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GET Segment 7 overview
Aravaipa might well be considered Arizona's "Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert." For like its neighbor to the north, Aravaipa Canyon is also a place born of water, uplift, and erosion - a great curving and carving of the land into a sheer-walled labyrinth of light and color, liquid and life. In terms of geography, this grand canyon is small - a fifth as high, its main passage walkable in just a day or two. Yet by the measure of its life, Aravaipa is a place of rare grandeur. Its perennial creek, fed by subterranean waters from past Ice Ages, harbors more native species of fish than any low country stream in Arizona. Aravaipa Creek and its tributaries nurture some 1000 acres of diverse, deciduous riparian forest. Mountain lion and bobcat hunt here, their prey including bighorn sheep, javelina, and coatimundi, in addition to white tailed deer. One hundred and fifty species of birds have been recorded in the canyon, including the large, unmistakable Great Blue Heron, a common and striking sight in this desert land. For just beyond the leafy shade at creekside, the saguaros, chollas, and prickly pear of the Sonoran Desert take hold once more, clinging to buff-brown slopes worn sheer by the work of time.
The above synopsis was written prior to the devastating flood of summer 2006, which tore through the canyon with a force powerful enough to uproot full-grown cottonwoods and other native shade trees by the thousands, in some cases depositing them miles downstream. Much of Aravaipa Creek's riparian corridor was destroyed, opening the canyon bottom to the desert sun and, in an ironic turn, enhancing the canyon's scenic quality by permitting unrestricted views of the surrounding cliffs. Anyone fortunate enough to have experienced the canyon pre-flood will in many ways find it unrecognizable now, so much was the focal point before on the narrow string of verdant splendor. Yet this canyon is nothing if not resilient; the "river forest" will grow back, as it has done in the wake of similar floods before (a generational event, history shows). And in this warm, sunny climate, recovery in the presence of a perennial stream is comparatively quick. Indeed the forest was already regenerating quite nicely as of this writing, some 7 years later.
Now as before, Aravaipa Canyon remains a pristine riverine ecosystem due to its designation as a BLM Wilderness area. The BLM does not maintain trails in the canyon in favor of "dispersed impacts" to the environment. In spirit, this is a cross-country hiking experience - one walks along the bank of Aravaipa Creek until the canyon bends, then crosses to the other bank, and so on. Social trails did exist before the flood, worn down by hikers as paths of least resistance along the banks. And these trails are now on their way back as the creekside understory, grasses and rushes fill in. Just as often, though, you'll be following the path of least resistance along sandy, rocky, and occasionally debris-choked corridors between the creek and canyon walls. Sometimes it may seem easier just to slosh up the creek itself - it's usually only ankle or shin-deep, somewhat quick, but easily negotiated (except in flood, of course, when you should definitely avoid the canyon). Finding an efficient line of travel is half the fun and most of the challenge in Aravaipa. Expect a pace no faster than 1-2 mph along with numerous creek crossings (perhaps one every quarter mile or oftener) and continuously wet feet. All things considered, conditions really aren't that bad nowadays; unavoidable blowdowns may need negotiating here and there, and some "quicksand" may be present (and avoidable), but hiking times to traverse the entire canyon remain essentially unchanged.
In any case, the business side of raw, pristine wilderness in the case of Aravaipa Canyon is the permit system. Everyone entering the canyon must have one: day hikers, thru-hikers, overnight campers all. This business is complicated by the fact that permits are limited in number, usually need to be reserved in advance, and once paid for cannot be modified. Business appears to be good, though. The Canyon (and probably afterward, you too) will appreciate the patronage... and native solitude. See the GET Trek Planner chapter on Permits for more info.
A detailed, mile-by-mile description of this segment is available in the official GET guidebook. See https://simblissity.net/get-home.shtml
This segment of the GET forms part of a longer trip option between resupply locations, as described below:
GET Segments 6 - 11, Mammoth to Safford
East of AZ Hwy 77 the Grand Enchantment Trail heads into Sonoran desert foothills of the sky-island Galiuro Mountains, wherein lies the entrance to spectacular Aravaipa Canyon (BLM Wilderness). Sheer canyon walls rise a thousand feet above the lush, deciduous banks of perennial Aravaipa Creek, where we linger, wet feet and broad smiles, for some 12 unforgettable miles. Quiet dirt roads resume east of the canyon, leading within range of the remote outpost of Klondyke - another potential maildrop resupply location - before our route turns northeast to climb into the extremely rugged terrain of the Santa Teresa Wilderness (Coronado National Forest). Little-used trails provide supreme solitude as we navigate the adventurous granite-domed wonderland of Holdout Canyon, then over 7000-foot Cottonwood Mountain near well-named Pinnacle Ridge, and south to reach Klondyke Road. A fun yet challenging cross-country connection culminates at Tripp Canyon, where the GET soon rejoins foot trail to climb high into the forested Pinaleno Mountains (Coronado NF), passing serene Riggs Lake and the fire tower atop 10,000-foot Webb Peak, where snow may linger well into spring. The desert heat seems as far away as the distant horizon atop this tallest of Arizona's Sky Island ranges, where broad panoramas reveal such distinguished neighbors as the Rincons, Huachucas, Chiricahuas, as well as the Mogollon Mountains in New Mexico farther along the GET. Leaving the high country by and by, we follow the magnificent craggy defile of forested Ash Creek Canyon on down toward the open desert nearly a vertical mile-and-a-half below, passing through an astonishing range of life zones in only a few miles of travel. Finally, the route joins quiet greasewood-flanked dirt roads to reach the outskirts of bustling Safford, with most services available.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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