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Hotter than mesquite!
Notice! It was reported in this forum thread that the Coke Ovens are on private property that is closed to the public.
This is more a destination than a hiking trail per se, but an iconic Arizona location nonetheless! The ghost town of Cochran is nearby and could be combined with a visit to the Coke Ovens as well as hiking North or South Butte. NOTE: 4WD vehicle is a must and traveling with 2 or more vehicles strongly recommended. ALSO NOTE: State Trust Land Permit required. Information is listed further down the page above directions.
If "getting there" is half the fun, combining a trip to the Coke Ovens with a loop through Cottonwood Canyon and Box Canyon will double the fun. Cottonwood Canyon Road is located between milepost 144 & 145 along Hwy 79 at the flag pole. The "No Trespassing" signs don't apply if you have a State Trust Land Permit. A red flag up the pole indicates the National Guard may be practicing nearby with live ammunition. Follow Cottonwood Canyon Road until you reach the T-intersection with Mineral Mountain Road. Take Mineral Mountain Road south until you reach another T-intersection with Box Canyon Road. Take Box Canyon Road south until you reach yet another T-intersection at GPS co-ordinates 33o 08.984N, 111o 12.085W. This is the turn-off for the Coke Ovens and Martinez Mill & Mines. Follow the trail up over the saddle. Take the turn-off at GPS co-ordinates 33o 09.193N, 111o 10.610W to follow the loop to the Coke Ovens.
The Arizona Highways book "Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps" by Philip Varney speculates that the five charcoal kilns were built around 1882 along the Gila River by the Pinal Consolidated Mining Company to turn mesquite into charcoal to be used in the ore smelting process. Charcoal burns hotter and longer than the mesquite wood from which it was derived. Smelters preferred coke, which is derived from coal, because it would burn even hotter and longer than charcoal. The abundance of mesquite in this Gila Valley location was exploited by the mining company in an attempt to obtain economic advantage. It should be pointed out that "Coke Ovens" is a complete misnomer and "Charcoal Kilns" would be most accurate to describe these bee hive structures.
Cochran was a mining and railroad town along the Phoenix and Eastern Railroad (and later, the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railroad) beside the Gila River. The Silver Bell and Copper Butte mines combined with trade from nearby ranches created a town of about 100 people when the first post office was established at the site in 1904. Closure of the mines and post office in 1915 caused the town to vanish almost overnight.
Precisely when the Coke Ovens ceased operation is unknown, but homesteader William Fred Jenkins actually lived in one of the kilns in the 1930's. In 1971, these five unique structures standing over 30 feet high 72 feet in circumference were placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In the 1980's, an attempt to integrate the kilns into a guest cottage/bed and breakfast operation was made. When you explore the kilns today you can notice the alterations such as concrete floors, door frames and windows to support this make-over. I can not find any records as to how successful this venture was.
On the return trek, continue along Box Canyon south towards the village of Price located along the Gila River wash. Follow Price Road back to Hwy 79 and the town of Florence.
Many off-roading guides indicate that the Coke Ovens sit on private land. No access restrictions were encountered on our recent visit. This route could be an interesting mountain bike journey, or a base camp for some interesting hiking opportunities in a remote location. Enjoy!
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