We take off Wednesday afternoon after going to watch the hiking movie “Wild.” I was thinking that it might create some inspiration for the next few days of travel to Arivaipa Canyon, Turkey Creek, and then the Muleshoe Ranch. During the three explorations, the conditions progressively become more pristine, more rugged and primitive. I’ll post one of these trips each coming week, unless a new adventure pops up.
Ariavaipa Canyon, a nature preserve, has two entrances and I have managed to acquire two day passes for Thursday for the eastern entrance. We had gotten a taste for the place a few weeks earlier, as we visited a retreat near the western entrance. We intend to head back when we can get permission for a longer stay, but this is what we have to work with, for now.
We take off across the desert toward Wilcox, Arizona. Out on the Interstate highway, we discuss the movie and how we feel blessed to have our ultra-light gear after watching the novice hiker roll on the floor with her 60 pound pack. The desert is currently green around Tucson, but we are looking out at these higher grasslands which are a grayish hue. Still, the flowers of spring are peppered among the mesquite and creosote. There are occasional patches of blooming yucca. These remind me of a period in my youth, while I lived in New Mexico. Patches of more fluorescent color are a startling contrast in the earthy grey expanse. Fields of orange poppies glow as they carpet between the brush.
Traveling further, we arrive at our goal for the day, a campground just outside the sort of town of Klondyke, Arizona. As night begins to set in and the full moon begins to add luminescence to our surroundings, I begin the process of putting everything from the back of the SUV into the front seats except for the bedding. To manage access, a few things have to sit on top of the truck, which is a hassle, but easier than pitching a tent. It is luxurious enough. Luxurious, tonight, means warm, unexposed, and plenty of cushions under us.
We had traveled around the little camping area to select our site and found that no one is there but us. This is the good consequences of visiting in the middle of the week. The air is still comfortable for nudity in this early evening and there is a very nice toilet facility near to us. The mesquite have been leafing with their bright green colors in Tucson, but here, they are still just budding. This gives a fun eerie kind of look to their silhouettes against the bright moon. The plan is to get up early and into nearby Arivaipa Canyon as soon as we can, in the morning.
Day 2 Begins:
We awake to the alarm on my backpack watch. I climb out of the doors onto the surface of what seems to be far below. This 4×4 has larger tires and is also elevated for clearance, “Watch that first step.” In the daylight our site’s concrete picnic table is handy and we go to work on a warm veggie/cheese omelet.
We stretch and take in the hills, our surroundings and the solitude. As the morning sun progresses, yellow and white flowers, with a few other species dotting amongst them, become more pronounced. These dominant ground-cover plants are unusual to us.
It is beautiful and a delight to take in the new experience of their blooms and feel the morning air against us as the sun warms our bodies.
There are two young black cows watching us, peaking around the restroom building in the shade, like voyeurs, as we eat and prepare.
Repacking, the system of baggage and supplies into the back of the SUV, we pursue the magical world we know is ahead of us. We travel through a mesquite bosque with more flowers in the lush green grass mass sheltered under the canopy of these short trees.
The buttes of Arivaipa Canyon come to view and then the massive cottonwoods engulf the road. These huge old beings drink the groundwater from the sides of the creek. This riparian forest is precious in Arizona. Most of them are gone, destroyed by greed and ignorance years ago, when white settlers “tamed” the west. The Nature Conservancy organization has worked with the Forest Service, buying lands to protect these areas for future generations and for the love of the Mother Earth and her gifts. These gifts will become more and more evident as the days during this vacation proceed.
We come to the now familiar confluence of Turkey Creek and Arivaipa Creek. The steep canyon walls abruptly stop the lush vegetation, as well as protect it. Through the trees, often, there is a colorful rock backdrop and high above, always an impressive formation of geology. We find our previous campsite uninhabited and immediately make claim by parking the red SUV in the clearing. We then spend little time donning our day pack and cameras in our excitement to get this adventure started. We want to cover more distance than that which we have seen before.
