Our Introduction to Sycamore Canyon

2018-06-15

I had planned a three day excursion into the Wilderness of Rock and Lemmon Pools. June is a hot time, a dry time in the Tucson Valley, and the cooler temperatures at 9000 ft. are something to long for. There has been two years of drought, but water would be found there in the pines.

As the date nears, I realize that a plan B contingency will need to be taken. The monsoon appears to be approaching early. Lightning popping off at the high elevation of those mountains, with that immediate cannon-like thunder is risky, if not traumatic.

The monsoon comes sooner to the southern part of the state than others. It generally creeps out of Mexico and then works its way north in increments. I checked the National Weather Service’s predictions and then my bucket list for a backup plan. Soon enough, with plans had to change, we are now on our way to Dewey in northern Arizona to visit with a pair of our naked hiking friends.

Thursday night, I undress in my truck after topping off my tank for our morning departure. That same evening, DF drops her clothing as she walks into her door ready to load up. That should be the last of the formality of clothing for the next three days, other than to pump gas and dine.

Friday morning, we will carnude up to Dewey, meet our friends at their hilltop retreat and head up through Cottonwood to Sycamore Canyon. DF and I have never been there. Our hosts will be our guides.

We arrive, glad to see each other and spirited by the coming weekend. We immediately go from my SUV to Ken’s Van. With some of our gear sitting at our feet and our towels draped on the two lounge style captain’s chairs in back, we are off.

We stay off of the Interstate highway, instead taking the two lane roads and their beauty. We catch up with our hosts and conversation is often prompted by the new, or changed everything in Northern Arizona. We wander through Cottonwood, which has certainly changed and grown since my last visit twenty years ago. It has become a tourist romp and apparently a fun town.

Further on, we find Clarksdale. There is a twice daily passenger train up through Sycamore Canyon at the station. Of course the old Monkees song, “Last Train to Clarksdale” awakens from its dormancy, pulled out of a dusty drawer in the back of our brains.

The road is under reconstruction. All of the intersections are being replaced with circular turns. The road’s temporary borderline of yellow reflector lights, which flash on red and white striped stands, seems endless. Flag men stop us; the going is slow and irritating for our driver.  We however, sitting completely naked in back, are in luxury, with large tinted windows, gracious comfortable seating, enjoying our tour with fixed smiles.

A patrol car pulls up next to us to turnaround and then perform his traffic duties. Facing the opposite direction, his seat right next to our vehicle, he is looking directly at nude us and down into our carriage. It feels strangely liberated and a bit disconcerting, to sit naked, just five or six feet next to law enforcement, and not cover up. He stares. He looks directly at us. The thing is, with tinted windows and the position of the sun at his back, he is only looking intently at his own reflection.

Escaping the traffic obstacles, we arrive at a turnoff, which has its own turnoff road. The route peters out into a dirt road and we find ourselves at a designated trailhead. There, we find two young men at their car with wet pants. They have been swimming…there’s water here!

Our guide drives on ahead and around a loop, which takes us away from the boys.  Within a couple of hundred feet, we are alone in the desert. We slide back the van’s door and climb out to see that another road heads off to the southeast. As Ken and Amie get undressed and grab water, Ken announces to us, that we will no longer need clothing. We are pleased to hear of engaging in the “no-backup” free range policy. We find our shoes, camera and water amongst our clutter of belongings on the floor.

We are told that this road will take us to the small river called Sycamore Creek, which is in a valley below.  For now, we only see distant hills at the end of this flat arid area.

When getting out of the air-conditioned van, the temperature suddenly feels oppressive, but soon an overcast gives relief. A light breeze occasionally drifts by, creating extra comfort, wrapping around and cooling naked bodies.

We four stroll down through the desert, until we can see over a cliff ledge. There, below us, is a verdant valley.

A wandering creek, a river by Southern Arizona standards, takes to the contours of the red canyon walls. There is a train track following along the side of the creek and a passenger train silently bends its way along the gentle curves. We also see where the tributary for that trail, which the two young men had taken, meets this larger waterway.

The wind has picked up. I hold onto my hat, as I feel the wind climbing up the canyon side and attempting to lift the brim. It is no longer a hot day.

As we explore this new region with the enthusiasm of what will become a river bed to ourselves, we stop to gaze and photograph the distant colored hills. This is rim country, Sedona is out there.

Sedona Hills in the Distance

This is a gorgeous canyon.

The geology is significant and varied. The rich colors of the red rock are often dulled by the gray clouds. These contrast with a dark volcanic flow. Exploring further, we find a volcanic tube from long ago. It has caved in and worn away. I walk off the jeep trail to investigate. {INSERT Prescott #2} I can look down into the earth as deep as 12 feet. I’m looking through tunnels formed by the odd formations of slowly flowing lava, which is now jagged black stone.

From this perch, I see a cliff of volcanic rock. We are walking as if on a plateau.

