Gold? Silver? ...No chance. Amazing views? Oh yea!
The Quantrell Mine is not unlike many other mines on the south side of the Santa Ritas. Places like Dunesque and Harshaw have stood the test of time and serve as reminders of what once drew men into these mountains. The Forest Service reports that Quantrell once produced large amounts of gold and silver in its better years. Today the only thing that sets it apart from the numerous other mines and prospects that litter the winding course that bears its name is its sheer size and the plurality of the works left on site. Quantrell boasts remains of loading works, three large tunnels, and a massive scree hill that can be seen on the Google satellite image of the area.
The Quantell Mine trail begins at a junction with the Elephant Head Bike trail (FSR 930). The best way to reach the trail is to hike the first nine-tenths of a mile in from Agua Caliente Canyon along Elephant Head. The trail here is well-worn and route finding is easy. The trail is rocky and typical of many desert hiking trails, offering little protection from the sun. The views to the east of Mt. Hopkins and its Multiple Mirror Telescope are excellent. The trail climbs to a saddle behind Little Elephant Head peak and offers awesome mini-forests of Santa Rita Prickly Pear. The climb is gradual and offers no major obstacles or step-ups. At the saddle, a small, stoned-off side trail breaks west to the summit of Little Elephant Head. From the saddle, Elephant Head drops sharply into Chino Canyon. The goings seem like a respite from the previous climb, but provide for an exposed and fairly steep climb on your return trip. This section of trail seems to be the most adversely affected by the mountain bike traffic, as most of the bedrock is slick and the ground is beaten and slippery in many places. At just about nine-tenths of a mile the trail approaches a small bosque of mesquite and a trail marker sign. The Quantrell Mine trail climbs east (right) away and the Elephant Head trail continues down canyon. Turn right.
Now beyond the junction you are on the actual Quantrell Mine trail. The trail winds its way up loose rock and reaches the first of several old mines after about a quarter of a mile. This initial section of trail seems to see a lot of abuse by ATV traffic, and it makes the goings harder under loose and strewn rock and ruts in the trail. An OHV trail connects to Quantrell from Chino Canyon. Luckily, the trail beyond this first mine seems to only see use by bikes, equestrians, and hikers. The trail climbs away from the first mine and passes several more spectacular forests of Santa Rita Prickly Pear, before winding its way west and narrowing in places. Its easy to see how this was once a road traveled by motorized vehicles. Many of the minor canyons the trail encounters see it built up using crushed stone native to the area as support. In a couple of places these supports are crumbling or gone completely. The hills have washed down and trees sprung up, leaving the trail impassible to vehicles as it winds its way around to the west and below an unnamed peak. This section of trail climbs gradually, but relentlessly.
Shortly after winding back east, Quantrell Mine is visible off on the hillside below the minor peak to the south that houses a few television and cell phone towers. This final stretch of trail is pleasant and easygoing. You now enter juniper and pinyon and finally feel like you're actually in the Santa Ritas. A few paces before the mine a route marked by a large cairn breaks due west toward Elephant Head, and eventually achieves its summit. The trail approaches the mine and its large tailing piles after roughly four-tenths of a mile of following the ridge. The final section of trail winds its way north and then turns southeast to climb atop the mine tailings. Amazing views of Chino Canyon and Elephant Head dominate. Care should be exercised around the mine and its tailings.
Return the way you came. One note about the return course: When approaching the junction with the Elephant Head Trail it is easy for one to become confused and begin down Chino Canyon. The Quantrell Mine trail approaches and seamlessly becomes the down-canyon section of Elephant Head, whereas the section of Elephant Head that climbs back to the saddle takes a sharp right and immediately climbs away.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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