Aravaipa Canyon East: A Pictorial
To reach the east entrance to Aravaipa Canyon we had to cross Aravaipa Creek several times. Four-wheel drive is recommended but a front-wheel drive will work most of the time. The photo above was taken on our first visit back in February 2013. You can see that the trees had yet to sprout leaves.
While exploring the Aravaipa Canyon from the east entrance last February, we came across a cabin with the words “Guest House” painted on the sign. Welcoming words, indeed. We had to check it out. After arriving back home and doing some research, we found that the Nature Conservancy rents it out. What a boon! We vowed to return, stay in the cabin a couple of nights, and share the experience with friends.
(Note: Details & contact information about renting this cabin are at the end of this feature.) Read More
Friday PM. Hiking Turkey Creek last February we went searching for the long-abandoned Hohokam cliff dwelling we had read about. Lacking a topo map, our search was unsuccessful. Returning in early September (2013), we had our topos and, as you can see, we found it. Ms. Karen is holding up the sign pointing the way.
Joining us on our Aravaipa adventure this time were friends Roland & Susan of “Carnival of Illusion” fame. We saw them perform their magic at the DoubleTree Inn in mid-town Tucson last year. We were so delighted by their show that we plan to go again when they re-open in October (2013) following their usual summer hiatus.
Above Roland, Ms. Karen, & Susan poses in front of a Hohokam cliff-dwelling, probably used seasonally for about 150 years, then abandoned around 1450 for reasons unknown. It is considered to be one of the best-preserved cliff-dwellings in the Southwest today.
There are many signs of human habitation here. Hunters & loggers worked the canyon nearly to death until it came under the protection of the BLM in the 1980s. This photo was taken last February. When we returned in early September we almost could not see it because of the heavy foliage. I suspect this was once a sawmill.
On the way to and from the cliff dwelling, we found other signs of human habitation in Aravaipa Canyon. Above is an old corral in Turkey Canyon, long since abandoned. Turkey Creek is one of many streams that flow into Aravaipa Creek. From here we headed back to our cabin for a BBQ & an evening of highly competitive board games.
Saturday Mid-Morning. Hiking Aravaipa Canyon is really an exercise in hiking in Aravaipa Creek. There are no trails. We planned on getting wet, and we did. But as the day heated up, the cool water of the creek kept us comfortable. Ms. Karen plans to dress differently next time. (Bathingsuit optional)
In order to hike the canyon, you must get Wilderness Hiking Permits from the BLM website. Permits are $5/person/day. The BLM only allows up to 50 people in the Canyon on any given day, 20 from the Eastside. We hiked for several hours and never saw another soul. What a delightful, truly wilderness experience.
Having not been able to walk for years, I had a 3rd back surgery last November. More recently, I have been going to physical therapy twice a week for extreme lower back pain. My therapist suggested I use walking sticks which would promote a more upright position when hiking. I was skeptical, but days prior to our adventure, I acquired a pair from Summit Hut ($50). I was able to hike through the Creek for several hours pain-free. Amazing! I had to work at not getting too cocky.
For the most part, the Creek was never deeper than knee-high, and mostly just ankle deep. Nevertheless, we were aware of the possibility of flash floods. Sometimes we passed driftwood that was at least 10 feet over our head.
Aravaipa Canyon is home to a wide variety of critters, including coati, raccoon, deer, bear, & mountain lion. We saw a lot of whitetail deer and some bear tracks. When we were here last February, Ms. Karen was just beyond our car taking photographs when she spotted 2 bear cubs in the Creek about 30 yards away. I suggested that where there are cubs, Mama Bear can’t be far. Wisely, she jumped back in the car. Soon the cubs were out of sight.
Recalling that incident, this time we brought 2 marine air horns ($14 ea.) to frighten away any creatures that might consider us lunch. But as we were hiking mostly in mid-day, we didn’t see much wildlife other than a Great Blue Heron that kept moving ahead of us most of the way. Plenty of tracks, though.
Calling on his powers of magic, Roland shows Susan a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex leg bone that he had magically transformed into a common cow bone. Susan seemed skeptical.
Ms. Karen took this picture just down the little road from our cabin. It was the first week of September, yet the leaves of the cottonwood trees were already beginning to present their fall colors. Along Aravaipa Creek there are many giant cottonwoods. In Turkey Creek the giants are mostly Arizona Sycamore.
Last February, we had come across this church in the middle of nowhere. The sign by the door reads “Salazar Family Church”. This time we realized there is also a sign that reads “Visitors Welcome”. So we went inside.
OK, so it’s not Notre Dame. However, what it lacks in towering arches is made up in devotional fervor. Not only does this little family church have a framed photograph of Pope John Paul II, it also has all of the Stations of the Cross. Besides, how many of you have your own family church? We said our Hail Mary’s and left quietly. We determined that our prayers must have worked, as we had been threatened all weekend by thunder & dark clouds, but it only rained at night while we were sleeping.
Sunday Mid-Morning. We were in no hurry to leave the comforts of our cabin, so we had a leisurely brunch and watched a bright red vermilion flycatcher do the same just beyond our screened-in porch. Leaving Aravaipa Canyon, we headed for the bustling community of Willcox. We could be there in time for lunch. The only problem was that Willcox no longer bustles and on a Sunday morning, it’s basically a dead zone. Nevertheless, G-Ma D’s Cafe was open.
Dining in Willcox. Concluding our lunch at this fine establishment, we argued its merits for yet another dining review. We agreed that G-Ma D’s was a 3-saguaro restaurant … OK food & service. But we also agreed that it should get at least an additional half saguaro for friendliness & a somewhat quirky ambiance. If you go, do a walkabout and bring something for the M&M collection.
Having finished lunch, we realized that we still had half a day in which to squeeze yet another adventure. We headed south out of Willcox in search of the ruins of Fort Bowie. Here we found Fort Bowie National Historic Site and Ranger Ross at the Visitor Center & Museum. For those of us who appreciate history, this place is a gold mine. We could have explored the area for several hours, but storm clouds were gathering. Stay tuned for more history on this historic gem. It was time to call an end to a fantastic weekend full of Southern Arizona adventures.
Next time, sayeth Ms. Karen, she intends to hike from the west end (Brandenburg Station), 11 miles, to the east end and stay in the cabin at the end of the trek. Even for an experienced, well-conditioned hiker, we think this 11 miles is an all-day effort, if not 2, just because there are no trails and most of the slogging is in the creek.
In case you’re interested in the features of the cabin, it was comfortably furnished in early Thrift Shop. It’s two bedrooms – two baths. Good showers. It really has just about everything you might need, except food: plenty of towels, bedding, cooking utensils, place settings. Two big refrigerators. Toaster. Coffee maker, etc. Sleeps several more on the screened-in porch.
We made good use of the BBQ (charcoal) both nights. It also has lots of interesting reading material and board games. We had the swamp cooler on most of the time. And we used the washer & drier.
In short, the cabin is way more comfortable than tent camping.
You might want to bring some bug spray, although bugs were not much of a problem even with all the water. Bring a flashlight or two. Charcoal for the barbie. And don’t forget the air horn, just in case MAMA BEAR takes exception to your presence. Happy Hiking!!!
For more information contact Nature Conservancy Aravaipa Canyon or contact the Bureau of Land Management.