In Search of Cliff Dwellings in Turkey Creek Canyon
In early March 2013 we shared with you our adventure to the West Entrance of Aravaipa Canyon. From Tucson, it took us about 2 hours to get there, the last several miles on a very windy but decent dirt road. The following week we drove to the East Entrance. That adventure took us about 3 hour just to get to the entrance and then another 3 hours of hiking, picnicking & exploring before heading back home in Tucson. We were on a mission to find the cliff dwelling in Turkey Creek Canyon, an offshoot of Aravaipa Canyon.
About 9,000 acres within Aravaipa Canyon are owned by the Nature Conservancy and are jointly managed with the BLM that also manages their 40,000 acres of surrounding near-pristine Wilderness Area. Arivaipa Creek flows year ’round, an oddity for Southern Arizona. Aravaipa Creek is a tributary of the San Pedro River.
Bears & Other Critters
In the Canyon hikers can find several species of desert fish, and some 200 species of birds depending on the season. Here too are big horn sheep, coati, & mountain lions. Not more than 30 yards from where we were standing we saw 2 black bear cubs walking in the stream. Quickly realizing that were there are bear cubs there surely will be a momma bear nearby, we high-tailed it to the safety of our car. Unfortunately, our cameras were in the car and by the time we were ready to take photos of the furry little critters, they had disappeared into the woods.
The distance from the West Entrance to the East Entrance of Aravaipa Canyon is about 10 miles through the main Canyon. The elevation of the Canyon floor at the West Entrance is about 2600′, rising to about 3000′ at the East Entrance.
With the required permit from the BLM you can hike in the Canyon. However, in the Canyon there are no hiking trails, toilets, campsites, or signage. There are toilets in the parking lots at both trailheads.
Even if you’re a strong hiker, it may take you 10 hours or more to hike the entire Canyon because you will be slowed by uneven terrain, heavy brush, and the rocky creek bed.
Most of the hiking through the Canyon takes place in the Creek itself, so if you go, plan to get wet up to your knees. The Canyon walls are steep and rise more than a thousand feet above the Creek. Thus, (a) the Canyon is cooler than Tucson and, (b) prone to flash flooding.
In order to preserve this wilderness, both the BLM and the Nature Conservancy have restrictions on almost everything: NO FISHING, NO OFF-ROAD DRIVING, NO FIREARMS, NO PETS, etc., etc. The BLM only issues 50 permits per day, 30 for the West Entrance and 20 for the East. Permits are $5 per person.
High-clearance vehicles are recommended. Our front-wheel drive Ford Edge did just fine, even as we crossed the Creek at least 7 times.
At the West Entrance across the dirt road from the Brandenburg Ranger Station is a primitive campsite that perhaps can accommodate 5 tents.
At the East end two camping areas are available. Four-Mile Canyon Campground, located about one mile southwest of the Klondyke Store has ten units with picnic tables, grills and a flush toilet. Four-Mile Canyon has a fee of $5.00 per night. The second area is Turkey Creek, a primitive camping area with no facilities. Turkey Creek is located near the east wilderness entrance and has no fee. Primitive camping in the Wilderness Area is OK if you have a permit.
Points of Interest
The beauty of the Canyon is reason enough to go. However, our goal on this trip to the East Entrance was to find the cliff dwellings in Turkey Creek Canyon. Prehistoric people abandoned the area about 1450 A.D. The cliff dwelling is located 1.4 miles south of the east wilderness entrance and is one of the most intact structures of its kind in southeastern Arizona. It was probably occupied for a few months each year by prehistoric farmers around 1300 A.D. A trail leads visitors up to the structure.
Please help protect and preserve these ancient ruins. If you are going to explore this area, best to get a topo map. Here is another one of our trips to Aravaipa Canyon East.
Safford Field Office
711 14th Ave.Safford, AZ 85546
Brandenburg Ranger Station
To get permits online, click HERE for the BLM Permits.
Those of you who go to the East Entrance of Aravaipa Canyon will go through Klondyke. You may find the history of this near-ghost town of interest.
To view our recommendations for many other adventures around Southern Arizona, go to https://southernarizonaguide.com > Main Menu > Adventures.