You can see that there was, at one time, no roof and it has been added to and preserved. This was the first time we actually physically ran in to more people - we looked around for a bit, admired the cabin, then decided to head down to see about the old Railroad Tunnel.  

Misleading sign No. 1 - my hair is covering
it, but it says the trail is .15 miles - this is after our
hike when I'm slightly irritated about the sign
So back on the Rim Road, Paul and I look at the trailhead sign, which reads "RR Tunnel Tr. No. 390 .15 Miles."  Well - we both took that to mean the Railroad Tunnel was at .15 miles down the trail.  It certainly looked like it from the GaiaGPS app!  Paul asked how I felt (I've been sick) and I told him I could handle .15 miles with no trouble at all - even if it meant scrambling up and down the Rim a bit.  So we headed out.  We didn't realize that THE TRAIL HEAD TO THE TUNNEL was .15 miles down the Colonel Devin Trail 290.  So at .15 miles down the Colonel Devin Trail, it splits.  We knew from GaiaGPS to take the left trail - and low and behold - another sign.  RR Tunnel 390 is a loop trail that is just over a mile long.  Okay - we're only going about 1/3 of the way in - I'm still game, and I wanted to see this tunnel - I mean, if they have all these signs, it must be awesome, right?  

Misleading Sign No. 2 - Colonel Devin Trail
Well, I should have done some research.  We get down trail no. 390 about 1/3 of the way, and there's yet ANOTHER sign tacked to a downed tree that has an arrow and says "Tunnel."  Now - there are other people attempting to go up this steep trail.  The trail is sand and loose duffel bag sized boulders.  So now we're scrambling up the side of the Rim.  Paul looks up, and there are people WAY up almost at the top of the Rim still hiking to the tunnel.  The people in front of us turn around.  We spoke briefly to them - they had seen pictures and knew that the trail got worse the further in we got - treacherous is the word used on a few websites - and the wind - we're in a v-shaped canyon which is funneling wind up to the Rim.  There are gusts that are almost knocking me over, and we still have quite the hike out - all up hill, some of it rock scrambling.  And the clouds are looking ominous, so we decide to turn around and start heading up.  If it rains while we're on the trail, it's going to be really bad - the rocks will be slick and the wind won't help.  It's slow going on the way out - but we made it.  The views were still worth it - although the research I've done since shows that the tunnel may not have been worth it.  

Barbed wire the tree has grown around
The tunnel itself was built by James W. Eddy in 1883, along with a powder house (which I understand is still partially standing).  I've read quite a bit about why they were trying to build this tunnel - but to be honest - it makes no sense to me.  In 1888 the company attempting to drill through the Mogollon Rim went bankrupt and they had only drilled 70 feet into the Rim.  

Back at Lewis & Clark, windblown and a bit tired, we break out the crackers and salami, and we head back along the Rim Road to FR139A to head up to Pinchot Cabin/Guard Station.  

This was a beautiful drive through the forest up towards Pinchot Springs - lots of little trails break off into the forest, but we pushed onward and up to the 95, where we had to park and walk in to the Pinchot Cabin and Pinchot Springs.  It was quite frankly the most beautiful cabin setting - a cabin on the edge of a huge meadow with a creek running nearby - it was gorgeous.  The cabin has been shuttered over and locked up, so we couldn't go inside.  The Pinchot Cabin was original part of the Houston Brothers Ranching outfit - there was another cabin built in 1919 by the forest service, but it is no longer here.  The current cabin was build in the early 1930's by John Sanders.  Paul and I poked around for a bit - it was such a lovely walk in, and such a beautiful setting - but we had another set of cabins to visit and it was getting late...so off we went.

Pinchot Cabin
Back to the Rim Road, and over to FR137, we drove North on yet another well graded dirt road (ball joint still squeaking - so we have the windows up and the radio on - listening to bluegrass as usual!).  When we get to the Buck Springs Cabins, we were surprised because there are two!  The smaller of the two cabins was built sometime before 1923, and the larger one was built in 1946.  There was another small cabin built in 1903, but it is no longer there.  These cabins are still in use today as they house the Forest Service fire crews during the summer to protect the Rim!  

