Kofa Wilderness - Southern Arizona

LocoX

New member
The weekend before the long Thanksgiving weekend (plus a few extra PTO days), myself and two friends drove down from the SF Bay Area to the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona to explore the Kofa Wildlife Refuge, which is commonly referred to simply as "Kofa Wilderness". Kofa is simply an acronym for "King of Arizona", referring to the old King of Arizona Mine, which is remains active to this day. There are a number of other mines within Kofa, but most are currently inactive.

Given the long haul, and fighting Friday traffic to escape the Bay Area, we decided to boondock on BLM land outside of the Palm Springs and Indio area. Upon nearing the campsite, I got reports that it was a good 45 minute drive in along a moderately technical jeep track. As I pulled off the Interstate around midnight, I began to wonder if they were pulling my leg. The coordinates for the campsite were less than a mile away, and the double-wide graded BLM road could be easily driven by a Prius. Well, it turns out they hadn't seen the Pin on the shared GPX file indicating where the trail and the interstate met-- they had driven through a residential neighbor, and then 6+ miles of rocky trail to reach the campsite. We got a mediocre night's rest with the howling desert winds that night.

If you're interested in our route, you can find it at Overland Trail Guides. We followed the majority of the route, save the final stretch to the Big Eye Mine.

Day 0
Night 1 outside of Palm Springs. Not a bad campsite for some basic sleuthing on Gaia GPS and Google Earth.
PXL_20201121_152216041.jpg


The view looking at Palm Springs.
PXL_20201121_083606104.jpg


Day 1
We made the three or so hour drive across the border and over to Quartzite. This place was crawling with Snowbirds and boondockers everywhere! I was beginning to fret that my plans to escape the crowds might not come to fruition (exactly why I opted to avoid Anza-Borrego over the holiday weekend). The group made our way over to Queen Canyon intent on making a beeline to Skull Rock. Winnebagos, Sprinters, and Ram Promasters seemed to be lurking around every corner. But as the smooth graded dirt gave way to rockier roads, the crowds began to thin out immediately. And then we started to take in the full experience of Kofa, nary a camper in site-- except for the lucky couple who had set up camp at Skull Rock. Queen Canyon was spectactular and we were really hoping to catch site of the elusive Bighorn Sheep that call Kofa home.

PXL_20201121_194926208.jpg




PXL_20201121_211747315.jpg


Skull Rock

PXL_20201121_201457656.jpg


We departed Queen Canyon and burned about 10 miles of pavement back to the next trail. Late afternoon was closing in fast and we decided that it'd be best to find an amicable campsite well before the sun set. With the snowbirds long gone, we hadn't seen seen anyone on the trail since leaving the pavement behind-- just how I like it!

PXL_20201121_232219617.jpg

Sunsets and sunrises in the desert never seem to disappoint, and this day was no different. I just wish I had gotten some more photos of the setting sun...

PXL_20201122_010722132.jpg



Day 2 - Welcome to Kofa
It wasn't until day 2 that we got the "true" Kofa Experience. Lots of trails in Kofa are slow going as they meander left and right around Saguaro and ocotillo, but mostly from the undulating landscape of wash after wash. The ups and downs through all of the washes and slow going through some of the rockier washes was really killing my MPGs, not much of a surprise given the V8 under the hood of my land cruiser. We were pleasantly surprised by some of the more technical sections in one of the washes that actually required a bit of spotting for our friend John in his stock double-cab, long bed Tacoma (he's decided to invest in some sliders since this trip!). Despite the unforgiving landscape, a number of ranchers and miners have called Kofa home over the last 100+ years. Some of these old homesteads and cabins remain today.

Probably the most rocky/technical wash in the whole route. I'd rate is as a mild blue trail, but it can be managed with a stock high clearance 4x4 like a Wrangler or 4Runner.

PXL_20201122_200145537.jpg
 

Attachments

LocoX

New member
Day 2 continued...

PXL_20201122_215901481.jpg

Despite the fact that Kofa is a wilderness refuge, hunting of some types is permitted. There were about 100 or so discarded quail carcasses behind this cabin, which seemed kind of odd. We think the hunters likely took more birds than legally permitted.

PXL_20201122_224554741.jpg


PXL_20201122_224411913.jpg



Us West Coasters love to say, "oh, but it's a dry heat!". Well, when it's 110+ F out, it doesn't matter what kind of heat it is, especially since most of Arizona suffers from a lack of natural shade! Needless to say, those sunsets just keep us coming back.

PXL_20201123_004245660.jpg


Day 3
The sunrises in the desert ain't half bad either!

PXL_20201123_141430218.jpg


Despite the loss of 5g and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, my 5yo absolutely loved the high speed washes we hit today! You had to really punch the accelerator to power through the deep sand and dust, and despite going 30+ mph, I was probably getting 5 MPG in the Lux Cruiser.

PXL_20201123_152837569.jpg


PXL_20201123_171303501.jpg


Mid-afternoon we made our way towards Engresser Pass, and found ourselves driving in another sandy wash. This wash proved to be fruitless when it came to campsites, until it wasn't. And there it was, and a picture perfect campsite surrounded by bluffs and craggy buttes on three sides. At first I was concerned about some early evening wind that seemed to be acting up, but it soon dissipated once the sun set.

