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Florence Coke Ovens - Mining Country

Posted in Events on March 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Florence Coke Ovens - Mining Country

Back in "them thar' hills" are all sorts of old trails and by-ways that lead into and out of mining country. These are just the kind of places that beg to be explored and serve as a gateway to that state of mind where you leave the city and crowds behind to get out into the wide expanses.

The desert was a brilliant green from recent rains and offered cooler temperatures. The cacti were plump from drinking their fill of water, and wildflowers were just starting to pop into color as spring approached.

We've been putting some trail miles under our Project Venture Toy Tacoma project we completed last year, and some sunny spring days offered us the perfect opportunity to join our friends for a little trail-riding.

About a century ago, there were rugged men who traveled out west to seek fame, fortune, or to just scratch out a decent living. Some found their way into the mountainous desert just east of Florence in Central Arizona.

Up on the side of a hill near the Gila River lies the remains of five large stone structures, known as coke ovens. Here, bundles of local mesquite wood were stacked and burned to produce a residual coke substance. The coke served as a hot-burning concentrated fuel source for use in the Cochran Townsite smelters that processed gold and silver ores on the other side of the river. Cochran was a mining camp and railroad stop for several railways.

The route we took into the remote coke ovens area led us through Box Canyon, a relatively narrow slot canyon that winds its way across the desert floor here. Late winter runoff left much of the canyon wet and we splashed our way upstream and out the other side. We followed wide, sandy washes and winding mountain trails to higher elevations. Eventually, from high above, we could spot the Gila River in the distance. As we wound our way around one final mountain, we spotted the coke ovens across a small valley. The trip in took several hours, and we stopped and took a lunch break to explore the ovens area.

What a perfect day for running trails. The temps were mild, and the water flow made the trip out even more scenic. Here was Steve Curry's '95 Toyota truck that's been set up for backcountry exploring. He's added Camburg upper A-arms and Donahoe coilovers to match the rear lift from swapped over Chevy truck leaf packs. A rear ARB air locker and Marlin Crawler dual T-case setup kept him moving on the tougher, rockier trails.

Upon leaving the ovens, you can follow a portion of a loop trail that meets back up to part of the route used to get there, or attempt to cross the river if its level is low enough. The flow rate of the Gila can vary and is usually more likely to be passable later toward the dryer summer months and beyond. As with many water flows in the desert, its level can be unpredictable at times.

On our trip, the river level was high due to recent rains and snow runoff. We made the loop back out, back-tracking our way again through Box Canyon, having enjoyed a great day of 'wheeling and just "getting away from it all" for a short while.

To access this area requires possession of an Arizona State Land Department Recreation Permit. You can find information on obtaining an annual pass at www.land.state.az.us.

View Slideshow
View Slideshow

NAVIGATION

From Phoenix, take U.S. 60 east, then Highway 79 south about 13.5 miles to Price Road. Take Price Road east winding through farmland and desert for about 13.5 miles to first waypoint.

Waypoint - Mileage - Latitude (N) / Longitude (W)
* Comments

1 - 0.0 - N33° 07' 51.3" / W111° 12' 11.9"
* Enter Box Canyon.
2 - 1.4 - N33° 08' 46.2" / W111° 12' 11.1"
* Exit Box Canyon, cross cattle guard, continue into wash headed NE.
3 - 1.7 - N33° 08' 58.7" / W111° 12' 04.5"
* Take right fork, do not go up hill to right, stay in wash.
4 - 2.0 - N33° 09' 08.7" / W111° 11' 54.6"
* Play hill area, tank to your left, continue straight ahead.
5 - 2.5 - N33° 09' 13.5" / W111° 11' 28.0"
* Cross cattle guard at mountain saddle, great views.
6 - 2.6 - N33° 09' 16.9" / W111° 11' 20.0"
* Drop into wash, head left (north).
7 - 2.9 - N33° 09' 29.9" / W111° 11' 16.8"
* Take right fork, trail turns east and climbs again.
8 - 3.8 - N33° 09'11.4" / W111° 10' 37.0"
* Cross wash, turn right onto trail, headed south.
9 - 6.4 - N33° 07' 31.2" / W111° 10' 15.0"
* Continue straight at tee.
10 - 6.7 - N33° 07' 23.5" / W111° 09' 56.6"
* Top of hill, take left at tee.
11 - 7.8 - N33° 06' 54.2" / W111° 09' 32.6"
* Take right at fork.
12 - 8.4 - N33° 06' 29.8" / W111° 09' 46.9"
* Take left at fork, head down hill.
13 - 8.7 - N33° 06' 15.0" / W111° 09' 47.8"
* Turn right through trees, follow S-turn up hill to coke ovens.
14 - 8.9 - N33° 06' 16.0" / W111° 09' 53.4"
* Arrive at coke ovens, leave via trail above the ovens headed north.
15 - 10.5 - N33° 07' 19.6" / W111° 10' 15.5"
* Take left at tee.
16 - 10.9 - N33° 07' 31.2" / W111° 10' 15.3"
* Rejoin loop trail, turn left onto return trail.
17 - 12.0 - N33° 08' 13.1" / W111° 10' 23.0"
* Cross creek, head up long hill.
18 - 13.5 - N33° 09' 11.6" / W111° 10' 36.6"
* Cross creek and follow trail west.
19 - 14.0 - N33° 09' 27.0" / W111° 10' 57.1"
* Continue straight on trail.
20 - 14.7 - N33° 09' 16.3" / W111° 11' 20.4"
* Bear right at junction.
21 - 15.3 - N33° 09' 08.3" / W111° 11' 55.0"
* Continue straight past play hill area.
22 - 15.6 - N33° 08' 58.5" / W111° 12' 04.6"
* Bear left in wash, continue to upper end of Box Canyon.
23 - 17.4 - N33° 07' 51.3" / W111° 12' 11.9"
* Exit downstream end of Box Canyon.

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