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Southwest 4x4 Adventure - Quartzsite in Arizona

Posted in Events on February 1, 2009
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Striking beauty in the southwestern Arizona mountains.

Riches are often found in some of the most inhospitable places. Such is true of western Arizona. Generally dry much of the year, temperatures are often at unbearably intense levels. Yet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the face of the heat, considerable mining activity took place in the Sonoran Desert mountains surrounding Quartzsite, Arizona. While Gold was the primary magnet, other minerals such as Lead and Silver were found. Even today, a handful of mining operations are still active.

Mining's heyday has passed. Now it is chiefly tourism that supports the local economies of Quartzsite and nearby towns. It is said that over one million folks visit the area in the winter months. RVs by the thousands set up in the area's RV parks and on designated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping areas. Visitors, many retired, travel from the Northwestern and Midwestern states as well as Canada to escape the cold and snow for the relative warmth of the region. These are the so-called "Snowbirds".

A series of rock-and-mineral swap meets take place here throughout the winter months, including a huge one in early February. Quartzsite was named for the abundance of quartz found scattered about. It was not a misspelling of the metamorphic rock quartzite, which cannot be found in this area. While some 10,000 folks claim Quartzsite as their permanent residence, less than 300 stay year long through the grueling hot months.

Much of the adjacent lands are managed by the BLM. With hundreds of miles of four-wheel-drive roads and OHV trails in the region's desert mountains to explore, this is a 4x4/OHV "paradise". My friend Dr. Bob, my "Snowbird" father, and myself investigated some of those old mine roads in the Quartzsite, Salome, and Wenden, Arizona, surroundings.

Colorful Plamosa Mountain scene.

Dripping Spring Trail, in the Plamosa Mountains, was the first destination. This route begins just south of Interstate 10 at Exit 26 / Gold Nugget Road. Not far, a turn is made at the "Primitive Road" sign and the trail then follows Apache Wash for some distance. The branch route to the Gold Nugget Mine is avoided, as that mine is currently active.

A number of roads braid the wash and several veer off to old mine sites. This can be somewhat confusing. The use of a GPS and real-time mapping software on a laptop computer helped considerably to stay on the correct route to Dripping Spring. Still, a critical turn was missed and our progress continued up Apache Canyon in error. Eventually reaching higher ground, it was obvious that the fork had been missed and back-tracking was required to find the correct trail to Dripping Spring.

The drive further up Apache Canyon, however, is quite pleasant. It follows along a portion of the western border of the New Water Mountains Wilderness. That designated area is known for its favorable Desert Bighorn Sheep habitat. The hill and mountainsides nearby are a profuse potpourri of Saguaro and Barrel Cacti, Ocotillo, Creosote, Catclaw, and several varieties of Cholla. The abundant green-toned Paloverde trees, plus Ironwood, line the washes.

The correct turnoff for Dripping Spring Trail is just north of a small stone cabin at the edge of the wash. Being somewhat close to the many RV parks and camping areas, expect to share this particular trail with other motorized recreationists driving ATVs.

Some dugout climbs and a few narrow spots may cause some apprehension for those driving larger 4x4's. A long steep climb out of the wash is required to drive up to the actual site of Dripping Spring.

There are remains of a stone building at Dripping Spring. Nearby is a diminutive cave set into the canyon walls where water slowly drips from the ceiling. Uncommon in the desert, Dripping Spring weeps water year round. Ancient petroglyphs adorn a number of the boulders and rockfalls in the vicinity.

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A rutted hill climb on Dripping Spring Trail is easier for longer 4x4s.

Dripping Spring Trail continues up the canyon in a southwesterly direction, the most difficult obstacle of this trail just ahead. Known as the Waterfall, it consists of a series of rocky steps and bordering boulders just difficult enough to cause body damage or high-centering for the inattentive.

Eventually the trail emerges from the confining canyon into a broad and sandy wash. The moderately rated Dripping Spring Trail ends where it meets up with another 4x4 trail in the desert flats. A right turn and traveling to the northwest ultimately leads through the La Posa North Camping Area and to Highway 95 just south of Quartzsite.

The Desert Queen and Glory Hole Mine Trails in the Granite Wash Mountains are further to the east, near Vicksburg. The Desert Queen Trail is easy four-wheeling. The second, a branch route to the Glory Hole Mine, is just a bit more difficult.