PXL_20201124_002303889.jpg


Day 3 - Final Day in Kofa

Since we decided to skip the trek up to Big Eye Mine, we ended up making it out of Kofa in the early afternoon. We skirted from one sky island, crossing desert plains until reaching the next sky island. We'd heart the heavy artillery coming from the Yuma Proving Grounds the day before, and a mysterious UFO appeared on the horizon. As we edged closer to the Castle Dome Mountains, the UFO began to take the shape of a stationary blimp. It turns out this is one of several several "Aerostat Balloons" that are managed by DHS along our southern border. DHS uses these balloon to monitor low flying aircraft trying to cross the border. I was a bit bummed it wasn't a real UFO! Upon leaving Kofa, we actually passed the 2 mile long tether that the aerostat balloon was attached to.

I believe this was Courthouse Rock or Mountain...
PXL_20201124_143049669 (1).jpg
 

Attachments

Last edited:

LocoX

New member
Day 3 Continued

My 5 1/2 year old confirms that washes are just as much fun to play in as they are to drive in!
PXL_20201124_161329718.jpg


PXL_20201124_165158154.jpg


The Antares mining cabin with the North Star and Evening Star mines behind it. There was even a small mining community with a half dozen or so residences not far from here that appeared to be active.

PXL_20201124_182143556.jpg

The cabin was definitely in need of some remodeling! I was a bit surprised they still allow visitors in this particular cabin, as it seemed like wooden floor could give way at any time.

PXL_20201124_182511822.jpg


We finished the route at the open air tank museum at the Yuma Proving agains. My son went absolutely bonkers for this!

PXL_20201124_213649236.jpg


We decided to make some headway on the long trip back home and made our way over to Ocotillo Wells for camp. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the amount of people camped out at Ocotillo and Anza-Borrego was absolutely bonkers. I'm glad we opted for Kofa. Over the course of 200+ miles on the trail, we passed less than 10 vehicles-- just the way I like it!

Day 4
Looking out over the badlands and Salton Sea before heading north.

PXL_20201125_151759039.jpg
 

Recommended books for Overlanding

Nice write up very sad about the quail where we live there are dozens it is quite a site to see 3 sets of parents out with 40 or so babies.
To me that kind of action is no different than those who would do donuts in Death Valley
 
Just look like someone cleaned a bunch of quail to me - all you keep is the breast. Doesn't take many for a big pile of feathers, wings and heads.
 

mep1811

Gentleman Adventurer
From the picture, looks like the Quail were cleaned and that was a pile of feathers and wings.

Looks like a fun trip. The Rotopax mounts on the side windows look very handy
 

AbleGuy

TeamSuicideChipmunks
Great thread and pics, and welcome aboard!

I’m looking forward to more of your trip posts.
 

1leglance

2007 Expedition Trophy Champion, Overland Certifie
Dang someone else enjoyed KofA :)
Just kidding we really like the entire Quartzite area for our winter desert trips, so many old mine ruins and homesteads.
Next time get your kid over to the Castle Dome Mine Museum, so many buildings for him to check out he will spend hours there.
 

LocoX

New member
Dang someone else enjoyed KofA :)
Just kidding we really like the entire Quartzite area for our winter desert trips, so many old mine ruins and homesteads.
Next time get your kid over to the Castle Dome Mine Museum, so many buildings for him to check out he will spend hours there.
KofA is AWESOME. The tranquillity of the desert, especially during the cooler months is always refreshing. Time always seems to be the major inhibitor, especially with a long 10+ hour drive back to Northern California. I'm sure I'll make it down back that way, it's just a matter of when.
 

LocoX

New member
From the picture, looks like the Quail were cleaned and that was a pile of feathers and wings.

Looks like a fun trip. The Rotopax mounts on the side windows look very handy
I ended up using the 7 gallons of reserve fuel I had. If we had made the journey up to Big Eye Mine, it probably would've caused a lot of range anxiety on our way to gas in Yuma!
 

mep1811

Gentleman Adventurer
I ended up using the 7 gallons of reserve fuel I had. If we had made the journey up to Big Eye Mine, it probably would've caused a lot of range anxiety on our way to gas in Yuma!

How did you mount the rotopax? I have 64 gallons of fuel in my Land Cruiser but that could be a handy way to carry some water
 

DVD

Adventurer
Thanks for the posting! We've made a couple trips there, and I still feel we've only scratched the surface. Looks like you had a great time!
Dang someone else enjoyed KofA :)
Just kidding we really like the entire Quartzite area for our winter desert trips, so many old mine ruins and homesteads.
Absolutely right!
 

Recommended books for Overlanding

Americas Overland - The Driving Handbook
by Donald Greene
From $20
The Total Approach of Getting Unstuck Off Road: 4WD Self-...
by Robert Wohlers
From $59.95
Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Sur...
by Dave Canterbury
From $9.99
Motorcycle Messengers: Tales from the Road by Writers who...
by Lois Pryce, Mark Richardson, Carla King, Sam Manic...
From $9.99
Top