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CAVEAT: As a woman traveling alone, I didn't feel comfortable stopping to ask questions here, much less stay, but your experience and comfort level may differ.
Gila Bend is a charming little bump in the road between Phoenix and San Diego. It has a very Mexican feel to it, with souvenir shops and a good old-fashioned carneceria, and is also home to the Space Age Restaurant, which some consider a must-visit.
This particular RV park, however, would probably not be your first choice of places to stay, even though the other cheap choices here would be the parking lots at Pilot (east end) or Love's (west end). Someone has tried to liven up the fence line with new bougainvillea plants, but in general the place looks rundown/slumlike, and is mostly fixed-in-place mobile homes, not RV spaces. There are one or two places where mobile homes have just been left to decay where they sit, and there was a large trailerload of debris outside the office that looked like it had been there for quite a while. Given that the beautiful and pristine Painted Rock BLM park is only 30 minutes down the road and about a fifth to a third the cost, I'd give this one a miss.
Great dispersed camping 🏕. The farther from the highway, the better it gets.
Spent the night here on Dec. 20, 2020. Nice basic BLM camp ground. Clean pit toilets, but only two of them for the 60 camp sites. Mostly level sites, all gravel. Tables and fire ring at every site. Cool pile of rocks with Petroglyphs. Lots of history and nice informative displays. No services as far as water, power or dump station. Nice sunsets, and trails to hike. Bring your own water.
There are lots of places to camp here. I spent one night along Palm Canyon Road, where there were plenty of pull outs. There's also many spots up by Crystal Hill. Both places were easily accessible with a small car, just drive slow and be extra careful at rougher spots. There are signs that say "no camping beyond this point", but they are only referring to the land before you get the refuge. Once you enter the refuge you can camp just about anywhere. This is a very beautiful place, would highly recommend spending a night if you're in the area.
Located about 20 minutes off the 8, this site was mostly empty when I stayed. There are ample sites, firepits, pit toilets, and picnic tables. However, the bathrooms are spaced super far apart and are just simple pit toilets with hand sanitizer. Make sure to bring all your water and supplies, there aren't any stores very close and no water onsite. That being said, it was amazing to be so close to the petroglyphs for so cheap. Site was $8, or $6 if you have an Adventurepass and includes entrance to the site. Not much in the way of wildlife that I noticed around here.
Be sure to stop at any of the kiosks and get a public use regulation brochure and map. Groups using the refuge will need a free Special Use Permit (SUP). Call for more information (928) 783-7861. Camping is limited to 14 days in any calendar year, no long term. If you want a fire bring wood, it is scares. Wilderness and leave no trace practices are required. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out.
The refuge is more restrictive than the surrounding BLM lands.
This isn't the greatest campsite in the world, more of a glorified rest stop with a painted-rock exhibit. I got there late at night traveling from Texas to California and it was pretty easy to find. There are restrooms, dumpsters, and picnic tables.
Don't expect much from this place as it is funded by the honor system, but the solitude is nice and it makes for a decent stop to break up your road trip.
There are endless camping possibilities in Kofa. Primitive, dispersed real wilderness camping. No water. No toilets, no hookups, generators… and you have to have a 4x4 to get there! Just my kind of spot. I've explored all over this area by jeep, and by foot and never get bored going off on some new abandoned mine trail. There are hidden caves all around and great hikes to get there!
I'll just share my two favorite hidden gems in the area: Signal Peak is a must, and if you do, I recommend camping around Skull Rock. For a scenic offroad trail + neat cabin stay head to Kofa Mine Cabin!
For Signal Peak and the Skull Rock stay, you can park regular cars along Palm Canyon Road where the Kofa Natl Wildlife Refuge Brochures and info are and hop into a 4x4 for the rest of the drive. You'll need it. Don't attempt get to skull rock in any regular, vehicle, or anything without high clearance.
**NOTE: I have left a car in this lot with no issues while camping up in the canyon over night, but of course, do so at your own risk.
From that parking lot you head up to Kofa Queen Canyon and pick your spots for camping. There are plenty of good spots for tent on ledges, or on cots down near skull rock. Here you can grill and have general campfire fun.
The road to Skull Rock is undeveloped, needs high clearance and is a tight squeeze for wider vehicles. It will not accommodate campers or trailers. Tent camping only (aside from maybe your serious bug out vehicle!)
