Castle Dome Peak, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona


The Castle Dome mountain range within the Kofa (King Of Arizona) National Wildlife Refuge is very rugged terrain, with some very 'pointy' mountains.  Castle Dome Peak sits here in the middle of the range, and has a main trail that is marked well with cairns.  All of these climbs were done in groups of two to seven people, friends and coworkers, while we were all at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona for various flight tests.  As of March 2017, I have climbed Castle Dome five times.

There is a sign-in register on top, contained in an ammo box that is cemented in place.  This leads to two questions:
- Have you ever climbed Castle Dome and signed the register ?
- WHO carried that ammo box, cement, and the necessary water for the cement to the top ?

Castle Dome Mountain Range panorama, Castle Dome Peak to the left

I have flown my RC aerial photo and video plane several times near Castle Dome Peak.  I have YouTube links here to the GoPro videos I have shot and where I flew, and below these links are a few aerial photos from the GoPro.  Finally there are some ground photos of the plane flying from the May 2015 flight.

GoPro HD aerial video from just west of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 21 Nov 2014 (2 flights) Location in Google Maps
GoPro HD aerial video from just west of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 22 Nov 2014 (2 flights) Location in Google Maps
GoPro HD aerial video from just west of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 09 Feb 2015 Location in Google Maps
GoPro HD aerial video from just west of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 18 May 2015 Location in Google Maps
GoPro HD aerial video at the base of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 05 Jun 2015 Location in Google Maps
GoPro HD aerial video at the base of Castle Dome Peak, Kofa NWR, AZ, 04 March 2017 (2 flights) Location in Google Maps



Climb #1 - 17 March 2013

This first climb started on a Saturday, 16 March 2013, with a large group of us trying to follow the directions we found on-line to get to the trailhead.  None of us had done the climb before, so the on-line directions were our best source of data.  We found what we thought was the right trailhead, and followed a wash going up towards the peak.  We made it quite a ways up, passing a few cairns and even a large American flag and pole planted along trail, but eventually hit a vertical section which did not seem to match the descriptions on-line.  We turned back and did more research that evening, to find that we had started on an alternate route to the top which did actually make it to the top, but the overall route was much longer and more difficult than the normal path.  We had also wandered off this path when we hit the vertical section, so that wrong turn was a dead-end.

Wrong Way Saturday

We restarted the next morning on Sunday, 17 March 2013, and went directly to the correct trailhead.  Parking at the end of the 4-wheel drive road, you begin by hiking along a wash for about 1.7 miles, where you come to a large rock arrow in the dirt.  It points up and into a smaller wash coming from the side of the peak. Turn here and follow the cairns up and towards the peak itself, aiming for the spire on the left side of the peak.  The route along the trail is marked with a lot of cairns, and on our first trip, we followed it to the top with only one setback; the side wash up towards the peak (from the arrow) is littered with false cairns, so we followed the side wash a little too far before climbing out of it.


You will eventually get to a point just below a small cliff face, where the trail goes up and to the right for about a 100 feet. There are good views here at the base of this small cliff, and it is a good spot to rest and enjoy the climb – you have made it about half-way vertically at this point.  This is where the rock scrambling starts.  Follow the cairns up to the right for this small jog to the right, and then turn left and head towards the spire through lots of lose rock, eventually reaching the main cliff face below the top of the dome.  Follow the cliff face around to the left, toward the spire on the left side of the peak.  Between the spire and main dome is a small saddle. Just below the top of this saddle on the right is a vertical climb of about 20 feet. Head up this climb and you will see more cairns and more vertical climbs.  The trail flows around to the left, with some exposure at this point, and then heads pretty much straight up for 300+ ft vertically.  You will eventually top out at 3788 feet with incredible views.


The weather was perfect for this climb, and we all were very happy to have tried the second day with good results.  The next day at work, we flew over the peak while conducting our flight test, and captured this aerial video of Castle DomeHere is some video at the top shot by another of our hiking group.


Climb #2 - 1 September 2013

Two of us went on this climb on 1 September 2013, and based on the sign-in register at the top, we found that we were the first people to have climbed Castle Dome since the beginning of August.  The temperatures in August are just too high to make this climb enjoyable.  The temperatures on this hike almost did me in; the temperature by late morning as we were hiking back to the car was above 111 deg F. My hiking partner had never been on Castle Dome before, but he was an experienced hiker.  We made it to the top early with nice temperatures for hiking, but by the time we had descended back to the flat terrain of the wash on our way out, the temperatures were soaring. I had brought along over 1.5 gallons of water and Gatorade, but I ran out of water, and finally reached the point of pouring Gatorade over my head in the final section of the hike back to the car.  I was approaching heat exhaustion, but the car's air conditioning cooled me off before it became critical.  If you ever climb in August or September, make sure you do it very early or late in the day. The temperatures by 10:30 AM were unmanageable.  I hiked across the Grand Canyon a week later, and the weather and temperatures were great for that trip.


