As soon as we found out we were moving back to Arizona for a few months, we immediately started making a bucket list of things we needed to accomplish this fall. This list included things like Chiricahua’s Heart of Rocks trail, Saguaro National Park East, and meeting our new niece, Grace (all things we’ve accomplished so far!) Another thing we had been wanting to do was visit the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. It’s located about 2 hours North of Tucson, just North of Mammoth, AZ off of highway 77. The only issue was that to visit this area, you need to have permits reserved in advance from BLM’s website, and even before we arrived in Arizona, all of the weekends we’d be around were unavailable. We looked through the available dates, and when we realized that my birthday (10/27) was available, it just seemed like it was meant to be. And that’s the story of how we came to celebrate my 23rd birthday with my first official backpacking trip!
The road getting to the trailhead was rough and slow going, but definitely not the worst we’ve encountered. However, there were several parts where it was evident that when it rains, the road is impassable. Thankfully no rain was predicted in the days we had scheduled! We made it to the trailhead where a few other vehicles were parked. We happened to know that all permits had been sold out for these 2 days we had reserved. Every day, there are 30 available for the West side, and 20 for the East side. If you’re planning a trip here, make sure to reserve your dates well in advance! It’s easy to do online, and costs $5 per person per day.
We had heard and read enough about this area to know what to expect: This is a wilderness area, and there are no maintained trails. You are expected to come prepared and have an idea of where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. Sometimes there is an obvious trail where many have walked (as shown in the above photo), other times there is no trail, so you must either bushwhack or walk through the creek. I found it best to go into it expecting to be walking in water half of the time, and with that mindset it really wasn’t that hard to adjust to.
I wore my water shoes that I used last year for Supai and while they were good for walking through water, on this trip I found myself wishing for ones with enclosed sides. The bottom of Aravaipa is made up of gravel and small pebbles, and I ended up having to empty my shoes frequently or “grin and bear it.” I guess this wasn’t a problem for Supai…not that I can remember at least. (I’ll let you know the answer to that in the next couple weeks 😉 )
I love that we were able to do this hike in late October. The trees were just starting to turn to fall colors and we missed the summer heat, yet it was still comfortable temperatures at night for camping. Even the water was the perfect temperature to walk in – just cool enough to be refresing, but not too cold.
Because this is a wilderness area, reports of wildlife seen are very frequent. Bighorn sheep, javelina, coatimundi, deer, and much more are all around this place. We went into this really hoping to see our first coati, but sadly the elusive creature stayed away from us. Right at the beginning of the trail, we heard something big in front of us in the bushes, but never saw what it was. After that, we saw one rattlesnake – Curtis was in front and was able to get a picture before calmly telling me what it was and telling me to go walk through the water instead. 🙂
Hiking through this area was quiet and lovely, yet difficult. We went into this hike planning to just go as far as we felt like and setting up camp somewhere that was unoccupied. We had a couple topographic maps to help us know where we were, but we weren’t worried about how far we made it. This was all about enjoying the area, and each other. It’s a good thing we went with no expectations, because it took us a long time to walk just 4 miles into the canyon! The canyon in full is 16 miles from the West to East side, and if we ever had the urge to go hike the entire thing, we would plan to take 3 days for the whole thing. It’s simply too much for a day hike, and even 2 days for most people.
For the majority of our hike, we were alone, but we still ran into several hiking groups throughout the day. We tried to recall a time when we were completely alone, all day on a trail, and failed to come up with a full day of seeing no one on a trail. We might have to make that our new goal: find someplace where no one else is! Of course, when it comes down to it, I don’t mind when there are other people around – that just means I have to outrun them when the mountain lion comes out. 😉
As we continued through the canyon, the walls started growing taller and taller around us. I love the look of the sheer, red canyon walls – they reminded me of some of my favorite places, such as Zion National Park, the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and Escalante National Monument. Basically, this area just reminded me of how much I love the scenery of the West. I love the vastness of the canyon walls and the colors and geology of the rocks. It makes me both mournful that this is what we’re giving up, yet I’m also filled with anticipation over the new sights and places we’ll soon get to encounter.
After hiking for about 2 hours, we had gone 2.5 miles and decided to stop for lunch. We ate sandwiches in the shade of the canyon wall, and enjoyed the peacefulness of the creek running through the canyon. We continued another mile further when we came upon a nice patch of land that was raised high enough above the water and unoccupied by other hikers, so we decided to set up camp there. We pitched our cute little 2 person tent and tied the big exterior frame backpack up high in a tree, then took off to enjoy a little more of the canyon before the sun went down.
Now, I wasn’t the only one having difficulties with my shoes as we walked through the creeks. As the day wore on, Curtis’ hiking boots were almost falling right off his feet. He’s had this pair for a year, but they have always seemed to cause him problems. The part that’s strange about that is that he bought this brand because it was the brand I use, and I have only had one pair of hiking boots in the past 2 years – they have gone through so much and are still in such great shape! I guess that the quality of shoe goes way down with larger sizes.
But anyway, the shoes coming apart wasn’t the only problem Curtis faced this evening. At one point, he was taking a large step out of the creek and onto the bank when RIP! His cargo pants split right down the middle! It was so sudden and abrupt, and there was no way to fix this – they were ripped beyond repair. It was a little comical, as you can imagine. It’s a good thing we didn’t come across many more people on this trip, because those were the only pants he had. Because of this, we haven’t done any hikes since…we need to get him new hiking pants and boots stat. 😉
We went as far as we wanted to before heading back to our campsite. We started a campfire and made canned soup for dinner. For this one-night camping trip, we brought 4 Cliff bars, 2 cans of soup, 1 loaf of $1 bread from Walmart, a back of Oreos and pretzels, granola, 2 Powerades, 2 beers, and 4 Liters of water. Of course we didn’t end up eating all of this, but our theory is it’s always better to come over prepared!
I’m so glad that this wasn’t Curtis’ first backpacking trip – he came prepared for everything and knew how to do all those little things that I had no experience in. This trip gave me a new appreciation for him (as all trips do!) I loved being out in the middle of the wilderness with him. I can’t think of a better way to begin my 23rd year – being somewhere we love and having an adventure together. Then I also started wondering where I’d be for my next birthday. I can’t wait to figure that out. 😉
There was a full moon out that night, which casted a neat light on the canyon walls. It also meant that it was incredibly bright inside the tent all night. Despite that fact, we both had a great night’s sleep inside the canyon with the peaceful sound of the creek flowing nearby.
In the morning, we made another campfire to warm up, and enjoyed the quiet morning air. After packing up, we made our way back out of the canyon and back to our car, happy to have survived our first backpacking trip together. We were totally content with all we had seen.
At the end of our hike when we were signing out of the trail log, we saw a good example of why you should do at least a little research on an area before you go hiking. In the log, someone who drove a “red convertible mustang” with no permit number left the following comments: “Trail very steep and hard to follow, hardly saw anything before we had to turn back. Very disappointed!” If you do even minimal research on the area, you’d know that 1. you need a permit, and 2. this is a wilderness area, and there are no trails. For your own safety, you should always do some research on where you’re going and be prepared! That way, you won’t have to drive 15 miles on a sketchy dirt road in your red convertible mustang only to be disappointed. 😉