Planning for Labor Day weekend began back in
May, during our
first trip into Aravaipa Canyon. That was when we got the idea to take
parents there on a three-day backpacking trip as a way to thank them for all
of their help with our wedding - an appropriate gift, because they have always
wanted to see Aravaipa. A week later (thirteen weeks before Labor Day), John
called the Bureau of Land Management to get our backcountry permits. Although
John called only a half an hour after the BLM office opened, we ended up
getting permits for the east trailhead, because all thirty permits for the
west entrance were already gone. "Great!" I thought, remembering how ugly the
road to the east trailhead was, having explored it during my birthday weekend
last year. Immediately, I had visions of the van stuck in a muddy rut - much
like Labor Day weekend last year - or that we were going to have
tire or two in the worst possible place.
"We'll be fine," John assured me. "My Dad will be with us." (Keep in mind, it
was his dad who got us stuck last year, on the way to a trailhead that John
Had the monsoon weather been bad, though, we would have had to cancel the trip
for fear that we would get stuck in the mud. However, during the week
preceding our trek, the weather dried up, meaning that we had less of a chance
of driving over muddy roads. So, Saturday morning, September 4, Bill and Erika
and John and I embarked on our trip to Aravaipa Canyon.
We left Phoenix at 4:30 a.m., since it would be at least a four hour drive to
the trailhead. To get there, we took US 60 to Globe, where we stopped to have
breakfast, then on towards Cork, which is just east of Eden along US 70. That
portion of the trip was easy. Having left so early in the morning, we didn't
have any traffic problems, not even as we drove through the San Carlos Indian
The next leg of our journey involved driving on a dirt road for about forty
miles. Once we reached Cork, we turned right onto Klondyke Road, which is a
well-graded dirt road on which we could travel up to seventy-five miles an
hour all the way to the little town of Klondyke, population five. After
passing through Klondyke, we drove through the nature conservatory, where the
road narrows as it winds through a thick canopy of trees. I've always enjoyed
that part of the trip, because it is so beautiful.
The last 1.5 miles of Klondyke Road is where the fun begins. There is a sign
posted that reads "High Clearance Four Wheel Drive and Balls of Steel Only
Recommended"...well, okay, it really didn't say that, but there are times
along this small stretch of road where balls and nerves of steel are required
to get through the six creek crossings. The first two creek crossings were
easy, and we drove through them without a problem. The next two creek
crossings were not so easy, but John and Bill scoped them out carefully before
driving through them, to ensure that we didn't break the oil pan or get stuck
in the sediment at the bottom of the creek. One of these creek crossings had
what looked like a wall on the other side; the slope of the road was so steep
coming out of the creek that it looked like a wall. Though John was nervous
about that one, he managed to make it through without a problem.
Then, it got ugly.
The last two creek crossings were right next to each other, at a bend in the
creek, only a hundred feet from the trailhead. We got through the first one
without a problem, but the second one was scary. Here, the creek was wide and
deep, and on the other side of it, where the road came out, was a "speed bump"
of sorts, constructed out of river rock. A shorter vehicle could have easily
cleared the hump. The van, however, was too long and was equipped with running
boards, so naturally, for the second Labor Day weekend in a row, we got the
van stuck. "John," I said, trying to contain my laughter, "I know that your
family is big on traditions, but getting the van stuck on Labor Day is not one
that I would like to continue!"
It was quite a humorous sight, actually. The van was stuck, straddling the
hump, its rear tires still in the creek and its front tires barely touching
the road. At first, John tried to back the van up to get off of the hump. Bill
and Erika and I got out and pushed while John gunned the engine, but one of
the rear tires was already buried in the soft sediment of the creek bed, so
that wasn't going to work.
Meanwhile, our situation had created a traffic jam. There was a four-wheel
drive SUV behind us who couldn't get through because we were blocking the
road. The driver offered to give us a tow if we couldn't get out of there, but
first we did all that we could to get the van off of the hump. Bill and John
jacked up the front tires and put flat rocks underneath them. They did the
same to the rear tire, too. While they did that, Erika and I dug rocks out
from underneath the running boards. Then, once that was done, John put the van
in reverse and gunned the engine while the rest of us pushed. The van rolled
off of the hump, and John backed it up to the opposite side of the
creek...where he got the rear tires stuck in the mud. That was when Bill took
over. He put the van in gear and drove it like a maniac through the creek, up
and over the hump, and straight to the trailhead where it finally came to a
And believe it or not, except for a slight bend in the running boards, the van
was not damaged at all!
After paying our $60 fee and signing the registry at the trailhead, the four
of us geared up and hit the trail. The trail begins at Turkey Creek, which
flows into Aravaipa Creek. To the left is the Turkey Creek Campground, and to
the right is the wilderness boundary, where John and I stopped to share a
"wilderness" kiss. Then, we waded through Turkey Creek - or "Mud" Creek, as it
should have been called, because the mud was over-the-ankle deep - until we
set foot in Aravaipa Creek.
