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Kofa Tunnel Spring High Tanks Loop, AZ
mini location map2021-01-09
29 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Kofa Tunnel Spring High Tanks Loop, AZ 
Kofa Tunnel Spring High Tanks Loop, AZ
Hiking avatar Jan 09 2021
Hiking11.25 Miles 1,963 AEG
Hiking11.25 Miles   7 Hrs   12 Mns   1.85 mph
1,963 ft AEG   1 Hour   8 Mns Break
1st trip
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After two recent hikes in the Eagletails looking west at the jagged peaks of the Kofa Mountains, I wanted to check out that area up close. After scanning through trip logs for a few of the peaks and canyon hikes, I mapped out a loop that would include Tunnel Spring a few of the high tanks. It's a long drive from the Phoenix area out to the Kofa Mountains--more than three hours--and the last stretch along the dirt roads off of Highway 95 definitely requires a high-clearance vehicle. We were surprised to find a locked gate with a "No Trespassing" sign along El Paso Natural Gas Access Road ~5 miles off the highway. There was a side road around the gate and several campers were parked on the other side, and since we only needed to follow the pipeline road a short distance before turning off, we went around the gate and continued. Seeing the same "No Trespassing" sign on the opposite side of the gate had me wondering how someone could be trespassing on both sides of the road when it was only posted in that one spot...

The geology looked a lot like the Eagletails--we saw two arches on the drive to our starting point along Valve 2 Road near High Tank Six. We started our counter-clockwise loop from there and hiked up through the brush to High Tank Six which was, not surprisingly, completely dry. From there, we hiked up over a ridge into Tunnel Spring Canyon. That was a beautiful area full of jagged peaks and rock formations, towering walls, small caves, and a few more natural arches. The canyon was a lot greener than I expected in such a dry year, and we followed a flat, rocky wash south to Tunnel Spring.

The side canyon to the spring had a different atmosphere, with a lot thicker foliage thanks to the spring. A cool wind whipped through the canyon as we made our way up toward the spring, and we saw a deer run off as we approached. We reached the base of the cliff and didn't see the cave with the spring, and I figured it must be around the corner to the west. My partner stayed below while I made the scramble up the rocks toward the cave. The final stretch of the climb was slick with a combination of water, mud, algae, and a sampling of poop from a variety of animals. There was a metal spike stuck in the rock with a thick knot tied around it, but the rope was gone. A second rope was anchored up in the cave and offered some help for the final ascent. The rope was useful but soaking wet and slick, and my hands were filthy by the time I reached the top. Judging by the amount of poop leading up to and especially inside the cave, it's clearly a popular watering hole for animals. [ youtube video ]

There were two concrete tanks in the cave--one directly in the back that was full of water trickling out of the spring, and a second tank with a game camera that was empty. The view looking out from the cave was nice, and as I made my way back down the slick rope, my phone slipped out of my pocket and started tumbling down the rocks ahead of me. I thought I'd have a cracked screen or a destroyed phone, but somehow it survived the fall muddy but otherwise unscathed. When I made it back down to the base of the cliff, my clothes were covered in mud/poop and my shorts were soaked from sliding down the rope area, but it was a fun climb.

Before we continued the loop, I checked out a small structure on the opposite side of the canyon. I'm not sure what purpose it served--it was a small, run-down shack that looked like it was covered in metal screens on most sides. The view looking up toward Tunnel Spring from that spot was great--a much better vantage point there than from the direction we'd come approached from.

We connected with a jeep road and hiked a few fast miles toward Burro Canyon. I'd mapped out a side spur to High Tank Eight and De La Osa Well, but we were running short on time after a later-than-usual start due to the long drive and some tire issues in the morning, so we skipped the spur. Before reaching Burro Canyon, we left the road and cut over to High Tank Seven. That was the most developed of the tanks--it had a stone wall and a metal awning covering the tank, which was holding quite a bit of water. We climbed up the steep wall behind the tank and continued to the northeast on our way to Cripple Tank. We ended up slightly to the west of the route I'd mapped out and bypassed the tank, but we climbed down into the wash, and I ran back and checked out Cripple Tank, which was undeveloped and dry--it looked like there would be a sizable pool in wetter seasons/years, but not today.

We followed the wash toward High Tank Nine, and we must have bypassed it--the map shows it slightly west of the wash, but since we were short on time, we didn't go looking for it. There was some water seeping out of the ground in that area, and the closest thing we saw to anything developed were some sections of metal pipe stashed in a cave off to the side. Next up was Towhee Tank, and the canyon started to narrow considerably, with increasingly tall and narrow dryfalls. We climbed/slid down a few of them, including one that was close to ten feet high, and I started to get concerned that we might cliff out and have to backtrack...if that were the case, we'd be hiking out in the dark by flashlight.

There was definitely a serious "uh oh" moment when I turned a corner and saw a rappelling tie-in on the canyon wall. I approached the ledge and looked down a 30-foot vertical drop, knowing that however we were going to get out, it wasn't going to be that way. I wondered if I'd missed or mis-read something in the trip logs and if the route I'd mapped required rappelling, which we were not prepared or equipped to do. But, much to our relief, we were able to climb up and around that dead-end on the east side of the canyon and bypass the drop-offs in the wash. There were some slow stretches up above with loose dirt and talus, but the route worked out and finally started to level off as the canyon widened. I found Towhee Canyon to be the most impressive area along the loop--it's a beautiful, rugged area with the narrow canyons, several big caves high in the walls, and towering spires.

We saw a few more natural arches--including one we'd seen earlier from the other side in the morning--as we finished off the ~ 11 mile loop, very happy that we didn't end up having to backtrack and turn it into a much longer day than expected. We didn't see any other hikers along the loop, just one hunter and a parade of ATVs along the jeep road. It was a very enjoyable introduction to the Kofa Mountains and definitely worthy of future visits--I plan to return to check out some of the peaks and more of the canyon hikes.

dry Cripple Tank Dry Dry

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max High Tank Seven 51-75% full 51-75% full
Very dry most places along the route, but the tank looked like it was more than half full

dry High Tank Six Dry Dry

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max Tunnel Spring Dripping Dripping
Full tank and dripping water in the back of the cave where the spring feeds the concrete basin. The smaller concrete cave near the game camera was empty
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