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. 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?
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. You can search 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.
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.
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1dGb-rkISE
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.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.
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.