Climb #3 - 9 February 2014

My third climb, on Sunday, 9 February 2014, was again with a large group of friends. This was a mix of veterans and people who had never climbed it before.  This was a very good trip, with excellent weather and temperatures, and everyone was in great spirits.  A different group of coworkers from my office had climbed it the day before, and we arrived at the summit to find their names on the sign-in register.  In fact, our group was doing flight test the day before on Saturday, and we had watched our coworkers at the summit as we flew over.  I had my GoPro Hero 3 on a head mount, and recorded the whole climb to this video.  The video starts about halfway up vertically, just before the first set of scrambles.


Climb #4 - 31 January 2015

This climb on 31 January 2015 was my fourth climb to the top, and I was hiking with two friends who had also been to the top before.  I installed Google MyTracks on my phone and recorded the GPS route to this .kmz file. Download it and view it in Google Earth for more details.  It is also plotted in the picture at the very top of this page.  I had my GoPro on a head mount again for this climb, and recorded the climb like the previous trip.  The video on this trip starts at the large arrow that points the way up and out of the wash.  The route to the top is about 2.75 miles one-way, and the vertical climb is 2000 ft.  On this climb, we made it to the top in 2 hours 45 minutes.


The photo on the left below shows the Castle Dome flight-line.  There is cholla everywhere along the trail and covering the top of the peak, and living up to its nickname “jumping cholla”, it will join you and come along for the ride if you touch it. The next photo looks down on the spire next to the peak that you should use as a target when climbing. Our small AAICORP flag that was placed on the peak in February 2014 is still there, a little faded.  Finally, there are two panoramas from the top, one looking to the east and the other to the west.


Palm Canyon & Crystal Hill - April and May 2015

The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is huge; it covers over 1000 square miles.  In April and May 2015 I visited the Palm Canyon and Crystal Hill sections for some hiking, photography, and rock collecting.  Palm Canyon is a narrow canyon below Signal Peak, the highest point on the refuge. It has a small grove of palm trees, the only native palm trees to southwest Arizona.  The road out to the trailhead is 8 miles long and the hike up the palm trees is about 1 mile roundtrip.  I also flew my aerial video plane at the Palm Canyon trailhead in April 2015. The link to the YouTube video and the location of the flight from the trailhead is below.

GoPro HD aerial video of Palm Canyon, Kofa NWR, AZ, 19 Apr 2015 Location in Google Maps


Panorama looking west from Palm Canyon trailhead

Crystal Hill is the only place on the refuge where you are allowed to collect rocks, and the road out to Crystal Hill is a few miles south of Quartzsite, Arizona.  There is lots of quartz, with various minerals in the quartz for color variations.  The view from the top of Crystal Hill gives a good idea of what this section of Arizona is like.


Panorama from the top of Crystal Hill

Hike to the base of Castle Dome - 5 June 2015

On 5 June 2015, I hiked out to the base of Castle Dome Peak with a friend, and we carried along my 2 meter wingspan flying wing, GoPro, and radio equipment.  We stopped at the arrow at the end of the wash, and flew the plane there.  The aerial video is here at YouTube.


Climb #5 - 4 March 2017

This climb on 4 March 2017 was my fifth climb to the top, and I was hiking with a friend who had also been to the top several times before. I carried along my 2 meter wingspan flying wing, GoPro, and radio equipment.  My friend carried his DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter and radio equipment.  We flew together just above the wash at the base of the peak.  Both our aerial videos are posted to YouTube, with links below.  We left the flying gear safely stowed under some rocks part way up the trail why we climbed to the top, and then both of us flew again after descending from the peak. The GoPro head-mount climb video has been cut down to parts of the climb, with the exception of the final vertical 300 ft; that section is complete so you will know what to expect if you are planning on climbing Castle Dome.  The vertical section starts about 12 minutes into the climb video.



Castle Dome Climb Video

Flying Wing Castle Dome Wing Aerial Video

DJI Phantom 3 Castle Dome Aerial Video