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Upper Burro Creek Canyon
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mini location map2017-03-04
58 by photographer avatararizona_water
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Upper Burro Creek CanyonPrescott, AZ
Prescott, AZ
Canyoneering avatar Mar 04 2017
Canyoneering7.27 Miles 2,323 AEG
Canyoneering7.27 Miles   8 Hrs   28 Mns   1.00 mph
2,323 ft AEG   1 Hour   10 Mns Break
Basic Canyoneering - Scrambling; easy climbing/downclimbing; frequent hand use; rope recommended; easy exit
B - Up to light current; wading/swimming; possible wet/dry suit
IV - Long, full day, bivy possible
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I am going to break this triplog up into three parts:
1) access
2) the hike
3) recommendations

The majority of the drive to get to Upper Burro Creek Canyon (UBCC) is on either private or state-leased land. It is imperative that you research land-ownership and understand which roads you should or should not take before attempting this journey. Since I posted a few of these photos on instagram this week, I've been receiving messages from many people asking about how the heck I got permission to enter and cross private land. The short answer is: I did not get permission. I also did not ask. I talked to someone who works at AZ state lands, and they told me that as long as I stayed on main roads through leased lands, I would be fine. As for private land, I had read that most gates in this area would be unlocked. I discovered that there's actually a registry with free permits that you place in your vehicle on the first unmarked jeep road you cross, heading north on Halfway House road. See my photo set for more details. Seeing that this permit system is done in agreement with the private land owners and with the AZGFS allowed me to finally breath a sigh of relief. I knew that continuing north on these ranch/jeep tracks would eventually get us to a section of BLM land, where we would leave our vehicle and eventually spend the night.

Our road route:
From Bagdad, take Lindahl Rd, which becomes Campwood Road (County Rd. 68, aka FR 21) north and east. After about 19 miles, turn NW onto Halfway House Rd. After 3 miles, take a jeep track that heads NE (this is where you will find the registry, which is visible from Halfway House Rd). Continue north on this for one mile. you will reach a junction with FR 21a. Turn right onto FR 21a (and of course, there are no signs out here, good luck!). Stay on FR21a east for one mile. There will be a jeep track headed north. follow this for about .5 mile where you will pass through a fence. You are now on BLM land. continue for another .5 mile to another junction. From here, turn left and head N-NW. You will eventually descend down to Winter Camp Tank. Turn right at the SW side of the tank and follow the track to the NW side of the lake. Follow this track for another two miles. We parked on a flat area just off the jeep track, but if you continue .2 mile, you will be back on private land so make sure you have some points saved in your GPS. This section is part of the Baca Float. And I just always feel more comfortable camping on public over private land, if I have a choice. The last 10 miles out to the UBCC mesa is a high clearance 4x4low rock crawl through deep mud (may be dry in early summer). The road was so bad that I couldn't even take photos while we were driving because I was bouncing around the whole time. I know Outlander did this in 2x4 high clearance, but the roads were likely dry in June!

We returned by FR 21a east, crossed through YOLO ranch, and took Campwood Road back to Prescott. This route also has deep ruts and lots of mud and terrible road conditions, once you leave Campwood Road. The views you get on the drive alone is worth the trip.

NOTE: Please be respectful of private property. Close gates behind you, don't drive off the jeep tracks, etc.

Look at any map and you will see how remote that Upper Burro Creek Canyon appears. Almost no maintained roads or residential building for miles and miles. It appears to be absolute wilderness (not by legal definition, but more by ambiance). However, this was not the case. I was surprised to see not one, but three small ranch planes fly over us. There was a plane either visible or audible the entire time we were hiking. This took away from the remote feel of the area. Perhaps these planes were Baca Float/ORO Ranch patrol planes, but there's no evidence for or against this.

We car-camped on Friday night at Nelson Mesa -- a small section of BLM land just a few miles NE of Bagdad on Lindahl/Campwood Rd. We left the next morning at 6:30 a.m. and arrived at our parking spot on the UBCC mesa at 11:00 a.m. I had mapped out a route that was similar to the upper portion of Outlander's original loop that had first put UBCC on the map for me. I had whittled his route down to an 11 mile loop that would be doable as a long day hike, preventing us from carrying overnight packs. What I failed to realize was that Outlander's exit point on a cattle/jeep track was the key to exiting UBCC without doing a 1/2mph bushwhack up and over the 1000ft canyon walls. As for entering the canyon, after two failed attempts, the third attempt to enter Pine Creek Canyon proved successful. The bushwhacking down the hill was tough going. Because of our false starts, it was 3:00p.m. when we arrived at the creek. Sunset was at 6:30p.m., and we knew we had a long way to go.

The plan quickly changed to hiking to the confluence with Burro Creek, and then continuing downstream until we could find a break in the upper canyon cliffs. We were hoping for a wash or drainage to follow back up to the rim and avoid plowing through an uphill wall of brush. While the change of plan was all good and fine, we did have to cut our side trip to Pine Creek Falls (see the "recommendations" section below for a future planned tour of that area). Upon arriving at the bottom of the canyon, we had a sense of urgency to continue downstream and identify an exit point before we ran out of daylight. This urgency was driven not only by the hour of the day, but mostly by the looming uphill bushwhack over the cliffs - a challenge in daylight, but more unappealing by headlamp in the dark.

We found an ephemeral creek drainage downstream from the confluence of Pine and Burro Creeks and began climbing up. We had picked a point on the rim to aim for, knowing that there was an impassable dry fall on this drainage, further up hill by the rim. About halfway up the canyon wall, we left the drainage to make a more direct path to the break in the upper cliffs. This proved to be the slowest and least enjoyable portion of the hike as we forced our bodies through walls of agave, manzanita, and other thorny-plants. This was exhausting, and we had already warn ourselves out with the attempts to get into the canyon.

We made it to the top of the rim right at 6:50p.m. - last light. We hiked the remaining 1.5 miles in the dark back to the car along an old jeep route on the mesa. All said and done, we enjoyed our shortened route, and false starts along the rim did give us incredible views of Pine Creek Falls. The geology along UBC is incredible and stunning. I can't wait for my next trip back!

The majority of our time was used in finding the best way into and out of the canyon, and then bushwhacking to make those routes happen.
It would have been nice to have more time for exploring within the canyon. Next time we do this, we will be entering Pine Creek Canyon from the wash that descends gently north of "Mikes tank." This cuts off about 30+ minutes of driving and creates certainty in descending to the canyon floor. Then we will follow Pine Creek to Burro Creek, and exit Burro further south, where Outlander did in 2011. This route would allow for exploring north into Deep Canyon. We would then camp on the rim and make the 6 mile trek across the mesa and back to the vehicle on the final day.
To achieve this very long first day, it would be necessary to begin very early in the morning. This may require spending Friday night off of Campwood Road, on the Prescott NF side. The drive is a little bit longer coming from Prescott, but Co. Rd 68 is in great condition. You could easily get to the start of the hike in 2.5 hours from the Prescott NF boundary, and start hiking earlier.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water 3 out of 5water 4 out of 5 Pine Creek Heavy flow Heavy flow
- there's nothing like finding Water in the Desert -
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