Part 2: Tucson to Morenci, AZ


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The Trip

We did "family things" while we were in Tucson.  Additionally, we did some repairs to Thor.  The brush and tight quarters we encountered during the first portion of our trip caused some damage.  When we were completed with the repairs and a re-supply action (propane, diesel and supplies) we headed north from Tucson toward Globe, AZ.  Our path would take us along the Gila river and some of the tributary streams.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Driving along route AZ-77 we passed a BLM campground on the banks of the Gila River, so we stopped to check it out.  The path by the river was choked with low-hanging brush (exactly the sort that cause the damage we just repaired) so we were extra careful.  We arrived at a nice camp site, but had other plans for the day, so we took a few photos.  In the photo above, the Gila does not look like much.  But, this river runs strong when there is spring snow melt and the river supplies much of the municipal water supply for Phoenix.  That said, in the east, this would be considered just a small creek.  In the west, anything that flows year around is a river and is typically critically important.

While we were checking out the river, we heard this tapping sound and turned to find this red bird beating himself to death on the window of the camper.  He saw his reflection and assumed it was a rival and attacked -- repeatedly.  I now understand where the term "bird brain" comes from.

We traveled through Globe, AZ and then headed southeast toward Arivaipa Canyon.  We traveled about 60 miles of dirt to get within striking distance of the canyon.  I had heard it was nice, but really did not know what was there.  We were both surprised when we encountered a large water crossing.  It seems that a large spring feeds the creek that flows through Arivaipa canyon.

In addition to producing a large flow of water, the spring is persistent and provides water year around supporting a lush riparian habitat.

The creek flows into the mountain which implies that flow of the spring cut through the mountain as it was uplifted.  The water course cut a deep, well defined canyon into the mountain.  The walls were hundreds of feet high.

In addition to the flow from the spring, the canyon floor also suffers occasional high water flows due to rains and consequent flash floods.  This debris dam was over 6 feet high suggesting the canyon floor was not a good place to be during the flood.  Once in the canyon, there is no easy escape.

The rim of the canyon was dry and "normal" desert.

We traveled the trail until we hit Turkey Creek and then turned around.  The trail became very narrow and I was concerned that we would not be able to turn around, so we stopped when we could.  We returned to the main canyon and found a wide spot in the trail for the night.  Thor got his feet muddy at Turkey Creek.

It was a calm, cool night and we both slept well.  Next morning, I walked around to get a lay of the land.  I found a deep pool nearby that had small fish.  To the north, the canyon walls had evidence of water seepage.  Note the dark lines on the cliff walls that show the seeps.

Because the canyon was deep, it took quite awhile for the sun to reach our camp.

The south canyon walls were quite high.  Visible above were contrails from a passing jet.

On our exit from the canyon, we passed many high debris dams that told a scary story about the dangers of being in the canyon during a rain storm.

From the Arivaipa, we traveled south to Bonita, AZ on a county road.  The road had been recently graded and it was in great shape allowing comfortable travel at 45 mph.  En route, we met these cross-country cyclists on their Dakar-style motorcycles.  They, too, were headed to Arivaipa Canyon.

From Bonita, we crossed the Graham Mountains and headed into Safford for a supply stop.  After diesel and fuel for the humans, we returned to the back country.  From our trail, we passed this large volcanic plug.  Unlike the terrain around Arivaipa, this area was quite barren.

Traveling on the Backcountry Byway, AKA "Old Safford Road", we encounterd this interesting structure along the road.  This is sandstone on top of a volcanic pumice layer.

The pass on the trail was about 5500 feet and provided a great view of the Gila Box area.  The Gila River is in the deep canyon in the center of the photo above.

A panorama from my Fuji X10.  This was shot from the top of the pass and that location provided a commanding view of both the Gila Box wilderness and the copper mines at Morenci.  Click here to see the full-size photo.

The copper mines at Morenci have been in operation for over one hundred years.  Note the amount of earth that has been moved recovering minerals.

The Gila Box is visible in the top center of the photo above.

The trail descended to the canyon floor below and we finally encountered the Gila River.  We took a spur on the trail that took us to the side of the river.  From this view, the "river" is just a placid creek.  But, as noted above, the Gila is a vital supply of water to this area of Arizona.

We crossed the Gila and went to the Owl Creek camp on the far bank.  From our campsite, we had a nice view of the Gila Canyon.

Arivaipa Canyon was much, much nicer than I expected.  A very rare area.  So rare in fact, that the Nature Concervancy purchased all the land in the valley floor and has made it a restricted access area.  We camped past the NC area on BLM land.  If you go, you will have to traverse the canyon to Turkey Creek or beyond to be able to camp.  I would definitely go again.

Next up, we cross into New Mexico and head to the Guadalupe Mountains at the very southern end of the state.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2012, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.