Last winter, during the longest cold snap in Utah, I decided to head to Yuma, Arizona, to check out several areas in the region I had never seen. The closest I’d been until then had been the Salton Sea to the West, and Phoenix to the East, a pretty large gap in my knowledge of the southwest. I decided to take different highways on my way down and back, to see as much as I could on the trip.
Of the places I decided to visit, climbing Signal Peak was the most daunting, and most logistically inconvenient, so I decided to do that first, before anything bad happened. Signal Peak is the highest of the Kofa Mountains, with a summit at 4,877ft., not a high summit by my standards. But, the valley floor quickly descends to less than 500 feet to the south, and the Sea of Cortez is only 115 miles away, so the views are stunning. There are some smaller mountains in that direction blocking the view and it was a hazy day when I was there, but on a clear day I wonder if you can see the ocean.
The mountain is in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The name Kofa sounded exotic, until I learned it was an abbreviation for King of Arizona Mine. The gold mine, in King Valley, used to stamp it’s property K of A. The mine was very profitable.
I was happy that, despite tons of ATV and van life traffic, I was alone the entire day except for meeting one couple on the way up. We both startled each other, one of those situations where you somehow can’t see or hear people until you walk right into each other around a corner.
It’s a bit of a long drive from Yuma. Traffic is very slow for the road and with dirt road travel it takes 2.5 hours to get to the trailhead. It turned out the cold front I was running from extended all the way into Mexico, so I only experienced moderately warmer temperatures, and also dealt with continuous high winds for much of the trip, and the day I decided to climb Signal Peak was the coldest of the trip. High winds and lots of cold shadows, but the sun was warm, so it was difficult to dress, basically a lot of changing layers throughout the day. The trail itself is surprisingly good and there were only a couple of spots, mostly in open rock areas, where there was any question about which way to travel.
The trail climbs relentlessly, at times a bit rugged and definitely hard on the knees coming back down. The top of the mountain is large and complicated, with a lot of room to explore rocky offshoots. The views on the top exceeded my expectations. To the west, the direction of the highway and all the campers, you can peer off into the restricted Yuma Proving Grounds. To the north was probably the least interesting view, being endless and anonymous mountain ridge lines but with some notable peaks worth looking up on the far horizon. To the east the view was by far the best, with exotic and inspiring pinnacles and peaks streaming off into the distance down the backbone of the mountain range.
The view to the south was the most surprising to me, partly because I’d never seen pictures of it. A vast and barren alluvial plain devoid of any sign of roads or structures, the look of true wilderness. It extended off into the distance for 40 miles and had incredible water collecting potential for flash floods. The southern edge of the plain was contained by a low lying but very interestingly shaped mountain ridge line. From the top, it looked like there were empty areas between fractal, dendritic patterns of vegetation. A few days later, driving in another area, I confirmed that. Like Death Valley, there is a lot of completely barren areas of ground.
I had intended on staying up on the peak until late in the day, close to sunset, to get photos of the fantastic pillars to the east. But no matter where I went, I could not find adequate protection from the wind that day. And even plastering myself up agains dark brown walls of rock, the sun was unable to do it’s job and keep me warm. Despite wearing all my clothes I was slowly getting colder. Eventually I noticed my drinking water was close to freezing. So, reluctantly, I headed back down.
Once back to my car, because I’d left the summit more than an hour early, I had time to explore some of the formations in Queen of Kofa Canyon. It’s full of amazing rhyolite towers, fins and arches.
I stopped to take a look and sure enough, there’s a wide arch in the bottom of it. You can almost stand up straight underneath it (in one particular spot), and there is a pile of rocks at the base to help you get up into it. I looked it up and it’s called “The Mail Slot”.