Skull rock camp spot is about a one hour and 45 minute drive from Yuma. From HWY 95 turn (east) onto Palm Canyon Road (not too far past the Border Patrol Checkpoint. Drive east 3.2 miles to Kofa Queen Canyon (KQC) Road on the left (north now). Follow KQC Road northeast about 7.5 miles into the Canyon to where a subsidiary Canyon opens up to your right (south). Passenger cars won't manage this last road. You'll need high clearance and preferably 4wd. The road inside the canyon is alternately rocky and sandy, and braids in and out with the wash. Just follow the 'better-looking' route if unsure at a junction. Enough people come up here you should be able to see lots of tire tracks.
*NOTE: There is no cell service at the campsite.
From here we drive down the trail bit further to get to Signal Peak (roughly 4,800ft), it's Kofa's highest peak. This is a strenuous hike with steep slopes and some scrambling, and should only be done by experienced hikers in good physical conditions with proper hiking boots. The beautiful view from from the top is absolutely worth the hike.
Dogs: Although I know of people who have brought dogs up here, it is a very rocky hike and could be very hot or treacherous for your pup. You may consider bringing a dog only if he is an avid hiker and has very strong paw pads (or hiking boots), and can physically handle the demands of this hike. Also, dogs as per Kofa National Wildlife Refuge Rules - are required to be on a leash at all times.
For the Kofa Mine Section, head on your way out to the Kofa Mine Museum and then just past it take the turn to Big Eye Mine - 15 mile offroad trail where a real, high clearance truck/jeep 4x4 is needed. There are at least 2 hairy sections that I even got a jeep stuck in for a minute. All of this area is full of mines and great open camping spaces.
Kofa was established in 1939 to be managed: “…as a representative area of lower Sonoran Desert habitat with a maximum diversity and abundance of native plants and animals and to protect and preserve the desert bighorn sheep and its habitat…” Since 1955, over 560 desert bighorn sheep have been trapped on Kofa and transplanted to other areas in Arizona, as well as to the states of New Mexico, California, Colorado, Texas and Nevada, to re-establish herds extirpated from habitat loss, development and over-hunting.
Unless you are a skilled Arizona adventurer, I'd advise against hiking or even offloading (in case something goes wrong) during the hot summer months when temperatures can rise to over 115 degrees F.
A little introduction may be in order. My name is Randy Mahannah, aka Randoo, I am 67 years old, accompanied by my dog and I’ve been on the road since February 23, 2018, as of this writing just over 3 months. I have been in 5 states, 4 Motel 6’s and 10 different campgrounds over 6300 miles and stops at friends and family. I am on the road and I’m enjoying it. Let’s start with a bucket list item.
There is a place in the far western and southern desert of Arizona called the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. At first glance, one might question the possibility of wildlife even remotely living in such a harsh desert environment but live there these creatures do, most amazingly, desert bighorn sheep. But it isn’t just the critters, it’s the desert, some of the most rugged, badass, beautiful desert in America, the border of the Sonora and the Mojave deserts and amazing country.
Oh yeah, campground rating, uuhhh, no campground unless you consider the entire refuge as your campground because that’s what it is, primitive camping at its best. At Kofa there are no facilities, no restrooms, no designated campsites, no water, no nuttin’, just a bare spot in the dirt and a place to dig your privy. So in terms of a best-of-five something rating probably zip. In terms of desert lonesome awesomeness, 5 +.
Take lots of water, you’ll need it, at least two five gallon containers and if you are so foolhardy as to visit Kofa between May and September, take a fiver for each day you will be there, just in case. I was there in March and was quite comfortable, day and night. Winters will be mild daytime, chilly to cold at night, summers, oppressively hot daytime and dance-naked-under –the-moon beautiful at night with more stars than you have ever seen unless you’ve been to Machu Pichu under a new moon.
As for things to do, desert hiking both flatland and in the mountains is what is offered. Take a camera and try to get a sheep shot. If that doesn’t work the native palms in Palm Canyon that stand still and won’t run away from you and the landscapes under a changing desert sun are wonderful.
I spent three nights there and was enchanted by a desert landscape I’ve wanted to visit since I was draft eligible. It’s all about timing and tolerance but if you find yourself in the neighborhood of Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, 23 miles south of Quartzite, 60+ miles north of Yuma, Arizona, allow yourself a night or two. Might pleasantly surprise you.