Oasis in the Desert
This is a 5.5 mile hike from the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead along Cienega Creek to the Pantano Wash Bridge in Vail. The majority of this hike is not along trails but along Cienega Creek and Pantano Wash. Cienega Creek has two sections of Perennial flow along this hike and depending on how much recent rain the other sections may be running also. Flash floods are possible, especially in the monsoon season. Highlights of this hike are the east and west bound Train Bridges at Marsh Station Road, Two sections of perennial flow with an abundance of Cottonwood, Willow and mesquite. About half way along this hike is the Pantano Dam, filled with sand but still neat. There is also a lot for the Geology buffs. This hike is in the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and requires obtaining a permit to hike. The permit is free. Information about the preserve and obtaining permits is in the permits section. Those hiking the Arizona Trail do not need the permit as long as they stay on the Arizona Trail.
From the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead along Marsh Station Road, take the Arizona Trail north down Davidson Canyon to the junction with Cienega Creek. From here just follow the creek until you come to the Pantano Wash Bridge in Vail. But not so fast, there is a lot to see in between.From the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead When you enter Davidson Canyon you will encounter the rocks of the Pantano volcanics (<2MYA). This same rock is what makes up the cliffs where the train bridges are. Say goodbye to it because after the bridge you won’t see it anymore. Cienega Creek is flowing at this point and will stay above ground for the next quarter mile or so. In Cienega Creek you will pass under the first of three bridges, The East bound train, Marsh Station Road and then way up high the West bound train. If you are lucky you will encounter a train while walking through this section. If you are really lucky you will encounter the east and west bound trains at the same time. It is the next best thing to a spiritual experience.
For the first half mile you are heading west in a Cottonwood-Mesquite riparian area. The cottonwoods disappear when the water disappears and the surroundings become more desert like. The banks of the creek are pretty interesting for the next mile; lots of old stream bed layers and alluvium layers (<10,000 Years). There are quite a few areas of normal faulting along this section also. The east bound train track parallels the creek for the first two miles so there will be opportunities to see east bound trains. At 2.5 miles in the Agua Verde Creek enters from the north. From this point for the next mile is the second area of surface water flow and another area with a canopy of cottonwood trees. Pantano Dam is located on the western end of this riparian area. At Pantano Dam there is an outcrop of limestone (Paleozoic 200 -350MYA). This limestone rock slid down from the Rincons along the Rincon Mountain Detachment fault. This shallow outcrop is thought to be the reason the water resurfaces here. On the south side of the dam are some Mortars most likely from the Hohokam Indians.
The next two miles from the Dam to the Pantano Bridge is pretty much a walk along a wash. The sand was much more difficult to walk in. There is one interesting spot about a half mile before the bridge where some Proterozoic rocks(2-3 BYA) outcrop along the wash, Pinal Schist and granite. These are the oldest rocks you will see on this hike.
Beside the eastern trail head at Gabe Zimmerman there is a western trail head along East Colossal Cave Road at the Pantano Wash Bridge.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.