Posts Tagged ‘Aravaipa Canyon’

Reflections in the Black Pool

I needed to get away for a solo overnighter to relax before the frenzy of the river season starts. This summer, I will be working with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon! I thought about the Black Pool in Horse Camp Canyon and my floatie that has been put away all winter and my decision was made. I always enjoy the drive up 77, the views of the north side of the Catalinas and then along the Galiuros.

Started hiking around 10:30, and it was already pretty warm. Never a problem with Aravaipa’s cooling waters. I was pleased to see that it was still the season for poppies in the canyon. Wildflowers and cactus blooms- it only makes it all the more beautiful. I noticed immediately that the creek had quite a bit of algae in it. I hoped that the pool I wanted to float in would be clear. I had that happen once- came all ready to float only to find the pool a mucky green mess.

Datura on the verge of blooming

Sacred Datura Bloom


I saw a Zone-Tailed and a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Great Blue Heron as I hiked along. Picked all the right paths to move speedily to Horse Camp. Ran into a couple of groups of dayhikers and backpackers hiking out, but no one else until the next afternoon. I turned into Horse Camp Canyon and was sad to see tons of algae in there too. The creek was very green and lush with columbine and grasses. Upon  reaching the Black Pool I was elated to see that it was perfectly clear! What’s more is the waterfall was almost completely obscured by red and yellow wildflowers. What a treat! I blew up my trusty green floatie and floated away the afternoon. The temperature of the water was perfect- warm on top, but much cooler below. I always wonder how deep it is, but I’m not about to dive down and find out.

Great Blue Heron

Small arch in the walls

The Black Pool

When the sun went behind the canyon wall, I moved over to the popular campsite opposite Horse Camp Canyon to finish re-reading The Monkey Wrench Gang and write in my journal. As it got darker out, the mosquitoes appeared and I decided to try camping on the wide expanse of bare rock on the other side of the creek. Much better views and surprisingly few mosquitoes. The moon was large and bright and I had an enjoyable evening. The mesquite bosque is nice during the day for shade, but I always prefer a spot with wider views.

Camp next to Horse Camp Canyon

Messing around with self-portraits, I got this strange and interesting shot

The next morning, I read Katie Lee’s All My Rivers Are Gone about Glen Canyon while waiting for it to warm up. Once the sun hit my sleep spot, I headed back into Horse Camp Canyon to float and read some more. It was so nice to be able to have two days to myself to relax. I used my umbrella with my floatie for shade, but the pool wasn’t big enough to ride the breezes like I did last year:

Relaxing in the morning

They call Aravaipa “The Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert” because of its layers and the water running through it. It certainly reminds me of a mini-Grand Canyon and made me completely excited for next week when I’ll be starting my dream job on the river. I will be sleeping on beaches with the sound of the river all summer long and I can hardly wait. I hiked out in the afternoon and as soon as I returned to the main stream, I saw a woman with a reflective umbrella similar to mine. We exchanged stories of guys thinking they are funny when they say “no forecast for rain today, heh heh…” as they pass by.  The hike back to the trailhead was enjoyable and I bid beautiful Aravaipa good-bye until the next time.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser news, cute baby birds, bunnies, and squirrels abound.  I feel so fortunate to be able to see them grow up and be released.

Handful of 5-day old baby bunnies

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Aravaipa near Javelina Canyon

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.

Deer in the stream

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.

Pool that stopped my progress

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.

Camped with one of my favorite views in the canyon

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!

Colorful Greater Earless Lizards

Thanks for the pose!

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.

Hell's Half Acre Canyon

I love contemplating the flood that placed that log up there.


In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, baby ringtail is growing nicely and is a riot to watch run around her cage. Here she is sniffing the owner of the rehab Janet Miller’s head:

Baby Ringtail

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.

Not wild, but still cute!

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Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa. The mere name gives me butterflies and mentally transports me to that lush riparian wonderland. I have been trying to work in a trip to see the fall colors, but only had the time to go for a dayhike.  I knew I was going to have backpacker’s disappointment when it was time to turn around and head back rather than set up a comfy camp and have another day there. Oh well, a dayhike in Aravaipa is certainly better than no hike at all.

