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Calf Pen Canyon
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mini location map2013-06-22
15 by photographer avatarOutlander
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Calf Pen CanyonPayson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking18.00 Miles 5,000 AEG
Hiking18.00 Miles   30 Hrs      1.13 mph
5,000 ft AEG   14 Hrs    Break30 LBS Pack
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
The mission was to hike Calf Pen Canyon and its major feeder streams.

Calf Pen Canyon is the jewel of the Fossil Creek Wilderness, a place where few people venture, despite its close proximity to civilization. It has a beautiful flowing creek, old-growth forests, abundant wildlife, and no trails or amenities whatever. In short: it is a great place to spend some time. I make the hike every summer, usually opting for a day-trip, and then hustle over to the family cabin at Strawberry. The best case scenario is to arrive just as dinner is being served, dirty and bedraggled, with a new story to tell.

Calf Pen Canyon has cliffs along much of its perimeter, making access rather difficult. I took a new route in this time and found it to be a good option. There is a game/bear trail that follows a steep grade all the way down to the creek, which cannot be said of the other access points that have many cliffs and drops, requiring leg burning portages and walk-arounds. Once in the canyon, the bushwhacking is about a 6 of 10 on the difficulty scale, with plenty of rocks and deadfall; it gets progressively easier as one moves down river.

There must be at least 10 bears in the canyon, and rarely do I pass through without seeing at least one of them. The bears usually come down from the Manzanita thickets each day around noon to wallow in the creek. This year’s outing was slow compared to usual, with just a few fleeting glances of the bears. There are lots things to see, but if you are in a hurry, you might miss it.

It is about a 10 mile hike from Calf Pen Canyon to Fossil Springs Trail #18. A person can hike it at a leisurely pace in one day and still have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. However, if you dally in the side canyons, it will take much longer. They are choked with vegetation and very steep. I ditched my pack to hump up those side canyons, but even without the burden it was tough going. In the first side canyon I felt like Spiderman, climbing and pulling my way up the hill with ease; but that did not last very long. After a few more side excursions, I was dragging tail on the way out. The last hill was new ground for me, and I discovered another old grow site that was penciled in as a “probable” on the my map.

The story is not complete without mentioning the legendary dope grows of Calf Pen Canyon. In the year 2005, drug cartels took over the area and had thousands of marijuana plants in cultivation there, causing much environmental damage and several incidents with hikers on Fossil Springs Trail #18. The Gila County Drug Task Force, along with federal law enforcement agencies, raided multiple sites in the canyon and arrested four Mexican nationals, seizing a total of 19,000 pounds of marijuana. The place was cleared out and has been fairly quiet ever since.

It has been interesting to watch the forest heal itself over time, with each year in passing the trash is less noticeable, the Manzanita fills back in, and new life springs forth from the stumps of felled oak trees. The recovery would be near complete if it were not for the ¾” PVC drip lines that blanket the area. It is a durable material with a half-life of 100 years, or so it would seem, and nearly indestructible.

I doubt that Calf Pen Canyon will be ever used again on account of all the attention it receives from law enforcement each year. However, it is common for growers to reuse old sites from time to time. Every summer is a new game, a reset, which keeps things interesting out in the backwoods.
 Fauna [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Bumblebee
 Named place
 Named place [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Calf Pen Canyon
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Light

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water less than max Calf Pen Canyon Medium flow Medium flow
Water is everywhere down here, as well as further up the hill sides with many flowing springs.
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