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Aravaipa Canyon
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mini location map2012-08-25
60 by photographer avatarchumley
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Aravaipa CanyonGlobe, AZ
Globe, AZ
Canyoneering avatar Aug 25 2012
Canyoneering14.96 Miles 1,500 AEG
Canyoneering14.96 Miles1 Day   4 Hrs      
1,500 ft AEG
Canyon Hiking - Non-technical; no rope; easy scrambling; occasional hand use
A - Dry or little water; shallow or avoidable water; no wet/dry suit
V - Average one and a half days
Linked none no linked trail guides
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An epic trip in to the magical wilderness that is Aravaipa Canyon!

After heavy rains on Thursday and Friday, the creek flooded to a historically once or twice per year flow of about 1500cfs. ("Normal" flow is about 20cfs). When looking up those stats, I learned that major floods reshaped the canyon in 2006 and 1983, with estimated flow rates of over 70,000cfs! :o The normal stream gauge is about 0.5 feet, and the two major floods had gauge heights of nearly 20 feet! (so when you see the debris way up the side of a cliff, now you know how/when it got there!) The floods last week brought the creek up to 5-feet deep on Thursday, and almost 4-feet on Friday. The flood water receded quickly though, and by Saturday morning when we got our start, it was running around 65cfs at a depth of just 0.9 feet. By Sunday when we left it had dropped to near normal at 20cfs and 0.6 feet. You can check the current streamflow here:

On to the hike! We spoke to Ranger Patrick at the trailhead and he told us that the flood had created a mess of slippery mud along the shores. We reached the water, which was looking a lot like chocolate milk. It was mostly calf-high and the upstream hiking was heavy against the current. The visible effects of the flooding was impressive, with the high-water mark clearly visible on the shore, often 3-5 feet above the current level, depending on the width of the channel. Knowing the ground was saturated, we were wary of potential rain causing another flood, but the weather was crystal clear, and it was even relatively cool out.

About two miles in I noticed some clear water running into the creek from the right. We didn't need to filter water yet, but it was nice to know that there might be cleaner sources running into the muddy creek. Curiously, we headed up this little side stream looking for a spring, only to find that there was a fantastic waterfall cascading about 20-feet over four enormous boulders that had jammed into this tight canyon. Above there were a couple of large shady cottonwood trees and what appears to be a spectacular 100+ foot waterfall! But it was impossible to get up the first fall to see the bigger one behind it.

We consulted the topo maps and discovered that we were in Hell's Half Acre Canyon. We exited back to Aravaipa and headed upstream looking for a possible way up and around to see the larger falls. It looked possible, but we were just two miles in and didn't want to waste time climbing up and around, which would likely have taken an hour or two. So we pressed on, hoping that maybe we would see water running in other side canyons where water doesn't usually run. And we sure did!

Next up was an unnamed canyon that featured another spectacular waterfall. This one was in two sections, with deep pools below each one. The bottom section was about 10-feet, and the top section about 40-feet. And this one was climbable. So we all headed up as far as we dared, enjoying the clear, cold water (much colder than the Aravaipa flow). By the time we were done exploring, a large group from Tucson Backpackers had found the pool, and we greeted each other for a couple of minutes and we continued on upstream in search of a campsite. I filmed a couple of videos at these falls: and

We hiked about another mile upstream before finding a relatively shaded campsite on high ground about 4-miles in. After setting up camp, we went on to explore farther upstream without the weight of our packs, with the goals of Virgus and Horse Camp canyons, hoping that they too would have flowing water in them.

First up was Virgus, and this is where the magic happens! Wow. The water flow was incredible. The rocks, the trees, the cascades. Stunning. What a special place! As we climbed up the canyon a bit, we were all overcome by the overwhelming stench of cat piss. I've smelled it while hiking before, and wasn't overly concerned, assuming that it wasn't that fresh. Though this was clearly the absolutely perfect habitat for a big cat to live. Somehow we all managed to put the scent out of our minds and climbed up farther, all of us out of sight of the other, exploring on our own. (In retrospect ... :scared: )

At one point, I left the creek to climb around a couple of very large boulders in the creek, and walked through an eerily spooky leaf-covered wooded patch before returning back to the creek above the boulders. John followed the same path a minute or so behind me. We spent maybe 15 or 20 minutes taking photos and exploring some falls upstream before deciding that we needed to head up to Horse Camp Canyon or we wouldn't make it back to camp before dark. An extra night here would have allowed for more exploration of Virgus, and is something I would like to do next time I'm here.