The clouds are again turning dark, and it's late - we want to be back to the campsite before it gets too dark - so we head back down to the Rim and back to our campsite.  We were expecting snow tonight (as per the weather reports we are receiving on the Ham radio) so we wanted to make sure everything was covered and well protected - and I had steaks to make for dinner!

And the steaks were awesome!  I had picked up some sirloin filets from Sprouts, and I cooked them in left over bacon grease and butter - holy cow they were amazing!  I made green beans and corn sautéed in butter and Paul and I had a feast - in the dark and cold, but it was a really satisfying meal at the end of a day of exploring the Rim country and some short but strenuous hiking!  
Buck Springs Cabins with Lewis & Clark

It was cold, pitch black out, and sprinkling rain, but we weren't tired yet (it was only about 6:30), so we jumped in the truck and decided to watch a movie on the tablet we use for GPS guidance - of course Paul has scary movies - so we are watching that.  And every time he turns on the headlights, I fully expect to see Jason or Michael Myers staring at us from the trail...Ha!  

We head to bed, and wake up at 4 a.m. (as per the usual) and I'm cold - and there is snow EVERYWHERE!  So Paul and I jump into Lewis & Clark and we turn on the heat.  But it's uncomfortable and we can't sleep, so we just get warmed up, and head back into the camper with warmer clothes to try and sleep - which we do - for a few more hours.  


But when we get up - oh my goodness - the beauty of the snow blanket in the forest is overwhelming.  Paul and I wander around taking pictures - the first snow of the season for us - and honestly, probably the first time I've been in snow for 2 or 3 years...

Camp Breakfast - Snow still on the table

We clear off the stove and the table, and I make fried egg sandwiches with sausage links which we wolf down in the truck with the heat on (it's 27 degrees outside).  I'm totally getting the hang of this camp cooking thing!  I've made three awesome meals this weekend - and I'm pretty happy with this - the last time we went camping we had awful burgers - but Paul said it wasn't my cooking that time - it was just the burgers.  But we will be getting these little steak filets again!  And bacon - everything is better in bacon grease.  Everything.  Including toasting the bagel thins.  LOL

Paul and I pack up the campsite and head out mid-morning and decide to take the "91 Loop."  No ball joint noise to be heard since then...

Icicles on the Snorkel

Well - we got off trail somewhere.  We don't even know where.  Paul kept saying "how can we be off trail when we have GPS?"  I'm saying we were "overlanding" and "exploring."  I still cannot find where we went off trail - we somehow end up on this jeep trail - which Lewis & Clark handles just fine, but again - we cannot find the trail on our GPS nor our topographical maps - all we can see is that we are following the Gentry Ridge - and are headed down to Turkey Creek.  But not on a numbered road.  And we had to stop and winch a couple big tree trunks out of the road - which was awesome for me because I've not been able to work with the winch yet (and one is going on Calamity Jane in the next week or two) - so that was fun for me.  This road had a bunch of spots where I had to get out and walk the "alternate" route - but I had a lot of fun just exploring.  I kept telling Paul it was okay as we were "generally" heading South.  

And then - two elk bound across the road - day three of elk - I don't think I've seen so many elk in the wild since the last time I was in Wyoming - where they are a common sight.  Again - we see them in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  There are no other vehicle tracks in the snow so we know we're the first folks down this unknown trail this morning...

Somewhere off trail near Turkey Creek - stunning landscapes!
Somewhere along the way, the trailer wiring comes unhooked, and breaks - so we have no trailer lights - and we are getting frustrated because the trail keeps turning East and West, but eventually we pop out onto FR115, completely covered in mud and dirt, icicles hanging from Lewis & Clark's snorkel (it's still only 28 degrees outside) - but we then head down to the Rim Road, back on to Highway 260, and head in to Payson, where we fix the trailer, visit some old historic haunts that I've told Paul about, and then head home.

It was a beautiful weekend.  It was cold - which we both really enjoyed - we had good food, Paul had good whiskey, and we had snow!  Another perfect weekend of camping!