Hiking and camping West Turkey Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains.
Randy (rwstorm) and I had a bad storm experience recently when camping on Mt. Graham in the Safford area, so we (Randy) put together another plan where we could get out for a couple of days of camping and get in some hiking too. A camping threesome included Paul (Randy's Tucson friend), Randy and myself. The convoy met up East of Tucson and we drove to Sycamore Campground on East Turkey Creek Road (FR 41) where we set up camp. The Forest Service maintained campground has about 6 large campsites and a clean bathroom surrounded by tall pines and even taller peaks all along a strong flowing Turkey Creek.
With the campsite quickly setup, I immediately took off to explore the areas along Turkey Creek. A short distance downstream from our camp was a super scenic waterfall where the creek tumbled noisily over about 12 feet of broken bedrock and into a thick brushy basin filled with colorful rocks surrounding it. I somehow managed to get down below the falls and took several photos looking up into the torrent of falling water. The 2015 Monsoon season may have ruined any number of camping and hiking events in Southeastern Arizona but it was a blessing on the streams that flow out of the Mountains in the Sky Islands and this mountain was no exception.
With wet shoes and sox, I sloshed my way back to camp, changed into dry shoes and sox and now all three of us began exploring the upstream portions of the creek. Randy was familiar with the upper portions of the creek so we followed his lead. It was only a short distance before we came to a concrete dam that had an approximate 15 foot vertical fall, tucked into a narrow canyon, where once again I'm on the verge of getting wet feet, but managed to get some shots of this falls too. Then it was just around the next corner along the trail and another falls came into view..... Whew, this is mind blowing. This 10 foot falls splits between the solid rock on either side as it gushes into a pool of swirling water at its base. I had to climb out on the face of the cliffs and stretch out to achieve some advantage where I could capture a shot of this falls, and even this wasn't enough to get the full effect of the scene.
We hiked a short distance up Mormon Canyon until it crossed Mormon Creek and followed that creek back down to where it entered Turkey Creek. This short vertical stretch of stream was full of riffles, falls and rapids as the creek flowed through a narrow canyon that, at times, was filled with boulders, thick brush and fallen trees.... and yes, I was walking again in wet footwear after a not very graceful but slippery crossing.
After all that excitement, we made our way back to camp where we indulged in some cold beverages and began preparing our evening meals while attempting to build a fire for later.... and changing, again, into dry footwear. The evening temps were in the mid 60's so a long sleeve shirt was the order and avoiding the smoke from the fire, the unspoken rule.... so not too much past sundown, it was time to call it a day.
The next morning it was a quick breakfast, a sip of coffee and off to the Pole Bridge Trail #264 a short distance down the road. Our intention was to hike up Pole Bridge Canyon to a saddle where it connects with Turtle Mountain Trail #219, follow that trail around the 8,890 foot Johnson Peak to another saddle where it connects with the Morse Canyon Trail #43 that will take us back to FR 41 for an easy stroll 1-1/2 miles back to our camp. The whole hike should be about 8 miles. [ description ]
To view Randy's Route [ gps route ]
Some days it seems that nothing goes the way the plans were laid out, and this was going to be one of them days. As we left the road heading up Pole Bridge Canyon, we ran into an extensive growth of up to 5 feet tall grass that was in its seeding stage and gave off clouds of microscopic spores when disturbed. Soon Paul was sneezing and coughing from an allergic reaction to the dust. His reaction was so bad and the grass continued on for a long distance so he was forced to bail. Paul would therefore hike up Morse Canyon Trail and on up to the lookout tower at 9,355 foot Monte Vista Peak, then back to the saddle/trail junction where we would meet up for the return back to camp.
So Randy and I bushwhacked (literally) through the tall grass, constantly loosing the trail, and did I mention that the grass was wet from last night's dew? Well I was wet again as we continued up a hit-and-miss trail with but a few cairns hidden somewhere under the tall grass. Finally we got away from the major grassy areas and began to follow a somewhat readable trail heading up the side of the mountain. As the mountain got steeper, we began hitting an extensive network of switchbacks that seemed to be taking us further away from our goal at the saddle and through a burnout area that left lots of dead trees lying across the trail. Some trees were small enough to scramble over, others we could crawl under and the real nasty ones we had to go around em, but we kept heading up-hill, up, up up for 3.8 miles and around 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Occasionally we would reach a burnt area where we had views of the surrounding peaks, some with trees, others rocky outcroppings, but then it was back into the forest.
We finally reached a saddle that looked like it should be our trail junction with Turtle Mountain Trail, but with all the downed trees and a burnt post where a sign once stood, we couldn't be sure if we were at the right place. So after consulting Randy's torn and barely readable map, we headed East towards where the lookout tower should be, all the while following an old fence line and searching for the trail. At one point we decided that we were no longer on the trail and we should head up to a ridgeline and check Randy's map again. It was then that I found a small cairn and what looked like a trail going through a tangle of downed trees, new growth pines and New Mexico Locust. Our trail completely disappeared on a downed-tree-strewn ridge but we finally had our first views of the lookout tower, so we had a landmark, but no good way to get there so we bushwhacked again until we found the semblance of a trail again that took us to another saddle where trails met.
We checked Randy's map again, which by now, was two pieces of paper, and determined that we should head South, keeping the lookout tower in view. We got down that trail about half a mile where I pulled out my cell phone with Route Scout running and our trail showed that we were going farther away from our saddle where Paul should be waiting for us.... so we made an about face and returned to our last likely location and....yup, get out the map again. This time as Randy interpreted the map I looked around, and to my astonishment, found some aged signs that were barely readable but hadn't been burnt. These were the signs that would show us the way to the saddle and Morse Canyon Trail... and Paul, patiently waiting for us with a couple of cold brewski's. Okay, I made up that part about patient Paul and the cold brews but it was the right trail we were looking for.
For the last couple of miles my legs were cramping up and I had to keep moving to keep them from turning into a pair of twisted, worthless clubs so I kept plodding on towards the trail junction. When we got to the saddle, no Paul and no brewski's, but there was another sign that directed us down Morse Canyon to FR 41. This final dash was a 2 mile stretch of continuous downhill that would bring us down threw more than 2,000 feet of twisting zig-zag switchbacks and I wasn't sure if my legs were going to make it or not, but after what seemed like an interminable amount of agony and time, I could see the signs at the trailhead.
From the Trailhead, we walked the final mile and a half of freshly graded gravel road back to our camp, where the first thing I did was to grab that cold brew, that wonderful cold brew that was what kept me going those last miles, then after washing up in the creek, I started applying the muscle relaxers and rubbing my sore legs back from near oblivion. I don't know why my legs cramped up during our hike, it's something that has never happened before although, I frequently get night time cramps following a strenuous hike..... must be that darn “old age” creeping up on me.
In conclusion, I would have to say that this hike rated pretty low on my list of favorites but mostly due to trail conditions following the past forest fires and a lack of signage to help point out trails and names. Good distance scenery shots are very few and far between, even from the peaks and ridgelines. There are no points of interest like abandoned mines or areas of historic value (with the exception of John Ringo's grave).... but there are many challenges to the hiker whose hiking style demands it, like trail finding and peak bagging.Foliage
The Sycamore trees are showing the first signs of color.