Kofa National Wildlife Refuge Bikepacking Tour - Day 3 - Hoodoo Cabin, Across the Little Horn Mountains, and out to Coyote Peak
50.86 Miles; Near Engesser Junction to Coyote Peak
After the lightning and thunder show that lit up the inside of the Eolus shelter all night, we slept hard and woke to a world of clear air and saturated moisture. On the open plains of Kofa, the sun hit early and warmed early to our enjoyment. We packed up and started our way to Hoodoo Cabin where our next water resupply awaited.
The brittlebush were absolutely lighting up the landscape, heavily contrasted with ground darkened by rain. I felt like I was bouncing, literally, so I checked my rear tire and realized a significant amount of air had escaped leaving me almost riding on my rim. I stopped to flip it over, check for gashes, holes, and sputtering sealant (saw none), so I pumped it back up. That task done, I raced along the washes of Engesser Junction to catch up to Janna. The route became Engesser Pass Road and wandered slowly north up a massive spill-wash in the desert. Striations of soil and sand made me know this thing was running last night in the storm. We started passing large scum bubbles and foam in massive pilings along the wash. I was confused. Then, I realized they were leftovers from what must have been a flash flood that came through here in the storm and only just receded. I started scoping left and right and saw freshly dislodged plants washed up and stranded on the upper banks. It made me grateful that we stopped when we did last night in the storm. And that we didn't start earlier or we would have been met with a flowing river of sand, scum, and froth.
These realizations shared, Janna and I kept biking up the wash. As we wound our ways around Courthouse Mountain and up to Engesser Pass, the humidity combined with the Sun left me feeling weak. A stream of sweat was dripping off me. I felt completely unacclimatized to the heat and moisture. At the top of the pass, Janna flipped her bike to fill her rear tire that was dragging to low. From there, the route started across a broad plain of rolling desert hills. The doubletrack was pocked with large puddles and peanut butter mudpots. The road itself was largely washed out in places requiring many slow hike-a-bikes. Babyheads and strewn stones lined several portions slowing me down with my rigid fork. A motorized dirt bike appeared ahead and then stopped when it reached us. The guy on it was flabbergasted that we were out here on bicycles and couldn’t get over it. He warned us of deep washouts ahead from the storm. We asked him where he stayed last night and how the storm was. He reported that he was north and east of us and got hit real hard in his trailer. It left the vehicle shaking from the wind gusts; it hailed so bad and so hard that he was worried of dents and a cracked windshield. We felt immediately grateful that we received no hail.
We pushed ahead for another hour or so through more washes and several cholla fields. A gathering set of clouds loomed dark, low, and puffy over the adjacent Kofa Mountains to our lefts. As noon approached, an obvious rain curtain dropped from them and started our way from the mountains downhill. We peeled left and arrived at Hoodoo Cabin. Hoodoo Cabin is an old 1940s former cattle rancher cabin originally constructed for ranch-hands to have shelter while checking fences in this often-intense and dry environment. Now, the area is federal Wilderness and a National Wildlife Refuge - no cows are allowed.
No sooner had we arrived at Hoodoo Cabin then the skies opened up and sheet of rain came down in a steady flow. We put our bikes under the porch overhang and got inside, still dry. Some ATVers who had arrived before us were there, and we ended up talking. They warned us of Africanized honey bees with a nest in the bathroom so we avoided that. They also were incredulous that we were out there. One guy kept asking me over and over what maps I was using and how it could be that we were on Day 3 in an area he perceived had no water. They also reported awful conditions in the storm last night as well as flash flooding near them and dangerous lightning strikes. Again, they said they couldn't believe we were in a tent given those conditions. The ATVers left in the rain, so Janna and I decided to wait it out in the rustic indoors. We rested in some camp chairs left inside and ate snacks until the storm passed and rain whittled to only spittle. With that, we ventured outside and walked over to the solar-powered pump and windmill where a shadecloth-covered wildlife tank was found. We filled up a ton of water to carry until we reached Kofa Cabin and its water source the next day.
Blue skies came out from the clouds and the rain curtain moved east into the desert. We biked out from Hoodoo Cabin and down towards the Little Horn Mountains. The we essentially chased the storm, keeping it framed directly ahead of us; it provided amazing views all afternoon. At one point, some loose sand fishtailed my bike sending me over the handlebars and into a cholla. Luckily, I had some trail rash but everything was good (and I got the cholla off me). We passed out of the Refuge and into BLM land. A Land Rover was pulled over and we had a long chat with a guy about the storm and the area. The day was getting on. We crossed a pass and descended down Hovatter Road into a large valley gloriously lit with golden hour. Saguaros stood prominently amongst black volcanic rock and all plants were fully leafed, vibrant from the rain and spring sun. A truck passed int the other direction. It was an old couple out tending care to a local mine. They were also inspecting the road for flash flood damage from the night before.
After them, we passed out of the Little Horn Mountains and onto a large plain all aglow in golden hour. The road became wide and the plains flat. Creosote covered it in swaths. The light of day became to fade brilliantly in an afterburn of sun coming to dusk. Janna and I decided to bike off past dusk and into the dark because we felt strong, the temps were amenable, and the road was wide and well-graded. Dark befell, our lights turned on, and we rounded around stark Coyote Peak. Several miles later, we pulled over and walked our bikes out into the creosote plain to find a place to camp.