Sign marking Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

The Kofa Wilderness occupies some 516,200 acres (about 82%) of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (665,400 acres in total), an area of southwestern Arizona that once was the scene of many precious mineral digs by the King of Arizona Mining Company. Although this area is a National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness and contains one of Arizona's largest populations of desert bighorn sheep, other wildlife is quite limited. There are 800 to 1,000 desert bighorn sheep on the Kofa NWR, enough that wildlife managers have been using some of this herd to transplant to other desert bighorn sheep habitats in the region. In a narrow, sheltered ravine called "Palm Canyon," the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge protects the last of the almost extinct native California fan palms (leftovers from ancient wetter days). In another area in the Kofa Wilderness, you'll find the rare Kofa Mountain barberry, a species of plant found only in southwestern Arizona.

Desert bighorn sheep, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

The central part of the Kofa Wilderness is the King Valley, a pristine desert valley between the Castle Dome Mountains to the south and the Kofa Mountains to the north. Both mountain ranges are stark and extremely rugged with jagged ridges rising thousands of feet above the desert floor. For some folks, the Kofa Wilderness is the epitome of a hostile desert environment. For other folks, that's the big draw... Although this area is littered with many colorful and beautiful minerals and rocks, noncommerical collecting is officially permitted only in the far northwest corner of the property near Crystal Hill.

Camping is allowed anywhere on public land within the Refuge and Wilderness as long as you remain at least 1/4 mile from any water holes. Vehicles may not stray from any designated road for more than 100 feet (and are not allowed in the Wilderness area anyway). Camping is limited to 14 days in any 12-month period. Campfires are permitted but you can only use the very scarce dead wood you may find.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Other than on the patented mining claims and other private inholdings, photography, wildlife observation, hiking and sightseeing are allowed in all areas of Kofa. To get to Palm Canyon (and see the last of Arizona's native palm trees) there is a foot trail available. To get to that trail: Turn off Highway 95 near mile marker 85 at the sign for Palm Canyon. The gravel road is fine for 2WD (low clearance), go east about 8 miles to the parking lot at the trailhead. About 1/2 mile down the trail is a wooden sign pointing to the California fan palms.

Something else to look out for: General George S. Patton conducted military training exercises on this property during World War II, and there may still be some unexploded military ordnance laying around. Be careful what you touch and/or pick up, especially if it looks like it was made by the hand of man.