Trail Report: Ripsey Hill Mine
By Matt Marine
“You’re breaking the Cardinal Rule of four-wheeling,” the woman told me, “going out alone.”
I gave her my best cocky smile, “Rules are meant to be broken.” But truth be told, I wasn’t as confident as I appeared. As I was contemplating if she wanted a straight answer, the leader of the Tucson Rough Rider’s group spoke up, “Don’t give him a hard time,” he said, “Without him doing what he does, we wouldn’t be out here enjoying this run. He’s the one we learned about the trail from.”
She smiled and retreated to her Jeep. She wasn’t being harsh, just concerned. And with good reason. I usually don’t like going out alone, but sometimes all my other regular trail compatriots are busy. Most of the time when that happens, I’ll opt for the safer thing to do and reschedule. Not this time. Work had been super stressful for the last few weeks and I was starting to get sick again. Getting out in the open desert is one of the few things that seems to heal me.
And I really wasn’t alone. I had Cat-dog with me. She’s my trusted four-wheeling, hiking, biking and curl-up-on-the-chair-to-watch-TV companion. We had started our adventure when we left Tucson around 8 am. We were headed back to the Ripsey Mine area for a third exploration trip. The first two had been highly successful, discovering Ripsey Mine and Hackberry Cabin, which are now some of my favorite central Arizona trails.
As I was researching those trails, I had discovered a few other interesting features on Google Earth and my topo maps, but couldn’t get to them during those trips due to time constraints. While talking this over with a friend at work who happens to be a big-time rock hound, he stated he’d been to the area in question a while back and he thought I’d really enjoy the place.
I didn’t understand until a few days prior to the trip that the Tucson Rough Riders 4WD organization was having their annual Trail Dust Days event that weekend and would be leading a large group of vehicles along the Ripsey Mine trail. While this wasn’t exactly the place I was going, it was going to be very close, so I felt a little better about going out alone. If I was in a real pinch, I might be able to find them to help me out.
Cat-dog and I hit the small town of Kearny at about 9:30. We attempted to cross the Gila River at a ford one of the Rough Riders had told me about. I had never been this way before. He’d stated they’d crossed it about two weeks ago and it was fairly shallow. When I got there, it looked anything but shallow. The waster was brown and murky and I couldn’t tell if it was 8 inches or 8 feet deep.
I stopped the Jeep at the river’s edge. Maybe I could wade out there and test the water. I had brought some extra shoes and clothes just for this predicament. I opened the door and … yowser! I was attached by thousands of bugs. And I mean thousands. I opened the door and Cat-dog and I got out. We lasted about 20 seconds before we scrambled back in the Jeep and closed all the windows. I have never seen anything like it in Arizona before. The closest thing I’ve experienced to this was when I lived in the Florida Everglades and the mosquitoes were so thick you could grab them out of the air with a swipe of your hand. Not sure why they were there, the best thing I could think of was that the Jeep scared them up from the tall grass.
Taking the more cautious approach (I don’t like to do water crossings alone) and thinking if we ran into any problems, we’d be eaten alive before we were rescued, we headed out with our tails between our legs.
Instead, we drove up Ripsey Wash, which is an easy and beautiful trail. We got to the spot my GPS said was the spur trail I wanted to take. It was at the intersection of two washes. I looked at the smaller wash on my right, trying to spot the trail. It didn’t seem to be there. It had looked like a road when I saw it on Google Earth. But I also knew Google Earth could be deceiving. I checked my topo map again. Yep, I was in the right place.
I gave my Jeep some gas and headed up the wash. I could tell a storm had washed down some new sand and rocks, probably covering the trail. I kept going. Every once in a while, I would see a faint outline of a trail or rock cairn, so I began to believe I was on the right track. After about ¼ of a mile, my topo map said the road left the wash and climbed up the hill. I looked, but saw nothing. I crept forward. Still nothing. Twenty more feet. My GPS was screaming at me now, telling me that I should be heading out of the wash.
I looked again. There! The trail leading up the hill was overgrown and hidden by some trees, but there it was. Maybe. It wasn’t until I was 50 feet up the trail that I felt confident that I was actually on a trail. The rest of the trail was easier to follow, though it hadn’t been traveled for a while. It was overgrown in numerous places. Perfect.
We climbed up to the ridgeline and followed it for a short distance before I spotted something on my left. An old car/truck chassis! I stopped the Jeep and let Cat-dog out. The first thing she did was step on a piece of cholla. I got it out of her paw and went over to take a look at the old rusted vehicle. I’m no good at identifying these, though if I were to take a guess, I’d say 1930s or 1940s.
