Years ago the Vulture Mine offered amazing photo opportunities to anyone who visited the closed gold mine. Visitors could wander the remains of the ghost town for hours on end undisturbed. And it was during this time that I captured some of my favorite Arizona Ghost Town images ever.
Today it’s a different story. The mine has re-opened, and small tours are now allowed through the location. Visitors can no longer wander randomly through the ghost town, but at least they’re still allowed to visit.
A few miles north, fantastic boondocking
It was on one of many trips to the Vulture Mine that RV’s were noted dotting the landscape north of the Vulture Mine. Big rigs, 5th wheels, truck campers…..just parked out in the desert sun amongst the cholla and saguaros. And on each trip the thought came floating through my mind, “We should park the Airstream there sometime.”
After further research it turned out that the RVs parked in the desert were on BLM land, and that boondocking was perfectly fine. Beyond the main area (depicted on the map later in this article), there are many boondocking sites to choose from, you just need to know where to look.
Finally in 2014 our Airstream was parked at the “Vulture Peak Lower Trailhead,” area, and what we experienced while camping there is something close to boondocking perfection! Quiet nights, star filled skies, the sounds of coyote in the distance. Such a remote feel for a place that is less than 20 minutes from downtown Wickenburg!
The Vulture ohv area
The land where this boondocking site is located is controlled by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). And it so happens that it is part of an OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) area. That means that on the weekends there are many people out recreating in the area on 4 Wheelers, dirt bikes, etc. Don’t let that put you off to the area. The trails lead away from the great camping opportunities, and more often than not campers will be relatively undisturbed by the riders.
The same OHV trails that mean fun for OHV enthusiasts also mean fun for hikers and mountain bikers alike. One trail leads up to the top of Vulture Peak itself. Another heads off along a wash, and you can enjoy a short stroll or a longer hike. The parking area (further into the location past the dispersed camp sites) has a restroom and plenty of parking, so if you’re just looking to visit for a day and not camp you’re covered as well.
Visiting in the spring is a must
What’s so incredible about the Vulture Peak dispersed camping area has to be the location itself. Just south of Wickenburg, this area hosts some incredible Saguaros, the kind you’d think would only be at Saguaro National Park. Some of the best examples of Saguaro this author has ever seen are in the Vulture area. Lush and green cactus that aren’t brown from the pollution of thousands of cars a day passing them by. Incredible desert landscape backed up against an ominous peak! For photography buffs this place is a gold mine!
Along with the Saguaros there are many other species of cactus. Cholla cover the landscape, and you’ve got to watch your step when visiting. “Jumping cholla,” are everywhere, and the spines will penetrate a leather boot easily. So as you make your way through the park make sure you are cautious about where you step.
Seeing a desert bloom in Arizona is something else. For a few days or a few weeks the landscape adds some incredible color. Even unlikely color at times. And you just never know when the bloom is going to happen. It all depends on what type of year and how much rainfall the desert has had.
Fortunately there are websites that track the desert bloom. And if you’re interested in visiting Vulture during the bloom you’ll need to pay very close attention to when the flowers are predicted. The “Desert Wildflower Reports” site is just what you need, so follow the link and be sure to bookmark the site for your future planning!
Things to do
Beyond parking your rig in the middle of a Saguaro Forest, what else is there to do in the area you ask? Well, if relaxing in a beautiful location isn’t enough, there is a lot more to do in the area. Here’s a short list below:
- Follow the short trail to Vulture Peak. The round trip from where you’re camped to the top and back should take under 3 hours. Bring plenty of water!
- Take a tour of the Vulture Mine. While it’s operating today, the tours can still let you see some of the Ghost Town that remains standing to this day!
- Mountain bike the OHV trails. The trails are well marked and for an adventurous mountain biker there’s plenty of challenge.
- Cycle the Vulture Mine Road. On every trip into Vulture mine the number one vehicle sighted along the road has to be the road bicycles. Cycling clubs, individuals, and small groups of visitors can be seen cycling the road every day. The Vulture Mine Road is extremely popular for cyclists. Smooth pavement, plenty of curves, gradual elevation changes…it makes for really great riding to be sure!
