'Wheeling Back To Early Mining Days
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.
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.
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.