Meanderthals: Wet Beaver Creek and Oak Creek Canyon

July 29-31, 2011

It happens every year about this time. We get tired of waiting for the monsoon rains to come along and fill up our favorite southern Arizona swimming holes, so we hop in the TacoMa and meander north.

We're meanderthals.

The secret to monsoon hiking is an early start. So we headed north Friday afternoon with David and Rogil and camped just off Blue Grade Road. We made it to the trailhead by 7:00 the next morning, but there were already several cars in the parking lot, including a half-dozen 20-somethings who decided that the "no camping" signs didn't apply to them.

It's a four-mile hike to a very popular swimming hole. To avoid the crowds, we hike in on the trail and out in the stream bed, stopping to sample each of the many pools along the way.

When those big black clouds come barreling down the canyon, it's time to hotfoot it back to the parking lot.

We missed most of the afternoon rainstorm, but it came down hard on the rim, and rained several more times during night. We camped at 6800 feet just off Stoneman Lake Road, in mud so thick our shoes disappeared. The thick clay soils in this area is known as "Springerville Series", and it's composed of weathered basalt and cinders. Deep cracks form as the soil dries.

Mud grenades thundered against the underside of the truck next morning as we took a short side trip to Stoneman Lake. With an average surface of less than 100 acres and an average depth of less than 10 feet, Stoneman Lake is nevertheless the second largest natural lake in Arizona!

Still dodging both the rain and the heat, we headed north to Oak Creek Canyon Sunday morning. It's one of Arizona's most popular hiking routes, and for obvious reasons. The canyon is unbelievably lush, with more summer wildflowers than we could count, and an impressive population of birds and butterflies. The ravens kept us entertained, patrolling the canyon and expertly separating the hikers from their picnic lunches.

With an entrance fee of $9.00 per car — and no discounts for a national parks pass, even though it's on federal land — Oak Creek Canyon is a preview of the looming purely-for-profit management of public lands. It's still a great hike, and if I can figure out the permits and the parking, I'd love to backpack farther up the canyon once the weather cools down again. Thanks to David and Rogil for another wonderfully wet adventure in the desert!