When I asked Graham what he wanted to do for his birthday I already knew the answer: camping.
From Phoenix the canyon is about a two and a half hour drive east. If you want to go to the east side of the canyon it’s about five hours, so we’re saving that for another time. (To get there from Phoenix, drive on the U.S. 60 to Superior, then follow the sign to Arizona 177 toward Winkelman. From Winkelman turn right (east) on Arizona 77 to get to Aravaipa Road, which about 11 miles away. It’s then a 12-mile drive on a dirt road to get to the trailhead.) Sign in at the trailhead and write down your vehicle license plate number and permit number. Then you’re free to head out on your merry way.
The parking area only had a few cars, so we knew we wouldn’t see many people in the canyon. We put on our 60-pound-plus backpacks and started the hike. It begins in desert terrain. You hike about .7 mile before you have to cross the creek the first time. Be prepared to cross about 9 times. (I lost track.) We wore our regular hiking shoes for the first part of the hike before changing into our water shoes. We guessed that the water was about 50 degrees, which will surely wake you up! It was never more than a calf-height water level, but if it’s been raining it could be deeper.
It began sprinkling on our hike in. I remember thinking the mist felt nice on my face. Some spots along the trail were muddy, so I took small steps to avoid falling. Graham gave me a push to step out of the water sometimes when he noticed I was having difficulty. You can also always count on Graham to throw in a “Nice work” along the way.
You have to hike in about a mile and a half to get off the private property you cross to get the camping area. From there it’s up to you to decide how far to go. Horse Camp is said to be popular, but we stayed close to the beginning section of the canyon. We’re saving the longer hikes for future trips; now we know what to expect.
We saw three hikers leaving the canyon as we got settled. They would be four of the six people total we encountered. The first order of business was setting up our tent and making lunch. We chose quesadillas and various snacks: cheese, apple slices, popped Wheat Thins and pretzels.
Then we went on a hike before the sun set. We sat and looked out toward the towering cliffs to the east. A cave toward the top caught my eye.
When we made our way back to our campsite I noticed I had lost a glove. Graham ran back to find it. I stood there with hitchhikers stuck to my leg and bear mace in my hand, feeling helpless. He didn’t want to leave me alone for long, so he returned sans glove and we started our fire. (I would find the lost glove the next morning on a hike.)
How we pass the time while camping:
We sing alternating lines of “You Are My Sunshine” (or any other song).
We listen to music.
We gaze at the stars and/or the fire.
We shine our headlamps out at the distance when we think we’ve heard an animal.
That night we lay on a tarp and sleeping bag and stared at the sky. Sometimes we don’t say much; we just get lost in our heads. I thought about how it was to be in a place where I didn’t have much cell service. Those areas are getting harder and harder to find. It was refreshing to not be checking my email or texts or social media accounts.
I slept like a baby after taking cold medicine to fight my cold. It rained in the middle of the night, but luckily no animals stopped by our campsite. This may have been the first time I’ve gotten more than 8 hours of sleep on a camping trip. Hooray!
We spent the next day exploring a bit before hiking out. We watched the yellow leaves flutter in the wind as they fell off the trees. Graham would stop every now and then to point out some animal tracks. He notices things that I never would. And of course we tested out his GoPro.
Here’s my attempt at a video of the trip.
We’d like to go back soon to visit the east end during the spring or fall. Aravaipa is now one of my favorite Arizona places.