In the days leading up to my hike, Tucson had been experiencing some chilly nights below freezing. I had heard about waterproof socks that would help keep my feet dry and warm, so I went to Summit Hut and shelled out $35 for some Sealskinz socks. I admit, I balked at the price at first, but I can tell you  now that they were worth every cent. And while we’re on the topic of shopping, I’d like to encourage everyone who is shopping for gifts to shop local. There are so many unique and wonderful places to explore in Tucson and the money stays in the community. (getting off soapbox…) Another favorite place of mine to get gifts is Bohemia, a place jam-packed with great pieces by local artists.

Anyway, back to hiking. The low in the area the previous night had been 26 degrees, but I thankfully woke up to much milder temperatures. It was a balmy 42 degrees when I left my house at 8am. I love how close Aravaipa is to my house- 60 miles exactly. I passed the Abe White Bridge on Aravaipa Road and wondered once more who he was and why such a teeny tiny bridge?

Who is Abe White and why does he get such a tiny bridge?

Well, I googled old Abe and this is what I found:

Besides sheep and cattle, goats were also raised in Aravaipa Canyon and at Dripping Springs. In 1920, the Abe White family moved from Silver City, New Mexico, to Aravaipa. During the trip, Abe drove a Ford Model T car, his 11-year old son Lawrence herded 17 head of horses, and Abe’s wife and aunt each drove a wagon. One mare gave birth to a colt along the way, so the colt rode in the Model T. The family had angora goats in New Mexico and soon had a herd of 3,500 at Aravaipa, where they continued to raise goats until about 1950.

From Oracle and the San Pedro River Valley by Catherine H. Ellis. Click here for the Google books page, complete with pictures of him, his son, and his goats. It was so easy to get things named after you back then- all you had to do was own land somewhere, run some goats,  give a colt a ride in a car, and the names would follow.

After a nice chat with a man who had driven out to the trailhead, but didn’t have enough time to go hiking (a fate worse than a dayhike!) I started down the trail at 10:15 am. I reached the first crossing and braced myself for the water- there were still patches of ice in the shady parts of the creek. Thanks to my fancy new waterproof socks, I felt nothing unpleasant at all. Combined with my usual Aravaipa garb of knee-high gaiters to keep the gravel out, my pants barely even got wet. Sometimes it’s all about the right piece of gear. The cottonwoods had not totally changed to gold, but the sycamores were perfect.

Starting out


Cacti clinging to the rock

Golden leaves

This trip marks my fourth to Aravaipa this year. I had never been here before April, when I hiked from the west to the east end and back as part of my Grand Enchantment Trail hike. I was immediately smitten and came back twice in the summer- once in June and once in September. Those trips were very different from this one, in the summertime I dunked myself into any pool available and poured buckets of water over my head to keep cool. This hike, I was very careful not to take an icy plunge.  I passed the first side canyon, Hell’s Half Acre, and turned into it to explore. It doesn’t go very far, but is definitely worth a look. There is a massive rockjam in the canyon that is really incredible and prevents further passage. On my Royal Arch trip, I acquired a tripod that had been left at Elve’s Chasm and today was the first hike I’d remembered to take it on. Here’s a movie with me actually in it (email subscribers click below to watch):

Opposite Hell's Half Acre Canyon

Hell's Half Acre Rockfall

I continued upstream, keeping my eyes open for wildlife and sloshing happily along. There is no official trail in Aravaipa, but there are usually two choices: hike in the creekbed or on the use paths next to the creek. These use paths shortcut meanders and sometimes veer quite a distance away from the creek. Many of these are marked by cairns or pretty well beat in. I have the same dilemma every time I go: I enjoy walking in or as close to the creek as possible at all times, but am often tempted away by these paths. I veer off and soon it is dry, rocky, choked with log jams and I can’t hear the creek anymore and wonder why I didn’t just stay in the creek. Happens a couple of times every visit. Here’s a video of the fall colors:

I made it two hours into the canyon where a prominent dry fall with a large cave at the bottom of it comes into view on the north wall. There is a campsite up the sandy hill with a view of the cave and and cottonwoods. I had to be back in Tucson for a meeting at 6pm, but for a couple of hours, I could pretend I was hanging out at camp.The first picture in the post is from my “camp”.

Approaching the cave with the large dryfall

I wrote in my journal, ate my lunch, listened to some music and played with the tripod. Too soon, my time was up and I had to head back to the car. I passed a family on my way out who were suffering with cold feet who looked with envy when I told them about my waterproof socks. I also passed a couple heading in for a backpacking trip, now it was my turn to be envious. The hike downstream always goes faster than the hike upstream, so I took a little time to explore some gorgeous stands of sycamores along the creek.

