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Peters Canyon-Tortilla Creek, AZ
mini location map2022-05-28
18 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Peters Canyon-Tortilla Creek, AZ 
Peters Canyon-Tortilla Creek, AZ
Hiking10.56 Miles 1,919 AEG
Hiking10.56 Miles   6 Hrs   25 Mns   1.79 mph
1,919 ft AEG      32 Mns Break
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Route Scout Route Recorded  on Route Scout Popup | MapDEX
Another weekend ..., another canyon to explore in the Supes. Last Saturday, I hit up Lower Fish Creek. On the way back, I decided a return trip was in order to do some exploring from Tortilla Flats.

I parked at the back of the parking area and initially got turned around as to where to find the trail. At first, I continued up the "road" from the parking area, but immediately noted that it was off track from the GPS route I had downloaded. Thinking that the track just started from the Tortilla creekbed, I reversed course and walked back down to the creek crossing and up the creek. I saw that I was now off track in the other direction and ended up climbing up the side of the drainage to finally intersect with the trail.

As it turns out, the trail DOES start by going up the road from the parking area, but it's just rerouted a bit from the the official GPS route. (The return on my posted route shows the correct/current trail alignment).

OK on with the story ...

The first section of the trail goes over a hill and cuts off a couple of bends in Tortilla Creek before dropping you off again in the bed of Tortilla Creek. The creek walking from this point to the turn off to Peters Canyon is so-so in terms of scenery. Very little water left in the creek (a few small, stagnant pools).

Once you make the turn off up Peters Canyon, the scenery gets more interesting--as does the route. Navigating the boulder field was a fun challenge, followed by the slickrock section, where pools of water became a little more frequent (all getting more stagnant by the day, but filterable if needed).

The approach to the cave, and the 1/2-3/4 mile beyond are the highlights of this hike. The canyon narrows up, and the morning light on the canyon walls made for some nice scenery.

The cave was kind of cool. I expected it to be further up on the side of the canyon, but it's really just a very short climb. At the cave itself, there is a rotting sleeping bag, fuel cannisters, and a bunch of trash from someone who apparently made this a home for a bit (and then definitely "left a lot of traces" :( ).

In addition to the "big" cave, there are several other smaller caves along this section of the canyon. Just beyond the big cave, there are marks on the canyon walls indicating the location of some impressive waterfalls if you happen to catch them at the right time.

Speaking of waterfalls, not too far upstream from the cave, in the creekbottom itself, there is a narrow section where a nice waterfall drops into a deep pool. The waterfall was dry today, but the deep pool still had a fair amount of water, though diminishing daily. Bypass of the falls is on the left (going upstream) via a semi-exposed scramble.

All of this made me take a mental note to revisit this area after some good runoff. I'm sure it's delightful with a good water flow.

After nearing the end of the gps track on the Peters Cave route, I retraced my steps to the point where the creek makes a sharp turn and decided to attempt the crossover into the Tortilla Creek drainage by an off-trail scramble over the intervening ridge. I initially started scrambling up the south side of the drainage, but then thought the north side looked more promising (with less vegetation). So I gave up a little elevation gain to cross over the drainage and try the other side.

I was successful in making the ridgeline traverse to Tortilla Creek, but it was a hard-won battle, and I have the scrapes, scratches and cuts to prove it. In short, it was not fun, and I don't know that I would recommend this route (maybe stick with my initial south side approach?). That said, I can at least say that the traverse is do-able. And that is something, as I feared I would bushwhack my way down the drainage on the Tortilla side, only to find myself cliffed out and having to retrace my steps through the scratchy jungle I had just traversed. Thankfully, the backtracking was limited, though I will say that my final descent into the drainage that eventually dropped me into Tortilla Creek did involve an 8-10 foot drop on a sheer section that had me hanging onto a tree branch for some support and which, if the branch had not held, I might have been in for an unpleasant fall.

Once I (finally!) reached Tortilla Creek, I took a few minutes to shake out my shoes and de-burr my socks, which had accumulated quite a following during the bushwhack.

From there, I decided to head up-creek, as the topo suggested there were some narrows further upstream.

There was also a lot more water in this section of Tortilla Creek, though nothing really running--just lots of pools.

The area turned out to be a lot more bouldery than I was anticipating (much like the entrance to Peters Canyon). I came across a pair of hawks/eagles/falcons (not sure) who were protecting a nest up high in an old cottonwood tree. They were not very happy about my presence and repeatedly circled overhead, screeching loudly. Beautiful birds. Wishing I had had a camera with a better zoom to capture them.

A little further on and still navigating major boulder falls, and considering my water situation and the increasing heat of the day, I decided that I would need to reserve further exploring up canyon to another visit.

I turned around and headed back down canyon. Below where I had dropped over the ridgeling from Peters Canyon, Tortilla Creek was chocked with a solid field of reeds, which made navigation more brushy than I had expected--but at least the reeds were not poky!!

The bottom part of Tortilla Creek was just a grind and after all the bushwhacking and creekbed travel on constantly uneven surfaces/shifting rocks, I was happy to finally reconnect with the short trail over the shortcut back to the parking area.

Didn't encounter another soul on the trail.

It was approaching 100 degrees at that point, and I was glad to have finished up the hike. I'll be back in this area after some good monsoon rains.

The drive back by Canyon Lake revealed the expected Memorial Day weekend zoo.
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