The drop down into the canyon will take longer than I thought.

It will be perhaps a mile more, somewhere beyond the canyon’s bend.

We walk along the jeep trail identifying unusual fauna and telling life’s stories.

A black jeep that we had seen passing through the trailhead is heading our way in return from the canyon floor.

I hear a jeep

A thirty-something couple are smiling at us. The grinning male driver begins to make a quip about plenty of sunscreen, but then midway decides against completing it. I suspect that he might be thinking that we might have heard that one before, or maybe we might be offended. It is no matter. They are smiling and happy as they pass four hikers carrying water, cameras and only wearing shoes.

The road finally slopes down into the canyon. Stones in the ruts wobble as we step, instead of smooth topsoil. Care must be taken.

Slip Marks

We begin to look to the trees, which are now closer and distinct, instead of just the many tree tops below us. We are beginning to interact with them.

The familiar shape of sycamore leaves hang on huge healthy trunks.

Mesquite and palo verde mingle with cottonwoods.

We hear water flowing on boulders in the distance and then the similar sound of the wind in the trees.

The road forks and Ken tells us to take the right fork. We come to a clearing next to the stream. It is shaded by trees. It could be a perfect campsite. It has been used for this. A rope swing hangs from a thick tree branch. We set our things aside, to roam unencumbered. I go for the swing. DF joins me, as Ken takes our photos. It spins and the rope twists braid-like. It will change direction soon, taking us for another spin whiddershin.

The railroad tracks are above us. I realize that these could be a walker’s conveyance up the beautiful 21 mile canyon. From above, we have seen that there are plenty of places to leave the tracks and walk down to the water. Tracks aren’t an ideal trail, but much better than bushwhacking. We could camp along the way for a longer backpacking trip. There would be plenty of opportunities for solitude, water and naturism. Another time, another item is now on the bucket list.

21 Miles of Basically This?

We follow our guides to the riverside. The water is clear.

The course slopes to a deeper side as it begins to bend. DF and I decide to keep our fivetoe shoes on, as we wade out. The surface below the water is rocky. At the sense of first cold, we begin to slide in hesitantly.

A boulder is below the surface. DF tests it for slipperiness. It is volcanic and grips surprisingly well. With my help, she balances above me on it. I adjust to the push of the water flow around my legs.

This is a great spot, but our cohorts are into the hike and know to leave, so that we don’t return too late. There is not enough time for us to build our nerves to submerge into the cool waters.

The overcast threatens rain. Then, the cold water would not be a relief from a hot sun anymore, today.

Making our way back, we take a fork off the road in curiosity. The trail leads to a deeper spot. There are a couple of larger boulders redirecting the flow of the stream and creating whirlpools and calm water. These would be classic fishing holes. It is definitely deep enough to skinny-dip.

 

I suspect that this area has some traffic during the weekends, but during the week, it is a naturist’s perfect home.

Huge Sycamore Tree

We head back, looking for unusual souvenir rocks.

“Does this look like a heart?”

We hang out under the grace of the venerable old trees with their protective canopies.

We take in as much as we can. We make our way up the climb of the slope where Ken and Amie have gone. We smile.

Eventually, we are looking down into the valley again. This time the train is returning with its tourists. They are very small down there, but we decide to stand and wave from where we are, four tiny flesh colored figures.

We can see those in the open air cars leaning over, but most are looking in the wrong direction. We stand naked on a hill waving and nobody seems to notice! No one waves. Perhaps they are lost in thought.

I snap some pictures for future reference at the trailhead. There are 3.7 miles of swimming holes out here.

There will be another day here in our future, probably several days in this naturist’s playground.

Back in the car, as we pass a Tuzi archeological site on a hill, we decide to go back through the town of Jerome and through the mountains avoiding the construction. We must meet a pair of Tucson ex-patriot friends for dinner in Prescott Valley.

We dress as we leave Ken and Amie’s hilltop sanctuary for a couple of hours in a Mexican restaurant. In keeping with our theme and intentions for the weekend, after diner, we discard the clothing before we leave the parking lot.

Next week, more with our gracious hosts in the Prescott area.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Our Introduction to Sycamore Canyon

  1. I am envious, every time I read of your adventures! Jerome is a fascinating place. There is a guy there who does glass blowing
    demonstrations, and a neat art gallery, though it has been probably 8-9 years ago since I was there. I wasn’t a nudist at the time but I wish I could return and hike naked in all the places you describe! Happy (nude) hiking to you!

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  2. L&C Tucson

    JBee thanks for the information, Sycamore Canyon has been on our list for sometime now, should be nice once the weather begins to cool. Another great article!
    LS and CB

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  3. Eric

    Thanks for including a pic of the trail map. It’s been a long while since I was there, but the nicest place to swim in Sycamore Canyon itself used to be a fairly deep hole along the creek, just around the southward bend from Summers Spring — about 1.5 miles from the trailhead.

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