In March 1909, a colorful local from Salome named Dick Wick Hall reported that he had discovered rich gold ore deposits. The rush was on and the town of Winchester quickly developed, complete with a wide variety of businesses and services. In just two months it had grown to about two thousand residents. But, yields of gold at nearby Desert Queen Mine and Desert Mine dwindled rapidly. Winchester was abandoned in short order. Remnants of the town do not exist because the buildings were dismantled and the materials recycled for use elsewhere.

Remnants of an old cabin, an ore loading hopper, and mine shafts still stand at the Desert Queen Mine site.

Dr. Bob at a big step on Dripping Spring Trail.

Just north of the Desert Queen Mine, the trail branches hard to the left, crossing Calcite Wash. Another road that leads straight ahead dead-ends at additional mine sites.

The 4x4 route rejoins Calcite Wash and follows it northward. After traveling one mile, a road intersects at the right, which is the continuation of the Desert Queen Mine Trail eastward to Calcite Mine. It ultimately leads to the town of Salome farther to the east.

The start of the Glory Hole Mine Trail is from that intersection northward, continuing up Calcite Wash. While not a particularly difficult route, the trail does include a section of narrow shelf road that requires driver attention. The long climb from the wash bottom includes a couple of loose spots, continues past a couple of mine shafts, and then culminates at the saddle. Here, we experience powerfully scenic views to the north. The narrow road then descends from the saddle into a small valley. Here are found remains of a concrete foundation and other miscellanea left by miners. Apparently, there had been a more recent attempt to mine in the area as a nearby stone marker indicates a mining claim dated 1968.

There is a network of 4x4 trails to the north, accessible from Glory Hole Mine Trail at this location. Perhaps many of those trails were created during World War II. One of several secret General Patton Tank Training areas in the west was located at the Camp Bouse WWII Desert Training Center in nearby Butler Valley. It was used by the 9th Armored Tank Group in 1943 and 1944 to become combat ready for the upcoming battles with the German Afrika Korps in the deserts of northern African. Their training had concentrated around a new tank design optimized for night-time warfare.

The trail continues up the mountainside a few hundred more yards. It can be driven up to one of the tailings piles of Glory Hole Mine. There are several shafts and adits nearby, with the principal mine shaft just a short hike above. The Glory Hole Mine was one of the most productive in the entire region, producing $100,000 in the first few days of operation.

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Retracing Glory Hole Mine Trail is required to rejoin the Desert Queen Mine Trail and to continue to Calcite Mine. Vertical shafts at Calcite Mine were used to retrieve the calcite and are scattered about the site. Four-wheel-drive roads branch from here to other Granite Wash Mountain mine sites. The completion of the route from Calcite Mine is quick and easy to the town of Salome.

The Desert Queen and Glory Hole Mine Trails provide considerably more solitude than trails closer to Quartzsite. We encountered no other vehicles.

Listening carefully to instructions from the spotter my Dad, driving a big Chevy 4x4 pickup, avoids damage from the rocks.

Somewhat more difficult 4x4 trails exist in the Harcuvar Mountains north of Wenden and the McMullen Valley. This valley is a hot-bed of agricultural activity. Deep wells and the Central Arizona Project provide water for irrigation. Alfalfa, cotton, garbanzo beans, pistachios, and wheat are grown here. But the valley is best known for the sizable production of several varieties of melons.

Alamo Lake Road is driven northward across the McMullen Valley. A turn is then made at Bonanza Road, which heads directly towards the Harcuvar Mountains. Near the base of the mountain, a few quail alongside the roadway are startled. Other wildlife, including many deer, are at home in the Harcuvars.

Gaining elevation on the mountain trail, the density of Saguaro cactus increases. Southern exposures and mountainside soils seem to favor its growth.

A rough branch road leads up to the Bonanza Mine. This mine site, as well as numerous others further up the mountain, were quite productive. Gold was the treasure sought in the Harcuvar Mountains.

Climbing steadily up the mountain beyond the Bonanza Mine, the 4x4 route then begins a series of steep, loose, hairpin switchback turns up to a saddle on the mountain. Rigs with lockers and low gearing should be able to make the entire climb. But, should there be any concern about vehicle braking capabilities or its ability to crawl slowly downhill, it likely is a wiser choice to park and then hike the steepest portion up to the saddle.

