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Stamp Mill, Ice Cream Canyon Trails

From Park road to Stamp Mill Ruins is 2 miles round trip;
through Ice Cream Canyon is 4.5 miles round trip

Picacho State Recreation Area beckons the visitor with spectacular Colorado River and Colorado Desert scenery. Colorful canyons, rugged volcanic peaks and isolated backwater lakes are among the diverse landforms of this obscure park located in the Colorado River Basin on the California- Arizona border.

In spring and fall, Picacho is the place to view migratory waterfowl, including egrets, blue herons and a multitude of ducks. Perhaps the showiest of the winged congregants along the Colorado River is the Canada goose— a stirring sight and an unmistakable sound.

Hikers often spot large animals roaming the park: mule deer, coyotes and feral burros. Some lucky hikers even get fleeting glimpses of the elusive big horn sheep. Three park inhabitants always seem to be in a hurry, even in the heat: quail, raccoons and roadrunners.

For most visitors, Picacho is a nine-month park. During the mid and late summer months, Picacho is extremely hot place. Its low elevation and southerly positioning means temperatures routinely reach 105 to 115 degrees in high summer.

Rangers report that mosquito season extends from April through July. The pesky bugs are particularly thick and annoying on the shores by the area’s still backwater lakes.
 
The park’s main dirt road twists through ironwood-filled washes and offers vistas of the mighty Colorado River. Towering above it all is park namesake 1,942-foot Picacho Peak, a plug-dome volcano.
 
Picacho was a bustling boomtown in the 1890s. Some 700 men worked the mine and Picacho’s population soared to 2,500 in the early 20th century. Steamboats chugged up and down the Colorado, bringing life’s necessities to the town, and taking the ore to market. When the Colorado River was dammed, the historic hamlet was flooded.
 
For the hiker, Picacho offers several signed trails plus numerous opportunities to trek cross-country up beckoning washes. Stamp Mill Trail (2 miles round trip) crosses the park’s volcanic slopes and visits Picacho’s stamp-mill sites. Ice Cream Canyon Trail tours the tuff and winds among the odd ironwood trees. Above, cacti-dotted canyon walls soar higher and higher and the feeling is that of entering a very special world.
 
Stewart Lake Trail (2.5 mile loop) crosses an intriguing volcanic landscape as it skirts the shore of (usually dry) Stewart Lake. An interpretive 30 Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks brochure describes the desert flora to be found along this trail, named for early Picacho prospector Clyde Stewart.
 
Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 8 on the California-Arizona border, exit on Winterhaven Drive/Fourth Avenue and proceed north 0.5 mile to County Road S-24. Turn right and 0.25 mile later, turn left on Picacho Road.

(Yuma is located on the Arizona side of the river. Get provisions here and check out Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park.)

Follow Picacho Road (paved for just 4 miles). Near the All-American Canal, Picacho narrows and de-evolves into a sometimes bumpy, washboard dirt road and leads another 18 miles to Picacho State Recreation Area.
 
To reach the Stamp Mill trailhead, take the road to Lower Dock and soon turn right (east) on the spur leading very shortly to the trailhead and a parking area for a couple cars.

The hike: Stamp Mill Trail makes a modest descent over beavertailcactus- dotted slopes. Enjoy vistas of Picacho Peak and of the Colorado River shore where the town of Piacacho once stood.
 
About 0.5 mile out, a short side trail leads to the Picacho Jail; actually it’s a hillside hollow used by the sheriff to incarcerate the local bad guys and the miners to store explosives.
 
At 0.75 mile, you’ll reach a junction with the right-forking path to Railroad and Ice Cream canyons. Continue another 0.2 mile to the rock walls and rusted ruins of Upper Mill, then a short distance farther to trail’s end just above the ruins of Lower Mill.
 
Ice Cream Canyon Trail explores a colorful canyon tinted with strawberry and spumoni hues. Various cacti—barrel and cholla—dot canyon walls.
 
“Tuff” is the word for this trail, which crosses beds of the porous volcanic rock. Bighorn sheep sometimes roam the narrow confines of the canyon.
 
Walk the first 0.75 mile of Stamp Mill Trail then fork right, south, onto Ice Cream Canyon Trail. The path traces the wash bank up-creek, then soon drops to the bottom of the wash. After 0.25 mile, the path meets Railroad Canyon Jeep Trail.
 
Return via the jeep road for a 4.5 mile round trip hike.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.