We had seen three trucks parked at the confluence and waved at a young woman and two children, draping our nude bodies with the what have you clothing that we had kept near and handy. Expecting this encounter again, I wrap a sarong around my waist as we approach that area, this time on foot. DF has an oversized white shirt on. Those people are gone, but in their place stands a perplexed woman and a man in a camper-shelled truck. He is attempting to back out and down the steep slope of the creek bed, which is below where they had parked. His truck has a bar extended out from the back for bicycles and towing. It is catching in the soil where the slope levels out. They are busy and this means two truckloads of visitors fewer.
We use rocks as stepping stones to avoid getting our feet wet in the creek, but this is only a tributary. Soon, we are ankle deep in Arivaipa Creek.
We know that we will be in soggy shoes for most of the rest of the day. This is also high time to discard the cover-ups.
Wading in the stream is generally the best way to travel through this canyon.
It is fed on a pretty consistent basis, so that the meander is pretty level and wide. This gives many stretches where one can slosh at a bit more that ankle deep on a gravel, or sandy bottom.
There are more rapid drops where extremely slippery river rock must be traversed, or a stream side trail may be available.
Occasionally there are trails through the forested areas, or the inside of the stream bend’s bends.
The vegetation is thick and a healthy place for rattlesnakes, so not a good idea to bushwhack through, especially nude.
This also slows the environmental impact of the visiting humans. Only 20 per day are allowed into this entrance and 30 to the western side. At this time, it is booked up through May.
Our last trip here was during the monsoon times. There was consequently more water flowing and the going slower. Also, the vegetation gets thicker during that time of year. Today, the growth is of springtime and there is less foliage. It is recovering from the less prolific winter season. It takes us only 40 minutes to get to where we had gotten the previous time. The swimming hole that we had ended up in then, is now shallow.
From here, it will be new exploration.
Deeper into the Canyon:
We intend to return with a permit to spend more consecutive days backpacking deeper into this paradise at a later date, so we look for possible camping situations as we go along.
Every step of this is new and spectacular.
There are plenty of photo ops.
A pleasant rock makes itself apparent, perfect for sitting two people. The sound of water flowing by and falling in the distance fills our ears, grass is around us, a tall canyon wall of layers of stone arises in front of us, the stream hugging it, cutting deeper, as it rounds the bend. The smell is fresh and clear.
We dine on a lightweight lunch. I have dehydrated tomato basil hummus over refried beans for us. We swallow water rehydrating the flavor in our mouths and then augment this with fruity dehydrated apple slices. We munch soft organic almonds and cashews. We make a simple salad of baby carrots. Dessert is a blueberry, date, hemp, chia, and other superfood treat that is produced down near Sonoita, Arizona. The handful of dried flavors rehydrates, filling us.
As we sit, DF tells me that she is imagining people walking by. We think maybe be it could be the spirits of primitives, or other happy campers. Then, within a minute, two older gentlemen come trudging out of the growth to the right, just downstream. DF pulls the shirt over herself and I casually drape the sarong over my lap. “Oh, you must be the one whose walking stick keeps showing up in the tracks,” I state as my greeting. He doesn’t hear me at first. Perhaps it is the competition of the loud stream, perhaps his hearing. He looks confused. I repeat myself. They smile and ask if we have seen any Bighorn Sheep. We tell them that we haven’t. We now know their goal. “We’ll keep looking,” one says.
The one already past us keeps an eye on the bare spot on my hip that is uncovered. He seems to question that I have just the sarong on. It seems that he is trying to wrap his mind around the thought that I was a guy sitting there naked, before they arrived. Well they are looking for unusual species and have found one, me, I suppose.
We continue on in pleasure and awareness.
Nature and being nude certainly do make blurry boundaries in paradise.
It blesses us with a sense of oneness.