While I was taking pictures of it, I noticed a semi-collapsed building nearby. Woohoo. I hadn’t seen either of these on Google Earth when I’d looked prior to the trip. I called the pup and started walking over … pup didn’t follow. She’d gotten another piece of cholla in her paw. I got it out and she took three more steps and BAM! stuck again. What was going on? She is usually very good about not stepping on things.
I looked around and began to notice small chunks of cholla littering the entire area. I think the winds from a few days prior had blown all the loose cholla parts off and they covered the desert floor. I carried pup to the Jeep, put on her leash and we walked along the road to the ruins.
I think it was a small ranch with a stable attached. There was a corral not far from it. I didn’t get a chance to do much investigation since we were having so much trouble with cactus. I definitely want to go back there when there are less prickers.
We climbed back in the Jeep, checked paws and feet for cholla, then continued driving up the road. Not far from there, the ridgeline road becomes more of a shelf road. Along one fairly steep hill, the road became washed out. It was barely wide enough to squeeze my JK by with one tire on the side hill, the other on a rock that had filled in a big crevice. There were a few more rutted areas up this section, but my Jeep performed well and did not require any lockers.
I will admit that this section made me nervous as I was the only vehicle out there. I wouldn’t have had many options if I’d gotten stuck or dropped a tire of the edge of the shelf road. And with no place to turn around, it would have been ugly if I’d had to back down through these ruts if I’d found something impassible at the top of the hill. I was lucky and this was the toughest spot of the trip.
We kept driving along the road for about another mile as it became more and more overgrown. Eventually, I saw what I’d been looking for. A small wooden building sitting atop a small hill. We pulled up near it and got out. I did a quick scan of the area for loose cholla and didn’t see much, so I left Cat-dog off her leash. After walking the area, I found this is a great place to park. The road is impassible just beyond the shack.
The building wasn’t that old (or it had been refurbished in the not so distant past), though it was still in rough shape. The sides were exposed pressboard and it had a “modern” roof. My guess was the 1970s. As I walked closer, I noticed there was a Private Property sign on the building, therefore I did not enter. I probably wouldn’t have entered even if it didn’t have the sign. The smell of those old buildings can really wreck havoc on my super-sensitive nose and they are a haven for hanta. I could see that it appeared to have some old appliances that were clearly in bad shape through the open windows.
We passed the shack and headed down the other side of the hill toward the mine. There was discarded equipment everywhere. Some of it was super cool. The small ravine was laden with old stuff.
Next to the mine, there was a large concrete pad/foundation with about eight tall steel pipes sticking out of it. I have no idea what this was used for. In front of the mine was a cool old compressor. I loved the color. It still had a battery on the side! Not sure about a date for this old thing. Maybe the 1960s? But I think it was still running a lot more recently than that.
The mine has one of the coolest entrances I’ve ever seen. A large concrete archway with a steel gate (which was open at the time). Inside the mine were steel tracks for small ore carts. I don’t like going into mines much, so I was satisfied with taking pictures from the outside.
After looking at the mine, decided to head a little further down the washed out road. I saw another collapsed wooden structure beyond the next narrow canyon, maybe about 100 yards away and decided to go investigate. If the “road” wasn’t bad enough yet, it is completely gone at this point. A huge washout happened here and it’s even difficult to climb on foot. We went down the 15 feet into the washout, then climbed up the other side.
There’s more discarded equipment up here, tons of concrete pads and the collapsed building. There was also a big open mine/pit/well. It was unusual in that it was square and about 15-20 feet across. At least that’s my estimate, but I always go big. It had large old wooden beams across it. I wanted to see how deep it was, so I tossed a rock down it and waited for the “thump” as it hit the bottom.
I was never rewarded with the “thump”, instead it was a big “splash”! My guess is was it was 30 feet or so down, but where did that water come from? I was on the side of a hill. I would have been large amounts of money that everything was dry as a bone here. And it wasn’t like it was a small puddle. It sounded like a big pond.
Thinking this was a great find, I decided to video my triumph, but it didn’t turn out as I planned. Here’s what I came up with.
The bottom was large enough to have both a dry side and a water side.
It was getting to be lunch time, so Cat-dog and I headed back to the Jeep. We ate lunch in the shade behind my JK. I put down a purple towel for her to lie on. Yep, sometimes she can be such a princess and I spoil her rotten!