Rust-colored sycamores


Sycamore tunnel along the creek

I love this place and can’t wait to come back. Maybe next time I’ll bring someone else along, all of my trips have been solo and it seems like it would be a fun place to enjoy with someone else.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a young Prairie Falcon with a hurt wing that came in last week.

Young Prairie Falcon

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The hike so nice, I did it twice!

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom in Aravaipa Canyon

I secured a permit for three days in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness for late April coming in from the west trailhead, and as the date neared, I became ever more excited. I had heard a lot about this area, and I was glad that the Grand Enchantment Trail (GET) gave me the excuse to finally get there. I liked it so much that after my first trip, I was back six weeks later to confirm my hunch that it would be a great summer backpacking destination.

There are only 50 people allowed in the 11 miles of creekbed and nine side canyons in the Aravaipa Wilderness per day- even dayhikers require a $5/day permit and the maximum stay is three days. On my first trip to Aravaipa in April, the trail was covered in blooming bright yellow brittlebush and other wildflowers. After only a quarter of a mile, the trail hits perennial Aravaipa Creek, which in this area is wide and lined with cottonwoods. Since there are no official trails in the wilderness, this hike requires crossing in and out of the creek, and sometimes walking straight up the flowing creek. The right footwear is imperative, so based on the accounts of others, I went and bought a pair of gym shoes that I didn’t mind getting ruined, and brought along a pair of gaiters to wear over my shoes to keep most of he gravel out. I was very pleased with this combination. The weather was perfect- highs in the mid 80’s.

Near the West Aravaipa Trailhead

The creekbed starts out wide and sandy, but as the walls of the canyon get higher, it pinches the creek into a smaller meandering path through the dark red porphyry.

The canyon just got more and more beautiful as I hiked eastward. The walls soared to tower a thousand feet above the canyon floor. I have heard Aravaipa called “The Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert” and it is an appropriate moniker.

I encountered several groups of dayhikers, April being one of the prime seasons for this canyon. Around each bend of the creek, beautiful new vistas unfolded. I saw a Great Blue Heron from a distance and slowly approached it to take a picture. The 4-foot tall heron seemed unfazed by my presence- it let me get within ten feet of it and posed for a few shots before flying away.

Great Blue Heron

In addition to the 3 herons I saw, there were many colorful birds, turkey vultures, and hawks- the perennial creek makes Aravaipa a haven for all kinds of wildlife. I was about a week late for the peak brittlebush blooms, but many other wildflowers were still blooming.

I passed a beautiful campsite opposite Horse Camp Canyon- a location to remember for future trips. I wanted to camp somewhere around Mile 8 of the canyon so that I could set up a base camp for the next couple of days. After I passed Booger Canyon, the canyon bottom got wider and more gravelly. It was much easier to hike in than the previous part and was shaded on both sides with cottonwoods. I will have to come back here in the fall when the leaves turn golden- it must be quite a sight!

Cottonwoods line the creek

The soaring walls of the middle part of the canyon soon gave way to smaller, pockmarked walls that had a different character altogether. It was as if I had walked through three different canyons in one day. I reached the mouth of Deer Creek Canyon (also known as Hell Hole)  and found a great campsite on a small spit of land next to the creek. It took me about 6 hours to hike the 8 miles to my campsite with many stops for ogling the scenery and taking pictures. There were several groups camped a short distance away, but the sound of the creek drowned out most of the noise, and they were around a bend of the creek, so my campsite still felt somewhat secluded. (one of the groups camped nearby had dragged a large, two-wheeled luggage cart full of stuff from the East trailhead to their campsite- so much for traveling light!)

Near the entrance to Deer Creek Canyon

I had a lovely evening, with an almost-full moon lighting up the sky. The next morning, I was in no hurry to get moving, so I lounged in camp reading Katie Lee’s Sandstone Seduction. I had read it last year, and remembered that it would be a great one to take on a backpacking trip. It is a fun read- there are stories about Tucson in the 1940’s and 50’s, Edward Abbey, and she even mentions Aravaipa and Hell’s Half Acre. Abbey was once a ranger here, and I passed his residence on the way in from the West trailhead. He once wrote a piece about Aravaipa, (read the essay here) and one sentence really touched me: “We have earned enough memories, stored enough mental emotional images in our heads, from one brief day in Aravaipa Canyon, to enrich the urban days to come.”