The water in Aravaipa Creek was much warmer than it was in May, and due to the
monsoon storms, the level was about two inches higher. I also noticed that the
water was not as clear as it had been before - again due to the monsoon storms
- and that the foliage along the banks of the creek had been covered by flood
waters during the summer. Most of the reeds (and other plants) were laying to
one side, covered in mud. This made our hike difficult at times, because some
of the trails were covered with fallen foliage, meaning that we had to
bushwhack our way through. (And we all know how much I "enjoy" bushwhacking!)
The water-side trails were also covered with mud, much like the
mud we had
encountered on the Highline Trail #31 (on the Mogollon Rim). During the
weekend, I managed to take a nasty fall after slipping in the mud; I landed on
my tailbone and twisted my ankle (but not badly). However, those few setbacks
were not enough to ruin our weekend. Despite all of that, we still found
Aravaipa to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Our hike took us past some of the most impressive rock formations and hoodoos.
One such hoodoo looked like a man sitting at a computer, to which John
remarked, "Looks like a state employee because he's not doing anything." In
response, Erika told John, "No, it looks like a Samaritan employee!" We also
found an perfect arch in one of the canyon walls. Next to the arch was a large
pillar; from a distance, the whole thing looked like a castle, so we called it
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, after having hiked for three hours, we
came to a grove of mesquite and walnut trees, under which were several nice
campsites to choose from. We decided to drop our packs and set up our base
camp there, so we chose a site that was close to the water (but above the high
water mark, in case we got hit with a summer monsoon storm). The site we chose
was sheltered by a thick covering of mesquite trees and one sycamore tree that
we used for bear bagging.
Now normally, after setting up camp, John and I like to go for a short day
hike. Not this time. Instead, the four of us went down to the creek to sit by
the cool water and enjoy the lazy summer afternoon. There wasn't another human
being around for miles - we hadn't seen any other hikers that day, which made
Bill comment sarcastically, "Damn Labor Day crowds! I'm never coming here
For the rest of the afternoon, we cooled our feet in the creek and drank
Scotch. Then, early in the evening, we crawled into our tents to take a siesta
(or play naked). Later that evening, we had a delicious dinner that consisted
of chicken and Spanish rice burritos with red pepper and onion - an
experimental dish that I found quite tasty. Then, sometime after dusk, we
called it an early evening and retired to our tents - I don't even remember if
we ever saw first star.
During the night, John and I awoke to answer nature's call. We crawled out of
the tent and found that all was pitch dark, except for a canopy of twinkling
stars. Without the moon to light the landscape, we were unable to see the
animals in our campsite, however, we certainly heard them as they scurried
away, frightened by our presence. I heard a few of them scraping around
outside of our tent; I'm still not sure what they were, but as long as they
weren't eating my backpack this time, it was okay.
The next morning, we awoke around 6:00 a.m., after having slept for more than
nine hours. (I think we were tired.) After eating breakfast and drinking
coffee, we decided to embark on our day hike. The plan for the day was to hike
as far as we could towards the west entrance - we wanted to get as far as the
Narrows, if possible. Then, we would turn around and return to camp by three
or four in the afternoon. Though most of this area had already been explored
by me and John, we wanted to show Bill and Erika some of the things we had
seen before, like the grotto where we had camped during our first visit and
the site where we had run into our rattlesnake friend.
About a half an hour after we began hiking, we encountered a Boy Scout troop.
There were about ten boys, of all different ages, and two adults. Some of the
boys were filtering water; others were packing their gear to get ready to go.
We stopped for a moment to say hello to them, and we found out that they had
hiked in from the West Entrance the day before and that there was another
troop behind them - that explains where all of the west-entrance permits went!
We would later find out that these boys were on their way to a project in Deer
Creek Canyon, which was about a mile and a half from the east entrance. Their
project was to get rid of batches of salt cedars, which were not native to the
region. The growth of these plants was affecting that of the native plants, so
the BLM had hired the Boy Scouts to remove them. However, the two troops had
gotten separated from each other. The scout leader asked us to relay a message
to them should we find them during our day hike. We said that we would be
looking for them.
Not long after that, we entered into familiar territory - areas in which John
and I had hiked before. At Horse Camp Canyon, we came to the rock shelf where
we discovered on our first visit that we had not been hiking in an "unnamed
side canyon" but that we had been in the main canyon the whole time. But just
as we were thinking, "This time we won't get lost!" we got separated from Bill
and Erika. Though they had hiked on ahead of us, we somehow managed to get
ahead of them, and it took us nearly half an hour to find them again. We found
them just west of the grotto. We were on the trail, but they were on the other
side of the canyon. Had it not been for Bill's loud whistle, we wouldn't have
We stopped for a break in the grotto, where we snacked on raisins and Power
Bars while we told stories of our experiences camping in that grotto -
especially the story of the ringtail fox who had raided my backpack to steal
my trail mix. Then, we continued on down the trail.
