Off-road trails can lead to some amazing historical sites, but more and more we are seeing that those places are closing to the public due to misuse. In Arizona, the Coke Ovens are going through some major changes these days due to vandalism.
We first visited the site in 2001 and were amazed at how well preserved they were. We knew that they were on private land but hadn’t noticed any signage indicating they were off limits. As a guidebook publisher, we know better than to publish a trail based on what we see on the trail, so we did our homework and came back with more questions than answers.
In a situation like this where there is a well-known trail that crosses private land, FunTreks will state exactly what we discover. We printed that it was located on private land and while we did not then encounter any signs or gates, we noted it could close in the future.
Recently, I was contacted by the concerned owner of the land. He purchases these types of property in order to preserve and restore their history. He wanted to inform me of what he was being forced to do from the amount of vandalism the Coke Ovens have received. He has been putting up gates and signs for years, only to come back and see them torn down. People have been camping in the Coke Ovens and removing pieces of the walls to build fire pits. The structure next to the ovens, where he lives temporarily, has been looted and picked apart and used as firewood.
As he informed me of the situation, I sympathized with him. As recreationists, we have a duty to preserve places like this for the next person to enjoy. This means that if we come across something that is a part of history, we need to not touch or remove anything - especially if it is on private land. And if there is a sign, fence, gate or indication that we shouldn’t continue, we need to respect the rights of the owner. In this case, all the owner wants to do is to preserve history. Can you really argue with that?
Many who read this are already respecting the signs and gates they encounter, but we need to speak up to those who take a “keep out” sign as a challenge to continue. We aren't sure at what point the public was banned, but you cannot get near the Coke Ovens or complete the loop we describe in our books. The trail is now in and out. There is a permanent caretaker on site and police are using their resources to ticket trespassers who dare to tear the gates down and attempt to go near the coke ovens. FunTreks is not able to know every change to a trail unless you the adventurers inform us. Please continue to inform us of any trail updates.
Please continue to educate those around you on trail etiquette so that these types of situations stop occurring.
FunTreks will continue to publish the best guide books available to give you the best off-road experience possible, with full regards to leaving a legacy for future generations to enjoy as well.
BLM Gila District, Tucson Field Office. (520) 258-7200
Start of the trail: N33 08.980 W111 12.080
Rated: Moderate, rocky and steep in places.
Time and Distance: 3 hours.
Updated 01/10/2016, Matt Peterson is co-author of “Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails,” published by FunTreks Guidebooks, Inc., Monument, CO.