So the three of us together now headed back downstream and upon getting to the large boulder drop took off on the left side of the creek once again into the wooded area. Leading the way, I walked around a large boulder, only to freeze as I was growled at (apparently mountain lions don't roar, but whatever you want to call the sound, he was pissed!). The growl made me look over to see the back of a cat--8 feet away--and his distinctive tail as he jumped up and over a big boulder to hide from us. "LION!" I said quite loudly to John and Jon, and the three of us quickly turned and instinctively retreated back to the creek.

So apparently that was very fresh cat piss we smelled! Back in the creek, we knew that the cat was still there. It was a narrow canyon with no escape except out to Aravaipa (seemed unlikely) or up past us. I quickly holstered my gun, making sure it was loaded and the safety was off. There's no way I would ever shoot anything unless it was actively attacking one of us, but I thought that besides us all staying together and looking large, it might be necessary to fire a warning shot if it wanted to stare us down? Luckily, that didn't happen, and we decided to navigate the center of the creek, allowing it the shelter of the sides to hide and hopefully feel less threatened.

Hearts pumping, we managed to get below the area we had seen it, and back out to the main canyon. Feeling somewhat safer now, we began to relax and appreciate the amazing experience we had just endured! Jon decided that he might not come back for photographs at sunset. :(

Time becoming an issue, we headed up to Horse Camp Canyon, which was much less eventful, but still featured running water, and a cool waterfall. A large barrel cactus had even been washed over the falls in the flood, broken in pieces in the pool below. After exploring up the canyon for a little bit, still on edge from the lion-encounter, we started heading back to camp. Along the way, Jon nearly stepped on a Black-Tailed rattler in the grass that didn't rattle til the last second. I couldn't get a good photo because it darted into some shrubbery for cover. I think it may have been a baby because it didn't have a loud rattle, and was not at all aggressive. I had to stick my hiking pole into the shrubs to get it to rattle again, even though we were standing only a couple of feet away. So after yet another near-death experience ;) we headed back to camp where we filtered water and made some dinner after gathering firewood we wouldn't burn.

I saw the biggest, craziest, scariest looking multi-legged creature I've ever seen (figured out to be a Giant Centipede when I got back--Don't Google it. There are videos of it eating mice, tarantulas, and even a snake :o But it's venom can't quite kill a human so that's a plus). It prompted Jon to reconsider sleeping on the ground since he didn't have a tent. Ultimately, he ended up on a large flat boulder in the middle of the creek, which seemed like a wise choice to me!

The evening was warm, but not unpleasant, and after enjoying a couple of drinks under christmas lights and a little ipod music, we all got some well-deserved sleep. It even got chilly enough overnight sometime that I put the sleeping bag over me! There were some mosquitos biting as we had walked through Horse Camp earlier in the day, and I got bit/stung by something that drew blood upon arriving at our camp in the evening, but after that it was surprisingly un-buggy for mid-summer after flooding rains.

Sunday morning, Jon and I got up at 6 with the intention of getting some photographs of a waterfall in the soft morning light. After an irritating scramble up the very rough and steep Javalina Canyon not far from camp, we weren't really happy with the waterfall we had seen from below, but managed a few pictures anyway. There was so much water on this trip, it's really hard to even count how many waterfalls we saw. Somewhere between 5 and 10 depending on what qualifies! This was just one more!

Back to camp, we ate breakfast and slowly packed our gear for the trip out. The water was flowing clearer but not noticeably less volume. Hiking downstream was easier with the current! We stopped in at both of the waterfalls we had visited Saturday, and while both were flowing, there was much less water in these than 24-hours earlier. The deep pool below the second fall had even dropped about 3-feet, now making it possible to touch the bottom. The first fall was flowing less, but the mystery 100-foot fall above it still looked fantastic. We were nonetheless too tired to try to work our way around and up to it, instead heading back for the parking lot.

Back at the car a little after 1, we drove home while watching huge clouds building up over the mountains.

Thanks to John and Jon for sharing this awesome adventure with me. My first trip to Aravaipa is sure to be a memory I won't ever forget! :y:
Sacred Datura
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Wildflowers Observation Isolated
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