Monday, November 12, 2012


    Suzanne and I have been to Aravaipa Canyon several times the last 2 or 3 years. We usually hike in a couple miles and hike back out on the west end.  We have read about the whole canyon and considered doing a "hike through". It was a little problematic though. One end of the canyon goes in from highway 177 near Winkelman and the other end of the canyon is way into the wilderness from highway 70 near Safford.. There is a huge amount of driving mileage between one end of the canyon and the other, and the west end of the canyon requires a high clearance vehicle to get through several creek crossings. We found a friend who is a hiker and enjoys exploring the state (and has a high clearance vehicle!) so we decided to get a group to hike in from the west end, and the other group to start from the east end. We'd meet in the middle for lunch, trade keys, and hike to each others' cars through the canyon. Perfect! So we bought some permits, and got the trip on the calendar.
The description of the area sounds perfect. It is roughly a 12 mile hike through the canyon. I think I read that there is only a 400 foot elevation gain in the 12 miles, so it's basically flat, that's nice. It's through a beautiful canyon that is a wilderness protected area. There are a limited number of daily permits. I don't know what the weekends might be like, but each time we've been there on a weekday, we've encountered maybe 2 or 3 people all day. There are no established trails, although there are some areas that you can notice other hikers have followed a general path. The trip parallels the creek, then the canyon wall comes up and forces you into the water, to follow in the stream for a while, or sometimes to cross and walk on the other side for a while. The water is basically only ankle deep through the canyon.

We arrived and started walking at 8 am. The water was pretty chilly those first few creek crossings, but it became more pleasant as the day wore on. The problem we encountered, though not until later in the day, is that our route was upstream. When much of the day is spent walking in water, the flow of water against our feet was tiring. I found we were going to great lengths to stay out of the water the last hour or so of the day. The other group said it felt great to pick up their feet and have the current move their foot forward with each step. We should have thought that through and called dibs on the East end!
We had 7 in our group - Myself, Suzanne, Keegan, Lynnora, Cindi, Tam, and Dale. The other group was Wes, Daryl, and Bernie. We had originally thought we'd meet pretty much in the middle of the canyon, but we started out at 8 instead of 7 as we had planned. I thought the other group might have even started earlier than 7.  We also thought we would be hiking considerably slower than the other group, so in reality, I thought we'd come across the other group well before we reached the half way mark. There are no markings of any kind in the canyon, so we weren't confident we knew how far we had gone. I started to get nervous when we didn't see them by 11 or 12. There was no phone service once we started the drive toward the canyon. If the other group had any problems driving or hiking, we would never know. We started talking through ridiculous scenarios of hiking 12 miles to find there was no car on the other end. Actually Wes loaned us a GPS to walk with, but I couldn't imagine we were hiking as slow as we were so I thought for sure I was reading the numbers wrong. We finally ran into them at 12:30 or so, and stopped for a picnic. Here's what was hilarious. Our "girl group" had been e-mailing all week - what kind of pack are you carrying? What food are you taking? How about I bring chicken and you bring some rolls? I'll get the GPS, you bring a first aid kit, what kind of food would travel well? how will we keep the food cool? maybe a wrap would travel better than a sandwich etc etc.  When we sat down with the men in the other group, they enjoyed sharing some of the Italian Pasta Salad and Rice Krispie Treats that Cindi brought but said they just grabbed a pocket knife, a slab of salami, a cube of cheese and a boiled egg as they were leaving the house that morning. (What?? you didn't coordinate who was bringing the napkins?? What is it with men?)

We traded keys, then they told us we had a good 5 hours of hiking left to get to the car. Yikes! It gets dark at 6:00, and it is now 1:00. And we're hiking kind of slow. Actually, although we were hiking slow, we were pacing ourselves about the same as other hikers that we spoke to in the canyon that day, and overall hiked about the same number of hours as our other group. It is a flat canyon, but very rocky and of course in and out of the creek. It just makes for careful walking and watching your step.

We saw a blue heron, lots of butterflies, many frogs, a centipede, 3 snakes of a friendly variety (seen by our group, but fortunately I didn't have to witness any snakes myself). The picture below doesn't really show how big this creature was. I should have photographed it next to my shoe to put in in context, but I am not educated about centipedes enough to know if they might spit, sting, or quickly run up your pant leg, so you'll have to just take my word for it . . . it was quite large.
Here's what was great - the 2nd half of the canyon was significantly prettier than the 1st half. Maybe it was that we were seeing some dramatic afternoon lighting and shadows on the canyon walls, but also, there were stretches of scenery that were significantly different that what we had seen before.  One particular stretch had  trees stretching over the creek from both sides, and we walked down a sandbar in the center of the creek for  quite a ways. I've looked at my pictures, and some of the pictures from others in our group, and they just don't do justice to how pretty it was.

From car to car through the canyon, we took 10 hours. We got to the east end right at 6 pm as it was getting dark. Another quarter mile and we'd have all been digging out our flashlights. One more reason we should have called dibs on starting at the East end is that we were pooped and still had a 5 hour drive home. It's only 2 1/2 hours back to Phoenix from the other end. Everyone was tired and sore, yet it felt so good that we had such an incredible day. I was feeling surprisingly well, slightly tired, but not stiff and sore.  After we all got on dry shoes and socks, we hopped in the car and started driving back out to the highway. We drove about 2 hours on dirt roads, then we decided to switch drivers for the rest of the way home to Phoenix. I hopped out of the SUV to walk around to the driver's side and as my feet hit the ground, I just about crumpled. How can you get so stiff, so COMPLETELY stiff, and not know it while you are sitting? I could hardly walk around the car to the other side! We stopped in Globe for dinner and all 7 of us were hobbling in. Crazy.
We all were wondering if we'd do this hike again. That evening none of us would definitely say yes. But once we rested and recovered a bit, I think we all might do it again if we had the chance. It is a lesser known, but beautiful spot in this great state of ours. 


Suzanne Barker said...

LOL!! Blue Heron, not Herring.

Lauri said...

Incredible! You have certainly seen some seemingly unknown areas of Arizona. You and Garry should compare notes.

Bandanamom said...

This is pretty cool - it looks beautiful. And I was laughing about your comments about the men and lunch. That's what is great and frustrating about the differences between men and women.

Roni said...

So amazing!! This place is beautiful!!

Roni said...

So amazing!! This place is beautiful!!

My Name is Sydney said...

What a great hike! I would love to do it sometime!

Kasia Cook said...

This sounds awesome. I would do it with you!