Hiking: Castle Dome Peak, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Top of Castle Dome Peak , @marissareeds

During a recent trip to Yuma, Arizona, we wanted to explore further into the remote Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Ed had been researching and planning some good peaks to try and climb for a while, and had planned out a hike to Castle Dome Peak. Castle dome peak is a prominent mountain located in the Kofa mountain ranges, I was surprised it was even possible to climb due to its size and shape.

A few of them had actually attempted the hike before, but unfortunately got lost on the way up and weren’t able to find the proper trail-head. This time we came more prepared, having researched the proper GPS route.

Our journey started on the road from Yuma, AZ in a little red 4×4 SUV, named “Rosie”. We headed north on US 95, and after about 35 miles turned east onto Castle Dome Mine road. Castle dome mine road is is a dirt road through the Kofa wildlife refuge. We drove down the long towards Castle Dome mine museum, our next milestone for the directions we were following. Out my window were open views of the remote dessert valley, with an abundance of different vegetation like i have never seen. Oddly, on the left we passed a giant “weather balloon” (rumored otherwise), belonging to the US military. The Kofa wilderness is actually located near the Yuma military proving grounds, which we passed on our way; It was odd to be in the middle of nowhere but then see large miliary planes and equipment around.

Castle Dome Peak in the distance along Castle Dome Mine Rd.

Cell service is limited, but spirits are high as we pulled up to the Castle Dome Mine. Castle dome mine is a museum of what’s left of an old town from 1878. We quickly realized the gate to continue along the dirt road is closed, in fact barricaded off with large rocks. After making contact with the owner of the mine, we learned that they had closed the road in-definitely. However, we were given new instructions for a detour that would allegedly bring us to where we needed to go.

We back tracked along Castle Dome Mine Rd, and took a right at an narrow, sandy, un-kept dirt road, which definitely required 4×4. Luckily, Rosie was able to clear the road nicely, as we drove down the sandy winding road with the hopes of making it to the trail head. This was becoming quite the adventure and the hike hadn’t even started.

After quite a few miles, the road connected with the original road we had planned on taking, a relieving discovery! We continued left along the road towards the area we believed the trail head started. There still had not been one any sign even referencing castle dome mountain peak, or any other hike for that matter, however our GPS was telling us we were on the right track.

After a little bit of a guessing game, trying to de-code the trail head description, ( which was hardly unique ), we found the general area to park in. No signage, no other cars, but you could see some foot prints and tire marks.

We started our trek through the wash, surrounded by rocky mountains as we headed into the ranges. We had a little trouble near the beginning, following the wrong canyon, but were able to re-adjust our path before it was too late. We walked through the deserted wash, walking over multi-colored rocks and stones. The whole area looked almost as if it was once under an ocean. The route followed straight through the wash, with hardly any elevation gain at all. We started to realize that it looked like the 3700ft elevation gain was going to be left to the last ascent.

Looking back at the wash at the beginning of the ascent

The sun shined on our backs as the peak loomed in the distance, we came to some rocks made into the shape of an arrow pointing right. We started to make our way up towards the mountain, following a trail of inuksuks that kept us on track, which was a nice re-assurance to have as we got farther away ( shout out to whoever made all those ). As we become closer and closer, the scree and steepness became looser. Luckily, the mountain covered the harsh sun so we were able to climb in the shadow. The trail made its way up to a prominent spire on the left of the mountain.

@dyljwheeler in-front of Castle Dome

At this point, the trail goes upwards between the spire , and lead us to a vertical climbing section with a lot of exposure. At this point, we thought this was the only way up, which was definitely out of my comfort zone. I was really nervous, however you could see that the ledge leveled out at the top. With some encouragement from Dylan and Ed, we climbed up the vertical wall.

After we go to the top, we realized there was a an easier way down (phew), and we continued following the inuksuks and weaved along the backside of the peak towards the top. At this point, the views were phenomenal, you could see forever, and not one cloud in the sky. The spire was super cool too from up-top as-well.

Finally, we made it to the peak! I was blown away, what an awesome feeling. Surprisingly, the top was not anything I expected, it was actually a huge ridge we could walk around, with lots plants and wildlife. We were surrounded by panoramic views all around of the rugged Kofa mountain ranges and long desert valleys that dissapeared into the distance. I couldn’t beleive we were standing on top of the giant rock we had been staring at for days…. amazing.

@marissareeds view from top of Castle Dome Peak
@dyljwheeler view from top of Castle Dome Peak

We could hear loud thunderous rumbling coming from the distance, and that’s when we noticed what looked like explosions in the sand. The Yuma proving grounds were doing drills, and odd thing to see from the top of a mountain, but definitely added to the experience. We had lunch, took our photos, signed the book and started our descent.

As we scrambled down towards to spire, I managed to hit a jumping cholla cactus with my hand., and holy was that ever painful. I looked down at my hand and there were countless spikes wedged under my nail and on my fingers, I panicked, trying to pull them out, as they caught on to my other hand. Now both hands are covered in spiked needles…. lovely.

Let me explain: Jumping chollas, also known as teddy bear cactuses, are called by these named because they look soft and cuddly but are known to feel like they jump onto your skin. Basically, they have small hooks attached to their pricks, so when you hit them with the skin, they pop off a piece of the cactus and hook underneath your skin, like a fish hook.

So I was on top of a mountain in the middle of the dessert, with a ton of adrenaline, and had cactus spikes yanked into my fingers. Dylan tried to grab them out too and then got them stuck in his hand as well, ( clearly not experienced desert hikers ) . Eventually we were able to use two rocks to rip them out. Let me tell you, that freaking hurt. If you’re headed out into the dessert, be diligent of those things and bring pliers in case you get caught.

We bandaged up my hand and continued down the mountain, following the Inuksuk’s down the scree as we made it to the last stretch of the washed out trail. A satisfying feeling it is, when you’re almost back to the car, knowing what you have accomplished. We took one last look a little closer at some of the large senora cactuses, and spotted some big horn sheep roaming the hills before we hopped into a very hot Rosie and headed back down the sandy dirt desert road.

As we drove further from the ranges, we anxiously waited until castle dome was in sight again so we could admire the mountain we had climbed. A entirely new perspective on the dessert was earned that day, and has left me more curious then before.

if you’re searching for a lesser known hiking adventure while in Arizona, consider hiking castle dome peak, it will not disappoint! This is an update trip report as of 2020 where your can download the map, and get exact directions for the new dirt road. : Stav Is Lost, Castle Dome Peak

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