View Full Version : Tom Wills and Joiner Camps, Arizona

12-23-2012, 01:58 PM
Yesterday, a few of us southern Arizonian’s got together for an exploration trip down near the border. It was an awesome day with family and friends with some truly spectacular scenery. I had been trying to schedule this trip for a long time with Sunrise. He had told me about two old mining camps near Sunnyside that he had heard of, but he didn’t have a 4x4 to make the trip.

No problem, I had that one covered. And if he wanted the company of a small cat-like pup, I had that one covered too. I did a little Google Earth and topo map research and found some other interesting sites in the area. We were also going to be meeting a few other people I hadn't met yet who also live near there. All in all, there was going to be four different groups of people meeting in two different places at two different times to make the trip. Could be an interesting morning.

And it was. One of the people from Tucson called me just as I was leaving my house wondering if he was at the right meeting spot (near I-10 and hwy 83). Yep, but he was an hour early. No big deal, they would go off exploring near the Titan II Missile Silo nearby. When we pulled up to the parking area, they were just getting back. One of the Jeep’s was good and muddy. Turns out, the trail they went on had a large mud hole in it and he’d gotten stuck about 3 feet from the end. Good thing there was another Jeep along. Patrick and his red Jeep (the same one that had pulled my old Tacoma out on the trip to Wakefield two weeks ago) gave him a yank with a tow strap and they were on their way. And being the good sports that we are, we didn’t give the guy who got stuck any crap the rest of the day when we went by mud puddles ;-).

We met everyone in Canelo, by the old school that has been converted to a church. It was a wonderful old building, but gated off PP :(. We headed up the trail and got real lucky.


As we made the first turn onto FR 202, we came upon an older gentleman and his wife out walking their two dogs. At this point, the trail squeezed through a few homes and I wasn’t sure even if we were on the right road. The guy waved us down and at first I thought he was going to yell at us for being on his property. But, he was all smiles. He wanted to know if we were in a Jeep club. He lived in the house next to the road and has a Jeep. He was looking for people to go out exploring with. Although he couldn’t go out with us today, I gave him my card and number and told him to give me a call.
He told us that the Forest Service had bulldozed down the buildings at Tom Wills and Joiner Camps. Big bummer. BUT, if you parked at the end of the road and walked up the canyon, you would find some very interesting ruins. What luck, one minute earlier or one minute later, we would have never run into this guy. And we would have never found the site he told us about.

We pressed on along the trail. It’s a very wide, easy trail. I had my Jeep in 4WD high the entire trip. A high-clearance truck with good tires should be able to do this in good weather (though some of the hills at the end may be a little steep). The area is just beautiful. Trees, rolling grasslands and thick canyons. No snow this time, but there were places with water and frozen pools.

We stopped at a nice wash to stretch our legs and found some tailings, sink holes, test digs or buried old mines (not sure which). We found some old boards and lots of old metal. In one spot, there were some boards nailed to a tree and old stove pipe. Maybe a little shack to keep warm while you were working the mine??


After about 1/3 of a mile, we stopped at Tom Mills Camp. Beautiful area, but the Forest Service did a good job burying history. We couldn’t find any remains of the camp except some old cans, etc. We did find a wonderful waterfall (without much water). This was a chute cut into the rock. I would love to watch this after a big storm. The boys, Cat-dog and I climbed up the falls and found a nice big pool at the top. We called up the group and had a great time playing with the ice (which was about ˝ thick). We found a few chunks that reminded us of the shapes of certain states.



12-23-2012, 02:00 PM

We climbed back into our Jeeps and headed to Joiner Camp. The road ends at the camp (though there are some ATV trails that head out in a few directions from there). From the proposed FS maps, they consider the road ending at Joiner Camp. There was good parking for four vehicles here and places to turn around, but larger groups may have issues.

We parked and headed off to find the concrete and stone ruins the gentleman told us about. The walk up the canyon was drop dead gorgeous: big trees, small pools, high grass, only a few prickers and two trail cameras. Not sure if these were FS, Border Patrol or hunters, but we gave them our best smiles and kept walking.

Sunrise had headed off ahead of the group and after a while we became concerned that either we were one the wrong trail or the gentleman’s measure of distance was different than ours. We sat on some downed trees for a while and watched Cat-dog run and the kids climb.




more ...

12-23-2012, 02:02 PM
We talked about our choices: we could head back, we could wait here for Sunrise to return to see if he had found anything, or we could continue on. We decided we would go on for “two more turns” of the canyon to see if we could find anything.

Cat-dog wondering what we are waiting for?? Let's go!

Not a minute after we headed out, Sunrise came back letting us know that the ruins were just up ahead. Guess what? They were exactly “two more turns” ahead in the canyon. Our lucky day!

The first thing you will see is the circular stone “tank”. There are additional stone and concrete walls, foundations, equipment foundations, water pipes and tanks in at least seven levels above the bottom of the canyon. The climb is very steep (that is unless you find the overgrown road that switchbacks its way up there as we did on the way back down – that always seems to happen with me).





12-23-2012, 02:05 PM

We all speculated on the purpose of all the ruins in the area. No one could figure out exactly what was going on, but me, being very helpful, stated that it probably had to do with mining and water ;-).

We also found an old piece of luggage. We wondered if it could have been filled with cash from drug runners, but no one would fess up to finding it first. Maybe there’s someone who can now afford that new winch they always wanted ;-).

Maybe it was Cat-dog? If she gets on the Internet and buys herself some new cat toys, I'll know it was her!

We also found the dreaded Joiner Camp Canyon Crocodile.

We hiked back to Joiner camp and had a nice lunch. After everyone ate, we headed back down to almost the start of the trail for a spur road to a mine and dam I had found during my research.

more ...

12-23-2012, 02:07 PM
This trail was more in the grasslands and the views were incredible.


We got to the parking spot closest to the dam and I warned the newcomers about our last adventure to the dam on the Wakefield Canyon trip (more than an hour’s rough bushwhacking through extremely prickly desert). Everyone seemed game, even the people who probably still had the scratches from the last dam hike.

After only 50 yards of an easy, non-prickery hike we came upon this good sized dam. It was about 25 feet tall and had a great deal of water behind it. This is one of the only, non-filled in dams like this that I’ve ever seen. A great find!



For people like me who don't like heights, the walk out on the dam made my stomach turn. I was very proud of Cat-dog (who also doesn't like heights) for going across (I think it was because she wanted to be with the kids).


12-23-2012, 02:09 PM
We continued on the trail until it dead-eneded in a not-so easy spot to turn around, so we took a very short spur trail to the top of a saddle and hiked up to one of the peaks for a great 360 degree view. Then we lined up the ponies and took a few group shots.



It was starting to get late for me, so we made a quick drive to the start of the trail and all four groups headed off in their different directions.
I took this picture not two minutes after we got onto the graded dirt road. She was one tired little pup!


It was a really awesome trip with a great bunch of people to some outstanding places. I couldn’t have asked for a better day (except for maybe having to dry out all that wet money I found ;-).

12-24-2012, 05:53 AM
looks like a great day was had by all!!!!!!!!! great!!!!

it was cold enough to freeze water

12-24-2012, 05:57 PM
It was a right perfect day! Thanks to Matt and company for letting me tag along!

12-27-2012, 02:23 PM
Here are some more:


12-27-2012, 02:26 PM



12-27-2012, 02:28 PM
From the Iphone





12-27-2012, 02:32 PM





12-27-2012, 02:34 PM