The Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness is an isolated BLM property located in south-east Arizona along the state's border with New Mexico. Totalling almost twenty-thousand acres, the wilderness extends into three counties, including part of the craggy peaks of the Peloncillo Mountain Range. The main features of the wilderness are weather-worn rock faces separated by wide canyons covered with desert scrub. The remote and rugged BLM lands are surrounded by national forests and monument parklands. The Gila National Forest is situated to the north-east, the Coronado National Forest to the north-west and the Chiricahua National Monument to the south.
The Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness is a great place to discover the peace and quiet of nature while hiking through the vast canyons. It's also somewhere you can find plenty of nature's treasures including fire agate and geodes if you keep your eye to the ground rather than on the skies searching for raptors in flight. Hunting and dispersed tent camping are both permitted activities in the wilderness, but vehicle access, including mountain bikes and hang gliders, is prohibited. There are campgrounds suitable for RVs in the Coronada National Forest or the Chiricahua National Monument that are under two hours' drive from the wilderness.
Anyone wanting to participate in off-roading activities or take a dip in a natural hot spring after trekking through the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness will really enjoy RV camping at the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area which is just over an hour's drive away.
There are two places you can head for if you want to get to the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness. The first is San Simon, a small town situated on the I 10 around two hours drive west of Tucson and the second is the town of Duncan on the AZ 70. From San Simon, you can head towards the wilderness boundary along the N Indian Springs Road. There is also a junction that leads to Ward Canyon if you want to go exploring there. From the AZ 70 just south of Duncan, you'll find there are turn-offs for the A 021 which will lead you to one of the best places for rockhounding in the wilderness. The roadways are not suitable for rigs or any type of large vehicle and should only be attempted in four by fours. The wilderness is also accessible from Steins, a town just across the state border with New Mexico on the I 10.
If you're motoring in your RV across the state after camping out in the Saguaro National Park, the drive to Hot Well Dunes, if that's your chosen campground, will take you around two and a half hours. If your heading to the wilderness after spending a few days RV camping in the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, it'll take you around four hours to get to the Hot Well Dunes campground and about the same amount of time if you've decided to camp at the Arcadia Recreation Area in the northern regions of the Concordia National Forest.
The Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area is a campground and OHV area managed by the BLM that is near the town of Safford in Arizona. The site can be reached by turning off the CA 191 just south of the town onto Haekel Road and is a journey that takes around an hour.
The access road can be difficult to negotiate as it is bumpy and has some potholes. There are ten primitive, dirt-surfaced campsites distributed around a sand-covered field. If you're in a big rig or towing a trailer, you should take extra care as the sand gets blown about by the wind and can be deep in places so you could get stuck. There are no utility hook-ups on the site and the only amenities are the two hot spring tubs and a block of vault toilets.
The Bonita Canyon Campground is an all-year-round US Army Corps of Engineers managed campground in the Chiricahua National Monument about two hour's drive from the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness. The campground offers RV campers the choice of twenty-five primitive campsites with no utility hook-ups but furnished with grills, picnic tables, and food lockers.
There is one ADA accessible pitch that has an electricity supply for medical purposes should it be required. The maximum length of RV this campground can cater for is twenty-nine feet due to the tight turns into the campsites and on the Bonito Canyon Drive leading up to it. Campsites should be reserved prior to arrival via the recreation.gov website.
Hiking through the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness is a solitary affair with the sighting of humans or even wildlife being few and far between. While trekking through the isolated canyons, possibly the only sound you'll hear is some scant birdsong or the echo of your own voice reverberating off the canyon walls. Many of the best canyon treks are located on the eastern side of the wilderness and more easily accessed from Steins in New Mexico.
The Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness is a paradise of relatively easily collected mineral gems for novice and experienced rockhounds alike. In the northern region of the wilderness that falls in Greenlee County, you'll find the BLM Round Mountain Rockhound Area which is one of the biggest in North America. You won't even need to dig; you'll find chalcedony, fire agate and geodes are strewn across the ground just waiting to be found. The site can be accessed from the US 70 just south of Duncan in New Mexico.
If after exploring the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness on foot, you want to let rip in a desert environment on two wheels or in a dune buggy, head for the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area. There you'll find two-thousand acres of dirt trails and sand dunes the BLM have designated for just that purpose.
There are also two hot springs that have been fenced off and surrounded with wooden floor-boarding that are for use by the general public.
There may not be a lot of history buried in the hills of the Peloncillo Mountain Range, but if you've decided to camp out in the Chiricahua National Monument, don't miss visiting the grave site of one of the Old West's notorious outlaws.
Johnny Ringo was an arch-enemy of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp who was found dead, exactly where he's interred, way back in 1882. It's a scenic spot by the river under some oak trees that is on private property, so if you're considering taking a look, respect the visiting hours and rules.
If you spent a night under canvas in the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness and did some stargazing, head over to the Mount Graham Observatory in the Coronado National Forest and you'll see how the professionals do it.
There are three telescopes on the complex, one belonging to the Vatican plus the Large Binocular Telescope which is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. All tours of the observatory, which is inside a red squirrel conservation area, must be pre-organised via the Eastern Arizona College website.
Hunting in the Peloncillo Mountain Wilderness, while being a permitted activity, is a more challenging sport than it might be in other areas. The sparse vegetation in the canyon bases means there's nowhere for hunters to hide from their prey and they are easily visible to the bighorn sheep that inhabit the lower slopes. There are deer roaming the wilderness too, but with so little ground coverage, they're also are a difficult target.