To Hell (Hole) And Back Again

March 27, 2009

Eight years I've been hiking Aravaipa Canyon, and only a year ago did I discover that its best feature is the abundance of side canyons!

Last May was our first approach from the east entrance. We were so delighted with the discovery of Deer Creek Canyon (also known as "Hell Hole"), that we kept the same basic itinerary for the most recent adventure.

With a very early start — especially for David and Rogil — we met at the Klondyke General Store at 9:00 a.m. Friday, and enjoyed the usual puddle-jumping on the road into the canyon.

The weather was on the cool side — barely 50° — so those first few crossings were a bit of a jolt. But by lunch time, it was just another day in Paradise, with the sun warming our backs and cool, clear stream water tickling our toes.

After last year's thrilling encounter with bighorn sheep, we were all keeping our eyes on the cliffs above us. And right on cue, we spotted a group of four adults and two lambs in a notch high above the river. Far more curious than frightened, they posed for many photos, turning their heads from side to side to get a better look at us.

The spring wildflowers were out in force and we brushed by cream cups, evening primrose, tackstem, apricot mallow, Parry beardtongue, lupine, blue phacelia, red monkey flowers, Mexican poppies and clouds of yellow columbine.

After setting up camp on the sandy point across from Deek Creek, we backtracked to Parson's Canyon and hiked in as far as the first major split. Offering relatively easy hiking, this canyon winds between sandstone cliffs, alternately narrowing to a hallway and opening out into large sun-filled rooms.

The evening's entertainment was the strange dance of the turkey vultures just before sunset. We counted more than 50 of them, gathering together and taking the elevator up-canyon to wherever they spend the night.

Day Two was all about Deer Creek Canyon. On the way in we met three hikers who said they had come down Deer Creek all the way form Dry Camp Ranch on FR 5026. We made it all the way to a point where the canyon splits and is blocked by house-sized boulders, but there was indeed a narrow passage around the rockpile.

The temperature had warmed up nicely, and we returned to camp in time for a quick dip followed by a long campfire, by which time all of us were listing to port ....

The final thrill of the weekend was spotting a large coatimundi scampering up the cliff on our way out of the canyon. Arriving back at the cars by 2:00 pm, we decided to check out FR 5026, and were surprised to the find the road in excellent condition, but barricaded at Dry Camp Ranch by a shiny new padlock. Some additional research will be needed to discover why this Forest Service Road, which provides the only vehicle access north of the canyon, is now inaccessible.