- Visit Wickenburg. The town has plenty to see, and still has an old western feel. There are often events going on in town, and if you’re camped at Vulture you’re about 20 minutes away from the action in Wickenburg.
- Take a ride through the Joshua Tree Forest. North out of Wickenburg heading toward Kingman visitors will find something completely unexpected. As you roll northward out of the Wickenburg area you’ll suddenly find yourself in the middle of a Joshua tree forest! There are several pull offs along the highway allowing a better view of these extremely odd trees, so take advantage of them and make a day trip out of it!
- Stargazing! Even with Wickenburg and Phoenix so close, Vulture is a pretty good dark sky area provided you point your lens in the right direction. If you’re looking to do some night photography, maybe even star trails, shooting North will work out fine for you. Northeast and East will introduce some of the light pollution, but not enough that you should be discouraged about trying your hand at night photography. And for further information on shooting at night, check out the article on this site that covers night photography.
Getting to Vulture Peak
Coming from Wickenburg, accessing Vulture Peak is a relatively simple thing to do. Follow Route 60 going west out of downtown Wickenburg to the Vulture Mine Road. The road shows up on GPS units as well as Google Maps. Turn left onto Vulture Mine Road heading south (the stoplight is right next to a Safeway if you need groceries). From the junction of Route 60 and the Vulture Mine road drive 6.7 miles south along the road. Googlemaps suggests 6.9 miles, but our odometer said 6.7.
Vulture Peak will be on the left hand side as you’re traveling south. You’ll come around a very sharp corner and somewhat steep incline. Missing the main parking area is easy to do. There will be a large dirt parking area on your left (from Vulture Mine Road) with a large wooden informational sign tucked a few feet into the parking area. This is the main dispersed camping area and road to the Vulture Peak Trailhead.
As you make your way into the area you will notice other dirt side roads, and often you’ll notice other RVs parked in the desert. These areas are also part of the BLM property, and yes you can camp there as well. Here’s what we would suggest though. Park at the main lot for the Vulture Peak Trailhead. Walk in (a short walk) to the trailhead and see what sites are available. Pay attention to whether or not your rig can make it down the single lane dirt roads without getting “Arizona Pin Striping” (aka scratches). South of the main parking area across a wash is another dirt road on your left that also has several fantastic dispersed camp sites. You might want to walk that road as well to see if you can fit your rig.
Worst case scenario? Many “Big Rigs” park right in the main parking area off the road. The parking area is large enough to accommodate several Class A’s, so that could be your fall back option if you can’t fit into one of the sites further into the park.
A few words of caution
Vulture Peak, while being so close to civilization, is still a remote desert location. Since this is a dry camping area there are no hookups for your comfort. That means you’ll need solar panels or a generator for power. This location is the desert so late Spring and Summer temperatures can be extremely hot. If you need your air conditioning you’ll be needing a larger generator to be sure! Additionally since this is dry camping there is no water at the location. You’ll need to have your water tanks full, and have several gallons of water on hand for drinking as well. Fortunately you’re not too far from a Safeway!
The main location is also not cell phone friendly. You’ll be excited to see a bar or two on your cell phone when parked at the entrance to Vulture Peak. But as you make your way a short distance in the “network love affair,” will be over. If you need to stay in touch with the world, this is not the place to do it!
Finally, any outdoor activities here must be approached with some common sense. Plenty of water for each person should be taken along. And when hiking we would suggest a small first aid kit. Stepping into cactus is not fun, and it does happen in this area. Be sensible, and enjoy an incredible camping adventure!
A Short Video
Finally, a quick video from our stay at Vulture Peak shot Spring of 2014, just to give you the flavor for the area!. The video was originally shot for the Airstream Chronicles Continued website, but it’s relevant to rounding out the whole picture at Vulture. Enjoy!