Aravaipa Canyon - Day One!

Off Highway 77 between Tucson and Globe, in the northern most part of the Galiuro Mountains, lies Aravaipa Canyon. For years I've had customers ask me advice about it ("what kind of shoes would you recommend?"), coworkers tell me stories about it ("it's like a mini Grand Canyon!"), and I've long had it on my list of Arizona Adventures. After talking to two friends who are both lifelong Tucsonans who had also never been to Aravaipa we decided to plan a weekend backpacking trip. 

Aravaipa Canyon is a protected Wilderness Area. Only 50 people a day are allowed to enter the 12 mile canyon and you need a permit for all activities, even day hiking. Permits are released 13 weeks in advance and weekend permits sell out very quickly.

I had a hunch that permits would be released at midnight 13 weeks in advance but I couldn't find any confirmation of this online. I figured I might as well stay up until midnight to see if I was right and thankfully I was. The only thing is that the night I needed to get the permits was the night before my Wilderness First Responders course in Flagstaff this past February. After working all day then driving the 4 hours from Tucson to Flagstaff and getting settled into my tiny ass camper, I set my alarm for 5 minutes before midnight and took a little nap around 10pm. I was ready to go at the stroke of midnight and sure enough there were the permits ready to be had! I was in such a rush to get permits that I accidentally snagged 3 spots for the East Trailhead not the West. I frantically cancelled those permits and successfully secured a permit for 3 days/2 nights for 3 people entering the West Trailhead. Whew that night was a quick rollercoaster!

We chose the West Trailhead as our entry point since it was only an hour and a half drive from Tucson. The East Trailhead is a good four hour drive however it is typically easier to get permits for that side of the canyon. The day before our trip Jeremy and I brought our loaded packs to work to get a shakedown from our coworker Paul who knows a thing or two about backpack weight since he's a Triple Crowner (has hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail). He had some good advice and I was able to shave off 1.5 pounds from my base weight. His advice will definitely come in handy once I'm getting everything ready for my JMT hike.

My last backpacking trip I was not happy with my food choices. I brought too many Clif Bars and GUs and not enough snacky foods. I wanted to challenge myself and decided for this backpacking trip I wouldn't take any bars or blocks or GUs and only take real food. I have a separate post about what we ate in Aravaipa Canyon and I was so happy with my food choices this time!

The only negative to this trip was the fact that I was sick with a cold the entire time. My dad had been sick for the previous week and I finally caught whatever cold he had the day before we left. I hoped that I'd feel better when my alarm went off Saturday morning at 4:30am but unfortunately I felt worse. But I wasn't going to let that keep me from seeing Aravaipa! I grabbed some cold medicine just in case and at 5:30am I was in Jeremy's driveway ready to start our adventure. We picked up our friend Lylah and we were on our way, sore throat and all.

The West Trailhead is at the end of a 12 mile road, the last 9 of which is a bumpy, dirt road. When we got to the trailhead the sky was clear and the sun was already beating down on us. We covered ourselves up with sun protective clothing, Buffs, sun gloves, hats, and gaiters for our shoes. We signed into the trailhead register and began hiking down into the canyon.

Not half a mile into our hike we were already walking in water. There is no official trail through Aravaipa Canyon, all you do is follow Aravaipa Creek. There are a lot of places where you can hike on the dry land next to the creek but after a while it was easier to just stay in the water. I underestimated the difficulty of this hike. Sure you're not gaining hardly any elevation but it is difficult to hike in sand or pebbles with the creek rushing over your ankles. My stabilizer muscles definitely got a work out. 

We had a general plan for how far we wanted to hike and where we might camp. The plan was to hike to Booger Canyon and spend the next day exploring the side canyons close by. We hadn't even made it to Javelina Canyon when I realized my camp shoes were missing off the back of my pack. I had them strapped on the bottom of my pack but they were no where to be found. They could have fallen anywhere in the last 2 miles of our hike, there was no way we could find them and even if we did, they probably wouldn't be together and they definitely wouldn't be dry. I wasn't even going to waste time trying to look for them but my friends were adamant. They suggested that we backtrack for a bit to see if they fell off in the last 10 minutes or so, if not, then we'll continue hiking. I had already resided myself to have wet feet for the entire trip, there was no way we were going to find these shoes, I was sure of it. Count it as another lesson learned - always secure your camp shoes. So Jeremy took off further down the canyon, I looked on one side of the trail and Lylah looked on the other. Not 5 minutes later I see Jeremy running back down the shallow creek holding something over his head - it was my shoes! Both of them! Somehow they'd fallen off my pack at the same time and managed to be completely dry. I could hardly believe it. Jeremy saved my feet!

By midday I was feeling pretty lousy though. My throat was hurting more, my body was starting to ache, and now my sinuses were acting up. Great. At least the scenery was beautiful and I had good company. Thankfully my friends were patient with me and continually asked if I was feeling alright or if I wanted to turn around and go home. I didn't feel that bad, I could definitely push through without really hurting myself. I was determined to not miss out. Now if I was injured or felt myself getting worse, I definitely would have been okay with turning around. But since I could tell this was just a cold, I was fine pushing myself a bit.

We passed by Virgus Canyon, Horse Camp Canyon, and finally made it to Booger Canyon. In the 6ish hours it took us to get there we saw maybe 15 people in the canyon. We set up camp in a sandy spot across from Booger Canyon. A coworker had recommended camping across from this side canyon however we unknowingly passed up the actual campsite they recommended. We saw it on the way back and regretted not seeing it the day before because it was better than the sand pit we stayed in. Oh well. We started our camp chores, set up tents, filtered water, and started making dinner. The night was clear and after dinner we sat by the creek looking for coati, deer, and ringtail cats. We unfortunately didn't see any of these canyon creatures.

Our first full day in Aravaipa Canyon was quite eventful but we had only just begun! To read about Day Two and Three of our trip click here!

Aravaipa Canyon

Date hiked: May 18, 2019

Total miles: 6 miles

Elevation Gain: 250 feet

Total time: 6 hours

Land Acknowledgement: Ancestral lands of the Hohokam


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