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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Not just the name of a trail.
Overview: Second Water Canyon is a short, not too spectacular, yet interesting canyon that runs south to north across Black Mesa and connects the Second Water Trail with the Black Mesa Trail. When I hiked it, I hiked from the north end to the south end, but the better option would probably be in the other direction, so I will describe it that way.
Note: In the statistics, I put the average time and elevation gain for the canyon itself, but access to either end requires at least a couple miles hike. Refer to the Second Water Trail for access to the lower end and Black Mesa Loop for the upper end.
Hike: Access to the upper end of this canyon is from the Black Mesa trail. From the Second Water- Black Mesa junction, hike the Black Mesa Trail up to the top of the mesa. As soon as you reach the top of the mesa (when there is no longer a steep slope immediately to your left), exit the trail to your left and head east-northeast through the forest of cholla.
You will have a short ascent of about 70 feet of gain (depending on how soon you exited the trail) before you top out and start to head downhill. From where you top out, you can see the small, rocky peak 2675 that juts out from the top of the mesa to the east. Head directly towards this peak. This is where pants come in handy, as the prickly desert vegetation up here is abundant and thick. I wore shorts on this hike and feel very lucky to have not once gotten a jumping cholla stuck in my leg. As you near the peak, the contour of the land will bring you to the bottom of the canyon, which is a small, cat-claw filled ravine at this point. You will most likely not be able to travel in the bottom of the ravine quite yet, so once you reach it, you'll have to parallel it for a bit. This portion is fairly slow and not particularly enjoyable. It seemed to me that travel on creek-right was a bit easier, but I can't be too sure. It probably doesn't really make that much of a difference anyway.
Soon, the ravine starts becoming a bit more of a canyon and the vegetation starts to clear up. Hop in! It's not totally clear yet, but I assure you, it's better than paralleling it. When the canyon takes a turn to the right it becomes fun! The boulders become larger, but are pretty easy scrambles. There may be a few pools of water to dodge, but nothing bad. At about 1.5 miles the canyon starts to level out again, widens, the vegetation starts to thicken, and the water is more abundant. When I went, there were quite a few patches of tall, thick grass that were necessary to walk through, so the snake stick came in handy so that I wouldn't step on anything. The closer you get to the spring, the prettier it becomes. When you reach the spring area, there will be a flat, grassy area to the right of the creek that could hold half a dozen campsites (I could be exaggerating slightly; I don't quite remember). Around here is a great place for a break and a snack. The stretch from here to the Second Water Trail (1/4 mile, tops) is beautiful, especially if the spring is running as it was when I was there, but the last hundred yards or so is a pretty rough bushwhack. When you hit the Second Water Trail, turn left, and continue back to the trailhead for a loop of about 8.5 miles. Or, if you're not finished yet, turn right and continue on to Boulder Canyon for some more exploration.
On my trip, I drank about a gallon of water. I also drink more than most, took the canyon uphill, and it was about 85 degrees out without a cloud in the sky. Either way, bring plenty of water. Almost as important on this hike: Wear pants!
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