We are surprised by a woman with walking sticks and pack, walking quickly up a trail from the west in a forested area. With little time to cover up, DF scrambles with her shirt. I only have time to hold the sarong in front across my waist. I quickly step back to DF in case I can hide her body with mine as she dresses, but in the process I am exposing my behind that is partially covered by my letter carrier bag. The woman that we now realize is alone, says, “hello.” She stops, wondering how far to the eastern entrance that she is. She tells us that a she has hiked the ten or eleven miles through the entire canyon that day. She is a bit out of breath. As I hold the sarong, quite obviously being found nude in the forest, she tells us that she is from Nevada and that this is her second visit. She will camp and spend some time in this paradise, later on. We tell her that there are a couple of very nice places just up ahead. And she is off. Off are our covers, as well. This place is just not crowded. I don’t believe that all of the 50 permit holders actually showed up.
We reach a wide spot in the canyon and observe a tent pitched under a tree. I examine it and it appears that the cover is sealed. A backpack is hanging from a tall tree branch. The occupant is away, I gather. We don’t need to cover up. This is the Deer Creek confluence. We realize our time and that this will be the furthest that we will adventure this trip. A wide flower lined wash travels up into another canyon on the right. Aravaipa Creek continues down a bend into the distance, we surmise by the ascending walls and hillsides. Some of these towering canyon cliff walls are of a darker maroon color and the green saguaro desert vegetation has an inviting contrast. We take photos during our break. I stroll to DF and arms stretched, I hail, “God, I love this planet.” There is such a sense of standing on a jewel in the universe. It is overwhelming.
At one point, we sit on a boulder at stream side. I have a new water filter that weighs just three ounces. I refill our bottle. It is great to have fresh water along the trail. We carry only a liter bottle between us. Then, we sit; we just don’t want to leave. Not at this time.
The return and Nightfall:
When sloshing back upstream, we notice that there is more work against the current.
Several times, DF has commented on the amazing differences in the temperatures and feel of the air in short spaces. The canyon provides streams of air, too. Warm pockets and then a cool, moist and then dry, a cold tickle sneaking up behind and around, a shade, convection from the water surface changing by depth, speed or the rock surface basking, capturing the sun and then radiating it out. There is always something to feel, to touch, to smell, and to hear, even wonderful silence. We are so alerted when we are naked.
As we walk the stream along a bend, the woman from Nevada passes us coming the other way on a trail unknown to us, above. She has spotted us, before we spot her, this time. We cover enough to be politely legal. As she ambles by without stopping the stride of her quick march, she tells us that there are others, just ahead, “two girls and a guy.” No objections to nudity from her. She is actually helping us with our free range naturism!
We decide to take her easier “high road” and continue looking and listening for these “others.” We hear voices, shouts of joy and see two young women in the stream, looking down, to watch where they are walking. Then there is the shout of the guy upstream from them calling out. They are all thoroughly consumed. We drop our coverings, realizing that they, although in plain sight, will not even notice our brown bodies in the brush.
We arrive at the confluence once again and there are two cars parked there. We use the cover of the seep willow on the shore to refill our bottle with some extra fresh water from the stream, nude. I wrap on the sarong to pass the vehicles, but no one is there. We are free to return unencumbered. I haven’t had to be dressed more than holding a sarong at my waist for more than three minutes total the whole time. Turkey Creek, the tributary, doesn’t appear to be occupied either.
We are tired and hungry. We place the 4×4 in an optimum spot to shield ourselves from the road and set up our chairs. We eat a fine warm meal as the sun sets somewhere on the other side of the canyon walls. I again rearrange the stuff and create a bed in the trucks interior.
As night falls, we decide not to bother with a fire. We are too tired. Across the short way to the other side of the relatively narrow canyon, there is a huge wall of rock around 300 ft. high. DF points out that the moon is illuminating it at the top. We watch as the wall lights up to clarity. As the moon rises, the light slides down the wall and reflects to us.
The moon soon raises high enough to be seen from the canyon bottom. It pops up over the top of the eastern wall bright white and smiling, as we hold each other. We move over a bit and it disappears behind the canyon wall. We watch the moon rise again. We sing “Dancing in the Moonlight” as the moon beams make a spotlight through the tree branches upon us.
After we crawl into the shelter of the SUV, we condition each other’s bodies for the next day with massage and fall asleep in a brightly moonlit canyon.