We soon came to the first set of narrows, where the sheer, red walls of the
canyon towered over us. That was where we found the second Boy Scout troop. We
stopped to relay the message from the first troop. The troop leader, in
response, said that they had had some problems and got a late start but that
they were making progress because they had just passed Virgus Canyon. "Uh, no,
you haven't," John was quick to point out to him. "Virgus Canyon is two miles
east of here." (Which was true; the grotto was about a quarter of a mile west
of Virgus Canyon.) In order to help the scout leader determine exactly where
he was, John pulled out the GPS unit and pinpointed their location on the map.
This, of course, seemed to disillusion the Boy Scout leader, who was already
having a bad day - now to find out that he had even further to travel than he
thought, with a pack of tired and hungry boys? "That man needs some Scotch,"
John remarked after we left him.
By that time, the day had begun to grow incredibly hot, and as a result John
got a splitting headache. We hiked a little further, but we weren't able to
reach the next set of narrows before John suggested that we head back to camp.
We stopped for lunch on a boulder, perhaps a half a mile from the narrows.
Then, when we were ready, we began our return hike back to camp.
Along the way, we met up with the Boy Scout troop again, this time about a
half an hour away from our camp. We gave them another GPS reading to let them
know that they were getting closer but that they still had about two or three
miles left to hike before they reached Deer Creek Canyon. Then, after we
returned to camp, we met up with the troop leader from the first group, who
had gone back to look for the wayward scouts. We told them where we had seen
them, and moments later, the whole troop came through our campsite. One of the
boys complained that this was the "worst trip" he had ever been on. The scout
leaders stopped to thank us for our help. As payment, we solicited their help
in taking a group picture of us before they left.
Having returned to camp, John and I stole away for a while so that we could
bathe - another excuse to be naked in the woods, of course. Then, once we were
clean and refreshed, we joined Bill and Erika by the creek, where we drank
scotch and played a game of "Oh Wilderness!" until dinnertime. That proved to
be a fun game when played by more than two people. I decided that it was
definitely a good investment.
Once again, we called it an early evening. John's headache had not yet gone
away, and I started to develop one, too. We slept soundly until 5:30 the next
morning, though we were waken again during the night to the sound of scraping
animals outside of the tent.
The next morning, after breakfast and coffee, it was time to drop and camp and
head home. The objective was to be back at the trailhead by noon to give us
plenty of time to drive home - getting past the creek crossings would take us
an hour at most, and we would still have to contend with Labor Day traffic
going back into Phoenix. We managed to break camp and begin hiking at 8:00
a.m., so we had plenty of time.
Not more than a half an hour after we began hiking, we ran into our first
rattlesnake, hidden among a pile of driftwood about ten feet from the creek.
John spotted him first from a distance, so we didn't get too close to him to
give him a reason to rattle at us. However, had we continued along that path,
he would have attacked us, so we were forced to go back the way we came and
look for another route.
"I have lived in Arizona over twenty years," John said to us as we walked
away, "and until May, I had never seen a rattlesnake. Since May, I've seen
Make that four! A couple of miles later, we found another rattler. This one
was under a tree, only a few feet from the trail we were following. He was
hidden rather well, so John didn't see him at first. As he passed by him, the
snake started rattling, and it continued rattling until we were well away from
it. "Two rattlesnakes in one trip!" John pointed out. "That's amazing!"
on the other hand, could have done without seeing either one of the rattlers,
because she is afraid of snakes. However, she seemed to handle the situation
quite well, though she was left a little paranoid that she was going to step
on one along the trail.
We reached the trailhead much sooner than we expected - this despite the fact
that we were now hiking upstream, which is much more difficult. Of course,
when we were hiking into the wilderness for the first time, we spent a lot of
time finding our route. When we hiked back out of the wilderness, we already
knew the route, so we were able to follow it quicker. So though it had taken us
over three hours to hike to our campsite, we managed to hike back to the
trailhead in just under three hours.
It felt wonderful to be able to take off my backpack, however, we still
weren't out of the woods. Even after we had loaded our backpacks into the van,
the adventure was not yet over for us. We still had to get across the creek
John and Bill carefully scoped out the creek crossing and determined that it
was probably going to be easier going east than it was going west. Having
chosen the path to take to get across the creek, John jumped into the van and
drove it across, exactly as his father had done to get us there. He got
through to the other side without getting stuck again and without damaging the
van. What a relief!
We stopped in Klondyke to get ice cream and cold sodas - something to hold us
over until we reached Globe, where we planned to have lunch. Lunch consisted
of Mexican food - very good Mexican food - at a restaurant off of Route 88 in
Globe. From there, I took over the driving duties and took us all the way
It was early in the evening when we arrived back in Phoenix. We had survived
another Labor Day weekend together, and what an adventure it had been, alone
in the wilderness, where we only saw a few other people, instead of a million.
And people ask us why we do it!