Hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains: Whitetail Canyon to Hands Pass to the Kasper Tunnel

The Portal Rodeo Hiking Club made it's first visit to Whitetail Canyon since the Horseshoe Two Fire this past summer.  The route went up Whitetail canyon, then south crossing at Hands Pass, and finishing at the Kasper Tunnel, part of the old Hilltop mine complex.  Following the old forest service road from the parking area a group of 25 hikers and 6 dogs covered 9.75 miles with an elevation gain of over 1300 ft in a round trip.  Upon reaching the Kasper tunnel and after exploring the area many hikers decided upon a different route back to Hands pass.  Instead of following the road down hill then back up to Hands pass a cross county route up a short drainage at the Kasper tunnel was chosen.  A short hike up the open drainage reached a road just above Hands Pass which reconnected with the original route allowing an easy hike back to the starting point.

The Horseshoe Two Fire of 2011 burned through this area.  While the lower stream level areas in Whitetail canyon and below the Kasper tunnel are in good shape the upper slopes and ridge tops above Hilltop experienced significant fire, BAER soil burn severity map, and below.  The area did not receive aerial reseeding after the fire and the potential for erosion in some areas appears significant.

The resulting of the lack of vegetation allows the geology of the area to be viewed, interpreted, and appreciated.  This area has a number of old mines and prospects which became visible with the reduction in vegetation.  As part of the California mining district the area is composed of a band of steeply dipping Paleozoic and Mesozoic limestone which extends from southeast of Portal in a northwesterly direction to Dos Cabezos (1).  Paralleling the limestone is the Apache Pass Fault zone which allowed mineralized waters to infiltrate along the contact zones depositing metals (2).  Although the workings were not exceptional, lead, zinc, copper, and silver were extracted from mines in the area.  With the passage of Bill H.R. 843 the Cave Creek  Protection Act of 1993 which withdrew the Cave Creek Canyon and Silver Peak drainages from mineral exploration, and in combination with the proposed wilderness area in the north part of the Chiricahuas this area remains open to mineral exploration and contains an interesting visible history of early land use in the Chiricahua Mountains (3).

The hiking map may be viewed here or from the link in the sidebar.

Hiking route with Horseshoe Two burn intensity overlay

Hiking route with mine map overlay (1). 
A view of the tailings below the Kasper tunnel from a foundation below the mine

Cochise Head from near Hand's Pass.

1.  Brown, S. Don. 1993.  Mineral Appraisal of the Coronado National Forest.  Part 2 Chiricahua-Pedragosa Mountains Unit, Cochise County, Arizona.  US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines.

2.  Graham, J. 2011.  Fort Bowie National Historic Site:  geologic resources inventory report.  Natural Rsource Report NPS/NRSS?GRD?NRR-2011/442.  National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

3. Coronado National Forest. 2010.  Draft North Chiricahua Potential Wilderness Area Evaluation Report PW-03-05-D1-003


  1. Nice picture of foundation and the tailings!

  2. Thank you. I notice we both posted our photographs of Cochise Head taken from the same location.

  3. When I seen your picture I could hardly believe it but that was a pretty view. The blue sky and green leaves with Cochise Head what could be better?

  4. Great photo of Cochise head! debbie