Once I got myself moving, the objective for the day was to hike to the east end of the canyon and check out a Salado cliff dwelling not far away in Turkey Creek. The east part of the canyon was much flatter and sandy rather than rocky. (I guess that’s how the guy was able to wheel his cart full of stuff) I stopped to check out a mini side canyon that was festooned with bouquets of yellow columbine and bright red Texas Betony.

Yellow Columbine

Texas Betony

The east part of Aravaipa has these great overhangs where the stream has cut into the rock. I saw several friendly groups of dayhikers, all surprised to see me out by myself. I wasn’t in a chatty mood this trip-  I wanted to preserve the feeling of solitude that I get when hiking alone and be able to take in all the scenery without distractions. I reached the East trailhead at Turkey Creek, and was surprised to see that the parking area is right on the creek. Turkey Creek had a small flow in it and I followed the picturesque canyon south under a canopy of oak and juniper trees. There were many attractive car camping spots along the creek. The cliff dwelling was about 1.3 miles away from Aravaipa Creek, and was marked by a sign tucked back in the trees. I hiked up the hill to the ruin, which was very well preserved by the overhanging face of the rock.

I returned back to my camp for a siesta (or riposo, since I’m Italian) shaded by cottonwoods at my campsite. One of the best parts of Aravaipa is that the sound of rushing water is ever-present. There is no sweeter sound in the desert. In the afternoon, I set out for an exploration up Deer Creek Canyon, also known as Hell Hole. After a short walk north of Aravaipa Creek, the canyon slots up to only 20-30 feet wide and twists and turns with a small flow of water at the bottom. Such a different environment than the main canyon! I saw many footprints, but didn’t see anyone else in my exploration.

In the narrows of Deer Creek

It was much quieter in the side canyon, and I passed the formation that gives Hell Hole it’s name.

As it got later in the afternoon, the canyon tree frogs began to sing. If you haven’t heard them before, play the video below. I think they sound like goats.

There was a beautiful spring surounded by columbines that gushed cool water out of an alcove. I walked a little while longer, then turned back. I will definitely come back to explore more here on another trip.

I had a pleasant evening, read more of my book, wrote in my journal and went to bed. I was using my inner mesh tent to keep away the bugs, and I was happy with my decision. When I went to put on my shoes the next morning I had to pick three spiders out of them before putting them on.

I begrudgingly started my hike back to the west trailhead- even if I had more time, the permit system only allows for a maximum of three days in the Aravaipa Wilderness. I usually don’t like to do out-and-back hikes, but in this case I welcomed the opportunity to see the canyon hiking in the other direction.

It was extremely windy on my hike out and I stayed in the creek rather than on the sandswept benches. At one point, I stopped to look back at the scenery and it was so beautiful, it made my heart ache to leave this beautiful place.

Click to enlarge

Last week, I had a couple of days available to go backpacking, so I decided to head back to Aravaipa. Six weeks after my first trip, it was now summer and the forecast was for highs of 100. My plan was to hike early, hike wet, use my umbrella, and camp at the site across from Horse Camp Canyon that I had admired last trip.

Swimming lizard

On this trip, I used the paths on the benches to speed my progress to my campsite and made it to Horse Camp in about three hours. Unlike my last trip, this time I was the only person around. In fact, for the second day I was there, mine was the only permit issued for the whole canyon! I lounged around in the shade of a giant cottonwood and splashed in the creek from time to time to cool off. The book for this trip was Sandstone Spine by David Roberts- a perfect backpacking read and worth every ounce.

The second day I was there, I explored Horse Camp Canyon- what a delight! Just a five-minute walk away from Aravaipa Creek is a beautiful waterfall with a deep plunge pool, perfect for the bright green inner tube that I’d packed in for just an occasion. I hiked out starting at 4:30 pm, and was shaded by the canyon walls for 75% of the time. I was supposed to hike out the next morning, but decided to cut my trip a little short to surprise my husband Brian. Besides, as pretty as the canyon was, I was tired of the biting gnats and mosquitoes. (I ended up with over 50 bites!) I snuck in the house and even though I scared the crap out of him,  he was really happy to see me.

The perfect summertime plunge pool

Teeny tiny tree frog


Important piece of summer gear

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

I'll be back again soon!

Now for the Grand Enchantment Trail Wildlife Fundraiser picture- we have had several baby Great Blue Herons that have been such characters! Your donation goes to buy fish for this hungry guy:

Baby Great Blue Heron

Here’s a video to hear what baby herons sound like when they’re hungry:

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