Time seems to move faster and faster. I’m only now getting around to sharing some pictures from this year’s Thanksgiving trip. Aubrey and I met my parents in the Kofa Mountains of Arizona, to explore some new terrain while dining on delicious meals. This was also the first outing for my dad’s newly ruggedized 4Runner.

Prof. 4×4

My dad, and his recently ruggedized 4Runner.

The Kofa mountains are a rugged outcropping of volcanic rock protruding from the cactus decorated Sonoran desert. The area is full of intriguing rock formations, as well as valuable minerals. The name Kofa actually comes from the King of Arizona mine (K-of-A), a productive gold and silver mine that was operated from 1896 – 1910.

Hiding in these rugged mountains is the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in the country. Though we did see ample evidence of their existence, the animals themselves proved to be elusive. Perhaps that’s because, despite this being a national wildlife refuge, hunting is allowed (with strictly limited permits).

Cholla Cacti, Kofa Mountains, Arizona

Sunspines : Prints Available

The last rays of sunshine illuminate this grove of Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) in Arizona's Kofa Mountains.

Rugged Mountains, Kofa, Arizona

Gentle Ruggedness : Prints Available

Twilight glow on the rugged range of the Kofa Mountains in Arizona.

Our second day, Aubrey and I climbed Signal Peak for a short over-night. The calm conditions the afternoon of our departure were deceiving – around midnight the winds started to pick up.

I never sleep well in a tent when it’s terribly windy, for what up until now has been an irrational fear that the tent might collapse. (The one exception being our big yellow 4-season Fitzroy, which handles 50-100 mph winds as if they are a light summer breeze.) Well, there’s a first for everything. At 4am the gusts reached a crescendo, snapping a tent pole, which then tore through the rainfly. We tried to sleep for another hour in the helplessly flapping tent until there was enough light to pack up and head back. Lesson learned: from now on, we will always use our green “summit” tent when camping near a summit (the yellow one is too heavy)!

The Last Night

Last night of adventure for this little tent. RIP.

Kofa View, Yucca, Sunrise

Desert Wildlands : Prints Available

Early morning sunshine illuminates a grove of a yucca, with a spectacular view of the endless desert wilderness of the Kofa Mountains in Arizona.

Following our (mis)adventure in the mountains, we joined my parents at a most incredible campsite. This skull shaped rock had a cave large enough for us to comfortably cook dinner in, and was decorated inside with tiny crystalline geodes.

Skull Camp

Never have I stayed in a more incredible campsite!

With that I’d like to wish you all happy holidays and new year!

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7 Comments to “Thanksgiving in the Kofa Mountains, AZ”

  1. Boyan says:

    Love the Kofas, did not know the origin of the name, thanks for the useful info. So that Big Agnes snapped, huh? I was always suspicious of mine when I replaced the BD First Light with it. I hated the front entrance of the BD with a passion, but the first thing I did to the BA was to add four guyout points. Maybe I should reconsider my gear choices. Can you recommend something good in the wind with a side entrance?

    If you have not already done so, next time you go to the Kofas follow that road that the cave was on all the way to the end (another mile or so) then hike along the dried out washes to Squaw Peak. There is no trail but route is obvious if you look it up on Google Earth. Squaw is beautiful to photograph, particularly at night from the west side, and you can hike all the way around it. Hauling enough water is a PITA though, but that keeps the riffraff away :=) I have been there 3-4 times now and am yet to see another human being there.

  2. We haven’t decided what to replace the big agnes with yet. It’s the first side entrance tent I’ve owned. I think, in general, side entrance tents will simply never be as sturdy as front/back opening ones. Really it was just a poor choice for this trip – we should have taken our BD first light.

    So far, aside from this big agnes, I’ve always bought black diamond tents. Not for any particular loyalty, but they just seem to get it right. I have the fitzroy, first light, mega light, and mirage (8 yrs old, retired, which the big agnes replaced). We went with the big agnes over the black diamond mesa for the weight savings. Maybe we’ll go with the mesa next time. Though it is a similar design, the pole design is slightly less hubbed, which should translate to more strength. The other tent we considered is the north face tadpole, but the 2014 colors were too ugly (it’s a front opening tent, classic and strong design).

    I think the sweet spot for me is ~4 lbs for a 2-person 3-season tent. The recent ultralight push from tent manufacturers is resulting in structures that are just too weak. If we want ultralight, we can take the first light (2 lbs), if we want space we take the fitzroy (7 lbs), if want open floor plan there’s the mega light (2.5 lbs). And if we want super ultralight, we take my gossamer gear SpinnTwinn tarp (8 oz).

    As far as side entrance tents go that can handle real wind, maybe try the black diamond Ahwahnee. But that’s going to be a warm and heavy tent for 3-season conditions.

    I wanted to do a trip out to Squaw, but did not have time for that this trip. Next time maybe!

  3. Boyan says:

    Just came across the Tarptent Scarp, lots of reports from various people that it is about as stable as an Akto in high wind without the condensation hassle, and far more interior room. Looks very promising, I may shell out the $400+. Especially because it is a double wall with a side entrance.

  4. Boyan says:

    P.S.You were asking for trouble camping right on that Southwest facing ridge :=). It gets quite windy pretty much every night I have been there. The other side of Signal, right before the final approach seems nicely shielded. As to Squaw, here is something to give you an idea what to expect. Would love to see how you shoot it some day, I am sure it will be far more interesting

  5. If you get the Scarp, I’d be curious to hear what you think of it. I’ve stayed away from the tarptents since using one a long time ago because (a) condensation, and (b) I want my tents to be free standing. This one appears to solve those two problems, so I’m intrigued.

    That said, it is an ugly grey color, so ultimately it won’t make the cut for me. I only buy brightly colored tents 🙂

    Thanks for the encouragement to check out Squaw, it does indeed look like a great place to hike out to!

  6. Boyan says:

    Will do, I am pretty sure it will be either the Scarp or the Stratospire, the latter looks to be surprisingly tall with dual opposing entrances, and Youtube videos that suggest excellent wind stability. Not free-standing, though I don’t climb so I rarely find myself with the need to pitch in restricted spaces. BTW, the Scarp is not free standing without the cross poles which add nearly a pound to the weight.

  7. Boyan says:

    Ended up buying the Stratospire 1 (SS1). Pitched it for the first time today and was shocked how much more stable it is than the BA Copper Spur UL1 and 2. I have modified both my BAs with capability for up to six additional guylines (2x at the ends of the crossbar, 2x additional to the existing guylines at the head, and 2x along the crossbar in the foot area) and they still feel pretty flimsy. Once the SS1 is pitched it is rock solid from all directions. Part of that is due to the trekking pole support, which is bound to be 5-10x stronger than most tent poles. But part of it is the hexagonal shape that is anchored in the four cardinal directions. Here it is in fairly substantial wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUkddGNg_H8 I am thinking it will take 50+ mph gusts without blinking. Workmanship is not immaculate (not as good as the commercial tents) but not bad either. Overall I am pretty happy.