At the start of the trip, my plan was to find a place to camp out there, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. Too many prickers and nothing was really looking that great, but we’d keep looking.
After lunch, we headed back down the hill and took a short side trip down a narrow canyon to the top of Hackberry Dam. I’ve been to the bottom on a prior trip and climbed up to the top (almost) by foot, but I’d never actually stood at the very top before.
This canyon is fun to drive. Very twisty and narrow in spots. Be careful though, the dam sort of creeps up on you and if you’re not paying attention, it’s a thirty foot drop to the bottom! I really enjoyed the view from up here.
On our trip back to the main road we saw a couple of critters: a tarantula and a snake. I got out to take some pictures/video of the spider and a large fly landed on its butt. The spider freaked out and jumped forward, which of course, caused me to jump, which caused the pup to jump. It was an awesome chain reaction.
We headed down to Hackberry wash, but it was still early and we could either find a place to camp or I still had time to do some more exploring. I decided to take the Hackberry Wash to the south. I had never been down that section of the wash before I had seen a picture of an old oil rig (yes, I said oil rig) that had once been there.
Way back in the early 1900s, there was a rumor (possibly started by Joe Mulhattan who was labeled as the World’s Biggest Liar) that there was oil in the area. People fell for the ruse and a few even began drilling. It’s no surprise that none was ever found. I heard the oil rig was still there in the 1970s, but had probably been demolished for scrap.
This section of the wash is super easy to drive and smooth. We took a few interesting looking side trails, but didn’t find anything too interesting. We did find and old dam just before hitting private property. Oh, well. We turned around and headed back down the wash. We passed the Hackberry Cabin and just as I was going through the gate, I saw a large group of vehicles coming down the shelf road into the wash.
I knew it must be the Rough Riders, so I turned around and waited for them at the Cabin. They had 13 or so vehicles and it was nice having company for the first time during my trip. I talked to a few of them, got scolded for being out alone, then followed them back toward the Gila River crossing.
As we got near the crossing, we passed through a gate. From here I had heard of two different exits. A left gets you to a very close ford in Kearny, a right takes you down the Camino Rio Road to a ford in Dudleyville. We took a left. There were a few old buildings here, with some trucks parked near them and people milling about. From my quick look at them, it appeared as though they were staying there. From the side we were on, there was no apparent private property issues. As I was last through the gate, I looked back and it was labeled private property on this side. I wondered if that was correct. I know the guy who had come in through Dudleyville hadn’t mentioned anything about crossing private property (and later confirmed that it hadn’t been there when he traveled the road a while back).
The long convoy made its way to the Gila River. I think it was deeper than the leader expected. It can have nothing to do with rain, it’s whether they open the gates at the reservoir. I talked with a couple of guys in an ATV on the other side and they told me they thought they had let some water out of the reservoir to clean it.
The leader went through and did fine, though the water seemed to be about 2 feet deep. Everyone did OK. It was neat seeing a stock Wrangler go through with water halfway up his doors. It shouldn’t be a problem for me.
I decided that I still had a little time to explore a third option that I’d heard about and waved goodbye to the Rough Riders on the other side of the river. There’s a private bridge just a little distance downstream. I didn’t think it would be open, but just wanted to see it. I found it and it was scary just to look at. The small steel suspension bridge was in bad shape. At least one of the cables was broken. The driving surface looked so bad that I probably wouldn’t have walked on it. I couldn’t believe that people still drove on it. I do know that my friend had done so when he was out there. He was lucky enough to talk with someone with a key and made the crossing for a case of Bud Light for payment.
I spent a little time trying to find another way across the river, but was unsuccessful so I went back to the ford the Rough Riders had taken earlier and drove across. Checking the water level on the Jeep after going through it, I found it was about two inches above the bottom of the door. Glad I didn’t have my doors off!
Cat-dog and I aired up and headed back home. It was an awesome adventure and I’ll have to go back some day when I can do a little more exploring.
Photos from the trip
Google Earth image of the ranch/corral
Google Earth image of the shack and mine area
Looking at the entrance to the ranch
The old car
Old vs. New
Panoramic view of the ranch and stable
The shack near the mine
Cool stuff at the mine
Concrete pad and steel pipes
Panoramic view of the mine area
The mine entrance
The compressor and the shack
Panoramic view looking back at the shack
The big hole int he ground
Another panoramic vie
Hole in the ground and concrete foundations
Cool equipment around
Cat-dog looking over the dam
Cat-dog, my Jeep and me
Another small dam
Half buried car
I'm not crossing that bridge!
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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