After my backpacking trip that turned into a dayhike on the Palisades Trail, I was ready to try again. This time I wanted to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a ton of water around in the middle of the summer. One of my favorite places to go that always has water is Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, near Mammoth, AZ. I haven’t been to Aravaipa since December of last year when I went to see the fall colors (yes, fall colors happen as late as December in southern Arizona!). At the time, there was ice on the water and I had to use fancy neoprene socks to stay warm. This trip would be the complete opposite. On August 24th as I drove to the western trailhead, the radio warned of record high temperatures all over southern Arizona. I got a later start than I would have liked, partially because I had to tend to three quail, an oriole, and a cottontail rabbit that I was going to release on the drive over. All the babies of the early summer are growing up and getting released from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- it’s one of my favorite parts of volunteering there.
At 9am, after signing in as the first person there in three days, I finally got going on the short trail that leads down to the creekbed. My friend Wendy was originally going to join me, but something came up last-minute, so I’m solo in Aravaipa once again. It would be nice to share this beautiful place with someone else someday. As soon as I reached the water, I soaked my head, bandannas, and my long-sleeved cotton shirt. I chose the cotton one instead of the synthetic because the only way I was going to be comfortable in 100+ degree temperatures is if I stayed wet all day. Right away, I saw a small deer walk out into the middle of the creek and lay down on a gravel bar close to two Great Blue Herons who were chasing each other down the canyon. The water was a little turbid from the recent rains, which made it tough to see the rocks underneath when crossing or walking in the stream. Hiking in Aravaipa is like a long balancing act- the ground is rarely even and the rocks you walk on could shift out from under you at any time.
Soon, the two herons found a third and a Zone-Tailed Hawk flew right in front of me, crossing the canyon. I don’t know what I would do without my hiking umbrella. It is a key piece of gear for summertime, and would serve a very important entertainment purpose later on in the trip. I took my time hiking upstream, taking breaks in patches of deep shade. There were several large murky pools that were able to be bypassed once the walls of the canyon steepened. I found a great big cottonwood at around noon to eat lunch and drink some gatorade. There was a nice campsite area right before the creek takes a big curve to the north that was in shade for most of the day. I took a nap and around 2:30 decided to move on toward Horse Camp Canyon. I passed by one of my favorite views in the canyon and came to another murky pool in the narrows near Javelina Canyon, about three miles in. Only there was no going around this 20 foot long pool- the canyon is quite narrow at this point and the water went from wall to wall. I took my backpack off to test the crossing depth. The water was eerily warm and the bottom of the pool was slippery mud and I stopped once the water reached my shoulders. I backed out and tried another line through the pool, but it was just as deep and slippery. By now dark clouds were starting to mount and I realized that retreat was probably the most prudent course of action.
But before going back the way I’d come to find a campsite high above the creek, I had to take advantage of this giant pool in front of me. I got out my green floatie and floated the pool for a bit before the combination of the heat and the low rumbles of thunder made me get out. I hiked back, looking for a good place to camp, eying up all the piles of flood debris caught up high in the branches of trees. I found a spot that would have morning shade and a view of my favorite rock formations. All afternoon and evening, there was the threatening sound of thunder, and later on it was paired with flashes of lightning from several directions. In Aravaipa you only see a slice of the sky, so I was hoping there was nothing too intense going on upstream. I enjoyed Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider about climbing the North Face of the Eiger, a fascinating read. It was incredibly hot and buggy out, but still enjoyable. That is, until I tried to go to sleep inside my tent. I had to keep the fly on because of the thunder and lightning, and it made conditions inside awful. I could barely sleep and tossed and turned all night. I got up a bunch of times and read of icy cold bivouacs on the North Face attempts and wished that I too could be just a little cold. Maybe just enough to put on a fleece. Or enough to sleep. That would be so nice. After all the sound and light show it only drizzled for an hour in the middle of the night.
I was up early the next morning and spent some leisurely time in camp reading and writing. Writing in my journal is one of my favorite activities when I’m backpacking and I wrote for hours. Aravaipa is part of the Grand Enchantment Trail and I wished for the millionth time that I could take a vacation to complete the trail from Safford to Albuquerque. Someday. I had chosen well and my campsite was shaded until 9:30 am, when I hiked back to the deep pool that had stopped my progress upcanyon yesterday. It had been murky, warm and uninviting yesterday, but today I was excited to have such a big pool to play in. The pool was in shade for quite a while. I explored around and found the shallowest crossing point along the rock wall on the left of the canyon (if you’re coming from the West trailhead) past the rectangular pool. Even that one was chest-high on me. I blew up the floatie and paddled around for a while until I realized that there was a breeze coming down the canyon. At the beginning of the summer, Wendy and I were floating in Sabino Canyon with our umbrellas and realized that you can catch the breeze and use the umbrella as a sail! I had the perfect setup and did it several times, totally cracking up every time. Then I realized that my tripod had made it into my pack at the last minute yesterday and I could make a video of it. Enjoy:
I shot some videos and then rode the wind in my floatie over and over again. Good times. After the pool was in full sun, it was too hot to float so I packed up and started making my way back downstream. I returned to the place I’d taken a long break under the cottonwood tree and enjoyed the shade, relaxed, and read for several hours. It was overcast and cooler in the middle of the day than it had been the night before. I was really sad that my camera zoom was malfunctioning, it had probably gotten sand in it the night before. There were these really colorful Greater Earless Lizards running around, doing push-ups and I went to take a picture of one without my beloved zoom. I moved closer and closer, shooting pictures, and to my surprise the little guy let me put my camera right in his face and I got the most fantastic close-up!
As the afternoon wore on, the rumbling of thunder increased to the west, but I never ended up getting rained on. I ducked into Hell’s Half Acre canyon to take a look and then continued westward. The last mile of the hike always takes longer than I think it will. I have a little habit upon reaching the exit trail to take one last break with my feet in the creek before heading out. I reached the parking lot at 4:30pm, feeling completely rejuvenated after some alone time in this achingly beautiful wilderness.
Also, some jerk recently dumped a litter of 4-week old kittens on the wildlife rehab property. Fortunately we were able to find homes for them, but until we did, part of what we had to do as volunteers was play with the kitties so they got socialized.