Just past the top of the saddle, a locked gate blocks access to 4x4 trails that lead to other mines. From this point, a captivating panoramic view takes in a variety of mining remnants, including a several hundred foot long inclined railway. It had been used to lower ore down the mountain from the main shaft to a loading area.

Another mining area on the flanks of Harcuvar Peak to the west was explored. To reach it, we returned to Alamo Lake Road and then headed back south towards Wenden. A right turn was made at Roberts Road. This route leads back to the Harcuvar Mountains, passing by numerous fields that contribute to the successful agricultural production in the area.

Where Roberts Road ends at the base of the mountains, numerous 4x4 trails lead to various mine shafts and adits. The branch trail to Doland Mine continues westward, ultimately leading over the mountain at Cottonwood Pass. Exploring those branches would have to wait for a future visit, time constraints only permitting a continuation on the trail straight ahead.

While not steep, the climb in elevation on this 4x4 road is steady. Ultimately, further travel ahead disappears in a jumble of huge boulders. The topographical map actually shows the trail continuing a little farther, but absolutely no evidence of such could be located. Perhaps during past mining activities it was a pack trail, but now it's been completely obliterated by nature.

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A distinct foot path leads up the mountainside at the left. Someone had gone to great lengths to build a series of stone walls to define and stabilize the pathway. It leads to a stone structure that had been erected adjacent to an alcove. Inside, water oozes out of the rock walls. A patio area had been created nearby, stabilized by considerable stonework. This must have been a relative cool place summer evenings, both with the deep shade provided by the mountainside and the evaporative cooling effect created by the seep. Remnants of other constructed pathways could be seen in the distance, leading to mine adits or shafts.

Arizona requires a recreational permit on many public lands so anyone who drives a 4x4 or OHV in the back-country should have one. For information, go to:

Not just for the "Snowbirds", Quartzsite is a pleasurable destination for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts in the cooler months from Fall through Spring. If you are a "rockhound," it does not get much better. For history buffs, there are numerous old mine sites to visit. And, if it is solitude that you seek, it can be found exploring the nearby desert mountains.

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Quartszite, Arizona
Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Point Description
Dripping Spring Trail
33 40.717' 114 05.042' Exit 26 at I-10 east of Quartzsite, Arizona
33 40.{{{505}}}' 114 40.505' Proceed .4 mile and turn right onto Primitive Road
33 39.781' 114 03.949' Bear Right at Y. No trespassing on road to active Gold Nugget Mine
33 37.549' 114 03.742' Road continues up Apache {{{Canyon}}}. Take hard right turn at intersection for Dripping Spring
33 36.734' 114 04.839' Left turn uphill towards Dripping Spring
33 36.655' 114 04.741' Dripping Spring site
33 36.373' 114 05.028' Waterfall obstacle
33 35.702' 114 06.854' Turn right at intersection to head NW to Highway 95
Desert Queen Mine Trail & Glory Hole Mine Trail
33 41.661' 113 45.153' Right turn off SR 72 at Vicksburg
33 46.538' 113 44.017' Right turn to Desert Queen Mine shafts, prospects, remains
33 47.022' 113 43.786' Turn left and cross Calcite Wash. Right goes to other mines.
33 47.382' 113 43.677' Hard right leads to Calcite Mine. Straight up the drainage leads to Glory Hole Mine.
Glory Hole Mine
33 48.294' 113 43.691' Mine shafts at left of shelf road
33 48.711' 113 43.681' End of trail at Glory Hole Mine
33 47.338' 113 41.869' Calcite Mine site
Bonanza Mine Trail
33 52.846' 113 32.668' Turn west onto Bonanza Road from Alamo Lake Road
33 55.520' 113 35.251' Branch road at right leads to Bonanza Mine
33 55.631' 113 35.276' Bonanza Mine
33 55.702' 113 35.473' Start of switchbacks up mountainside
Harcuvar Peak Mines & Cottonwood Pass Access
33 50.919' 113 32.696' Turn west onto Roberts Road from Alamo Lake Road
33 52.335' 113 36.500' Remains of cabin, corral, & water well
33 53.027' 113 37.027' Road at left leads to Doland Mine and Cottonwood Pass
33 54.734' 113 37.813' End of trail in Harcuvar Mountain canyon. Hiking trails lead to old mine prospects and stonework features
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